Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Welcome, Marlene Dotterer!

I've got a special treat for you all on Grey Skies this week, because that's how I roll: an interview with author Marlene Dotterer! She writes super fun time travel books, but this isn't your average going-back-in-time book. Of course it's not. Do you think I would subject you people to something "average?" In Marlene's book, "Shipbuilder," our intrepid time travelers go back to the Titanic - not as passengers with Jack and Rose, but to the building of the Titanic.

Don't even pretend like I didn't just blow your mind. Here's the blurb to whet your appetite:

Imagine being there before the Titanic set sail.

Now imagine being there before she’s even built.

Sam Altair is a physicist living in Belfast, Ireland. He has spent his career researching time travel and now, in early 2006, he’s finally reached the point where he can send objects backwards through time. The only problem is, he doesn’t know where the objects go. They don’t show up in the past, and no one notices any changes to the present. Are they creating alternate time lines?

To collect more data, Sam tries a clandestine experiment in a public park, late at night. But the experiment goes horribly wrong when Casey Wilson, a student at the university, stumbles into his isolation field. Sam tries to rescue her, but instead, he and Casey are transported back to the year 1906. Stuck in the past, cut off from everyone and everything they know, Sam and Casey work together to help each other survive. Then Casey meets Thomas Andrews, the man who will shortly begin to build the most famous ship since Noah’s Ark. Should they warn him, changing the past and creating unknown consequences for the future?

Or should they let him die?

Marlene was nice enough to stop by on her blog tour to talk about "Shipbuilder," being a lady in the sci-fi genre, and the writing process.

Meredith Lopez:
The subject of time travel is so vast. How did you choose the building of The Titanic as the setting for your first book?

Marlene Dotterer:
Thanks for having me here, Meredith. I’m always happy to talk about my book!

I didn’t really choose Titanic, actually. It was Thomas Andrews who caught my imagination. The truth is, I never planned to write a book. At least, not beyond the “I’d like to write a book someday” thinking we all have. But one day in 2007, I was watching James Cameron’s movie while I exercised. And I started wondering, who was Thomas Andrews? What kind of man builds ships for a living?

So I got on the computer and did a search on him. Wow. Lots of information, all of it talking about what a great man he was, and how kind and generous he was, and how everyone loved him...

And for some reason, every word I read squeezed my heart dry at the loss of this man. I was devastated. That’s a strange thing to feel for someone who’s been dead for a hundred years, but there’s no other word for it. I was as heartbroken as if he’d been a dearly loved relative and I just found out about his death.

I started writing the book. I wanted to give him a second chance at life. That’s crazy, of course, and I know I can’t actually do that. But within the pages of my book, he gets to try again, this time knowing what he faces.

ML: How do you deal with the issue of paradox inherent in the issue of time travel?

MD: My own understanding of time travel is pitiful. I can only go on what feels right to me, instinctually. To me, if we can go back in time, I see no way to not affect things. We’re taking up space, we’re interacting with people... something will be different. But how can the future be different if we already lived through it? Has it happened yet? If it didn’t happen, I as the time traveler, wouldn’t be alive to travel through time.

Oy, it’s enough to make you drink.

So I go with the parallel universe idea. I explain this in some detail on my website on the Journal Entries page, here and here. But I promise, no illustrations in this post! Essentially, when my time travelers go back to 1906, they create a new universe that splits off from the original one. In that new universe, everything is the same as in ours, up until that point. In general, the same things will happen in the new universe that happened in ours, unless the time travelers do something to cause a change. San Francisco has an earthquake, for example. They couldn’t stop an earthquake. But maybe they can keep a ship from sinking.

ML: What research did you do for your book, both the scientific angle and the historical angle?

MD: The scientific research was fun. I’ve always loved science, and in fact, I have a degree in geology. So this was just like being in school. I read up on the current thoughts on time travel, and tried to make sure my story fits with what we knew in 2006. Also, Albert Einstein has a minor, off-screen role in my book, so I read a couple of books about him.

Historical research covered everything from the life of Thomas Andrews and the building of the Titanic, to life in Edwardian Ireland, and the place of women in that society. Also, any story taking place in Ireland runs up against the political and religious issues. There was so much scope to this story, I had a hard time keeping the word count down!

ML: I love that your character doesn't just say, "I'm going to save the Titanic!" and then runs off in time to do that: he copes with the issue of whether or not to do it, and if so, how. Will this be a continuing theme in future "Time Travel Journals" books?

MD: Sam Altair, my fictional physicist, struggles with the question of his responsibility to other people. He didn’t mean to create a new universe, but now that it’s done, he decides to do everything he can to make it a better one.

The next book comes at it from a different angle, but the question of interference is still there. As well as the larger question of “do we have the right to create new universes in the first place?”

