Playing with Time, a guest post by G. Z. Schmidt
In grade school, we were taught that a story has a beginning, middle, and end, and that the events always progress in a clear, chronological order. Me, I’ve always enjoyed stories that play around with time. Time travel, jumping across timelines, non-linear narratives. To quote the famous TV show Doctor Who, “People assume that time is a strict progression from cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey… stuff.” The beginning and end for any story is arbitrary, if you think about it.
My first middle grade novel, No Ordinary Thing, was a time traveling story. The book is told in a dual narrative, featuring two main characters. One lives in New York during the 1900s. The other lives in the same city a century later. Through the time traveling snow globe, the two characters meet at different stages in their lives.
Admittedly, writing such a book was a colossal challenge. I had to keep track of all the time jumps and dates, when the characters met, overlapping timelines, etc. This was in addition to the extensive amount of stuff that already needs attention when editing with a publisher, such as character development and pacing. Looking back, I’m not sure how I did it.
In addition, time travel has an inherent paradox. It doesn’t always make sense when you think about it. But that’s part of the appeal (or challenge). I like stories that are more open-ended, stories that don’t fill in all the holes and leave things open to the reader’s interpretation. I enjoy magic realism, where the rules of the magic are not explained.
Still, once I finished revisions for No Ordinary Thing, I told myself, Okay, no more time travel stories again!
Ironically, my second middle grade novel, The Dreamweavers, also jumps around in time, but in a different way. This book was easier to write because the narrative was much more straightforward. The Dreamweavers takes place in ancient China and follows a city that has fallen under a mysterious curse. Folks around the city know it as the City of Ashes—a forlorn place of abandoned homes and empty streets. Once upon a time, however, the city had been full of life and laughter. Through flashbacks, The Dreamweavers explores the tragic events that had happened to the city, and how the effects ripple across generations to the present day.
This device is used in many of my favorite stories. The book Holes by Louis Sachar, for example, also spans across multiple generations. The book follows both the main character’s life, as well as his great-great-grandfather’s storyline. We see how events that happened nearly a century ago affect the present. One of my favorite TV shows, Avatar: The Last Airbender, also explores this idea. The Avatar is a master who has been reincarnated continually through previous lifetimes. Throughout the show, we see flashbacks of his previous lives, and how the mistakes of past leaders have influenced the future.
There’s a popular quote that I live by: “Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.” History is never truly in the past. You can zoom out thirty, fifty, five hundred years, and you’ll still find traces of the past in modern day life. Laws and concepts from ancient Rome are being applied even today. Government systems and landmarks are shaped from millenniums past. It’s impossible to live apart from the past, to view it as a forgotten relic.
That’s why I enjoy writing stories that explore how the past intertwines with the future. In The Dreamweavers, the mysterious curse that afflicted the City of Ashes is the same one that fell upon the descendants of a particular family line, due to a crime committed by one of their ancestors. The descendants are not responsible for their ancestor’s crime. At the same time, however, our actions do affect people in future generations. The Dreamweavers explores the nuances of this. No Ordinary Thing goes one step further such that future events impact the past, due to the implications of time travel, but the idea remains the same. All our moments in life are interconnected with other peoples’.
Maybe one day I can be as skilled as Christopher Nolan, who brings non-linear storytelling to a whole new level in his mind-bending films. It might be a little while before I can write book in reverse.
Meet the author
G. Z. Schmidt is the middle grade author of No Ordinary Thing and The Dreamweavers, which released in September 2021. She was born in China and immigrated to the U.S. when she was six. She grew up in the Midwest and the South, where she chased fireflies at night and listened occasionally for tornado/hurricane warnings. She received her BA in Economics from Wellesley College. She currently lives in Southern California with her husband and their tuxedo cat.
About The Dreamweavers
Twin siblings journey through the City of Ashes and visit the Jade Rabbit to save their grandpa in this Chinese folklore-inspired fantasy adventure.
Since their parents’ strange disappearance several years ago, 12-year-old twins Mei and Yun have been raised by their grandfather, who makes the best mooncakes around using a secret ingredient.
On the day of the Mid-Autumn Harvest Festival, the emperor sends his son to sample Grandpa’s renowned mooncakes—but instead of tasting wonderful, they are horrible and bitter, strangely mirroring the odd, gloomy atmosphere and attitudes that have been washing over the village in the last few days. Grandpa is arrested for insulting and harming the prince, and Mei and Yun realize they are the only two people who will come to Grandpa’s aid.
The twins set out on foot for the long journey to the emperor’s palace where Grandpa’s being taken, but a surprising stop in the eerie City of Ashes, a visit with the legendary, mystical Jade Rabbit, and an encounter with a powerful poet whose enchanted words spread curses, influence just how Mei and Yun will manage to clear their grandfather’s name.
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 09/14/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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