A Ghost of Times Past

I am a generation of one, without roots, and currently without even a place to call home, so people’s rootedness often seems strange — and compelling — to me.

Perhaps the most fascinating story of roots was one I heard at a Chinese buffet in DeKalb, Illinois. Not that the buffet had anything to do with this particular history — it’s just where we happened to have our conversation.

I had arranged to meet an author I had collaborated with on a steampunk book called Break Time. This book exemplifies the wonder of the internet — the authors collaborating on the project came from four different countries, and none of us had ever met in real life. So I was thrilled to finally be able to meet one of the authors — Dale Cozort, who writes science fiction and alternative histories.

Dale, his wife Elaine, and I had a pleasant chat over plates of delicacies until I happened to fill a momentary pause with an idle question. “Do you live here in the city?”

Elaine said yes, they lived in town, in one of the first houses built there.

That sure caught my interest! When she told me the house had been built by her great-great-grandfather, I asked how they came to own the place. I expected her to say that they bought it when it happened to come on the market, but what she said made my jaw drop.

Her great-great-grandfather, Eli B. Gilbert, an attorney and Civil War officer, had built the house in 1864, and it had been in her family ever since. She grew up in that house and is the fifth generation of her family to own it.

Wow! Talk about roots!

There are reminders of the past everywhere, including portraits of her progenitors. Apparently there are places in the attic Dale and Elaine are still exploring, and they keep finding fabulous treasures, such as her great-great-grandfather’s will. They have donated many of the documents they have found to the local library, and there are probably more to discover.

Can you imagine being so bound to a place? No wonder Dale writes alternate histories! History colors everything he does, everything he touches. The house even stirred up my muse! What if someone living in the house were to open a door expecting to enter their bedroom, for example, but entered the room as it was 153 years ago, before the Civil War ended? Oh, my.

Elaine and Dale invited me to the house and, stepping inside, I could feel the weight of all that history. Elaine said, almost sadly, there were no ghosts in that house, but in a way, the house itself is a ghost — or at least a testament — of times past.

Such an unexpected and unplanned joy of this trip — meeting Dale and Elaine and being introduced to their history and their house. I just hope that in my amazement and enthrallment, I remembered to thank them.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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Collaborating on an International Novel

Yesterday I wrote about collaborating on the Rubicon Ranch mystery series, but that wasn’t the only collaboration I’ve done. I also worked on Break Time with authors I met online, some of whom were good friends of mine even though we have never met. Break Time was supposed to be similar to the Rubicon Ranch series, where the authors took turns writing chapters, with each round of chapters delving deeper into the mystery and the relationship with the deceased and the other characters. Because we had decided on a time travel and Steampunk theme for Break Time, the characters lived in different eras. It was hard to intermix the individual stories as we did for Rubicon Ranch, so in the end, Break Time was published as an anthology, with each story being connected by my character’s story.

Break TimeMy character, Flo Giston was the widowed daughter-in-law of the time traveler. She is grieving the loss of her husband Robert, but when she goes back to the past for the second time, she is shocked to realize how her feelings have changed. In this excerpt, she is standing outside the house, watching her husband, her past self, and the Gistons:

So far, the Gistons hadn’t noticed her, and perhaps it was just as well. Robert had never seemed to be able to handle one of her; two might overtax his feeble imagination.

Horrified at the direction of her thoughts, Flo slipped back into the lab. She’d loved Robert dearly, had mourned him twice, so what prompted her to be so dismissive of him now? Remembering how besotted she’d been, she wondered if love hadn’t been the blessing she’d always presumed it to be, but had instead been a prison, keeping her emotionally shackled to a man for whom she had little respect.

They’d had a good life, though, and had only lived with the older Gistons for two years until Robert had saved enough to buy a starter home in Sun City, a new village on the eastern plains of Colorado. Robert appreciated the proximity to his parents’ place, but Flo loved the house itself with all its new appliances run by steam from a nearby plant.

