Today I am so pleased to welcome Ethan Day to Joyfully Jay. Ethan is kicking off Time Travel Week with a post about writing his time travel story, A Token of Time. He also brought an excerpt from the book to share (and is giving a copy away in our big TTW giveaway!) Please join me in giving Ethan a big welcome!
Making Time Travel Work For Me
Hello to all the Joyfully Jay, time-travel loving readers out there in cyberland who are searching for new adventures to get literarily lost in! Many thanks to Jay for having me as a guest on the blog today. I’m here to talk about time travel and romance within my own writing and why I have personally always had a fondness for the genre. My one and only foray into time travel as a writer is a book titled, A Token of Time, available through MLR Press. I typically write romantic comedy, so this book was admittedly a bit of a departure for me as an author. However, I’ve always had varied tastes as a reader, and appreciate the variety of ways in which a time-travel yarn can be woven. From The Time Machine by H.G. Wells to Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series and Peggy Sue Got Married to the Terminator, time travel has been explored in books and film over and over again. Whether it be rips or tears in the fabric of time, magical or enchanted objects, and even sci-fi based fiction that relies heavily on science, the storytelling devices may change, but our fascination with the idea of it remains forever insatiable.
Many of my favorite books and films as a kid included adventure, fantasy and even time travel, which admittedly helped fuel my desire to write A Token of Time. There were many days I found writing Token to be frustrating during the three year time period that it took me to finish the book. Yet for several reasons, it was one of those stories that refused to let go of me—constantly playing out in the back of my mind. Eventually, I had to get it onto the page so I could finally let it go and make room for the obsessing of new tales waiting to be written.
The inspiration for Token came from a couple of different places. The groundwork or foundation of this story started many, many…many years ago when I was a teenager. I was completely enamored with the classic films from Hollywood’s golden age. I used to dissect the TV Guide each week scouring the pages looking for movies playing on cable that I’d yet to see or ones that I’d seen before and treasured as favorites—like old friends I’d loved but hadn’t seen in a long time. To say I was obsessed, would be an understatement. Looking back, I think it’s safe to say my fascination was evidence of escapism at play—early signs of a love for storytelling developing during a phase in my life when I was struggling with the undeniable realization that I was different in a way that was perceived to be a less than acceptable at that point in our human history.
Hollywood from the 1930’s through the 1950’s became a romanticized period of time in my own mind, in spite of the fact that life for the LGBT community during those years was the antithesis of welcoming or friendly. That’s the power a healthy-sized, over-active imagination can have and a great many of my teen-hours were squandered, daydreaming about Cary Grant, Rock Hudson and Montgomery Clift—wondering what they might have been like in real-life.
With that fascination firmly in place, the first niggling of an actual plotline for A Token of Time came to me as part of a daydream one rainy afternoon. That first nugget of inspiration came after watching a film I’ve always loved but hadn’t seen in ages called, Somewhere in Time. It’s a sad and romantic love story you should definitely check out if you’ve not seen it before. At the time, I’d also recently finished reading Tab Hunter’s autobiography, Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star. Those two influences came together, and from there, Marc Castle was born—the imagined object of my affection who became that ideal which made me long to escape back in time.
It became immediately clear to me when I began considering the how and why of the book, that the story would be best served if our matinee idol had been one of the many who suffered any chance at reaching super-stardom due to the collapse of the studio system in the late 50’s and early 60’s. His character needed to be at crossroads in his own life, someone searching for anchors to hold him securely in place—allowing him the opportunity to decide what to do with the rest of his life.
On the other end of the spectrum, was the everyman character from the future. In spite of the fact it took me three-plus years to finish this book, I started writing it in 2009 and that point in time became the reference as ‘the future’ for the book. I had both the origin point and the destination point for my time travel story, along with one-half of my hunky protagonists fully formed. That left only two other big pieces of the puzzle yet to be determined: my second ‘who’ and the ‘how’ behind the time-travel itself.
In many ways, figuring out who that second hero was going to be was the most difficult aspect to suss out for this book. I knew I wanted him to be younger and that he couldn’t be a ‘fan’, at least not in the way that I had been. Straight away, it was clear to me that for our hero from the future, going back in time would need to be a choice—a leap of faith, mind you, but a choice nonetheless. Most people likely wouldn’t just decide to travel back in time on a whim unless they had some guarantee they could get back home. My guy needed a real reason, perhaps he was running from someone or maybe he had no one left that he loved—no reason to stay—nothing holding him to his own time? The instant I had all of that worked out in my own mind, Zachary came to life.
