How Does Your Time Move?

March 29, 2011

The other day I gave myself a massive headache, all because I neglected to pay attention to how quickly my time moved in the past compared to the present when I started The Schoolhouse Disappearance. I’d meticulously plotted my story, but I hadn’t paid close attention to the relationship between time in the past and time in the present. Over the course of the story I needed roughly four weeks to pass in the past compared to just three days in the present. As I started writing the first time travel scene, I set up my “guidelines” for how much time would pass in the present while Abby was in the past, but didn’t think much more about it. I continued writing, and a few chapters later my protagonist goes back for the second time. I applied the same “math” to this visit and had a major panic moment as I realized it totally, completely, utterly (enough adverbs for you) did not work! I then pulled out my outline and applied my math to the rest of the scenes and found that nothing worked. What was required to make the time travel successful was some careful time management replotting.

Why does this matter? Can’t you just fudge it? Is anyone really going to stop and figure out if you were consistent? Maybe, maybe not. In my case, I had to know because my protagonist actually figures out how much time goes by in the present while she is in the past, and I used this as a plot aid. In the end, you might not let the reader know all the nitty gritty details about how your time moves, but that doesn’t excuse you from not knowing them yourself. You can compare it to a character sketch. Every writer develops a character, learning all about them. Despite all the prep work we do to define these characters very little of our character sketches actually end up in the novel. I might know that Abby despises peas, but that little fact has never been revealed to the reader. They haven’t needed to know, but as the writer I do; that little fact helps me make Abby more three dimensional. Same rules and concepts apply to time. You need to know how it moves, because having time behave consistently adds to the believability of the story, even if the “rules” are never revealed to the reader.

Time management and plot are interdependent. You can’t deal with one without the other. Understanding your time will give you flexibility in your plot, and your plot will shape how your time moves. Together they can present new ideas and possibilities.

There are four scenarios you find used in time travel novels:

1- Time in the past moves at the same rate as time in the present.
2- Time in the past moves faster than time in the present.
3- Time in the past moves slower than time in the present.
4- Time in the past moves forward but time in the present freezes.

Different situations will lend themselves more readily to one over the other. Unlike in The Schoolhouse Disappearance, where Abby goes back and forth between the past and present several times, in my second novel, Destination: Calistoga Depot, the children go back in time and stay there until they’ve completed their goals. When they return to the present, almost no time has passed. If I’d had them go missing for a week in the present, it would have created problems with “adults” that wouldn’t have added anything to the story I was trying to tell. My solution was to have little to no time pass in the present while they were in the past.

In The Time Travelers, by Linda Buckley-Archer, time moves at the same rate in the past as in the present. What this meant was that grown ups played a large part in this story, as the author had to deal with how the parents reacted to the disappearance of their children, since the children were unable to move back and forth in time. This created a much more complicated plot and forced the author to use many different viewpoint characters.

On the other hand, in On Etruscan Time, by Tracy Barrett, as in The Time Travelers, time moved at the same rate as the present, but the protagonist was able to move back and forth between times. He was never missed long enough to cause worry among the adults. This created a very different plot with a very different set of problems.


Contest: Daughter of Xanadu

March 25, 2011

To enter to win a signed ARC of Daughter of Xanadu, leave a comment here telling of an experience you’ve had meeting someone of another culture, religion, worldview, etc.  What did you learn about the other person and where they come from?  What did you learn about yourself?

Drawing will take place a week from today!  Good luck!

Interview with Dori Jones Yang

March 23, 2011

Please welcome Dori Jones Yang, author of Daughter of Xanadu and my fellow Seattle-suburb resident, to Damsels in Regress! 

1.  How did you become interested in this story of East-meets-West in medieval Mongolia?

My husband, who is Chinese, suggested I write a novel based on Marco Polo, who was the first Westerner to visit China and write a book about it. Once I started reading, I realized that Marco Polo lived during the High Middle Ages and that China was then part of the much larger Mongol Empire. This opened up a whole new world. Then, I decided to turn history on its head—and write about what Marco Polo looked like through Asian eyes. No one had ever done that before. Of course, that meant a cross-cultural love affair.  I had already done personal research about that!

2.  What sort of research did you do for the book?

I started by reading Marco Polo’s own book, and then I read everything I could find about Khubilai Khan, the Mongol Empire, and Mongolia today. Then, I visited Mongolia, twice!  I stayed in a yurt, rode a camel, drank mare’s milk, and even found the ruins of Xanadu, the site of Khubilai Khan’s summer palace. That was a thrill. Read the rest of this entry »

Book Review: Daughter of Xanadu

March 21, 2011

Daughter of Xanadu
Dori Jones Yang
Grades 7-10
336 pages

One thing I have loved since starting this blog is the chance to meet authors who are writing books on history that wouldn’t normally be on my radar.  I met Dori Jones Yang, author of Daughter of Xanadu, in October while she was talking about her book at our local SCBWI chapter’s twice-yearly event, the Inside Story.  The book hadn’t been released yet, but she promised me an ARC and in January, it showed up in my mailbox.  She signed it a few days later and I will pass it on to one lucky Damsels reader.  But while I would have seen Dori just by attending my SCBWI event, I wouldn’t have been so tuned in to finding a historical book to review and I might have missed this in the midst of all the wonderful books that were presented.  Instead, I read a great twist on boy-meets-girl and East-meets-West.

