When 9 year old Alice Carroll disappears during a school shooting she is left wondering if time travel is all it’s cracked up to be.
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Science Fiction, Time Travel, Girls & Women
Release Date: 12 July 16
Winner of the 2015 A Woman’s Write Competition for fiction!
When Alice Carroll is in grade three she narrowly escapes losing her life in a school shooting. All she remembers is the woman comforting her in the moments before the gunshot, and that one second she was there, the next she wasn’t.
It’s bad enough coming to terms with surviving while others, including her favourite teacher, didn’t, let alone dealing with the fact that she might wink out of existence at any time.
Alice spends the next few years seeing specialists about her Post Traumatic Stress as a result of VD–Voldemort Day–but it’s not until she has a nightmare about The Day That Shall Not Be Mentioned, disappears from her bed, is found by police, and taken home to meet her four-year-old self that she realizes she’s been time travelling.
Alice is unsure if her getting unstuck in time should be considered an ability or a liability, until she disappears right in front of her high school at dismissal time, the busiest time of day. Worried that someone may find out about her problem before long, Alice enlists her best friend (and maybe boyfriend), Pete, to help her try to control her shifting through time with limited success. She’s just about ready to give up when the shooter is caught. Alice resolves to take control of her time travelling in order to go back to That Day, stop the shooting, and figure out the identity of the stranger who’d shielded Alice’s body with her own.
Excerpt from I Was, Am, Will Be Alice
Alice is 9
The first time it happens, it happens like this:
I’m huddled beside the bench in the grade three cloakroom, head scrunched against my knees, hands clasped behind my head. I hear the shots, three of them, and I swear my heart stops pumping each time. There’s a woman next to me, kneeling, whispering in my ear, telling me it’s going to be okay, but I’m either too frightened or it was too long ago to remember exactly what she says. Her hand grips my shoulder firmly, and there’s a familiar quality to her voice that’s somewhat soothing. The man’s heels clack into the cloakroom and the gun cracks as he readies it for the next shot. The woman stands and I can tell by the air she moves with her that she’s taken a step toward him. Her lips make a wet sound as if she’s parted them, and she draws in a breath as if to speak, and then the gun booms─it’s deafening─and she goes down.
I scream and I go away.
When I come back the woman is gone. So is the man with the gun. The classroom door opens with a whoosh. My breath catches in my throat and my heart thumps in my chest and I hear shoe clacks again…
Alice is 9
“Alice?” a man says when the clacking stops. It’s loud enough to snap me from my trance. “You’re covered in blood! Are you okay?”
I blink at him. “I don’t think it’s mine.”
The man, Principal Cotton, clucks his tongue and says, “For God’s sake, girl, why are you still here?”
I shrug my shoulders. I have no idea.
His shoes click away. When they click back he has a woolen blanket in his hands. I feel the warmth of his body as he nears and the wet warmth of his breath at the back of my neck as he drapes the blanket over me. He’s a smoker. I can tell.
The blanket’s scratchy, like Daddy’s beard on a weekend morning. It starts to slide off me, but I grab as much of it as I can and pull it close.
Mr. Cotton holds his hand out to me. I take it and let him lead me to the office.
* * *
It’s weird sitting in the Bad Kid Chairs, and I get A Case of the Nerves waiting for my parents to come. I have to breathe deeply and evenly; the last time I got A Case of the Nerves, I went away, and I don’t want to do that again. Not here. Not now.
By the time my parents come for me, Mr. Cotton has let me get washed up. My clothes are sticky in places where the blood is still wet and hard where it’s dried in others. We sit in his office, the four of us around a small, round table. I try to picture us sitting this way in a coffee shop, waiting for the waitress to take our orders. Mom orders a latte, lactose free and with three sugars. Dad orders something slushy. Mr. Cotton looks like a tea man to me. I order something fruity and icy with lots of whipped cream.
Mr. Cotton says, “She was curled into a ball when I found her,” spoiling the illusion. “She was just glued to the spot, huddled into a ball and holding her breath.”
“Where did the blood come from?” Mom sniffles. I hate it when she cries.
“We don’t know. She seems physically unharmed.” Mr. Cotton shuffles the papers on the table in front of him. “I want to give you this.” He hands her a pamphlet. “Grief councillors will be here for the foreseeable future to talk to the children who need it, but seeing as Alice was so close to…well, to the action, Post Traumatic Stress is a likely possibility.”
Mom gasps. “Oh God!” Dad reaches for her hand. I sit in my chair taking long, deep breaths, willing myself to grow smaller and smaller until I disappear.
“Call this number, Mrs. Carroll. There are councillors there to help you cope, too. Support groups and the like.”
Mom reaches for a tissue from the box on the table. She blows her nose, looks at her lap, and continues to weep.