All that was left at that point was figuring out how everything was going to work together. I had all the ingredients, but I still needed the blender. I felt strongly that the book would need to incorporate a paranormal-based-fantasy aspect to time travel. I’d written another book in 2009 titled As You Are, a contemporary rom-com which would seemingly have little to do with a book like Token. However, there was a tiny seed planted within the history of Julian’s family in St. Louis—a brief mention of a family of witches that lived at the opposite end of the street from Julian’s grandmother’s ancestral home. It was something I’d written and then forgot about until it came time to settling who Zachary’s family would be.
Another story I’d been plotting out during that same time frame was an Indiana Jones-inspired adventure story about a wealthy treasure-hunting playboy and a scholarly Egyptologist looking for an ancient token lost to history but purported to have incredible magical powers. The heroes of that story, Jonathan Reed and Maximilian Thorne were incorporated into Token’s world, and the artifact intended to bring those two men together was tapped for a headlining role in Zachary and Marc’s love story. Much more ancient than the Egyptian mythology where it is first mentioned, the token is an amulet, holding great power which will determine whether or not those who wear it are worthy of wielding that power.
From there, the rules that construct the world in which all these characters live became clearer to me. There are so many things about our world which remain unexplained, a vast arena-sized amount of theories and explanations for all the things we cannot comprehend. Much like religion, there are many different variations within the same theme—gods and man—good versus evil. What if all the theories and explanations for all the unexplained phenomenon were all true? Aliens really have been to our planet many times throughout the centuries? Magic was real, but there were a multitude of conflicting sources for that magic, which were constantly at war with one other—like opposing magnetic poles, each one attempting to absorb or repel the others. Or as Jonathon explains in the book:
“There’s more than one source for the mystical elements of our universe. Some are considered natural to our world while others are arguably thought of as alien in the sense they may not originate from this solar system. Regardless of origin, I assure you they are each believed to be organic in nature and therefore share a common thread.”
The token from my book is the thing that protects Zachary from the family who wishes him harm by hiding him in the past. It’s the thing that brings Zachary and Marc together and allows them to discover true love. Zachary and his ‘gifts’ enable Marc to find closure with regard to the parents he has lost and Marc’s kindness, the safety and security he gives so freely to Zachary, who is a stranger to him when they first meet, allows Zachary to grow and become stronger as an individual.
With the where, the when, the who and the how all sorted out, there was one more step required in order to successfully pull everything together. Admittedly, I don’t love doing research. It’s probably my least favorite part of the writing process, and unfortunately it isn’t a step that can be skipped. Even a contemporary rom-com involves some research, but that’s nothing when compared to the level of detail involved in a story with a historical component such as time travel. It’s more than just getting dates right. You can’t have your character going to see a movie released in 1959 if the month is July but the movie didn’t officially release until October—three or four months later.
I also tried not to rely on only one source for information, attempting to corroborate details from at least two different sources whenever possible. I’m a visual person, so when it came time to detailing Marc Castle’s cliff-side , I took the time and sketched out a floor plan, including diagraming the way the house sat on the cliff which led down to a stretch of private beach below. Again, for me, a large portion of the story takes place in this one location, so being able to visualize the flow and understand how the characters would move throughout the space helped place me their world.
Maps were also a useful tool for me. In the case of Token, I went searching through ebay for vintage travel guides that were published during that time period which related to the geographical area. It helped that Los Angeles/Hollywood has historically been a popular tourist spot, which no doubt made finding the materials easier. As a runaway, Zachary was already used to living hand-to-mouth and having to scrape by with less, but relocating to a different decade with nothing – no money, no identity? Catalogues from the time period were extremely useful—I was able to find Sears catalogues and others like it on ebay as well. It was an invaluable resource when it came to immersing myself in the period.
Things that Zachary left behind, such as cell phones, the internet, the fact that diet coke hadn’t been invented yet and there wasn’t a Starbucks to be found…anywhere…were details that helped provide touches of humor throughout. We take so much for granted now, but I remember back in the day, before the invention of the remote control, I used to have to pull my butt off the couch in order to change the TV channel. They are minor annoyances in the face of what is otherwise an awe-inspiring event in Zachary’s life—being transported back in time.
The book is first and foremost a fantasy/romance with contemporary, paranormal and historical aspects all tied together within one story. I’d probably call it suspenseful before labeling it a mystery, but at the heart of the book there’s a story about fate and love and perhaps even redemption. It’s a love story that challenges the constructs of time, but my favorite message or theme within its pages is that even after you’ve lost everything, life will find a way to make you whole again.
I hope those of you who choose to read it, enjoy the book! I think it’s a fun, sometimes wild ride with enough twists and turns to hopefully keep you on the edge of your seat.
Zachary carried in an open bottle of wine and three glasses as Dave continued to fiddle with the projector they’d set up on top of the dining room table. Jonathon looked about the room as if taking note that the place was in a state of disrepair.
He glanced back at Dave every so often to see how things were coming along.
