Please welcome Lise Breakey
to The Qwillery as part of the of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge
Interviews. Unraveling Timelines
is published on August 31st by Candlemark & Gleam.
Please join The Qwillery in wishing Lise a Happy Publication Day!
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Lise: Thank you for inviting me! I was 16. Before that, I was a reader. I did very little other than read, so I began writing under the assumption that I wouldn’t be good at anything else. And I wanted to read a book I hadn’t been able to find, so I had to write it.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Lise: I switch between them because neither one works for long. When I can’t pants, I go back to plotting, and when I can no longer plot, I must pants.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Lise: Writing a lousy zero draft. That’s probably the most important skill in writing and I can’t do it. I can’t turn off my internal editor. If I could, I’d get a lot more done.
TQ: What has influenced/influences your writing?
Lise: I am voracious re-reader of certain very good books, so their authors have had, I hope, a lot of influence on my style. To name a few, I go to Tolkien and Le Guin for their clarity of description and characterization. I go to Douglas Adams to learn timing and humor. I would like to claim Neil Gaiman as an influence, but his voice is so quiet, I can’t hear it well enough to imitate. I channel Margaret Atwood easily, but what sounds good in her voice is just annoying coming from my characters, so I have to fight her influence.
TQ: Describe Unraveling Timelines in 140 characters or less.
Lise: Ordinary guy helps time-traveling girl escape her father’s killers. When the pair seek revenge, they learn the horrifying truth about her family.
TQ: Tell us something about Unraveling Timelines that is not found in the book description.
Lise: There is a small tribute to Harlan Ellison on page 39.
TQ: What inspired you to write Unraveling Timelines? What appealed to you about writing about time travel?
Lise: The original inspiration was a famous work of art called Madonna by the Expressionist painter, Edvard Munch. Even though it’s of a naked woman with her eyes closed and a come hither look on her face, which does not suggest empowerment, she struck me as a powerful person, and someone I wanted to get to know. The artist’s description of her almost invokes her as a goddess, a divine creatrix, and yet she seems human and flawed, as if she doubts herself and runs away from her responsibilities. Time travel seemed to be the natural ability for her to have because it encapsulates both the creative force and the running away part. Nikki creates a new alternate timeline every time she goes into the past, and then for most of the book, she leaves it behind without concern for what might happen to it.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Unraveling Timelines?
Lise: The history and geography of Paris in La Belle Epoque, the life and work of Edvard Munch, what San Francisco was like in 1906 before and after the earthquake, the history of Chinese immigrants in California, the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics and some of the most common objections to it as a plausible hypothesis.
TQ: Please tell us about the cover for Unraveling Timelines?
Lise: Oh, it was love at first sight. The artist is Eleni Tsami. I think she read my mind. The cover is everything I didn’t know I wanted it to be. Basically, it’s Madonna, but she has a dark, direct gaze; the city is unraveling around her and she’s intertwined with a dragon who, believe it or not, belongs there.
TQ: In Unraveling Timelines, who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Lise: Definitely Peter Chang. He’s an archetypal everyman, an Arthur Dent — the naive character whose perspective makes the boring exposition seem fresh and funny. Nikki is more personal to me, but also more painful. But the villains, of whom there are several, were hard to write because they all started out as sinister moustache-twirlers, then evolved into people whose motives were plausible and even sympathetic. Writing them was a tightrope walk between, on the one hand, keeping them real, and on the other, maintaining the tension between them and the protagonists. But that’s every writer’s job.
TQ: Why have you chosen to include social issues in Unraveling Timelines?
Lise: I don’t think it’s possible to write any novel without conveying some sort of social message, even if it’s as simple as “Don’t be an asshole.” In this book, the question of a time traveler’s moral responsibility is not an issue any of us deal with directly, but it has real world parallels, such as climate change, and the relationship of the powerful to the powerless.
