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.

Guest Post – Daniel M. Bensen on How Dinosaurs can fix your Need for Speed

Here’s a first—a guest post!

Daniel M. Bensen is a fellow member of the Codex Writing Group, and he is doing a blog tour in celebration of self-publishing his novel Groom of the Tryannosaur Queen, which he describes as “a time-travel romance with dinosaurs.”

Here’s the cover blurb:

Former soldier Andrea Herrera isn’t happy with where her life’s taken her. Specifically, to Hell Creek, Montana, 65 million years before the present. As far as careers go, making sure the dinosaurs don’t eat her paleontologist clients comes in a pretty dismal second choice to serving her country. But when their time machine malfunctions, Andrea and her team are trapped in a timeline that shouldn’t exist with something a hell of a lot more dangerous than terrible lizards: other humans.

Sounds like a lot of fun to me, so without further ado, here is Daniel M. Bensen telling us how dinosaurs can fix your need for speed:

I self-published Groom of the Tyrannosaur Queen (http://www.amazon.com/Groom-Tyrannosaur-Queen-time-travel-romance-ebook/dp/B018UD6DH2 ) on the first of January, but before that, the book sat in my trunk for two and a half years. In the last editing-run through I did in preparation for publishing, I was expecting (dare I say “hoping”) to find that the two books I’d written since had taught me something. I hoped I would find big fat rookie mistakes to fix. I did, but I also found some scenes that were really good. Better, in fact, than anything in my subsequent books. There are scenes in Tyrannosaur Queen where there isn’t much action going on, the plot isn’t moving, and we’re not learning about the characters. We’re just watching a velociraptor hunt or a quetzalcoatlus fly or a tyrannosaur stand in the rain. In my later books, I knew more about how to efficiently craft a story, but I had apparently forgotten how to stop and smell the dinosaurs.

Here’s how I wrote Tyrannosaur Queen. I had your standard three-act adventure story outline of a character finding herself in a strange new place, coming to terms with that place, defeating the bad guy, and going home. Then I focused in on those dinosaurs. I sat down and described them. What did they look like? What were they doing and why? I dropped those dinosaur scenes into the outline. Now, as I was writing I had a series of goals. I had to get my characters to their next encounter with an animal. If there was no such encounter coming up, well then, how about a nodosaur suddenly attacks?

Because an outline is just the bones of the story. As anyone who reconstructs dinosaurs can tell you, bones need to be covered in muscles, fat, and skin with feathers or spikes or those weird little wattles and dewlaps. There needs to be something useless and ornamental in your story, or else it’s just a boring list of stuff that happened.

I led myself through the novel with this trail of beastly bread-crumbs and I kept the process of writing fun. I hope that shows.

Now that’s a metaphor for storytelling I bet you haven’t heard before.

Groom of the Tryannosaur Queen is now available on Amazon Kindle, and you can keep Drack of Dan over at his website, The Kingdoms of Evil.