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:

***

(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.

***

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.

***

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.

 

More “More Deaths Than One”

I seem to be fascinated by characters who die “more deaths than one.” In my novel of that name (taken from Oscar Wilde’s “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” — he who lives more lives than one / more deaths than one must die), poor Bob Stark returns home after living in Southeast Asia for eighteen years to discover that the mother he buried before he left is dead again.

The steampunk anthology I am helping put together begins with my story about Florence Giston, Flo for short. (I couldn’t resist that name. Flo Giston. Phlogiston. Seemed appropriate.) The opening paragraphs of that story read:

The first time her husband died, Florence Giston felt such feral grief, she feared she’d never survive. She’d always tried to look on the bright side of things, but she could find no bright side to this situation. Her husband was dead, and she felt as if she had died, too.

“You can’t let it get you down,” said Alexander Giston, her father-in-law. “Just because Robert and Mary died, it doesn’t mean they are gone forever.”

The second time Robert died, Florence’s already broken heart shattered beyond repair. Robert had been her whole life, and to lose him twice seemed unbearably cruel. She vowed never to go through such trauma again, yet when Al announced he intended to try to save his wife and his son again, Flo begged to go with him.

“I need to see Robert once more,” she said. “Need” seemed a paltry word to describe the yearning that clawed at her, but Al must have understood her desperation, because he agreed to let her accompany him on his second trip to their shared past.

Time travel brings with it delicious ironies. In this case, Flo’s view of Robert — and herself — isn’t exactly what she expected.

A young woman stepped outside. “What’s going on?” she asked, her voice soft and tremulous.

Flo stared at herself, at the brown lace stockings, the brown gored skirt, the brown jacket, the brown plumed hat. What was I thinking? She vowed to throw out all the brown clothes she owned, including the brown shirtwaist she now wore.

“This is dad from the future,” Mary said. “He’s come to save us from certain death.” Catching the irony in her mother-in-law’s voice, Flo wondered if she’d underestimated the woman. Mary had always seemed so drab despite the bright colors she chose to wear. Was nothing as she remembered?

“Good of him,” Robert said. There was no irony in his voice, no affection. “We can take the aeroship.”

“Well, no.” Al scuffled his feet. “I already saved you once. I came back and made you take the aeroship, and it crashed. They never found your bodies.”

Flo stifled an urge to laugh, but Robert didn’t even crack a smile. “I’ll drive the Steamer,” he said.

“Couldn’t you just stay home?” Al asked, a note of pleading in his voice.

Mary shook her head. “It’s my father’s funeral. I have to be there.”

“We’ll be fine,” Robert said. “The Stratosphere Steamer is the safest automobile on the road.”

Also the fastest, Flo thought, but she kept her mouth shut. 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.

Appalled 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.

This anthology is scheduled to be published in May. I’m looking forward to seeing it finally in print.

breaktime-3bsmall

***

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.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Steampunk Anthology Coming Soon!

Two years ago, a couple of authors approached me about doing a collaborative novel similar to the Rubicon Ranch collaboration I’d been writing with other Second Wind authors. We invited a few other authors to do this new collaboration. Two of the authors suggested we do steampunk.I’d never heard of steampunk. Couldn’t even guess what it was. To be honest, I’m not sure I know even now what it is. Still, we all agreed. Such a collaboration is about stretching ourselves as authors, and how better to stretch than by doing something we’ve never done before.

The two authors who talked us into doing steampunk ended up walking away, leaving us with a story no one knew how to write. The rest of us decided to stick with the project anyway. Why not? We’re writers. We can fake it. We also got the internet with all its research capabilities to help us.

Wikipedia defines steampuSteamnk as “a sub-genre of science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, horror, and speculative fiction that came into prominence during the 1980s and early 1990s. Steampunk involves a setting where steam power is widely used — whether in an alternate history such as Victorian era Britain or “Wild West”-era United States, or in a post-apocalyptic time — that incorporates elements of either science fiction or fantasy.”

In “How Do I Write A Steampunk Story?” Dru Pagliassotti says, “Steampunk fiction consists of two elements — the steam, or gaslamp aesthetic, iconography specific to the genre — and the punk, a critical ideology or political stance that satirizes, challenges, or subverts societal trends.”

