Thursday, October 25, 2018

Tempus Fugit

If you could time-travel, what era would you go back to and how long would you stay there? 

I have never been a fan of time travel as a plot device. Somehow, I’m sure that the very fabric of the universe would tear apart if one managed to pull it off. Maybe I’m not smart enough. Or maybe I am. Perhaps I have a “natural instinct for science” like another genius who shall remain nameless (and soulless, for that matter). But I do believe time is linear. “Tempus fugit, and won’t come back againibus,” as the old saying goes.

That said, this is a hypothetical question, so I’ll play along. In a sense, I play at this game anyway in my books. The Ellie Stone series is set in the early 1960s, and I enjoy my visits to that time period. If my books are to succeed in transporting readers back to another time and place, they must do the same for me first. That’s my time travel. And I need to convince readers that they are in Ellie Stone’s world of 1960. Otherwise, my books will feel more like an episode from the last season of Happy Days. Were they even trying to make things look like the fifties at that point? Gimme a break. Compare the looks from the first season and the last. 

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So I try to immerse myself as best I can in the time period when I’m writing Ellie. That means newspapers, books, movies, and television shows. For CAST THE FIRST STONE, for example, I watched several seasons of Perry Mason as research. It was great. The setting of the book was Hollywood 1962, and Perry Mason was filmed in LA at exactly that time. The clothes, cars, and street scenes were just what I was looking for to set the mood in my head.

But what about other time periods? Would I like to live in the time of Jesus?

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Messiahs turning over tables in temples, Judean kings slaughtering all male children of a certain age, and no room at the inn? No thank you.

What about the Middle Ages? There was plague, no upward mobility, and the clothes surely itched like all getout. Fun to think about, but I’ll pass.

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The Renaissance wasn’t much better. Insufferable music, more plagues, and hairdos nearly as bad as the ones on Happy Days.

The first half of the twentieth century brought new horrors. Mankind found new ways to inflict massive casualties on itself—from howitzers and tanks to carpet bombing and Agent Orange to good old thermal nuclear warfare. These innovations in no way diminished the nostalgia for the classics like genocide, influenza pandemics, and starvation.

As for the second half of the twentieth century, just listen to Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” Sorry if that ear worm gets stuck in your head.

None of this is to say that we live in the best of times. But it’s all we’ve got. Except the future. So I’ll concentrate on that for now. I’m thinking ahead to November 6, for example, hoping we’ll take a small step in the correct direction.


Susan C Shea said...

I liked this, all except the slam at Renaissance music! As a female, what stops me from fantasizing about going back in time to flowing gowns and long gloves and the like is, um, hygiene. We take for granted an awful lot about modern life. But if I close my eyes listening to Henry Purcell's charming tunes, I can pretend to be an Elizabethan lady and that's enough time travel.

James W. Ziskin said...

Jus kidding about the music, Susan. I was referring more to that generic villagers-dancing music we hear in movies.