Zachary watched him carefully for a few moments, thinking he seemed nervous, or was it anxious? Something told him that Marc wouldn’t appreciate the mess. Placing the glasses down he proceeded to fill them, handing one to Jonathon before pushing another across the table to Dave.
“I think it’s ready,” Dave said to no one in particular. He took a sip of wine and further examined the projector. “I couldn’t find the screen…Jonathon would you happen to know if Marc had one?”
Jonathon nodded, heading over to the large plate glass window showcasing the courtyard between the house and garage. Zachary followed, ready to help him carry the thing till he realized what Jonathon was doing.
Zachary smiled at the simple genius of it when Jonathon flipped a switch in the corner. A mechanical hum began, followed by a screen which slowly began to drop down in front of the window from a long metal grate in the ceiling. Zachary had assumed it was an air vent of some sort.
“Very cool,” Dave said.
“Thank you for inviting me for this.” Jonathon stood, hovering in the corner for a moment. “I wasn’t sure I wanted to come at first, but…”
Zachary watched as the older man once again trailed off into his own thoughts. “Did you drive yourself?”
“Goodness me, no,” Jonathon said. “My eyesight has gotten too poor.”
“Would you…I mean…shouldn’t we invite your driver in? Feels funny leaving the guy out there all alone.”
“He’s used to it.” Jonathon moved to a chair. He stopped as if realizing. “But if it makes you uncomfortable and you don’t mind, of course. He is family.”
“Please.” Zachary nodded as Jonathon began to make his way to the front door. “Nephew or grandson?”
“You misunderstand me.” Jonathon poked his head out the front door and placed two fingers in his mouth. A freakishly loud whistle followed. He motioned as if to wave the guy in, pulling the door closed. “He’s family…as in homosexual, not by blood.”
“Oh!” Zachary felt his cheeks flush with heat.
“And not like that, get your dirty mind out of the gutter.” Jonathon managed to get out before the chauffeur came bounding through the door. “My Max was it…the only man for me.”
Zachary was embarrassed, having unintentionally offended his elder. He heard a low rumble of a laugh coming from Dave who was standing behind him, enjoying his awkwardness.
“Sorry.” Zachary apologized to Jonathon before offering his hand to the newest member of the Divine Secrets of the Ga Ga Homohood.
The man introduced himself as Bruce, who was beefy, filling out his chauffeur’s uniform quite nicely, and certainly wasn’t hard on the eyes. Zachary guessed Bruce to be in his mid twenties. He had short black hair, a nice chiseled jaw line, but was on the shorter side with quite large hands, something Zachary always appreciated.
Bruce didn’t have much to say outside of yes, no, and thank you.
Zachary brought him a can of coke, since he’d declined wine. Probably just as well considering he was definitely the designated driver out of that twosome. Zachary and Jonathon exchanged grins catching Bruce and Dave eyeing one another.
It suddenly occurred to Zachary that Dave probably enjoyed having sex, something the poor guy hadn’t had time for having been glued to Zachary’s side since Nick died.
Dave had never looked at him that way and on some level he should probably be upset by that fact, though quickly decided to let it go. He had enough to deal with as it was.
They finally all settled in once Zachary topped off everyone’s glasses and turned off the lights. Dave flipped the switch on the projector and the light flickered, reminiscent of the way Zachary’s visions began. The film had no sound, but it was in color, they discovered. Whoever was filming had been standing out on the patio filming the ocean and the boats off in the distance.
The film had a faded, old fashioned quality—both bright and dim at the same time as if the colors were separating. Zachary was grateful it played at all considering how old it had to be.
Zachary listened to the ticking sound of the projector behind him as the photographer slowly turned the camera toward the section of the house that hung out over the cliff. The patio looked deserted, but you could see someone moving around inside the house and the camera began heading in that direction. Once close enough, he could see it was a woman.
Okay…didn’t see that coming.
“That’s Madison Sinclair,” Jonathon said. “One of Marc’s Hollywood friends.”
Zachary nodded, deciding not to press further hearing a hint of disdain in Jonathon’s voice.
The Madison lady looked up at the camera; gave a little wave and a huge smile. She was extremely beautiful, like a movie star herself; with long Rita Hayworth styled blonde hair. She was flawlessly put together in a seaside ensemble wearing a wide brimmed straw hat, a retro looking one piece swimsuit, and a long wrap around skirt tied at the waist.
The camera whipped around, causing the four men watching the screen to shift in their chairs from the vertigo. It stopped on Marc, standing out on the patio in nothing but these sexy form fitting swim trunks that had tiny red and white checks.
His skin was well tanned as he walked around acting silly— making macho, he-man poses, before moving on to jumping jacks.
Zachary smiled, watching Jonathon stare up at the screen with a big smile.
