Les Lynam’s offering to the world of time travel is his “Time Will Tell” series. Comprising …Before You Leap, Saves Nine and In One Basket this series is written for the YA audience but has plenty of sci fi (and time travel) packed in for the fully fledged adult!
Les once mentioned to me in an email that he was “…old enough to be the main character’s grandfather”. This might be true; he didn’t say anything about being a 5 times great grandfather! 😉
Interview with Les Lynam (Time Will Tell)
Les, many thanks for giving us your time!
…Before You Leap, Saves Nine and In One Basket are titled with expressions, as well as your joint venture with Tim Hemlin and Chess Desalls (“A Friend in Need”). What made you think of titling your novels in this way?
Les: When I initially started writing this series, the first title that came to me was A Stitch in Time. This came from my overall imagining of time as a giant tapestry that needed a little ‘repair’, thus the stitching. I discovered there were already several books titled A Stitch in Time and I wanted to be a bit more unique.
That prompted Saves Nine, which I decided was probably beyond cryptic to most readers. I hoped that by tossing in the ellipses it would prompt the reader to supply the missing part. I’m still not sure whether many are putting it together. The other titles are also well-worn adages, (Look)…Before You Leap, and (Don’t put all your eggs)…In One Basket.
I’m currently working on book four of the series, tentatively entitled …Just Before the Dawn. Each of the missing parts of the phrase has something to do with the story plot of that book. I think I was hoping for more of a ‘I see what you did there’ reaction than what I appear to be getting. Perhaps the phrases aren’t as well-worn and widely known as I had anticipated.
The Time Will Tell Series is written for Young Adults, yet has a feast of sci fi ideas, of which time travel is just one. And within the realm of time travel, many complicated aspects are dealt with. Why did you choose to write for the YA audience in a genre which is more usually associated with adult readers? Would you change anything if you were to write this series for adults instead of for YAs?
Les: As I began this journey to redefine myself as a writer, I think the best advice I got was to write the book that I wanted to read, so I don’t know if it is accurate to say I “chose to write for the YA audience”. That may also be the thing that trips me up the most in the area of trying to market these books. Personally, I’ve never liked anyone’s attempt to pigeonhole me (as a person) and I think that carries over to my writing. I suppose because my stories are suitable for the younger reader and feature teenaged characters, that plops it into the YA category, but I think I’ve found more readers who are well above their teens who enjoy my style. I’m not sure what changes would be required to consider these novels as adult reads. Violence? Gratuitous sex? Swearing? Since I don’t particularly enjoy reading stories that feature those things, I don’t think I could effectively write them. Two of my favorite 20th Century authors are Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein. They both wrote sci-fi considered to be separated into either juvenile or adult categories. I’ve read nearly all of Heinlein’s works and I don’t see that any of his adult works are inappropriate for the younger set. His juvenile works are perhaps a bit more simplistic, but enjoyable reads for the adult. I guess I’m not very good at drawing a line and sorting ideas as either juvenile or adult.
The two main characters in the Time Will Tell series are Sean and Alex. I must admit that I didn’t like Sean as a person; I found him whiny and irritating. For me, Alex (and his other personas) is the real star of the show! Did you have any ideas about the readership that Alex would appeal to whilst you were writing?
Les: That has possibly been one of my biggest surprises. I didn’t think Alex would be anyone’s favorite character. I was afraid his instant access to information would make him seem like an annoying know-it-all. I also thought his overly complex (and wordy) language might be off-putting. I pictured him as being read more like Star Trek’s Vulcans (Spock, Tuvak) or android (Data), but I’m getting comments back that compare him to Sheldon Cooper. It’s fascinating how different people have different perspectives.
Sean often asks pointed questions to Alex who seemingly ducks the question by offering a different or unexpected solution. Jane also noticed this and asked Alex whether everyone from the 23rd Century avoids questions or whether it’s just him. Was this a deliberate approach to keep us in Sean’s confusion, or are there deeper level answers in your world building?
