Author Wendy Nikel talks time travel, table tennis, and her upcoming novella, The Continuum

Wendy Nikel is a speculative fiction author with a degree in elementary education, a fondness for road trips, and a terrible habit of forgetting where she’s left her cup of tea. Her short fiction has been published by Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, Daily Science Fiction, Nature: Futures, and elsewhere. For more info, visit wendynikel.com or sign up for her newsletter and receive a free short story ebook.

the cover of the book is a stopwatch with the outline of the Titanic in front of itWendy’s novella THE CONTINUUM is available for pre-order via World Weaver Press! (Release date: January 23, 2018.)

The novella follows the misadventures of Elise Morley, a worker for a time travel travel agency whose specialty is retrieving clients gone astray in the past.

To celebrate the upcoming release, I (virtually) sat down with Wendy to pick her mind about time travel and writing–and more important things, like table tennis.

SB: You’re all set to receive your Nobel Peace Prize, but the committee has one last task for you: A pairs game of table tennis against two historical figures.  Who are your opponents, and who’s your partner?

Katherine von Bora portrait

Katherine von Bora

WN: I tried Googling “least athletic historical figures,” but that wasn’t much help, so I guess I’m going to have to forego actually trying to win this game and go instead for the historical figures I’d be most interested to interact with and get to know a little.

I want Jane Austen on my team, because even if we lose the actual table tennis match, we’re at least going to win the psychological match with her witty banter. Who knows? With her Persuasion (pun intended), we might even be able to convince the other team to give up.

On the other team, I’ll go with Katherine von Bora (wife of the Protestant reformer Martin Luther), just because I think she lived a fascinating life. She was a Catholic nun who ran away from the convent of Nimbschen and, as the story goes, refused to marry anyone but Luther, who at that point had been declared an outlaw by the emperor. She was also apparently an excellent hostess, so maybe she’d bring snacks to the table tennis match.

And for her teammate, I’ll pick Clara Barton.  It’s probably a good idea to have a nurse on site, in case anyone gets hurt.

SB: I imagine it’s hard to enjoy yourself properly in the past without screwing up the timeline.  What are your top two travel tips for would-be time travel tourists?  Any places to avoid or must-visit destinations?

WN: In my novella, THE CONTINUUM, the Place in Time Travel agency has ten essential rules that travelers must follow to avoid messing too much with the past, as well as a whole list of “Black Dates” to avoid. They’ll find, throughout the story, that there’s good reasons for these rules and that things get rather sticky when they’re not followed.

Personally, my “must-visit” list would include the early American West, Victorian-era London, and the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

Painting of the World's Fair by Theodore Robinson

The World’s Fair, as painted by Theodore Robinson

SB: What are the most interesting two things you learned while researching the RMS Titanic?  Any popular misconceptions you’d like to bust?

WN: I’ve been a Titanic buff since I was a kid, well before the Hollywood movie that perpetuated a lot of the common myths about the ship. (For instance: Bruce Ismay dressing up as a woman to secure a place in a lifeboat, First Officer Murdoch shooting passengers, etc). But films aren’t the only places that these myths and misconceptions pop up. A couple I see surprisingly often:

  • There’s apparently a myth floating around about a cursed mummy being aboard the Titanic. (Snopes debunks)
  • Another myth states that, during the construction phase, a man was trapped in the ship’s hull and left there, thus “cursing” the ship. (Snopes debunks)
  • Some say that the Titanic was the first ship to send the SOS signal — also not true. (Snopes debunks)

The RMS TitanicSome of the newer theories or ideas I’ve seen floating around (again, pun intended) have to do with the reasons why the ship sank. Some say a smoldering coal fire in the belly of the ship weakened the hull, causing the ship to tear apart more easily. Others suggest that weak rivets may have been part of the problem. Personally, I don’t think there’s strong enough evidence in either case to say definitively that the disaster would not have occurred just the same if it had not been for these issues. Coal fires were not uncommon in that time, and other similarly built ships — including Titanic‘s sister ship, the Olympic — survived collisions without the rivets giving out.

SB: In addition to writing, you’re a managing editor at Flash Fiction Online.  Has the daily grind of assessing other people’s flash fiction taught you any lessons about writing a novel that you wish you’d known about when you were a baby writer?

WN: One of the lessons I’ve learned in my time at Flash Fiction Online is the importance of brevity. THE CONTINUUM began its life as a 65,000-word novel, and when I cut it down to novella length, I really had to consider every scene, every paragraph, and every word. With flash fiction, you have to make every word count, and learning to do so has helped make my novel-writing prose a lot tighter and more dynamic.

SB: Thanks for stopping by, Wendy! I’m looking forward to diving in to the world of THE CONTINUUM in January.