The sex had also been good. She’d always enjoyed the small buzz of pleasure she’d felt in her husband’s arms. Then an appalling idea hit her. What if the sex hadn’t been good? Robert had been the only man she’d ever made love with, so she had nothing to compare the experience to except the romance novels he hated her reading. She’d always suppressed her passionate impulses since Robert had been satisfied with a quick in and out every Saturday night, but what if there were more to love—and life—than what she’d shared with her husband?

She put a hand to her mouth to stifle a gasp. What would the rest of her life be if death hadn’t parted them? Would she have been the anxious dowd she saw on the porch with Robert, or would she have turned into her mother-in-law, hiding her intelligence and passion behind increasingly vibrant raiment?

While all the authors of the Rubicon Ranch writers were from the USA, the Break Time authors spanned the English-speaking world — Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Britain, western USA, central USA, southern USA. Now that I think of it, Break Time was an incredible accomplishment — a truly international book. You can buy Break Time at Amazon.

About the authors of Break Time:

Joylene Nowell Butler, Metis Canadian, lives in Cluculz Lake in central BC with her husband and six stray cats. In her spare time, she teaches T’chi.

Dale Cozort, a computer programmer, lives in a college town near Chicago with his wife, daughter, three cats and a lot of books. He is a long-time science fiction fan and writer.

Suzanne Francis has written two series of novels set in a fantasy universe of her own creation. British born, she presently makes her home in Dunedin, New Zealand.

J. Conrad Guest lives in Michigan and is the author of seven novels including the time travel novels, January’s Paradigm, One Hot January, and January’s Thaw.

J J Dare is a native of Louisiana and has been an author since age seven. Love for the amazing worlds the written word opens up keeps Dare writing, mostly mysteries, thrillers, and dramas.

Rod Marsden was born in Sydney, Australia. He has three degrees; all related to writing and to history. His stories have been published in Australia, England, Russia and the USA.

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

 

Break Time Now Available on Amazon!

Break TimeBreak Time, the steampunk anthology I’ve been collaborating on with six other authors has now been published. You can find the kindle edition here:  Break Time on Kindle And the print edition here: Break Time in print. Soon it will be available on Smashwords and on Barnes and Noble.

To whet your appetite for the story, here is an excerpt from Break Time:

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(Interim) Florence Giston, 1966 by Pat Bertram

Five minutes after the time machine winked out in a rainbow of light and harmonious sounds, it still hadn’t returned. Flo had watched the machine leave and arrive back within minutes during Al’s journeys to their shared past, so she thought she knew what to expect, but she hadn’t experienced this lag time before. Maybe something had gone wrong?

She waited another minute, then slowly turned around in a circle, hoping that the machine had somehow appeared behind her, but the black pyramid remained absent.

She’d felt helpless after the death of her husband, knowing there was nothing she could do to bring him back to her, but even that feeling of powerlessness paled in comparison to this new conundrum. Death, despite its awesome mysteriousness, was still somehow ordinary. Except for those alive today, everyone who had ever been born was now dead.

Could Al be dead? Her father-in-law had said he was going to kill steam, but could someone have killed him before he could accomplish his task? Could the time machine have somehow gone off course, or crashed? If Al was lost somewhere in the break in time, how would she ever find him?

She took a deep breath. No matter how long Al might have been traveling in time—misplaced or not— he’d only been gone a few minutes.

No need to panic.

Just wait. See what happens. Believe he will return.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Break Time is Edited and De-Widowed!

I wasted all afternoon getting rid of widows in the Break Time manuscript, the steampunk anthology I wrote with several other authors. Well, not all the widows. My character is a widow, and I can’t get rid of her. The widows I tried to get rid of are the printing variety. The problem is, when you get rid of one of those sneaky little things, another one or two pops up.

To be honest, I don’t see that there is a problem with widows. Break TimeWidows are the last couple of words of a paragraph that end up at the top of the next page. Truly — so what? I can see that there is a problem when the last few words of the last paragraph of a chapter end up on a page all by themselves. The words seem so . . . lonely. Besides, it would be be like a stop sign, taking readers out of the story. But if a second paragraph begins immediately after the widowed words, who but a purist would even care? And anyway, with ebooks so prevalent, there are no pages, so there can be no widows. Break Tiime will be published as both a print book and an ebook, however, so apparently, widows are a consideration.