Les: The biggest struggle Alex has with the 20th Century is with everyone openly expressing emotions. At the hint of any question that even remotely probes his emotional side, he’s going to deflect it. He accepts that the logical and scientific basis of his 23rd Century life is the way humans should behave, but has his own personal struggles. Immersion into the barbaric 20th Century culture makes it that much more difficult for him to deny his own feelings. He’s also trained as a chrono-historian and has been warned of the dangers of revealing the future to anyone in the past, so that’s another area he will deflect when questioned. This side of him breaks down more quickly than the logic vs. emotion side.
I was really impressed that Alex doesn’t use technology when there are simple solutions instead. This seems to go against the current norm where people use technology for the most simple of tasks (e.g. using a calculator instead of employing mental arithmetic; using a messaging app to talk to your friend sitting next to you on the train, etc.). Do you think Alex’s approach to problem solving might prevail in the future?
Les: I don’t know. I suspect my answer is also going to be swayed by a series I’m currently reading. It’s the Free Trader series by Craig Martelle. To quickly sum up, the story takes place on Cygnus VII in a post-apocalyptic world in 400-year recovery from a war that the ancient Earth colonists waged against opposing idealists who’d settled in various parts of the world. All humans were nearly destroyed, but the survivors were forced to survive in primitive conditions. I would equate the level of civilization to be similar to 19th-century American frontier. The protagonist discovers a hidden bunker of ‘old tech’ and tries to make sense of it all. As he becomes more familiar with it, he begins to fear that adopting ‘old tech’ in his current world might again lead to war.
But that aside doesn’t really answer your question (other than possibly setting my frame of mind). I always loved gadgets in sci-fi and am sometimes amazed at how many of them came into being in my own lifetime. The flip-phone was certainly an amazing realization of the 60’s Star Trek communicators (which now seem quaint by the smartphone standard). Alexa and Siri certainly seem to be on track with the voice activated computer on the Enterprise (even have a more ‘human’ voice than what Majel Barrett supplied). I think your question might be hinting at the idea of whether we use new tech because it is a better way to perform a certain task, or just because it’s a ‘cool’ way to perform a task.
If I could take a moment to focus just on telecommunication. I discovered while reading books written in the early 20th Century that people would use the telephone to call someone to schedule an appointment to talk (face to face) and not use it to simply hold that conversation. In my own childhood (in the 50s and 60s) my aunt lived in Arizona and a telephone call to her brother in Iowa (my dad) was a monumental occasion. Well into my adulthood, non-local calling (long distance) was billed separately and quite the expense. In 2017 if your phone plan doesn’t include free international calling, you can always get around it with Skype. The first mobile phones were expensive and about the shape and weight of a brick, now they are pocket-sized (although there seems to be some trend to have larger and larger screens). Millenials seem to eschew vocal conversations, which I find baffling, as inflections of a person’s voice is a considerable layer of communication that goes missing. But I guess that’s what emojis are for. I think I’ll quit here before I sound too curmudgeonly, but the point is: as the technology evolves, the layers that are useful remain and the fluff layers that are ‘cool’ drop away.
Alex recognises David Bowie as a genius composer from a retrospective viewpoint. How would Alex react if he experienced one of his live performances, and then later to be present in January 2016 amongst the news surrounding Bowie’s death?
Les: I don’t think he really has a reaction. ALL of the people alive in 2016 are dust in the 23rd century, so all events are historic. Though he struggles with his emotional side (keeping it in check, as he was raised to believe was the correct response to emotions), I don’t think he would have an appreciable reaction to Bowie’s death. Neither do I think he would attend a live performance unless he had set it up as an historical study of some type.
The first law of time travel in the Time Will Tell series is not to change history. Sean and Alex struggle – and come to terms – with this in different ways. How easy would it be for you to break this law?
