Among the most popular “what-ifs” in our culture is the theme of time travel. What if you could go back in time and prevent a tragedy like Titanic? What if you could go forward and find out what kind of smart money investments to make in the present? What if you could take back words and actions which hurt a loved one’s feelings or choose a different career path than the one you once thought was perfect?
Or what if your quest as a member of an oddball group of misfits was to save your world—and each other—from the perils of time travel run amok? Right. No pressure. All in an afternoon’s work.
Such is the premise of Kelsey Clifton’s debut novel, A Day Out of Time. Enjoy what she has to share about the angstful anomalies and vexatious vagaries of thinking outside one’s (comfort) time zone.
Interview: Christina Hamlett
Q: What’s your attraction to the genre of time travel?
A: It just has so much potential for chaos! That was one of the questions I got to ask myself when I was writing these books: “How can I ruin this character’s day next?” Sometimes the answer was with renegade colonial soldiers, and sometimes it was with aliens. What other genre gives you that kind of versatility?
Q: If you had the chance yourself to travel through time (and knowing everything you do in the present day), would you rather go backwards or forwards? And why?
A: In a way, I address this exact question in the Day Out of Time sequel, After/Effects. There’s such a danger in either direction; when you travel to the past, you might feel helpless to stop events from unfolding, but when you travel to the future, you might find out things you were better off not knowing. Either way, you have to worry about the burden of knowledge. For me, I think I’d want to visit some ancient civilization or lost site, just to see what it was really like.
Q: Was the theme of time travel something your adolescent and teen self was interested in when it came to favorite bedside reading? Or was it something entirely different?
A: I didn’t really become interested in time travel until I started watching Doctor Who in my early twenties. It’s probably not a coincidence that Doctor Who and its spinoff series Torchwood are two pieces of media that I often compare to A Day Out of Time. I was always more of a fantasy reader, which still holds true to this day.
Q: Which authors in this genre do you most admire and why?
A: Although Becky Chambers writes other worlds sci-fi and not time travel, she’s far and away my favorite sci-fi author because she focuses so strongly on individuals and cultures in her stories, and those are the parts that fascinate me the most. You can see a bit of that fascination in my Day Out of Time series; while there’s a lot of action and humor, they’re really stories about people relying on each other. The time travel aspect is more of a really entertaining way to explore that concept.
Q: Tell us about some of the themes inherent in A Day Out Of Time and After/Effects.
A: The main theme in A Day Out of Time is this idea of broken things and how they can be mended. Gamma Team itself is mostly made up of misfits and “broken” people who are made whole by being together. In that same vein, we have the subtler theme of the power of a group. A lot of the problems that Gamma faces can only be solved with other members.
As the title suggests, After/Effects deals with the consequences of our actions, both negative and positive. The idea that gets bandied about a lot is that nothing we do is isolated; every decision causes ripples, some far larger than others.
Q: Writing and editing a series vs. a standalone title is not without its own rewards and challenges. What has your personal experience been in this regard?
A: I think the rewards far outweigh the challenges. I’ve gotten to see these characters grow and develop over two books (soon to be three) into better, fuller versions of themselves. There’s also a lot of fun in linking stories and plot points across multiple books, even though A Day Out of Time and After/Effects can be read as standalone novels. One of the challenges that I’ve found in both this series and another that’s currently in-progress is consistency. Changing a key detail in a world can unravel a lot of threads, which is what I’m currently struggling with. Depending on how long you think a series will eventually be, I think there’s a big advantage in having at least a first draft of every book done before you start publishing.
Q: Tell us about the characters in the series. Were some of them easier to write than others (and why)?
A: Cat and Darwin are the two easiest characters to write because they more or less appeared in my head fully formed, like Athena bursting out of Zeus’s skull. Cat is a force of nature – specifically a tornado. When she’s angry, she can touch down and do incredible damage in a very specific spot, while leaving everything else around her untouched. She’s one of the few things that can cow Darwin, who’s otherwise completely uncontrollable. Every scene with him in it automatically becomes 150% more fun to write.
