My novel Untimed was conceived as 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’d 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).
The Tick-Tocks are supposed to be mysterious, and I really wanted to reveal their secrets layer by layer. It was even important that by the end of the book, while you understand a lot more about them, you don’t really know exactly where they come from or what their up to. A great nemesis needs this. Think Darth Vader or Professor Moriarty. Their secrets aren’t all on the table to begin with. Additionally, one of my favorite emotions to play with is “creep.” My first novel, The Darkening Dream, is all about creepiness, and I think it’s much more effective and scary than plain horror. So the Tocks are supposed to be creepy. Not exactly horrific, but just mysterious and creepy. That’s one of the reasons they don’t talk. Creepy.
Charlie’s character derived automatically from his voice, which I tried to make authentically 15. And while he’s sweet, and fundamentally optimistic and good natured, realism demanded a bit of an edge. Teen boys think about shit and sex. Sorry, but it’s true. I rub up on issues that make some squirm, even if I deal with the lightly: teen pregnancy, drinking, slavery, etc. But to sweep these under the carpet wouldn’t do justice to the 18th century – or our own.
As to Yvaine. Well, she’s based in part on the kind of girl I wanted to meet when I was a teenager. This seems odd, considering how messed up she is, but like Charlie, I didn’t have much luck with girls in High School. In the 80s, being a “computer guy” and even worse, into video games, was pretty much the kiss of death (see 16 Candles for reference). Yvaine is smart, capable, and in charge, but she’s also damaged and emotionally needy. I thought the combination worked.
Lastly, I’ll talk about Donnie. I’ve noticed that the most effective jerks tend to have some real charisma. Because of Yvaine, Charlie never really likes Donnie, but he maybe could have briefly. Donnie holds his little band together throw a mixture of intimidation, generosity, camaraderie and loyalty. He may be mostly out for himself, but he really sees himself as the protector and leader of his gang, and he acts this way to hold up his own self image. Even in the end, his loyalty to Stump is his own undoing, which is kinda sad – but that’s life. Real villains are heroes in their own stories.