Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Time Dilations

Here, again, my monthly post for Storytellers Unplugged.

Time Dilations
Wayne Allen Sallee
28 January 2009

I’m in the process of working on a book project for someone that, for the most part, takes place over the course of several hours. The meat of the book is sandwiched as a flashback between the expected setup as well as the eventual hint at a sequel. To help center the book, I put the middle part in lock down mode, quite literally, as the characters can not leave the building they have trespassed upon, and in doing so I succeeded in dilating time as well as space. Certain scenes allowed for a choreography, one I likened to the football games where a first down gets replayed in slow motion and a yellow marker draws arrows and circles amongst the players. I am enjoying how this plays out.

There is a character from the 1940s, he was actually created less than two years after Superman, named Hourman. Rex “Tick-Tock” Tyler, the Man of the Hour, worked for Bannerman Chemicals and developed the Miraclo pill, which gave him strength and stamina for an hour. And also made him comic’s first functioning drug addict. What made his eight-page adventures so enjoyable was that, after he popped a pill and started swinging his fists at thugs, a small countdown would appear in every other panel, reminding us of Hourman’s limit. 47:03. 24:00. Hourman usually beat the last armed robber with about seven seconds left on his internal clock. I often (well, you know) think of myself as Hourman, because of my pain medication. I can type pretty fast right now, but come see me around 2 AM. So, again I digress, but I really got a kick from that countdown.

The same can be said of the book I am working on, though it’s a bit more claustrophobic. Part of me wishes there was a way the book could be condensed into a twenty-four hour format, if only to have it fall into the category of “novels that take place in one day,” one of Wikipedia’s vague headings.

I’m currently reading Duane Swierczynski’s THE BLONDE. Duane’s the editor-in-chief of the Philadelphia Daily Paper and novel has a great premise (as does his current novel, SEVERANCE PACKAGE, check him out), and aside from a two page epilogue, the thriller does take place over the course of a day, each new scene giving us the time and location. The book moves along, certainly from the strength of Swierczynski’s writing, but the mention of the time in bold print works much better than starting the next chapter with “Three minutes later...” This guy has been doing some comic of late, maybe I should tell him about Hourman, if he doesn’t already know.

Most of my short fiction work by the “first 48" rule of police procedural, you gotta try your damnedest to solve the murder in two days or all bets are off. I wrote a novella about a plague, FOR YOU, THE LIVING, of which I’m thinking of turning into a novel (since zombies seem to be cooler than romantic vampires now), and that little love story covers about three months. For any of you reading this, I’m curious. What is the shortest amount of time that has transpired in any of your meaty pieces (not flash fiction or the tiny nibbles like I have in several anthologies)? Anyone?


Charles Gramlich said...

I vaguely remember Hourman, although it is certainly a cool idea.

HemlockMan said...

For some reason I never read any Hourman comics. Despite having plenty of them at my disposal all during my childhood. I would see the character and never knew that's what his schtick was until you described it. Actually, it sounds pretty darned cool. I always thought his power had something to do with time travel. Live and learn.

I've almost completely stopped writing short stories. I submitted one a few weeks ago and the editors liked it enough to ask for a rewrite. But I have no desire to put in the extra effort. I can recall the days when I would have jumped right to it. Now I labor away on the novels and rarely give a thought to short fiction.