“Thank you, Mr. Cotton,” Dad says. He stands up and shakes the principal’s hand. He touches Mom’s shoulder and she stands, too. She nods and forces a smile at Mr. Cotton.
“Come, sweetie,” Dad says to me. He takes my hand and pulls me from my chair.
* * *
The drive home would be silent, but for Mom’s sniffles and snorts and gasps. When we get there, she announces, “I’m going to lie down for a bit.” She smiles at me and says, “You can lie with me if you like, Alice,” as an afterthought.
I nod. I don’t feel like being comforted by my mother. I feel embarrassed at losing control. Ashamed at being found by Mr. Cotton of all people, just sitting there, crying like a baby. I want to eat chocolate cake till I puke and crawl into a hole somewhere and die.
“Ice cream sundaes, kiddo?” Dad asks.
I nod and smile in spite of myself and follow him into the kitchen.
Guest Post #1: Time Travel – A Case of Temporal Insanity
Time travel is a common science fictional trope used in novels like Robert J. Sawyer’s Flash Forward, Audrey Niffenegger’s Time Traveler’s Wife, and H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine. Each of these novels presents a different model for time travel: Sawyer’s book has people peeking into the future after being zapped when a particle accelerator malfunctions; time travel happens in Niffenegger’s book due to a genetic defect; and Wells’s protagonist uses a time machine he’s invented. I count time travel episodes among my favourites in the canon: the original Star Trek‘s “City on the Edge of Forever”, Deep Space: Nine‘s iconic “Trials and Tribble-ations”, Futurama’s “Roswell that Ends Well”, and most recently, all of Heroes Reborn. But what many of these shows fail to address are the paradoxes that arise as a result of time travel to the past.
In his February 2015 article, “The paradox of popping back in time“, Quentin Cooper explains that time travel to the past would stir up a “whole parade of paradoxes.” Cooper cites Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder”, as evidence that even the smallest change in the past could have grave consequences for the future. He says that, when travelling back in time, “your actions would affect what caused you to go back in the first place–so if you did manage to kill Hitler, he wouldn’t have done what led you to go back and kill him.”
One excellent example of this is the way Flash time travels in the television series. In the guise of Flash, Barry Allen has went back in time three times at the time of writing this. Each time his actions change the future. In “The Man in the Yellow Suit”, Cisco emerges on the other end as a metahuman. In “Legends of Tomorrow/Yesterday”, Cisco says to Barry that even talking about time travel can have consequences for the future. Nevertheless, Flash goes back in time and the heroes thwart bad guy Vandal Savage and live to fight another day.
Though travelling back in time could “alter everything and end up rewriting reality,” travelling forward in time wouldn’t have the same effect as the future has yet to be written. And while travelling back in time is the stuff of science fiction, travelling forward in time has actually been done before. Due to “time dilation, something predicted by Einstein’s Theory of Relativity…the faster someone goes…the slower their clock goes relative to those back down on Earth.” Cooper goes on to say that, after spending “over two years in orbit on Mir and the International Space Station,” cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev travelled about 1/200ths of a second into the future. If his orbit speed were dramatically increased, Krikalev could have theoretically emerged from the Space Station hundreds of years into Earth’s future over the course of two years’ time.
In I Was, Am, Will Be Alice, Alice Carroll time travels through a defect in her DNA. Whenever Alice is under extreme stress, all she needs is to see her reflection and she finds herself at another point in time, be it past or present. Like Barry Allen, she eventually learns how to control her ability to travel in time, in order to use it to change the past. Though her best friend (and maybe boyfriend) Pete is wary about the consequences of tampering with time, Alice is driven by the desire to save her favourite teacher and classmates who were killed in a school shooting that happened when she was in grade 3. Learning to control how to time travel is one thing; learning to control when she travels to is quite another.
Will Alice be successful in returning to that fateful day to save her teacher and friends? And who was the woman who saved Alice by shielding Alice’s body with her own? Read I Was, Am, Will Be Alice to find out.
Guest Post #2: If you don’t have time to read…
Modelling is not (as the title of a previous blog I wrote implied) actually stealing. It’s more like borrowing.
It happens all the time.
Ray Bradbury did it.
In the opening of his novel, Graveyard for Lunatics, Bradbury borrows Dickens’ “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” parallel structure. In the short story, “The Veldt”, Bradbury names the children Peter and Wendy, an obvious nod to J.M. Barrie’s characters of the same name.
Stephen King does it.
In TheTalisman, King recreates a scene from Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. The original scene, focussing on peasants celebrating as they enjoy the spoils of an upturned cart of spirits, is twisted into something more gruesome in King’s version. Instead of a celebration, King’s scene focuses on the destruction caused by the ruined cart which kills a child and maims a horse.
