Saturday, June 14, 2008

Book Time

Time is a funny thing. For something so infinitely measurable, it seems to have quite a bit of flexibility. Stephen King describes this in his short story, “My Pretty Pony.” He talks about how time moves faster for older people than for children. How it slows down during something we dislike, but flies by when we are enjoying ourselves.

And how we measure time depends to a great deal on our current circumstances. When my kids were little they had no concept of an hour. Telling them we would leave to go for ice-cream in an hour left them scratching their heads. “How long is an hour?” they’d ask. Our response was something like, “Two Gummi Bears.” Or, “Two Under the Umbrella Trees.” Those of you unfamiliar with kids’ television shows of the early nineties might be scratching your own heads right now. But for our children—who knew exactly how long a single episode of Gummi Bears was—it answered their time question perfectly.

For another example, consider travel time (not time travel which is another question entirely.) If I told you I was going on a seven day trip, what might you imagine? A car drive to Ohio and back? Four or five days in New York with flights to and from? A week in Mexico? A quick jaunt to Paris?

What if you had asked someone the same question a hundred years ago? Two hundred? Back when a trip from Ohio to California was not only months long, but filled with the very real possibility of death, a four day trip might be what we’d consider an afternoon drive. Yes, it is because distances have shortened with modern travel. But you have to admit that it has also changed the way we view time. Would you even consider taking a trip that included months of slow monotonous travel? I don’t think most of us have the same kind of patience people back then possessed.

Book time is another weird variation. There is how time moves within a book. Consider that some books jump centuries in a single chapter. Others cover the formation and growth of a state, country, or even planet. And yet others may cover only a day or two in the entire length of the book. If it is handled skillfully, the reader is really not even conscious of the work it takes to either stretch two days into an entire novel, or transition from 12th century Europe to modern day Israel without pulling the reader out of the story.

Then there’s reading time. I Hate—with a capital H—finding myself on a plane without a book. Even if the flight is only a couple of hours, I feel completely trapped without something to read. Time seems to just slog by. I’m sure for someone who flies less it might not be such a big deal, but I feel like I’m stuck in a padded room with no source of entertainment as the seconds slowly tick by. Yes, there are occasionally movies—but never anything you really want to watch, and usually on tiny little screens like look like they haven’t had the color adjusted since 1982. I also have my MP3 player—doesn’t everyone these days—but I like music as background, not my primary entertainment.

On the other hand, I can breeze through even the longest flights if I have a good book to get lost in. I always try to keep at least a couple of books in my travel bag, so I can move from one to another if I get bored, or have a backup in case I finish one sooner than expected. Somehow having a good book to read makes me a much more patient person. It’s like time traveling for the mind.

Finally there is book time for authors. This is a really weird phenomenon that takes a while to get used to. Water Keep, which won’t hit shelves for nearly three months, first came to me nearly two years ago. I started writing it in the fall of 2006. It was accepted in the spring of 2007. Except for small edits here and there, I haven’t written anything on it for months. For me, it’s old news. I’m caught up in the excitement of writing the second book in the series. Kyja and Marcus looking for Water Keep feels like it happened five or even ten years ago.

It would be easy to be sick of the book since I’ve read it so many times. But then I get to revisit it through fresh eyes. I get to hear how much people like Kyja. Or how cool they think the Unmakers are. As I answer the questions for the blog tour, it’s almost like I’ve been transported back in time to when Water Keep was fresh and new for me. It’s how I feel when I reread an old favorite to my kids—like “Where the Red Fern Grows,” or “A Wrinkle in Time.”

Of course, I also have people tell me about things they wish I’d done better. That’s when time suddenly catches up and I go, “Well, not much I can do about that now.” But then, I can try to improve on those things in book 2.

Still it’s a weird phenomenon. Kind of like having time overlap for a while. When I go on my ten city tour to promote Water Keep, I will have already finished writing Land Keep. I will probably get an advance for book two before I get a royalty check for book one. I will be out getting kids excited about the first book in a series, while my mind is already beginning the plot details of the third book.

The good news is, I love talking about books and I also love writing books. So even though I may be caught up in this weird time vortex, I will be enjoying myself, so time won’t drag at all. Unless I get caught on a plane with nothing to read. Shudder.

6 comments:

DesLily said...

Well, Stephen King is 100% right about how fast times goes for older people...you can't even imagine.

So.. after reading this post I have a question. Yeah, I know I probably should save it for my interview but it's appropriate for this post...

Did you have all the (proposed ) 5 books done in draft before you tried to sell book one? Or did you only have book one done and maybe an outline for the others???

Debi said...

I just came over from Deslily's blog to say hi. I will definitely want to get a hold of your book when it's out!

--Annie

Weston Elliott said...

Time never flies as fast as it does when you're trying to accomplish something while your four-year-old is taking a nap!

By the way, just finished the ARC of Farworld and I am totally in love with it!! I can't WAIT to see number 2!

Anonymous said...

Pat sent me over to say hi, introduce myself, and you know ... let you know she loved Farworld and is sure the rest of her readers will too!

So, here I am, I am Kathy, aka mutualaide.

Lenore said...

great post!

Worldbuilder Robin said...

You know, they make e-audiobooks you can download into MP3 players. Just have a couple of those installed and you're good to go. Or, if you're really technophilic and have an excess of cash, you could pick up Amazon's Kindle and order books instantly. They've even caught up with the backorders on those things!

I'm just sayin'...