Thank you so much Andy for your time and for your very interesting and thoughtful answers!
Q & A
Typically, Untimed began from a fusion of ideas. Lingering in my mind for over twenty years was a time travel story about people from the future who fell “downtime” to relive exciting moments in history (until things go wrong). I worked out a time travel system but had no plot or characters. Separately, in 2010, as a break from editing The Darkening Dream, I experimented with new voice techniques, especially first person present. I also read various “competition.” One of these was The Lightning Thief (the first Percy Jackson novel), which has an amazing series concept (if a slightly limp execution). I love mythology and history, and liked the notion of something with a rich body of material to mine. I wanted an open ended high concept that drew on my strengths, which brought me back to time travel.
Some of the mechanics from my earlier concept merged well with a younger protagonist, voiced in a visceral first person present style. I started thinking about it, and his voice popped into my head. I pounded out a chapter not too dissimilar from the first chapter of the final novel. Then the most awesome villain teleported into the situation. I can’t remember how or why, but it happened quickly and spontaneously. Tick-Tocks were born (or forged).
Benjamin Franklin is a key figure in the story and it is obvious you did your research to integrate him into the narrative. Why did you decide to use him? Does he have any personal significance?
Somehow, I always imagined Charlie in Philadelphia, and that led me quickly to Ben Franklin, who is a favorite of mine. In an alternate dimension there exists a simpler Untimed, woven between modern and 18th century Philly. No London. No France. No China. That book would have been more like a Hollywood story, all packaged up neat and clean, but neat and clean isn’t the Andy Gavin style.
I was reading several Ben Franklin biographies, his own autobiography, etc. and I noticed he was in London as a young man. I found this out of print little book called The Road to Tyburn which vividly painted the sordid reality of the 1720s. It had me at kingpin. Also great fun was combing through the two cant dictionaries I found, one from the 1737 and the other published in 1811. The number of hilarious sexual slang words is uncountable and it was a blast to disguise the nasty bits of Yvaine’s and Donnie’s dialogue with obscure cant.
The rules of time travel are pretty complicated in this world you created. How were you inspired to create these rules and make time travel so complex?
First of all, I had to come up with a unique new system that allowed multiple visits to the same time period, but wasn’t too overpowered. If your characters are too powerful, there is no jeopardy. So I had to invent all the restrictions and deal with the issues of paradox (and I think I have a crafty new solution there). Then I had to figure out how to make returning to the SAME action actually interesting for the reader. That was even harder.
This novel brings to life a lot of history and seems very realistically detailed. Are you a history buff?
Oh yes. I love history and at first I thought about going to the ancient world, which is my real passion, but I wanted to avoid over-indulging myself and for this first outing stay with a time, place, and celebrity that wasn’t so alien. If I was going back that far, I’d want to capture the monumental shifts in mindset, and it was too much for the first in the series. I’ve read very wildly on European history, both ancient and “modern” (my interest steps down after Napoleon’s second exile and then again after the treaty of Versailles and plunges to nil after WWII).
There are some mature themes that you include in the story, such as sex, teen pregnancy and drug use. It's realistic given the time periods, but I was personally surprised because it felt a little too mature for the younger end of the YA range. Did you have a specific reason for including these topics in your story?
Tough question. My wife gives me grief over this, but I don’t really write with genre in mind. The story is its own thing. I also watch a lot of serial TV and teen shows. Many, like Gossip Girl and Vampire Dairies, are quite edgy. They feature copious (and I mean copious) high school drinking, pot smoking, sex, murder, and more. Amazingly, teen books seem to be more conservative (on average) than network television. And I didn’t want to be tame. I like to deal with the real issues at hand when they come up, which I feel makes for better drama. I really think that adults are more offended by this stuff than the kids.
But more fundamentally, while the central two conceits of Untimed are fanciful (time travel and Tick-Tocks), I tried to keep everything else realistic (if sometimes comic). Teens do have sex. They do drink. Fifteen year-old boys are raging balls of hormones and anyone claiming otherwise is either in denial or never was a fifteen year-old boy. And even more importantly, teenagers in the 18th century were not adolescents but adults. Adolescence is for the most part a post WWII invention. Neither the law nor society treated a fifteen year-old any different than a twenty-five year-old. 1720s London was also a pretty sordid place. It had a population around half a million at an estimated 50,000+ prostitutes, most younger than 15. All with no police. The reality of being a young woman on your own in this period was brutal. I hint at that, but hardly do it justice. To ignore it would have been criminal. Just check out Hogarth’s A Harlot’s Progress. One of the main messages of Untimed is that things really do get better, and to make that point, I have to show the other side.
As a video game designer and co-creator of the video games Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter, do you feel there are any skills from video game programming that helped you when constructing and writing stories?
As a serial creator (having made over a dozen major video games) it was interesting how similar the process was to any other complex creative project. Video games and novel writing are both very iterative and detail oriented. They use a lot of the same mental muscles.
Of course I have to ask - if you could travel to any time and place where would you go and why?
For cool factor, I’d want to be an incredibly rich Patrician Roman, living by the bay of Naples a good 80 years BEFORE the eruption of Vesuvius. They had heated pools, awesome frescos, three day banquets, and… slave girls (just kidding). Actually, today is really the best, and that’s one of the themes of Untimed. We have more personal freedoms, more overall wealth, and much, much better medicine. Try getting an infection in the second century BC.
Untimed is the first book in a series - is there anything you can share about the next book? Will it center around another historical figure?
It will involve several both real and made up. The Regulator, or at least his influence, is going to be a big part. As to historical figures, I’m leaning both into the future and much further back into time. At the moment, both Hammurabi and Archimedes have important roles, but this could change. Drafting needs to be fluid.