The truth is given life.
Praise for Fire On The Water
The impossible has been done… a really great novel inspired by a really great novel.
–ARC Review, Goodreads
A Guest Post with PJ Parker
Time and Place
When writing fiction, especially historic fiction, time and place come into play to draw the reader into the world the author is creating. Anything that seems out of time or out of place can jar the audience and to that degree the world is not real. The novel, Fire on the Water: A Companion to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has mirrored stories in two timelines: 1816 and current day. Wording is important in this work so that the reader knows when and where they are and also, at times, so that they don’t know when and where they are. This is done through details, and details require research.
For example, in 1816, were there streetlamps? Were they electric? Were they gas? Perhaps they were in London at that time but were they in Montreux, Switzerland where the story is set? The answers are all no. Home owners were responsible for placing an oil lantern at their front gate each night to light the street. These were taken back into the home when they went to sleep.
How would Mary Shelley be transported to another location? By automobile? By carriage? What type of carriage? How many horses? Would she drive it herself or would there be a driver? Perhaps a valet? What terrain can such a carriage handle? How fast can it go? Were there any known issues with such a transport? Was it prone to tipping over? Was it a smooth ride or rough? Would the distance be measured in miles or leagues or something else?
When Fire on the Water: A Companion to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein shows two different viewpoints of the same entity or situation—one from an 1816 and one from a current day perspective—which viewpoint and wordage do you use? Both? Or one that is timeless in its description? What Mary calls breeches and a chemise in the 1816 timeline may be jeans and a t-shirt in the current day timeline. How do you let the reader know that they are both talking about the same thing?
The language of conversation is also a key to assist the reader to realize the period of the current chapter. Modern conversation is truncated, 1816 conversation is more formal—both have their own nuances and jargon. But how would Mary Shelley address her closest friend and confident, Doctor John Polidori? Would she call him John in the company of others? Would protocol demand how close she may stand to him? Could she touch him in any way without contravening 1816 mannerisms and acceptable social interaction? Would she even be talking to him at all without her husband present? Perhaps, perhaps not. And if she did do something that broke protocol for that time period, how do you let the reader know that it is an infringement and not a situation that may be totally acceptable in our current time? All can be identified through study of source materials relevant to the time being written about.
This thought and research process has been even more relevant in my current in-progress work, America: Túwaqachi. This novel follows a single family line through 37,000 years of North American history. Every chapter is an advancement in time and place and each is unique and needs to be defined and clarified as much as research will allow. In 15,600 BC you cannot say that the characters’ home was six yards wide by ten yards long—there was no such thing as yards. You cannot state that it took him or her two hours to walk to the river—they did not use hours. And what of location? Can I write: ‘he stood on the hill and surveyed the Montana plain’? No, because it was not called Montana until sixteen thousand years later. And yet, the author needs to clearly place the reader in Montana without calling it Montana.
Such was the tactic that I employed with Fire on the Water: A Companion to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.