One of the reasons I enjoy interviews about my writing (other than the most ridiculous ego-tripping reasons, of course) is because it gives me insight into how people are interpreting my work, which is often something new or that I wasn’t creating intentionally. Sometimes an interview veers in an unexpected direction, and then I’m joyful as I get caught up talking about texts and narrative and form and extrapolating into popular culture more generally. But often there are pieces of the story that I think are glaring for readers but that never come up in conversation. So for my love of talking about textuality and literature, I thought I’d go over a few aspects of The Unintentional Time Traveler that haven’t come up in any of my Q&As.
The protagonist’s name(s)—I could answer this self-imposed question in a few different ways. First, “Jackson” is an intentional play on patrilineage, which the character winds up disrupting by choosing at the end to spend a lot of time as Jacqueline instead of in the time of Jackson’s actual life. But more important to me was the iconic use of the name “Jack” as it appears in scads of children’s literature: nursery rhymes, Jack & Jill, Jack & the Beanstalk, Jack Frost, Jack Sprat, etc. It’s almost at the level of generic marker for boys. So I wanted to create a narrative that took the mainstay name and immersed it in a novel that was focused on LGBT themes and characters. I want to see our stories and our lives within this greater mythology and literature, not apart from it. Jack was the perfect moniker to use to make this kind of a statement. And Inman is the name of a family I know from Washington, DC, but it’s also a great double entredre.
Why I picked the 1920s and Kentucky as a major setting for the book—Well, I needed the eras that Jack and Jacqueline live in to be relatively close, but I also think the 1920s are great as a temporal setting because they aren’t covered very much in contemporary literature, and they left such a mark on the country that continues today. We’re still living with the echoes of Prohibition in many ways, from how we distribute liquor, wine and beer, to the establishment of organized crime in the US, the aftermath of the Russian revolution, the beginnings of many worker’s rights including child labor laws, the eight-hour workday, and weekends. It was a decade in at last as fast development as the 21st Century has been: in 1920 women first got the right to vote and only a few percent of Americans owned a car, had electricity or plumbing in their home, or a telephone. By the end of the decade those technological advances were firmly ensconced in the middle class. I wanted to make a statement about how our current moments often feel brand new and like they’re not somehow reliant on work people who came before us helped deliver. But it turns out that each step is a foundation for the next.
What the book implies about fatherhood—There are a lot of fathers in 248 pages: Jacob Van Doren, Jacqueline’s missing father, Melvin Traver’s father, Jack’s father, and Jackson Hartle. They all wind up modeling different ways of being fathers; some with tenderness and concern for their children, some with cruelty, and some who are searching for what kind of father they are. I wanted to write a young adult novel with a protagonist that was outside of the increasingly trope-ish smart-alecky young woman (I’m looking at you, Katniss Everdeen, and no offense to her or Suzanne Collins). I also wanted to appeal to young male readers, but give them some space to push at the boundaries of masculinity. Yes, there are engines and cars in the book, and lots of mechanic scenes, but there are also conversations about what having a loving dad means for young men, and what the absence of that portends. This isn’t to say that fathers are everything, and certainly I’ve got lots of mothers in the book, too, but I wanted to give male readers something I don’t think they see very often in narratives that are written with them in mind—a place where they could think about how they relate to their own fathers and what that means for them.