Specs and Helix provide much-needed ballast in the group by acting as the moral and emotional centers. Specs is the steady ground to Cat’s whirlwind, making him invaluable as her lieutenant. On top of being their geneticist, Helix is the team’s medic, which suits her caring personality. She takes the team’s physical and emotional well being very seriously, even when she’s technically off the clock.
Cushioned between these wildly different personality sets, we have Millennia, Grunt, and the New Kid. Millennia was the easiest of the three to pin down because she has all the best qualities of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, which makes her so vivacious and fun to write. The New Kid acts as our “guide” through the world of the Dogs, and at first he seemed deceptively easy because of his mild nature. Over the course of the first draft, however, I discovered all kinds of unplumbed depths to him! And Grunt, of course, is the most enigmatic of all. I think he’s the kind of character you just instinctually understand, even if you don’t know all that much about him.
Q: Over the course of your publishing journey, you tried the traditional route. What prompted you to make the switch and become self-published?
A: I had grown a bit tired of querying, honestly, but I’d never really given self-publishing much serious thought. Then a friend sent me a link to an author who had completely funded her novel on Kickstarter within 24 hours or something. And even though it turned out that she was a fairly well-known comic book artist with an established following, it really got me thinking about it for the first time. I started doing research into the market and my different options, and I decided that I was tired of waiting around for the chance to tell my stories.
Q: Going the DIY route, of course, requires authors to don multiple hats. What do you like the best (and least) about managing your intellectual property from start to finish?
A: I’m a bit of a control freak, so I do really enjoy the creative control that I have over everything. I like that there’s no one pressuring me to change the title or the ending. The part that I like the least is the constant need to seek out potential readers. I’m a casual social media user at heart, so I’d almost always rather be working on a new project instead, but I have to put my writing aside sometimes and dedicate an hour or two to promoting myself and my work.
Q: What surprised you the most about navigating the ropes of self-publishing?
A: How easy it is to look up and say, “Oh my God, I haven’t posted to [X] in so long, I haven’t updated the website, I need to schedule a signing, etc.” You just get caught up in one aspect, and before you know it you’re getting reminders from your Facebook page about posting.
Q: If Marie Kondo were to visit your home, would she applaud your embrace of minimalism or be alarmed by your unabashed clutter?
A: Marie Kondo would just look around and say, “Oh my goodness” on repeat. I have a hard time getting rid of things anyway, but I also have a habit of collecting little trinkets or memorabilia that I leave strewn across every surface and tucked away in memory boxes. There are definitely things I could get rid of, but plenty of others that fill me with joy. Basically, I’m a dragon at heart and I cannot be reformed.
Q: Authors often picture their finished works as taking on another life as, for instance, a television series, a stage play or a movie. Is this the case for you with your time travel series?
A: I think A Day Out of Time would make an incredible TV series. There’s plenty of potential for “Problem of the Week” episodes, along with more complicated story arcs. I’d be open to surprise casting for all but two characters: Cat and Specs. I will accept Robin Wright and Mike Colter, or nobody.
Q: What is the thing you enjoy most about the creative process of writing?
A: Honestly, editing. A lot of writers gripe about the editing process, but it’s my favorite part. Writing a first draft is messy and grueling and magical, like metaphorical childbirth. But editing is like helping your story grow up. I’m also a big fan of “Aha!” moments, when the threads of a plot come together – especially if it turns out that I was subconsciously working towards a certain concept all along.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m currently working on the final draft of a standalone sword & sorcery novel called Fire and Lightning, Ash and Stone. It’s like a snarkier version of The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, and I’m hoping to release it in early or mid-January. Fans of A Day Out of Time will find a similar mix of humor, action, and heartbreak.
Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know about you?
A: In spite of what I said earlier about social media, I really am very approachable! Feel free to find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Tumblr and say hello. I may not enjoy trying to market myself, but I do enjoy engaging with readers.