Marc suddenly walked up to the camera very quickly, in a kind of Three Stooges manner and licked the lens. The camera jerked wildly as Marc laughed hysterically. The camera operator turned it around and looked into as if he were angry. He was an attractive young man, and Zachary was surprised by the sudden flash of disappointment in his gut.
The guy wiped the lens off with the corner of his open shirt.
“That would be Leo Archer,” Jonathon announced. “Another of Marc’s Hollywood friends…always good for a laugh. So terrible what happened to him.”
“What happened?” Dave asked.
“No one knows really. He simply vanished one day without a trace,” Jonathon answered. “There’d been a string of young gay men who’d disappeared like that back then. If I remember correctly it made the papers during the time Max and I spent in Los Angeles in ‘59 and ‘60. There was an investigation of some sort if I recall correctly. Not that the gay aspect was being reported mind you.”
Zachary nodded, unable to tear his gaze away from the screen.
Leo finished cleaning the lens, turning the camera back around to film Marc in a purposefully over-the-top embrace with Madison. It was very melodramatic. They both jumped and separated slightly, looking across the patio where Marc’s bedroom was located.
Zachary chuckled; understanding they were going for a corny, silent movie-like feel.
Marc and Madison turned, looking into the camera with awe and shock before Marc shoved Madison away.
Zachary’s heart nearly stopped, seeing himself up there on the screen, acting fake-upset with Marc. His doppelganger wore nothing aside from a tight pair of black swim trunks, and there it was…slightly distorted in color yet dangling from his neck…Pepi’s token.
Every muscle in his body stiffened, and the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. Zachary heard Bruce and Dave leaning forward in their seats behind him.
Madison was wringing her hands on screen, wailing away pretending to be distraught. Marc was trying to grab fifties Zachary, who was attempting to fend off his advances on screen.
Apparently not too great of an actor…not even a great bad actor.
“Dude…that’s like…you,” Bruce said, obviously stunned.
No one else spoke, but Zachary sucked down what was left of the wine in his glass. He watched as Marc pulled fifties Zachary into his body, kissing him. Madison faux crumpled onto the ground like she’d fainted, and Marc picked fifties Zachary up and tossed him over his shoulder, carrying him off toward the bedroom. Fifties Zachary looked into the camera with a big smile and waved goodbye with both hands.
Leo turned the camera around and stared directly into the lens with a they’ll never believe this back in Ohio expression.
The screen went black briefly and then white as the film ran out of the reel.
Everyone sat perfectly still, all eyes were on Zachary.
“C…can we…rewind that?” Zachary finally got out, placing a hand over his chest.
Dave snapped to attention and began working on that.
Zachary’s gaze slowly drifted over to Jonathon who was staring back at him with a told-you-so grin.
On the run from his family, Zachary Hamilton was cursed with a gift he neither wanted nor asked for. The recent murder of his lover unleashed a chain of events revealing Zachary’s connection to the recently deceased legendary matinee idol, Marc Castle. Attempting to unravel the mystery behind the movie star, Zachary encountered an ancient relic shrouded in history and folklore, leading to a discovery so shocking it altered his very existence – challenging everything Zachary knew to be true – to believe that the impossible, was possible.
I am a gay man living in Missouri…I can hear the gasps already!! How very un-chic of me, yes I know. It was here I was born and here I have stayed.
I’m currently single but always looking for that special someone that makes my heart skip a beat…in addition to being able to put up with my neurotic ass. The worst thing about being a romance writer is finding a real life hottie that can live up to the fantasy I create in my head and subsequently thrust upon him before actually getting to know the real him. I can hear you getting all judgie…it’s an occupational hazard!! To all my past and future boyfriends, my sincerest apologies…I can’t help myself!
I was the youngest of four children and the only boy, so needless to say, I was spoiled rotten. I’ve always had an extravagant fantasy life. When I played with my Star Wars action figures as a child, I liked to make up my own stories. Naturally, Luke Skywalker and Han Solo were totally meant for each other, and Princess Leia made a bitchin’ wise cracking Fag Hag.
I somehow managed to survive high school living in a small racist town in Southeast Missouri and emerged unscathed, realizing life was too short to pretend to be anything other than who I was. I was the little homo that could…so damn it, I did! It was all very Lifetime Movie Network meets After School Special I assure you.
After a few stints in college, I eventually signed up for a Creative Writing course. I took the class because there were no tests. For once my scholastic laziness paid off, and I found an outlet for all the fantasies running amuck in my head. It was love at first write, and I’ve been doing it off and on ever since.
Now I’ve decided it’s time to un-barricade the doors and unleash my imagination onto the world. So very sorry world!! My fantasy life is now available for public consumption and I’m desperately hoping you’re really, really hungry.