Most of us writers were in a strange non-writing mode, so it was hard finding the time or the words. Although a chapter was supposed to be written each week, with each of us taking a turn, life often got in the way, and those weeks turned into months. Instead, the others decided we should finish the book not as a collaborative novel but as an anthology.

The anthology is almost finished now, and it’s actually quite an interesting collection of stories, all written around a single theme of time travel and “killing steam.” (The time traveler’s wife and son were killed in a steam engine accident, and since he couldn’t bring them back, he decided steam was to blame and so traveled back in time to try to divert the progress of the steam engine.)

I feel good about finally winding up this project. I have no real desire for longterm projects right now. My life is up in the air, and I don’t know from day to day what is going to happen. (Well, that’s true of everyone, of course, but generally people feel at least a bit settled.)

The anthology will be published both as a book and as a blog. I’ll let you know when it’s finally available.

***

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.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Steampunk Collaboration

I’m cheating tonight. I spent so much time writing a possible time travel scenario for the steampunk collaboration I’m involved in with seven other authors, that I didn’t have time to write a blog. So I’m posting the scenario. What do you think?

Possible time travel scenario:

A tourist is found dead in a time travel machine, clutching some sort of gizmo in his hand. Knowing that a death could kill business in what is supposed to be a safe traveling mode, the operators of the Time Travel Company decide to investigate.

They have some sort of recordings of where the traveler has been, one from each era he visited, (secret, of course, since if the tourists knew they were being recorded, it would put a damper on business) and the Time Travel Company sets employees to watching these tapes (crystals? discs? a sophisticated version of Babbage’s difference engine or analytical engine?). Since it’s real time, they all watch at the same time, otherwise it could take weeks for them to see what went on during the tourist’s trip. Perhaps news of the death leaked, and if they don’t discover the truth fast, they will be ruined, so time if of the essence. This is how we could get by the problem of doing five sets of eight chapters. After each set of chapters, the TTC operator and a trusted employee could discuss what they saw, see if there were any abnormalities, and when they don’t find anything out of whack, they continue watching the tapes.

Since our guy is by himself, posing as a tourist, chances are his reasons for traveling are personal. Considering that coal is such a polluter, perhaps his wife died of lung cancer, and if they weren’t wealthy, chances are they couldn’t get out of the city to clean air. Maybe he studies alchemy texts, finds a way to produce clean steam by means of cold fusion or atomic energy (supposedly the alchemists knew how to do this without producing radioactive side effects) or some other energy source, and he wants to go back to the past to find someone who will utilize the machine so that by the time his era comes around, there is no pollution. (There’s no point in his finding backers in his own time since his wife is already dead.) Another possibility is that he is looking for a way to blow a hole in time to change things, so that perhaps by the time he gets back to his era, things will have changed. He is killed before he can put his plans in motion. It would be up to you to decide why your character would want to kill him to maintain the status quo.

If he is lower class (or low middle class) his clothes would not be out of place in any period in the steam era. This would save him from traveling with an extensive wardrobe.

He and his agenda would be the unifying factor of all the POV characters. You tell the story from your character’s POV, but he is a major character in your substory. During each set of chapters, he grows more and more frantic, since he can’t find what he wants (someone to give his gizmo to, or perhaps a way to use it to blow a hole in time to change the future. We don’t see the end of his story, the TTC has to figure it out, because once he is dead, his story ends. We would not know in which era his story ended, because in the past, all time happens at the same time.

The benefits of this scenario are that the authors can decide what year/era they want their character to live in, can write their story without much regard to other authors’ stories (except to keep the tourist consistent), and the tourist would provide the unifying factor without having to spend weeks trying to figure out what all the chapters have in common. Another benefit is that the scenarios wouldn’t have to be based on history, but could be more personal as long as they were consistent with the time period you choose.

The drawbacks are that you might not be able to tell the story you want — you’d have to keep the story simple, focused on both your character’s agenda and the tourists, and somehow link them. You’d have to pick a past era, rather than a fanciful future era since a future era would do our traveler no good. And you’d have to pay attention to how the other authors develop the character of the tourist to keep him consistent.

If you don’t like this scenario, we can still do the one we talked about where all of our characters once were members of a think tank, and now someone is killing all the members. The remaining members (our characters) get together to figure out who the perpetrator is and why he wants them dead, and they discover that the assassin is one of them.

Either scenario would work for our purposes.