Traveling Through Time With Jana Oliver e-interviewed by Martina Bexte (April, 2007)
Jana Oliver was born and raised in Iowa and has since moved to Atlanta with her husband and two cats. She trained as a registered nurse, farmed with a team of draft horses while living in rural splendor (sans running water and central heating), and traveled the globe. She based the first story she ever wrote on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. TV series, but it wasn't until 2001 that she actively pursued a writing career. Her first three books were self-published. In 2005, she signed with Dragon Moon Press to create the Time Rovers series.
Her latest endeavor, Sojourn (Time Rovers Book 1), mixes time travel with shape-shifters in Late Victorian London during the time of the Ripper murders. Sojourn has been dubbed a 'rousing mystery-adventure' and a 'rare, well-researched and entertaining tale of time travel set against the backdrop of Victorian England and the Whitechapel murders.' The book is a finalist for a Foreword Award in Science Fiction and the Compton Crook/Stephen Tall Award (Baltimore Science Fiction Society.)
Q: Time Rover Jacynda Lassiter travels to Victorian England at the time of the Ripper murders to retrieve a missing tourist before he changes history. Time travel and its various paradoxes can make or break a story - did you struggle with this problem while writing the book?
A: I did a lot of head banging on that subject. In the course of Sojourn someone very important to Jacynda dies. That raises the obvious question - why doesn't she just go back in time and save him? Of course, then you would have no story. There has to be some peril involved in the use of time travel, the possibility that your characters won't survive or that history will bend in a particularly unpleasant fashion.
I did a lot of research into time travel, how it might work (or not) and then let my imagination run riot. There had to be rules and they have to be followed or there are ugly consequences. Time travel takes a toll on my Rovers, both emotional and physical. There's no free lunch, even when you're popping back and forth across the centuries.
Q: Do you believe that recreational time travel as you've envisioned it will someday be reality?
A: I wouldn't doubt it. Humans love technology and they love to make $$ off it. I can easily envision the time immersion industry shuttling tourists around to nifty spots in the past and making an unholy profit at the same time.
Of course, I'd be one of the first to sign up for a trip. I'd love to stand on a corner in Whitechapel in late autumn 1888 and watch the ebb and flow of East End humanity. And realize how much I couldn't put in a book. Then I'd come home and take a very long shower .
Q: How would we guard against abuse of time travel?
A: And that's the rub, isn't it? Once we acquire a technology, not everyone uses it wisely. Governments love to meddle just as much as anyone. Would you pass up on the opportunity to return to a certain international terrorist's birth and make sure he didn't live to see another day? Would you prevent Kennedy from visiting Dallas in November 1963? Would you go back and accept that date with the strange nerd who is now worth millions instead of telling him to bug off? With the power of time travel comes responsibility. I'm not sure humanity is up to the challenge or could resist the temptation just to make "one little change". One change that could affect the future in dramatic ways.
Q: Why did you use the Ripper murders as a backdrop for Sojourn - is it because as you say, it's the 'ultimate cold case'?
A: That was part of it. I also am fascinated by the time period. So much was happening during 1888 what with the anarchists, the immigrants, the threat of revolution and Jack's activities. It was a very rich time. Setting the stories alongside the Ripper's crimes also allowed me to put the heroine in the ultimate ugly situation - does she interfere and prevent one of the victims from meeting her death on the night of the Double Event (Sept. 30th) or does she let history play out? It's a nasty choice for Jacynda and one that will alter her life from that moment forward.
Q: Your plot also includes a number of Transitives with the ability to shape shift into any form they choose as well as Irish anarchists running amok trying to bring down the government - and there's also some romance. Is this sort of complicated plotting the most satisfying for you?
A: I love complex plots and intriguing characters! They're the dickens to pull off on my side of the fence because I have to have an idea of how all the little pieces fit together. Often I'm not "told" those details by my characters until the dead last moment. It makes for "white knuckle" writing. When it all comes together, that's fabulous.
Q: What's next for Jacynda Lassiter and her shape-shifting allies?
A: The next book in the series (Virtual Evil – Oct 2007) will find Jacynda having to choose between loyalty and survival. Harter Defoe, the greatest of Time Rovers, has gone rogue and is being sought by the authorities in 2057. Either she finds him and hauls him home or she faces a decade in prison for smuggling to the Off Gridders. Her two beaus, Dr. Alastair Montrose and Sgt. Jonathon Keats, both have their own troubles in this book. And just to add a bit more tension, those explosives are still in the hands of the Irish anarchist, Desmond Flaherty.
Q: You're set to speak at a Whitechapel conference in London on Jack the Ripper fiction - how did that come about?
A: I won't claim to be an expert, but I have read a good pile of Ripper fiction, ranging from 1888 to present day. Jack's been portrayed as a ravening monster, an alien, a member of royalty and, believe it or not, as a hero. I'm hoping to present the different ways writers "employ" Jack in their stories and how our view of the Whitechapel fiend has changed over the decades.
The presentation came about because I'm going to be in London in October to do research for Book 3 (Madman's Dance) and attend the UK Jack the Ripper Conference. The Whitechapel Society's meeting fell during my stay and I offered do a talk. They very graciously accepted my offer. They meet at the venerable Princess Alice in Whitechapel, a genuine Victorian Era pub. It's going to be grand fun.
Q: Have you or your fellow Ripperologists reached any firm conclusions as to the true identity of Jack the Ripper?
A: The debate rages on at places like: www.casebook.org and www.jtrforums.com and a number of foreign language sites. There are still a wide range of suspects, though for the most part Walter Sickert (Patricia Cornwell's choice) has been ruled out.
I think it was a local, someone who had intimate knowledge of Whitechapel, of anatomy (I favor a surgeon) and someone who had the coldest blood imaginable. Given the mutilations he conducted in little or no light, only minutes away from discovery, that was one very arrogant fellow. I have no one in particular in my sights. Still, it makes for interesting research. Who knows what letter or bit of evidence might be found in the years to come that might turn the case on its ear?
Q: Do you follow any particular rituals to keep your brain fueled and writer's block at bay as you go through the process of creating a story?
A: I don't tend to get writer's block; I just have days where I'm not very productive. When that happens, I clean my house or do some other mundane bit of work. The boring tasks allow me to spin scenarios and work my way out of whatever plot hole I've tumbled into.
Q: You've made your mark in fantasy/paranormal - is there any other genre you'd like to tackle?
A: Not really. Sojourn is a combination of science fiction, fantasy, historical mystery and romance with a whiff of horror. I'm running out of genres, to be honest. I like throwing them into a blender and seeing what comes out. You sure get really unique plots, that's for sure.
Q: Besides The Man From U.N.C.L.E., what other TV series, movies or books have influenced you?
A: TV Series? Babylon 5. I wrote some B5 fanfic (I didn't put it online so don't go hunting for it). It was a two-book story arc and though the execution was a bit clunky, the plot was decent. It taught me how to plot and how to finish a book.
As for movies – I really liked The Lion in Winter (Peter O'Toole, Katherine Hepburn) as Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. An excellent look at the inner workings of a dysfunctional family, even if it is set in the Middle Ages.
Books? I really enjoy Ian Rankin's complex Scottish police procedurals. And for laughs, there's always Terry Pratchett or Jasper Fforde. Their imaginations are incredible.
Q: What do you do in your spare time - or just for fun?
A: When all else fails, a good audio book, a purring cat on the lap and a hot cup of tea are perfect to recharge my batteries. I'm a pretty simple sort.
Thanks for having me. This was fun!Find out more about Jana Oliver, her background and her books; read her blog; and enjoy tidbits of All Things Victorian at her Website.
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