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?
BR: 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?
BR: I know several writers
will tell you that you should completely outline everything
before starting, but that’s not how I did it with
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
EBG: How do you balance
writing with the needs of your family, and your church
and job responsibilities?
BR: 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
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
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?
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
BR: 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?
BR: 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
BR: 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?
BR: 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?
BR: 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
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?
BR: 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
EBG: What is the title
of the next book in the series? When should we look for
BR: 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
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?
BR: 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