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Author Interviews

Brian Reaves
Brian Reaves is the author of the time-travel novel Portal (iUniverse, 2003). Here he discusses his writing and offers suggestions for others interested in self-publishing.

EBG: How did you get started writing Portal? How long did it take to write?

I woke up one morning several years ago from a particularly vivid dream and had the idea for Portal—even down to the main character’s name. I played around with it in my mind for a long time before ever committing any words to paper, trying to work out how things would happen and what would change if he did this or that. I realized that everyone in the world (especially myself) has some decision in their life that they regret, and at least one moment in time they’d love to be able to go back and change. That helped me see that this story truly was worth telling.

Finally, I sat down behind a computer and starting writing. It took roughly five years to get it finished. I had the first draft done in about two years, then put it aside for a while to work on another book. After a couple of years, I picked it up again and read it with fresh eyes. It was amazing how many things I no longer liked about the story and went in to change. I used about a year to rewrite the book to the way I liked it and went from there. Being my first book, I knew I had a certain amount of freedom with this one I wouldn’t have with any other, so I used it.

EBG: How did you establish the convoluted plot line? Did you have it all mapped out before you started writing?

I know several writers will tell you that you should completely outline everything before starting, but that’s not how I did it with Portal. Portal was like a roller-coaster ride for me because I knew where I was starting from and where I wanted to end up, but I had no real idea of how I wanted to get from “Point A” to “Point B”. I would be writing and suddenly decide to throw in something difficult for the characters because I was ready for some action. I think this only works if you keep the story fresh so that you don’t lose a dangling plot thread somewhere in the confusion, but when it works it gives a definite edge to the story. Hopefully the reader can tell that I had a lot of fun writing it! In the end, it meant some heavy rewriting, but I like to think that the original feel of “what’s coming next?” still permeates the story. The book I’m finishing up now is called Avenger, and I’ve taken a totally different approach to it. I wrote out a ten-page synopsis on this one and am trying to stay faithful to it, but I plan on going back to the spontaneous approach for the other two TimeSlip books.

EBG: How do you balance writing with the needs of your family, and your church and job responsibilities?

I’m very active in my local church in many different areas, and I guess I always have been pretty involved in church all my life. When I started taking my writing seriously, I realized that something was going to have to give. That meant actually having to learn to say “no” every once in a while to church jobs. Attendance isn’t an option, but teaching a class (even though I’d love to) or coming to every single special event or meeting is no longer possible.

My family’s been incredibly supportive of my writing, and I think it helps that they know that it’s second to being with them. They remain my top priority, and I try to write during times when my wife and my two sons are doing something else or are asleep. Our time together is important to me. When we go on trips, I usually have my laptop and get a lot done when it’s my wife’s turn to drive for a while.

As for my job, I’m blessed there also. I have free time there when I can write mostly undisturbed. It helps when a writing deadline is approaching and I can feel the pressure.

EBG: Portal has elements reminiscent of Robert A. Heinlein’s “By His Bootstraps,” as well as the first Back to the Future movie. What are some of your favorite time-travel stories?

Somewhere In Time has to be credited as an inspiration for my interest in time travel. I saw it as a kid and even though I can quote most of it I still love to watch it often. It’s an older movie based on Richard Matheson’s book Bid Time Return. The thought that love could actually drive a man into the past always intrigued me. Likewise, a movie called Time After Time is another favorite. Of course, The Time Machine is the book by H.G. Wells that started it all and is a great read. I also enjoyed Michael Crichton’s Timeline, even though I know some people didn’t like it. One that I enjoy every year is A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. You have to consider that a time travel story too, though he can do nothing about his past. I think that’s what makes that story so powerful is that realization that the past is unchangeable, but the future can still be shaped.

The thing I find most enjoyable about time travel stories and movies is that no one seems to make it back the same way! Everyone has a different theory of how it would work, and it usually makes for a fun story. Who knows—maybe one of us has stumbled across something that would really work and no one knows it yet!

EBG: It seems a standard taboo in time-travel stories is having the hero interact with his past or future self. Did you have any qualms about breaking this “rule” and running with it?

Not at all. As I said, I think everyone in the world has a moment in time they’d love to go back and change. While I did briefly toy with the idea of Joseph only being a “shadow” in the past, that just didn’t make for a good story. It’s more like rubbing his nose in his mistakes instead of giving him the chance to change them. I put myself in his position and thought about that one moment in my life that I’d love to be able to sit down and talk to my teenaged self about, and went from there. Besides, I think it’s a wonderfully exciting thought to consider what we might do with just five minutes to talk to our younger self.

EBG: If time travel were possible, how do you think God’s sovereignty would affect it?

That’s a good question. I think that’s the biggest Christian argument against time travel ever being possible. Can you imagine just how chaotic this world would be if we could go back and fix everything we did wrong? I feel that it is the sovereignty of God that keeps us out of that sort of thing. We can only see a small portion of time, while God is omnipresent and sees the big picture. He can make decisions based on everything, and we only see a limited bit of time. We have to trust God as the ultimate ruler over time and space, and that means sometimes we have regrets and have to live with them. Finite man just can’t be trusted with the responsibility of changing the past.