Les: As someone who’s been fascinated by the idea of time-travel (for close to a half-century now) I think that for me, personally, to be willing to change the past would be more on the personal level and I’d be unlikely to change anything major. One of my older sisters died at the age of 28. I think if I had an opportunity to change that, I wouldn’t have to think about it. It would be done. Growing up during the cold war era (when I was certain the world would go up in a nuclear fireball at any moment), I think I’d totally shy away from any changes that could have any impact on a large scale. Would I warn JFK not to go to Dallas, or at least to ride in a covered vehicle. No. The times were too skittish. The world may have been a better place with him spending 8 years in the White House, or he could have somehow brought about a situation that led to mankind’s destruction. Too risky. Not going to touch it.
Going back another generation. Surely removing Hitler from the world before he came to power (or in the early days) would be a good idea. No. I’d stay away from that one, too. Hitler made stupid emotional decisions about bombing Great Brittain that a more clever strategist may have not made. And then there’s always the possibility that with no Hitler, Joseph Stalin would have conquered Europe. Nope. I wouldn’t change any major events.
Nanites are a brilliant implementation of technology into the biological realm. Would you take an injection of nanites if they were available?
Les: If we’re talking about the level that we see used in my stories, probably. Certainly the diagnostics and simple repairs would be the main drawing point. The caveat, of course, is wrapped in privacy issues. Who has access? My doctor? Does he share it with anyone? Is it hackable? What can we do to keep the government out of it? I think we are entering an era where the idea of an individual living a ‘private’ life is going to be constantly challenged.
Sean is credited with a good imagination because he’s into scifi. I noticed many references in the Time Will Tell series to various scifi novels and movies. Are you an older version of Sean (and in which case, I apologise to your younger self for calling him whiny and irritating!) – is this a good reflection on yourself?
Les: I think all of my characters show at least SOME facet of my own life. Although I say they are ‘imagined’ characters, I’m sure my subconscious builds them from myself as well as people that I’ve known throughout the years as well as fictional characters that I’ve enjoyed either in books or TV or movies. I think the most positive aspect that Sean reflects from me is problem-solving. When presented with a challenge, his brain naturally looks for avenues to a solution. Was I whiney and irritating as a teen? I don’t know. Maybe we should ask my older sister (she’ll probably read this, once it’s published).
Paul: Note to Les’ sister: Feel free to share that in the comments! 😉
I’ve seen that you frequently ask your Facebook fans for their opinion on book covers, blurbs, etc.. To what extent do you take their comments on board and incorporate them into your work?
Les: Putting anything out there for public scrutiny is always a risk. On the positive side, I’ve gotten some very helpful feedback, but I’ve also found some comments to be (to me) totally disconnected from what I’m trying to say. My undergraduate degree was in mass-communications, but the world has morphed mightily since then. The return channel of communication is hugely broader than anything envisioned back in the day. I think I’ve finally learned that the best response to a ‘you suck and you’re an idiot’ comment is to recognize the level of intellect it takes to make such remarks and stay away from engaging as if they were an intelligent being. Facebook would be a much quieter place if more people learned that. Specifically with the covers, I think a lot of what I implemented in changes depended on how well I knew the person commenting and how well I thought that person understood the concept of what I was trying to convey. Ultimately, there are aspects of multiple suggestions that are opposed to each other. At some point, I have to pick sides when the proposals are incompatible with each other. Overall, I think it’s been a helpful experience.
I noticed that you mentioned that your mother-in-law described your first novel as “weird”. How did you react?
Les: That one was easy to shrug off. I knew she mainly read (voraciously) Nora Roberts, Sandra Brown, Debbie Macomber, Daniel Steel, etc. I suspect that the Venn diagram of Romance Readers (red) and Sci-Fi readers (blue) would have a tiny section of overlap (purple). And really, ‘weird’ has been a Sci-Fi word for a long time.
How did you react when you found out that Marilyn Monroe and Elvis had been spotted with your novels?
Les: Naturally it made me curious. I had to do an extensive search to try to piece together how a book published in the 21st Century made an appearance with Elvis (circa 1950s). It must be that Elvis either IS or KNEW a time-traveler. It was kind of him to pass it around, I thought. I wonder what kind of deal Nixon tried to pull when he gave the book back to Elvis.