There are also a few issues addressed overtly through statements of the characters’ values. For example, at one point Nikki, Peter and a pregnant woman are trapped by the killers. The pregnant character suggests that Peter—whose only experience of combat is playing Skyrim—should go defend the women. Nikki’s response is, “We’re not sacrificing him just because he has a Y chromosome!” Which to me is an acknowledgment of how the patriarchy hurts men. But your mileage may vary.
TQ: Which question about about Unraveling Timelines do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Lise: “Where do you get your ideas?” because then I could say, “You’re asking the wrong question.” The problem is never a shortage of ideas. Every news report, every book, every movie, every post on social media, every picture, every real person that you meet opens up a torrent of ideas. My editor, for example, is a strong-willed feminist Greek immigrant former academic molecular biology researcher— named Athena, of all things — in Trump’s America. Tell me you don’t see any potential for conflict there.
The problem really is that there are so many ideas, raining down on us all the time, that we’re conditioned to reject them in self-defense, often on a subconscious level before we’re aware of them. So first you have to train yourself to pay attention. Then you have to pick the right idea. This is where many people, myself included, make their second mistake. Once you’re aware of all the ideas out there, you realize none of them are original and, poor misguided soul, you think originality is essential. So instead of developing one decent idea, you try to achieve originality by combining two or more. This never works. Multiple messages only undermine each other and the result is a weak, unreadable pile of squick.
After you ditch the conceit of originality, you still have to pick an idea. The right idea is the one that will sustain your interest through the grueling death march of writing a book. So pick something that you care about, and if it scares you, so much the better.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Unraveling Timelines.
[Quote 1] The hallway to the living room was floored with boards that creaked abominably when he stepped on them. He was walking with heavy deliberation, like the tick of a great, slow clock, and tried to make himself quit it. The chill in the air was only the furnace going out, he thought, until he remembered that it was September. He eased past a precarious stack of packaged game disks with words like slaughter, bloodbath, massacre, and carnage in their titles, reached the doorway to the living room, and hesitated. Surely anyone in there had heard him coming.
[Quote 2] “Now come on.” Tom shifted. “Ain’t no time for hysterics.”
“They kidnapped her!” Peter said. “Forced her to timewalk out! She’s going to get her brain sucked out! I don’t have any way to reach her. Or get home. This is April 17, 1906! It’s the perfect time for hysterics!”
“Well, you can’t have ’em here,” said the doorman.
TQ: What’s next?
Lise: The sequel doesn’t have a name yet, but it’s about a young woman, born at the end of Unraveling Timelines, who visits New York City in 1946, falls in love with a jazz musician, and almost causes the world to end.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery!
Lise: Thank you so much for having me!
Candlemark & Gleam, August 31, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 310 pages
Peter Chang is an unassuming young man from San Francisco who wonders how he got the stockbroker job he is so obviously unqualified for. One night, his boss’ daughter emerges from the wall in his office, pursued by killers. Smitten, Peter helps her escape — and the life he understands disappears as he is snatched from one alternate timeline to another.
Nikki Varian is a bohemian rebel whose overbearing father uses his time-traveling power to create alternate timelines and exploit them for profit. But when the old man is murdered, her quest to find his killers and preserve what is left of her family leads her to the horrifying truth: that alternate timelines can be destroyed as well as created.
When Nikki is captured by the survivors of her father’s xenophobic extermination campaign, Peter must discover his own mysterious power in order to save her. Together, Nikki and Peter must find a way to make peace with her father’s implacable enemies — or the timeline that they both call home will be the first of many to unravel.
Lise started out writing fantasy role-playing game articles and books but has also written science fiction intermittently over the last 25 years. In her day job, she is an attorney, handling indigent criminal appeals and writs in the California Courts of Appeal. She also invented the traffic sign which reads “Resume Being Unprepared To Stop.” She lives with her family in La Mesa, California. Her best writing occurs in various coffeehouses in La Mesa Village.
Look for Lise signing at Mysterious Galaxy, San Diego, CA, on September 16th. More information here
(Facebook) and here