If it were just a matter of fixing one or two such problems, that would be fine, but if you alter the formatting so that the widow disappears, it alters the formatting for the rest of the chapter or story, moving the lines around and creating new widows. So you have to fix the new problems, which creates more widows . . .  and the next thing you know, the entire evening is gone. Wasted.

That’s the problem with editing — ripples. Anything you do ripples through the whole manuscript. Still . . . we have all done the best we can with Break Time. It’s as good as all its editors can make it.

So . . . hallelujah! Break Time should be ready on its scheduled release date — May 1.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

 

Break Time and Time Travel Conundrums

I recently watched The Final Countdown, a 1980 science fiction film about a modern aircraft carrier that travels through time to a day before the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. (Considering that this movie is 34 years old, I doubt the aircraft carrier would still be considered modern, but who am I to argue with IMDb.)

breaktime-3bsmallThe theme of time travel is timely, considering that Break Time, the steampunk anthology I’ve been working on for the past two years with six other authors, is nearing publication. Yay!!

I’ve always enjoyed the conundrum of time travel. In fact, Ray Bradbury’s story “The Sound of Thunder” is one of my all-time favorite short stories. (Hmm. Apparently I’m trying to use the word “time” as many times as possible.) When I first read Bradbury’s story, I hadn’t yet studied chaos theory and the butterfly effect, but it seemed logical that one small change millions of years ago would make a difference to us today. Oddly, in the story, everything was still the same in our world after the misstep, though the language was different and a dictatorial candidate won the election instead of the more egalitarian choice. Despite that seeming contradiction, I enjoyed the story and the ensuing mind calisthenics. The way I figured it, since the changes were so minor, it’s just as possible that the dead butterfly affected the passage of the time machine rather than the passage of time itself, and the travelers ended up in an alternate universe.

In Millenium, another time travel film, the butterfly effect is countered by the theory that insignificant changes can be made that would not affect the whole, such as removing people who were about to die in an airplane crash and taking them to another world. (Who knows, maybe the butterfly in Ray Bradbury’s story was newly dead of natural causes, and all that was affected was an infinitesimally insignificant patch of compost.)

Once a long time ago, I read a story about sightseers from the future who came to watch catastrophes here on earth. (There are several movies with that same theme, but the story I read predated the films by decades.) The tourists could watch the unfolding drama, but could in no way interfere. I used to think that was inhumane, sort of like reporters who simply film the death throes of victims before help arrives without ever pausing to offer assistance. However, when I watched The Final Countdown, my sympathies lay with those who thought it important not to change history by attacking the Japanese before they attacked Pearl Harbor. Who are we to change what was? Sure, all those American deaths would have been prevented, but what other atrocities might have taken their place? Though people consider it a conspiracy theory, the fact is that Roosevelt knew about the attack and let it happen. (A strange aside. People always talk about the Americans having broken “The Purple Codes” but before they were called the purple codes, they were red and various other colors. They were so named because of the color of the folder in which they were stored, not because of any esoteric reason.) Roosevelt’s point was to get the uninvolved Americans into the war. And so, ultimately, many worldwide changes were brought about.

Perhaps the world is unfolding as is should. If so, would I, as a time traveler, have the obligation to leave things as they are? Or would I be part of the unfolding, perhaps the catalyst for the unfolding, and if I did nothing, my inaction would effect other changes? If I ever had to make such a decision, the decision would be made by not deciding. As the old poster from the 1960s proclaimed, “Not to decide is to decide.”

In Break Time, Alexander Giston’s wife and grown son are killed in a steam engine accident. He goes back in time to cajole them into taking another mode of travel. They agree, and this time, the aeroship they are in crashes. The third time, they take their own Stratosphere Steamer, the automobile of our particular steampunk era. And yep. It too crashes. This leads me to wonder if perhaps it’s impossible to change the past. If the past will always self-correct.

If you are a time travel buff, be on the lookout for Break Time. Meantime, check out “Time’s Winged Chariot,” Rod Marsden’s phenomenal article listing time travel movies, books, comics, and television shows.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.