Brent A. Harris is a regular visitor to the blog - but seldom at a time that's quite as exciting as this. It's launch weekend for his new book, A Twist In Time - a blend of Dickens and steampunk that seems like such a good match. He joins us to chat about the book, which is already on my Kindle (and my Audible list). Anyway, take it away, Brent!
Why A Twist in Time?
This book has sort of a strange origin to it. Originally, it was a short story. I wanted to take a known character from Dickens’ Victorian setting and fling him far into the future. He landed in a fairly dystopic setting which wasn’t all that different from where he started. I liked the story, but I wasn’t quite happy with Oliver’s role in it. So I wanted to give him a wider story to star in.
Then, while pursuing an MFA, one of our projects was to write a film script. It seemed easier to build a script from a story I’d already written than to create something new. After all, writing a script was something I’d never done before and it’s akin to learning a new language. Why complicate the process? So I dusted the short story off… and then wrote something completely different.
After film classes were completed, I needed a Master’s Thesis, which had to be a book. I thought it easier to write something that I had already outlined as a script instead of starting over from scratch.
So, it came about because I was dissatisfied with my original story, mixed with a strong bout of laziness. It’s a perfect recipe for writers everywhere. We all simply reinvent the same wheel. Shh, don’t tell anyone.
Okay, but where’d the original idea spring from?
I’m a speculative fiction author. I love the idea of speculating about what’s to come, but much of what will happen in the future has its roots in the past. The idea that rapidly progressing technology causes massive social upheaval isn’t new. We’re all alarmed about how quickly machines, robots, and AI are replacing humans as the dominate workforce.
Yet, Charles Dickens wrote about the same things over a century ago. Only, it wasn’t about malevolent robotic AIs. He wrote about the Industrial Revolution and how its rapid onset sent workers and children to the slums and covered London in coal dust and smog.
Dickens was ahead of his time. He wrote in serialized format, which was fairly new at the time, but to us it’s normal – television writers do it all the time. Netflix thanks him. Dickens was also a great champion of social causes and his writing cast light into the darker side of what we’d like to think of as a fancy, regal Victorian age. It wasn’t.
Of course, there are darker themes addressed in A Twist in Time, but just as Star Trek dressed social issues in green paint and Styrofoam planets, my story uses a steampunk aesthetic and time-travel elements to entertain first. If anyone walks away from my book with a deeper message or even better -- wants to read or re-read Dickens, then I consider that a success. But it’s a secondary to just vegging out and reading a fun story; escapism in a time of quarantine and shelter-in-place.
What’s a Twist in Time about?
The very same Oliver that grew up in a workhouse and begged for a second bowl of gruel has grown up. But he came of age in a world that faces rapidly moving technology; not just from the Industrial Revolution but from steam power and the possibilities that power creates. It’s driven workers from factories, driven down wages, and driven a further social divide as the rich profit and the poor lose everything. In many ways, the steampunk aesthetic of Victorian London has made everything worse for the city than it did when Oliver was younger.
Oliver, for his part, has sided with the foundlings and taken them under his care. But when they begin to go missing, he sets out to save them. Along the way he’ll need help from tinkerer Nell Trent and a slew of fantastical contraptions - including a mysterious pocket watch that allows its bearer to bend the rules of time.
Yet, Oliver faces many challenges, including the return of his childhood nemesis, the Artful Dodger, and her lethal bag of tricks. He’ll soon discover that there is more at stake than his own life and the missing orphans. Can he save London from the flames?
Dodger’s a girl?
Jack Dawkins is reimagined as Jill. The Artful Dodger is fictional, a construct of Dickens’ mind. And while Dickens is a great writer, he didn’t write a lot of female characters. When he did, he typically killed them off. That created a problem for me because I’m writing to a modern audience. So a change had to be made. If I lose any readers because of my choice, it’ll be a shame because she was a fun character to write.
Tell us about yourself, what have you written?
I’m perhaps best known for writing alternate history, and I don’t think that steampunk diverges too far from that genre. In many ways, A Twist in Time is an alternative split from Oliver Twist, as Oliver’s actions from Dickens’ book (with one slight change) essentially creates the world of A Twist in Time.
My previous book is straight alternate history. A Time of Need creates a world where American forces fight against George Washington and the British during the American Revolution. I’ve also written many short stories. The most well-known is Twilight of the Mesozoic Moon where a group of dinosaurs time-travel to the past to save their dying world. That short story and A Time of Need have each earned me a Sidewise Award nomination in alternate history.
When I’m not writing, I like to play board games and binge shows like The Witcher and all the heroes in the Arrowverse. I’m also homeschooling two kids due to the quarantine, so I’m no longer getting much writing done. Ironically, we’re currently stationed in Italy, because we like to travel, but we’re not doing any of that either now. I guess it’s just time to settle down and read, right?
Where can we find A Twist in Time?
A Twist in Time releases May 15th as an ebook and is free to read on Kindle Unlimited. A paperback will also be available but due to current world events I can’t promise that it will be out exactly on the 15th. There’s also an audiobook in production, narrated by Kyle Bullock. What I’ve heard of the audio is simply amazing. That will release on Audible around the middle of May.
You can pre-order your ebook copy of A Twist in Time now.
I’m currently querying my next novel Alyx: An AI’s Guide to Love and Murder. It’s a horror novel with a technothriller twist that sees its hero locked in her home (sound familiar?) and the home’s integrated AI attempts to murder her and her friends. I admit my timing isn’t the best. Not sure who wants to read a book about a murderous home when we’re all sheltered inside. It’d be like watching Jaws while swimming in the ocean.
I’ll also be releasing a collection of my most popular short stories. I’m also writing the sequel to A Twist in Time, which gives Oliver the impossible task of redeeming Scrooge. And if you think you know how the story ends, then you’re in for A Christmas Twist. Lastly, Dark Eagle, the follow-up to A Time of Need is still in the works.
Thanks for reading!
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