ML: As a woman writing sci-fi, or historical fiction with a sci-fi element, do you think you are able to bring a unique perspective to the genre?

MD: Oh, this is a funny one. Not silly funny... disturbing funny. That’s because I wonder how much I, as the author, should project my own interests and concerns into the story. For instance, I can’t imagine being forced to live in the early 20th century as a woman, and not having the right to vote. To be considered either an evil temptress or a weak idiot who must be protected. Restrictions on so many things: clothing, jobs, chaperones. Women were not even allowed into pubs - I’m sorry, but don’t come between me and my pub!

It was necessary to refrain from much of this, or the book would have been a rambling, epic monster. But I do include a few scenes relating to something that’s a huge interest of mine: childbirth.

You’re probably thinking, “OMG, yes. Those poor women had to have their babies at home, and so many of them died, and how awful it all was.” But that’s really more of an urban myth, and I left the subject in the book to deal with that.

ML: How do you find the time to write?

MD: It’s more like how do I find an excuse NOT to write? When I started Shipbuilder in 2007, I was working full-time, running my own business as a personal chef. I wrote in the evenings and on weekends, but I have to say, this book basically wrote itself. The words just poured out of me. I’ve certainly learned it’s not always like that!

Now... I’m almost afraid to admit that I’m semi-retired. I teach childbirth classes one or two evenings a week, but basically, I have lots of time to write. And I get far less written now, than I did while writing Shipbuilder. Go figure.

ML: Are you a planner, or do you just dive in to your stories? What's your pre-writing process like?

MD: Oh, I dive. I have an idea of some kind, day-dream about it for a while, then start writing the scenes I have. There’s no particular order - sometimes I have the ending, or the middle, or the beginning. Mostly I think I have the middle and as I write, I have to figure out how I got to the middle, then figure out how to get to the end.

Usually about halfway through, I step back and make a plan. I love timelines - they really help me put it together.

ML: What can you tell me about "Bridgebuilder," the upcoming sequel to "Shipbuilder?"

MD: It’s completely different from Shipbuilder - it takes place in the future, with space stations, rebel fighters, subversive organizations... all kinds of things!

The premise is that we have two universes: our original universe that we live in, and the second universe created when Sam and Casey went back to 1906. People from the second universe have figured how to get back to the first one, by building a “bridge” between them.

But when they cross over, they are in our world in the year 2080. The planet is suffering the effects of global warming, wars, and famines, and most of the countries have succumbed to restrictive theocracies. The story centers around a brilliant sixteen-year old girl named Moira, and her teacher, Andy, who is trying to help her escape from an abusive, government-protected enclave. In the process, they meet up with the time travelers, and the four of them join forces to defeat all the various bad guys.

ML: Thank you so much for stopping by Grey Skies to chat!

MD: Thank you! I really enjoyed it!

About the author:

Marlene Dotterer grew up as a desert rat in Tucson, Arizona. In 1990, she loaded her five children into the family station wagon, and drove north-west to the foggy San Francisco Bay Area. To stay warm, she tackled many enterprises, earning a degree in geology, working for a national laboratory, and running her own business as a personal chef. She’s a frustrated gardener, loves to cook, and teaches natural childbirth classes. She says she writes, “to silence the voices,” obsessed with the possibilities of other worlds and other times.

She is married to The Best Husband in the World, and lives in Pleasant Hill, California.

Her website is

And while you're over at her website...

Must Have Give-Aways!

Ships are launched with a bottle of champagne. My book is about a ship, so...

Actually, perhaps it’s best if I don’t try to mail anyone a bottle of champagne. But how about a free book?

Throughout the blog tour, I’ll keep track of everyone who leaves a comment on any of the blogs and enter them into a drawing. At the end of the tour, I’ll pick three winners, each to receive an autographed copy of The Time Travel Journals: Shipbuilder.

So, read on! Comment!


D. Jordan Bernal said...

I so agree with your apprehension of being a woman transported back to the early 20th century. The clothing, the attitudes, the restrictions. I'd never have survived. Most especially-do NOT interfere with my pint! Oh, and the craic found at Irish pubs. I love my music with my Guinness or Harp.
Great information on the book and your writing style in this blog tour.
Deborah 'Jordan' Bernal

Meredith L. said...

D. Jordan, are you related to my boyfriend, Gael Garcia Bernal? Can you hook me up? (Don't tell my husband.)

Anonymous said...

Oh my. What do we have going here? Careful, Meredith... Deborah just got back from the UK and she probably is related to your old boyfriend!

Deborah, one of the things I kept imagining, was how it would be for Casey if she insisted on going into a pub, anyway. Just to listen to the music. There would have been no craic anywhere. Everything would have just stopped until she left, and they all would be staring at her the whole time. And that's the best case scenario.

It's a good think we can enjoy our pints!