Okay, so I’ve been meaning to do some interview features on this blog since I started it on New Year’s, but somehow haven’t gotten around to it. That all changes today with my first guest on Tripping the Write Fantastic: Ryan Dalton. He has written an action-packed YA time travel sci-fi novel called The Year of Lightning–due out on January 12, 2016 via Jolly Fish Press–and is the first entry in the Time Shift Trilogy. Check out the book trailer below, then stick around for some questions and pay close attention to the other links I’m including at the bottom!
How did the idea for The Year of Lightning come about and how long did it take for you to complete this first part of the trilogy?
One scene popped into my head and ultimately inspired this story. I pictured walking by an abandoned house with no doors, no way in or out, and then seeing a face staring at me through the window. It felt so creepy, and once it was in my head I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I kept asking questions about why the person was there, how they got there, what they were doing. As I answered them, the story of The Year of Lightning was born. It’s been described as “Monster House meets Back to the Future.”
With respect to making the science fiction elements of this novel as strong as possible, are you naturally adept at understanding and applying scientific principles and was it easy for you to weave them into the framework of this novel? Or did you have to do a lot of research to come up with plausible scenarios?
I’ve always been a science geek, so I went into the story armed with some of the knowledge I needed. As I got deeper, though, I did have to read more about things like quantum physics and meteorology. Since the book features time travel, there’s a healthy dash of science fantasy, but I wanted to at least extrapolate the fiction from actual science in some way. These are things I would be reading about anyway, so it’s the fun kind of research.
In the acknowledgements you mention having received help with everything from French grammar to military procedure while writing this book. What was this process like for you and how did that help shape the characters and the story?
I was fortunate enough to have friends who are experts in the subjects I needed. These aren’t major parts of the story, but they’re in there enough that I wanted to represent them accurately. Little details matter. If all the real-life factual stuff is on point, readers are usually more comfortable buying into the fantasy.
Readers will notice nods to a number of classic science-fiction characters, books and movies: Emmett Brown High School, a character named John Carter, the main protagonists being named Valentine and Malcolm of Ender’s Game and Serenity/Firefly fame. There are even hints of The Faculty splashed throughout. Did some or all of this happen organically, or were these specific aspects of the story and the world of The Year of Lightning intended as a sort of homage to some of your own favorites from the science fiction world?
A bit of both. The name of the high school is a subtle nod to Back to the Future. I thought it’d be fun to reference a time travel story inside another time travel story. Joss Whedon is a huge writing inspiration to me, so Malcolm is definitely an homage to Firefly. Valentine wasn’t deliberate, actually. I just liked the name and thought it fit, and didn’t remember until later that it’s also a character in Ender’s Game. The John Carter reference has a specific function in the book that I won’t spoil here. I see all this as one of the perks of being an author–getting to share the things I love with fellow readers and geeks, even if it’s just in subtle references. You find little nods like this in movies pretty frequently, so I figured why not do it in my novels? It was great fun coming up with them!
When you look at the finished version now, is there anything about it that surprises you? Are there certain aspects of the story that went in ways you never would have expected, or did you ultimately take some chances along the way that you hadn’t expected to take with this story?
The story has definitely evolved since the beginning. Much of the original concept is there, but over time it grew into something better and more layered. As I wrote the characters, they grew into such dynamic people in my mind. The story became more emotional as I got to know them. As I refined my concept of time travel, that also had a profound effect on what I could and couldn’t do with the story. Overall, it feels like The Year of Lightning started as a fun idea and matured into something that I’m very proud of.
As the author, you’re naturally going to feel a certain amount of closeness to this project. It’s your baby. But is there a particular scene, a character, an aspect of the book that you are most struck by?
My favorite scene happens near the end, so I won’t spoil the specifics here, but an underestimated character does something unexpectedly awesome and I had a blast writing it. As for characters, I love them all in different ways–even the villains–but Fred Marshall is a side character who became so fun to write. On the surface he’s a buffoon, but by the end he shows a surprising amount of depth. Also, I’ve always loved lightning storms, so it was fun to feature them as part of the plot.
Which part of the book was the hardest for you to write?
As much as I love good fight scenes, they are by far the hardest parts to write. Every fight took several times longer to write than other scenes. It’s fun to block and choreograph them, but it takes multiple revisions to make them clear and concise while also conveying the right beats and emotions at the right moments. They’re also emotionally taxing since I really have to live in that moment until the fight is over. They’re a labor of love, though, and I’m exhausted afterward.
Conversely, which part was the funnest, or flowed the best?
I love dialogue and snappy character interactions. Those scenes flowed onto the page so naturally and so quickly, as if the characters were talking to each other and I transcribed the exchanges. Over time, their chemistry continued to grow until it felt like old friends and family really were in the room together.
Do you relate to any of these characters more than the others?
There’s a piece of me in each of them, I suppose. I tried to give them all real struggles and believable talents. More than anything, I wanted their brains to be better weapons than their fists. I’ve always respected stories where the protagonist beats the villain with mind first, fists second. Anyone can throw a punch or shoot a gun, but to match wits with a worthy opponent? Now that’s fun to read. That’s a big part of my preference, and it’s reflected in the main characters.
What does writing mean to you?
With writing, you’re only limited by imagination and skill with a pen (or keyboard). Building worlds and characters, helping them live and grow, then sitting back as they surprise me with something new and awesome–it’s deeply satisfying. Then, there’s no feeling like giving those stories to someone and seeing how it touches them. When someone laughs at a joke, gets protective of a character, comments on something in the story as if it’s real to them, it feels amazing to have reached their heart in some small way.
A big Thank You to Ryan for taking the time to talk with us about The Year of Lightning, Mikayla Rivera and the fine people at Jolly Fish Press for connecting us, and to everyone who read this interview. I hope you enjoyed it!
To learn more about Ryan and his work, visit his website, Goodreads page, or catch him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The Year of Lightning is available for pre-order at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.