EBG: Do you see Joseph’s psychosis in Portal as a result of his rebellion against God’s desires?

That’s the ultimate result, yes. Just as in life, when we sin, we face the consequences of it. We attempt to go outside of God’s designs for our lives and that’s where we mess up. I think what happens to Joseph in the story can be attributed to his obsession with the mistakes of his past. Joseph’s problems in Portal are the result of a combination of his increasing frustration over failing Carla and the time machine’s calibrations being off by a minute fraction each time. At one point, this actually forces him into a collision with a totally different version of himself from a parallel universe with disastrous results. All this builds to a point where the good man that he was is overwhelmed by what he thinks could have been.

An underlying theme in
Portal is that even if we were given the chance to change the past, what kind of job could we do? What we fix because we think is for the best could have long-term consequences that cost us more than we ever imagined. We have to just trust in the sovereignty of God to control it all and leave it at that. It’s not always easy to do, but He knows what He’s doing—even if we don’t.

EBG: Your story has a small, but significant amount of physical violence in it. How have your readers responded?

So far I haven’t had any negative responses to it. That’s pretty good considering the eclectic group of readers I’ve heard from. Everyone from teenagers to a retired grandmother have told me they enjoyed the story, and no one’s mentioned it as a problem. I think it’s because the violence in the story is a small part of what’s going on, and the motivation behind it is explained and understandable. Plus I tried my best not to get too graphic with any part of it. While this is Joseph’s reaction in this one, the next book will find him dealing with things very differently.

EBG: Self publishing is a big risk. What are some ways self-published authors can market their books?

Several things come to mind. First, do whatever it takes to get your name out there. Become a shameless promoter of yourself and your book. Do articles for newsletters or newspapers that will include your website address in the bio.

That brings me to the second thing: design an unforgettable website. I think that the most important thing you can create after a great story is a great website. Make it something your visitors will want to come to on a regular basis, and give them a reason to spend time there. Put up a few short stories that are exclusive to your website. One thing I added to mine was a behind-the-scenes look at
Portal, with facts and trivia that I hope folks find interesting. And run a contest that gives away an autographed copy of the book or something similar!

Third, don’t be afraid to give away copies of your book to people at first. This may cost you money, but self-publishing isn’t about getting rich—it’s about opening doors. Get folks excited about your writing and anticipating your next book. Give copies to people who can point other folks to your book like bookstore managers or reading-group leaders. When your name keeps popping up to enough people eventually someone in a publishing house is going to notice.

Fourth, get your book reviewed by as many places as you can, as this also creates buzz. One thing I love about Edenstar is the fact that you guys aren’t afraid to post honest reviews, and that’s helpful to both the reader and the author. Feedback helps the author know what worked and what didn’t.

Finally, respond to your readers. Anytime someone takes the time to write you and comment about your book, write back. Show them you care about their opinion. How does that help you market your book? Well, the person that you took the time to respond to won’t forget you, and they’ll point people to your book because you’re a real person and not just a name on a cover.

EBG: Do you have any recommendations or tips for writers thinking about self-publishing?

Make sure the book you put out there is the best it can be. Since you probably won’t have an agent or editor reading it, have several people you can trust to be honest read your manuscript and mark it up like crazy with a red pen. I remember the first time I got my manuscript back from someone who was proofreading it for me. It looked like it had been through a war! But after I started reading their comments, it made sense and I was able to reevaluate the story. As a result, Portal looks nothing like the first draft (thank goodness!).

Also, make sure your cover is eye-catching. Since you’ll be the one taking it into bookstores and asking the manager to stock it, it needs to grab them as soon as you hand them a copy. I think a lot of self-published books look self-published, and that’s a mark against them. Make your work just as good as anything out there by the big names. Finally, get ready to work. Getting your books in the bookstores isn’t easy with no big publisher behind you, but it is possible. Be persistent, but be polite.

EBG: What is the title of the next book in the series? When should we look for it?

The next book is Passages. It will pick up roughly six months after the end of Portal and show how the characters' lives have changed. A few new characters will be introduced that will go on to the final book in the trilogy, but the story will primarily focus on the four main ones from the first book. I’m extremely excited about Passages because of its opening scene. I think it will really grab the reader and pull him into the story! As soon as I finish Avenger, I’ll start working on Passages in earnest and plan to have it out by Summer 2004. The third and final book in the trilogy will hopefully come out six months later.

EBG: Do you have any final comments for readers at the Edenstar web site?

Christian Science Fiction is finally beginning to see the support it’s been missing for a long time. That means it will attract more writers to the genre and hopefully give us greater stories than we’d ever imagined. Keep your eyes on Edenstar for the latest things coming out and help support it.

Thanks to everyone who took a chance on an unknown and read my book. I hope you found it enjoyable and fun. Please write me and let me know what you thought about the story.

EBG: Thank you, Brian!

Contact info: Learn more about Brian Reaves at his web site, www.brianreaves.net.

November 7, 2003

By Brian
Portal, by Brian Reaves
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