The “girl” and “East” is fictional sixteen-year-old Emmajin, granddaughter of Khubilai Khan (the grandson of Genghis Khan, also called Chinggis or Temujin).  In 1276, when this story takes place, the Khans had created a Mongol Empire that encompassed most of Asia.  Their last major opposition is China, and Emmajin dreams of joining the army along with her male cousins to assist in this conquest.  The men in the army are the ones granted the most respect in Mongol society, and their stories of battle have thrilled her as long as she can remember.  Against all odds, the Khan allows Emmajin to train with his army, but her first assignment is less than glorious: she’s to gather information on a young trader who has traveled with his father and uncle from a fragmented, backward land known as Christendom.  The “boy” and “West” of this story is none other than Marco Polo.  He tells Emmajin of scholars, merchants, and the Crusades, and both of them are forced to examine their cultures from a new perspective.

I enjoyed this book as a story: the characters were well-developed, the story kept my attention and threw in a new angle just when I thought I had it figured out.  Even more than that, I enjoyed it as a reminder that the history of the world is not just the history of Europe and North America.  Mongolia created a huge empire, as large or larger in area as Rome, and their civilization was very advanced for the time.  Europe, in contrast, was only beginning to come out of the Dark Ages, and it was contact with societies like the Mongols that helped make that possible.  We as Westerners often forget that part of history because we would rather read romanticized versions of the Middle Ages.  The regions that would become the nations of Europe would, of course, become very powerful, but not for several centuries.  The twelfth and thirteenth centuries, really, belonged to Mongolia, and it was fascinating to be reminded of that.

Stay tuned later this week as Dori Jones Yang talks about writing this book and for your chance to win my signed ARC!

March Video Madness

March 15, 2011

It’s March, and there does seem to be a lot of madness going on right now. Some of it even in college basketball. So I thought it’d be fun to look back about a hundred years or so for a glimpse of a simpler time. Not much madness in these videos. Or is there? (Some of them have musical accompaniment. If it bothers you, do what I do—hit that mute button.)

The following came from a “60 Minutes” interview. Here is San Francisco’s Market Street.

Here is the longer version, if you’re up for it.  You think it’s hard to cross the street now?

I love the ladder that everyone disregards!

Check out the mustaches in this video. Every time I see this I keep waiting for the guy with the hose to turn it on the camera.

And finally, because women can do just about anything. Even in long skirts!

Winner of The Year We Were Famous!

March 9, 2011

First off, I apologize for just posting this.  Life has been crazy for me.!

Congrats to Ann Bedichek Braden!  You won an ARC of The Year We Were Famous, by Carole Estby Dagg!

Please email us at damselsinregress [at] gmail [dot] com

Playing Catch-Up

March 8, 2011

I love talking to authors through this blog, and reading interviews the other Damsels have done.  It’s always interesting to see into another person’s writing process, and I think it’s important as writers to help promote those in the same genre.  But after authors are featured here, they go on to do other cool things, so this post will highlight the more recent successes of some of our authors we’ve interviewed in the past (almost two!) years.

  • Randall Platt’s Hellie Jondoe won four awards, including the Willa Literary Award and the Will Rogers Medallion, both for best YA fiction.  She’s got three new historical novels in the works, one set during the Great Depression and the other two during WWII.
  • Pat Lowry Collins’s Hidden Voices: The Orphan Musicians of Venice was added to the 2010 ALA Rainbow List, was a finalist for the Julia Ward Howe Award from the Boston Author’s Club, and was nominated for a Cybil Award.  She has a new historical novel, Daughter of Winter, which came out in October 2010 and has had great reviews in Booklist, Children’s Literature, and Horn Book.
  • Kim Ablon Whitney’s The Other Half of Life won the 2009 National Jewish Book Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature and the 2010 Sydney Taylor Notable Book for Teen Readers.  It’s also now out in paperback.
  • Karen Cushman’s Alchemy and Meggy Swann was named one of the Children’s Literature Assembly’s 2001 Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts, and the audio book was given an ALA Odessey Award.  It’s also a finalist for the Audio Publishers Association Audies’ Award.  She’s working on another Elizabethan England story, Will Sparrow’s Road, and says she encountered some “gender-related challenges” since it’s her first book with a boy as the main character.  She’s also a judge for the School Library Journal’s Battle of the Books 2011, and you can find more info on that at
  • Kirby Larson has a new historical novel hitting bookstores in May called The Friendship Doll.  It’s set during the Great Depression and tells the story of a Japanese doll and its effects on four young girls.  In Kirby’s own words, don’t expect her to be cute and cuddly just because she’s a doll!

Congratulations on all of these achievements, ladies!  Congratulations, too, to all the authors who’ve shared with us.  We’re hoping to offer reviews and giveaways of the new books very soon, so keep checking us out!