King repeats the process in Black House, The Talisman‘s sequel, which alludes to Dickens’ Bleak House, in both theme, title, and within the story itself.
Modelling is a great way to test the waters to find your writing voice. It can also provide your readers with links to previous publications, famous authors and plots, and make a connection with universal themes.
Borrowing from the classics
For example, if my character is a man-boy who refuses to grow up, I might call him Peter after Peter Pan. If I compose scenes that parallel Barrie’s iconic story, I might take snippets of Barrie’s words, or write parallel passages. I could give my Peter the same origin story as Pan, having him grow up an orphan after being found abandoned in his stroller, or first taken from his stroller and then abandoned. Readers will map their reading of Barrie’s Peter onto my Peter, if the connection is made clear.
If my character suffers a nervous breakdown, I might call her Dorothy, after Dorothy Gale, and make hallucinations a part of her downward spiral in which the people who are closest to her are not as they seem. Or I could call her Alice, as in Wonderland, and have people around her embody the traits of the White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter, or the Queen of Hearts (as I do in my latest release, I Was, Am, Will Be Alice). Whenever my character feels herself spinning out of control, I could borrow from Baum’s description of Dorothy in the throes of the twister, or Carroll’s Alice as she falls into the rabbit hole, to describe what my character is feeling.
Stephen King once said something to the effect that a good writer is aware of all of the writers who went before him. He further cautions that “if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.” Then again, he also says that you shouldn’t try to imitate another author’s style or you’ll come off sounding like a cheap imitation. My point is that to be a good writer, you must read other successful authors in your genre, study their writing to figure out why they are successful, and then keep this at the back of your mind as you develop a style of your own style.
Guesst Post #3: Read-Alikes
My latest novel, I Was, Am, Will Be Alice releases the week of 12 July 16. In the book, 9 year old Alice Carroll disappears from her classroom during a school shooting. She later learns she is able to time travel when under extreme stress, a situation she is determined to learn to control in order to go back to the day of the shooting to save the lives of her teacher and classmates and to discover the identity of the woman who sacrificed herself so Alice could live.
Here are some excellent read-alikes, books with similar themes or in similar genres that have inspired me and my writing, especially with respect to I Was, Am, Will Be Alice. If you liked these books, you are sure to love Alice (and vice-versa):
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Life Henry, Alice travels through time, but due to a different genetic anomaly. Also like Henry, Alice’s episodes of time travel centre around the most traumatic event in her life – being caught in a school shooting. Unlike The Time Traveler’s Wife, Alice eventually learns how to control her travelling and tries to use it to prevent the shooting from happening. The novel is not primarily a romance, but rather, a coming of age story in which Alice learns that the curves life has thrown her do not have to define her. It is about a young girl coming to terms with her disability and using it to empower herself.
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Names and phrases were borrowed from Alice in Wonderland, but aside from my Alice feeling as if she’s stepped into the bizzaro world of the looking glass, the story does not compare. I include Wonderland in this list with the hope that it might inspire my readers to go back and take a look at the classic work that inspired me, if not the story.
The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
In The Shining Girls, Kirby is the victim of a time traveller. She uses her traumatic event–nearly being murdered by serial killer, Harper–and her job as a reporter, to turn the event around and bring her attacker to justice. Like Alice, Kirby uses the curves life has thrown her to empower herself and overcome her past. In The Shining Girls, it is Harper who does the travelling through a door in a magical house. Kirby is assisted by fellow reporter, Dan, in her investigation and there are hints of a romance, much like Alice is assisted by Pete, and there are hints of a romance.
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
In The Lovely Bones, Susie is raped and murdered. She spends the book in heaven, looking down on her friends and family as her murder investigation unfolds. Susie must come to terms with her death as she hopes her murderer will be caught. As the story progresses, Susie comes of age as she accepts her fate and learns of a clue that has been uncovered that will ultimately lead to the capture of her murderer. Alice is very much alive throughout the novel. The parallel here is the trauma and the need to come to terms with how the character’s life has changed as a result of the trauma. As the character comes of age, she learns to use her trauma as a tool for empowerment, rather than defeat.
The Half-Life of Molly Pierce by Katrina Leno
Molly suffers from split-personality disorder. The book opens with a trauma – Molly witnesses a boy on a motorcycle as he is hit and killed in a car accident – and she doesn’t know what to make of it. Because life around her goes on and each of Molly’s personalities are only aware of half of it, she must learn to overcome her disability in order to figure out who the boy on the motorcycle was, to regain her memory, and to get better. In other words, like Alice, she must also learn to come to terms with her disability, and she eventually uses it to piece her life together, thus empowering herself so she can get well.
Guest Post #4: You Sunk My Battleship…Again!
