Interview with Sharleen Nelson
Author of The Time Tourists
I am a journalist currently employed at the University of Oregon, Department of Communications as an editor & writer. I am the author of The Time Tourists. The following interview questions/answers are based on an interview with Penstricken: https://penstricken.com/2020/05/05/spotlight-the-time-tourists-by-sharleen-nelson/
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You’ve been a journalist and an award-winning photographer for more than 20 years. What made you decide to write a novel?
- I have always been a writer, ever since I was a little girl. I used to spin stories in my head, complete with an array of characters and dialogue. I started one novel and got about 40,000 words into it, but then couldn’t figure out what to do with the characters, so abandoned it. This particular story started percolating about 10 years ago. My father had died recently and I was pretty devastated. I thought that getting lost in a nice little fantasy might be good therapy.
What was the main inspiration behind The Time Tourists?
- In the bathroom at my place of employment were framed prints of local street scenes from around the turn of the century– people walking, doing things, cars and buggies. I remember looking at those and thinking, ‘how cool would it be to just be able to walk into that picture, into that scene and be a part of it.’ I love history. I’m a photographer, and if time travel was real, I would totally do it! The combination of things just sort of meshed and I started forming the story. I didn’t want to deal with the tech part of having a time machine; I wanted it to be more of a magical thing, so that when my character arrived somewhere in time, the universe just filled in everything for her.
Did you find anything particularly difficult about writing this novel?
- Yes, I wanted it to be more character-driven, less science fiction. I guess you could say it’s more of a fantasy, but it doesn’t really fit neatly into either genre. I guess you’d call it ‘speculative fiction’. The most difficult part of writing it for me was letting myself get bogged down with plot structure. I knew the story. I never have writer’s block at all, but I wasted a good deal of time organizing and reorganizing and moving chapters around–should I weave in the backstory? Should it be chronological? Finally, I just decided that I needed to write the damn thing and worry about that later. Once I did that, it all sort of fell into place.
The title suggests a sort of sci-fi/cozy mystery combination but there are actually a lot of different and sometimes very dark themes running through this story making it quite hard to categorize. What would you say was your central theme(s)?
- I wanted to explore themes like religion, misogyny, feminism, or what it’s like being a gay person in another time. So I’m not sure that there is a central theme. I just wanted to create characters that the reader could maybe identify with, who have real motivations and real flaws.
The villain in The Time Tourists has been described as "probably one of the most messed up characters I’ve ever come across." In many respects he is guilty of some pretty awful crimes yet there is also something pitiable about him. How do you go about developing a character like that?
- He started out being just this borderline sociopathic neighborhood bully with a kooky mother. We do feel sorry for him at times because, after all, he is this sort of confused teenage boy who wants to be good, but bad things happen to him, which allows the reader to sympathize with him to a certain extent. In developing Teddy, I read up on sociopathic behaviors– antisocial behavior, deceitfulness, hostility, irresponsibility, manipulativeness, risk taking behaviors, aggression, impulsivity, irritability, lack of restraint–and combined that with a narcissistic, abusive mother–and voila! Teddy.
In The Time Tourists, the audience is privy to a lot of the protagonist's strongly-held beliefs about a whole range of controversial subjects from abortion to Darwinism. Do you think it’s important for authors to use their protagonists to make points on important real-life subjects?
- I think every author’s approach is different. Each author has their own story to tell. I don’t know that it’s necessarily important, but for me personally, I think addressing real-world topics makes my characters more believable. I read something the other day about the movie Dirty Dancing. Everyone loves that film and it always feels like this very light, entertaining outing about dancing. However, the entire premise for Baby and Johnny getting together at all is because she is called upon to fill in for his usual dance partner after she falls victim to a botched, illegal abortion. I also think that if my characters are going back in time I have a responsibility to provide context and comparison.
What has been the reader's response to The Time Tourists?
- Very positive. I'd like to expose more readers to The Time Tourists.
If they ever make a film adaptation of The Time Tourists, who would you choose to play the lead characters?
- Haha, I actually have thought about this–what author hasn’t? I sort of envision Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss in The Hunger Games) or maybe Emma Watson (Hermoine Granger from Harry Potter)– both seem like strong, feminist-type women. For Herbert Doran– Michael Shannon. He is so intense and awesome. Simon was actually based on a sort of Robert Downey, Jr. prototype, but I think we’d need someone a bit younger for the role. Not sure about Teddy– a method actor, for sure!
Do you have any advice for anyone out there who might be thinking about writing their first novel?
- Forget an audience. Write for yourself and don’t censor yourself. What do you like to read about? When I was a little girl, I enjoyed it so much because I was basically telling myself a story. Enjoy the journey. Just like the reader, as the writer I keep going so I can find out what happens next. Say what you want to say and write what you yourself would like to read.
- I am currently working on a second book in the Dead Relatives, Inc. series, which will feature the same characters, plus new ones, and the same premise, but it will be a standalone title. I am also working on my mother's memoir about growing up in Kansas during the Dust Bowl and Depression.
Danger. Romance. Time Travel . . .
As four-year-old Imogen flipped through the dusty photo album, gazing into the faded monochrome faces of her grandmother's somber family—relatives with funny names like Aunt Ada and Uncle Paul and Aunt Phyllis and Uncle Gordy, and second cousins Percy and Viola from Missoula—all of a sudden the universe tilted and for a brief instant she found herself transported to the place and time within one of the pictures.
One of only a handful of people—that she is aware of—who can time travel through photos, she establishes Dead Relatives, Inc. to help people recover lost items or unearth the stories and secrets of friends and relatives from the past.
Step into time with Imogen Oliver in this first book in the Dead Relatives, Inc. series as she investigates a young girl that ran away from home with her boyfriend in 1967 and never returned, and then as she travels back to the turn of the 20th century to locate a set of missing stereoscopic glass plates that hold a mysterious connection to her own life.