Written for Mariah Avix’s 600 Seconds Saga podcast, posted on July 15, 2016 at http://insani-x.com/2016/07/15/s1-17-you-sunk-my-battleship-again/
“B2,” she says.
It’s a direct hit, like she knows exactly where I’ve put my battleships. And of course, she does. I’m the one out of time this time. In this scenario, I’m Mabel, and she’s me—she’s Alice, the me I’ll be two days from now.
“I don’t get it. Shouldn’t I already know where your ships are?”
She smiles a wicked grin, and I wonder if I ever truly look that sinister when I smile.
We could go like this all day, me sitting here, her calling out each and every ship on the board, peg by peg, as if by rote, which, I keep forgetting, it is.
“Give me a break,” I tell her.
“B3, May—hit or miss?”
Mabel’s my middle name. It’s what I decided to call myself when I’m out of time, so my family and friends would know who’s who.
“Hit,” I say with this great exhalation of air. Then, quieter, almost a whisper, “You sunk my battleship.”
She beams with pride.
“Cheater,” I mumble.
“Loser,” she replies.
“Tell you what, out of the goodness of my heart, I’ll let you have a try.”
“Don’t you mean out of guilt?”
“Do you want a try or not?” she says, staring me down. Did I ever realize my eyebrows were crooked, that the arch of the left was slightly higher than the left? Or is it in the way she’s squinching her forehead, looking like she’s in pain as she waits for me to go.
“H10,” I say.
Her lips curl into a lopsided grin. “Miss! My turn.”
Smack dab in the middle of my aircraft carrier. “Hit,” I say, sounding disappointed. “That’s not fair.”
“No one ever said life was going to be fair.”
I often wonder if these quiet afternoons, the ones where I find myself a blink or two into my own past or future, are what it might feel like to have a twin. More and more I think it might be nicer to have a twin; I’ve learned I can be quite annoying at times.
“Hey, Al,” I say to my future self, “do you ever wish you could do something more than this with your ability?”
“I mean, sitting here, in our room like this, playing these stupid games…don’t you wish we could fix something that was wrong in the world, stop it before it started?”
“D4,” she says.
“Do I really need to answer that?”
“That’s how conversation works, you know. I ask you something, you answer. Wash, rinse, repeat.”
She looks up at me, her lips pressed together, pencil-thin ask, question again, instead of her voice.
I sigh. “I guess not,” I say. And she doesn’t. Not really. She’s me only a couple of days from now, after all. Not enough time’s passed for her answer to be altogether that much different from mine. Ever since I realized I was inflicted with this…thing, I’ve wanted to go back and change the past, mine, Miss Dinah’s, and the other kids’, too, but I’ve always failed miserably. Every single time. Talk about a cycle of wash, rinse, repeat…it was enough to drive you mad.
I remember reading online once, that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different outcome. Einstein said that—if you can believe the attribution of the quote on the Internet. I wonder how many times I’ve sat here with a future version of myself playing this exact same game, with these exact same coordinates, resulting in the exact same outcome.
My two-man destroyer is sitting in the right, lower quadrant on my grid. I wait until Alice’s attention is diverted when she turns to take a sip of her pop, and I try to move it, two spaces to the left.
“You did that last time, too, you know,” she says without looking up.
“Did what?” I ask, feigning innocence.
“Move your destroyer. From J seven and eight to J nine and ten.”
When I look up, Mom’s stern face is hidden within her features.
“You were thinking about the definition of insanity and then you changed it, trying to do something different. Have you forgotten who I am, Einstein?”
“You suck,” I said to her. “And so does time travel.”
She nods. “Does it ever.”
When we make eye contact, Alice is wearing the exact expression I imagine she sees on me, and we start to giggle. A few seconds later, I wipe a tear from my eye and she laughs even harder.
“You’re crying!” she says, and the first tear trickles down her cheek.
“So are you!” I say, and for some reason, I laugh harder as well. Our giggles turn to snickers, and then morph into belly guffaws, until we’re literally rolling around on the floor, both of us trying to massage the stitches from our bellies. Eventually, the chortles slowly settle until there’s only the odd trickle of a chuckle.
“D2,” she says.
“Seriously?” I ask. I mean, come on, already. We all know how this is going to end.
“Hit,” I say defeated.
About Elise Abram:
Elise Abram is high school teacher of English and Computer Studies, former archaeologist, editor, publisher, award winning author, avid reader of literary and science fiction, and student of the human condition. Everything she does, watches, reads and hears is fodder for her writing. She is passionate about writing and language, cooking, and ABC’s Once Upon A Time. In her spare time she experiments with paleo cookery, knits badly, and writes. She also bakes. Most of the time it doesn’t burn. Her family doesn’t seem to mind.
Here’s where you can learn more about Elise and her writing: