An Interview with M.M. Justus, Author!

January 9, 2012

Today’s post isn’t about me or my life (imagine that!). Today I’m posting an interview with Meg Justus about her new novel, Repeating History, available in Kindle format on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005E8S8UM) as well as Smashwords (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/76672). This is the first stop on Meg’s blog tour, which I hope will be a long one. If you want to host a blog stop, you can contact her at mmjustus@nwlink.com. Her own website is http://mmjustus.com/ so stop by and check that out too!

Meg’s book doesn’t fit neatly into any genre, which to me is a good thing. The protagonist of Repeating History is Chuck McManis, 20 years old in 1959, a college drop-out, and taking a road trip to Yellowstone Park. While watching Old Faithful erupt, Chuck finds himself in the middle of a major earthquake, which throws him around and knocks him out. When he comes to, he realizes that he is no longer in 1959. He learns that, in fact, he is in the 1870s, and everything he knows can’t help him survive here — not only that, he is apparently his great-grandfather, and returning to the future means that he’ll lose Eliza, his great-grandmother from his time, but now the woman he loves.

1. I know we all get tired of people asking, “Where do you get ideas for writing?” but seriously, what inspired you in starting this book?

I actually like this question for this book, because I’ve never met anyone else who was inspired to write a time travel novel after watching a geyser go off. A few years ago I was in the middle of watching my first-ever eruption of Grand Geyser (not Old Faithful, but just down the boardwalk from it), the tallest predictable geyser in the world, when I suddenly thought, wow, this would make a terrific time travel device. I started researching Yellowstone’s history and things just kind of snowballed from there, especially after I found a firsthand account written by one of the tourists kidnapped by the Nez Perce.

2. Can you describe your experience with the setting? It’s clear you’ve been there, and love it, but tell us more!

At age four I was too young to remember my first visit to Yellowstone. I went back again as a teenager and as a young adult, but I did not fall in love with the park until I spent a week there as part of a solo 3-month cross-country road trip in the fall of 1999, when I saw that eruption of Grand Geyser and was absolutely enthralled. Geysers are said to play, and I’ve actually seen people applauding geysers because they’re so much fun to watch. Each geyser has its own personality, too. I’ve been back to the park numerous times since then at various times of the year, and have spent as much time as I could in the park archives doing research, as well as in other archives and libraries in the area. And, of course, I’ve spent a lot of time wandering in Chuck’s footsteps, and in the geyser basins waiting for things to go off.

3. How did you choose your protagonist? Is there a reason you chose to use a man rather than a woman? And do you feel that you’ve written a believeable male character?

Chuck started out as a military officer, on bereavement leave to bury his father. I keep trying to make characters into soldiers. I don’t know why that is, but Chuck rebelled almost from the beginning. For one thing, his voice kept sounding younger than I had originally intended him to be (mid-thirties, turned out he was twenty), and for another, I kept seeing him in my mind as a young blond Buddy Holly, gangly, glasses, and all. The reason Chuck is male, besides the fact that he absolutely positively couldn’t be anything else, is because in every other time travel novel I’ve ever read, either we have a man coming forward from the past to the present, or we have a woman going back from the present into the past. I’d never read one where a man went back into the past. And so that’s why I chose a male protagonist.

I like to think Chuck’s believable. I hope he is. I agonized more about him being believably from 1959 (the year I was born) than I did about him being male. I had a harder time writing Eliza, who is a very traditional woman of her time, than I did writing Chuck. But I think that’s more a function of me being about as untraditional a female as it is possible to be than anything else, which is probably one reason why it was easier for me to write a male character.

4. Who are your favorite characters in the book, and who was the most difficult to write about (and why)? And do you incorporate bits of people you know into your characters, or parts of yourself?

I’ll start with that question about the most difficult. Killing someone with gangrene resulting from a gunshot wound to the hip was not fun. I had to research it, of course, and I did, and the character really did have to die, but I didn’t have to like it.

I like all my characters, even the ones I’m not supposed to like, which sometimes makes things difficult. The character who turned out to be the most pleasant surprise was Lucy. She simply strolled onstage about two-thirds of the way in and started talking. She never tried to take over the book, but she turned Martin, who had been pretty much a pain in the neck up to that point, into a real grown-up. And she enabled plot point after plot point. I have no idea what part of my subconscious she came from, but I’m extremely grateful she showed up.

I don’t consciously incorporate bits of myself or other people into my characters, with two exceptions, one large and one small. The small exception is Chuck’s looks. The large exception is that Repeating History is based on real events. The Nez Perce did flee through Yellowstone in 1877, and they did kidnap at least one party of tourists along the way. Eliza is based on a real person. So are Martin and Anna Cooper, and William Byrne. Unconscious incorporation of bits from any source is another matter altogether.

5. Why did you choose first person over any of the other main types? (third person, multiple third persons, omniscient, etc.)

Because when I first started writing the story, I was working in single viewpoint tight third person because that’s what I’d been told sold easiest. The words had to be pulled out with pliers, and they sounded terribly stilted. So, on a whim, I started over in first person, thinking that once I had a draft I’d rewrite it in third, and it was like turning on a fire hose. The story just started running, and it didn’t stop. I never did do that rewrite. The sequel of sorts I am working on right now is also in first person, but it is not in Chuck’s point of view. It’s from the point of view of a !horrors! woman, which I fought for far longer than I should have. But she’s decidedly not traditional, which helps.

6. Do you start with a written outline of some sort(either with numbers or just a paragraph), or do you just get the ideas in your head and go for it? Will you use the same process in the sequel — if you’re writing a sequel and I hope you are?

For Repeating History I borrowed a system I had heard discussed by author Lois McMaster Bujold, who talked about plotting turning point to turning point, or, to use her term, to the next event horizon. I figured out where things were going until I couldn’t anymore, then I wrote to that point, then I figured out where things were going next and and wrote to that point and so forth, to the end of the book. The kidnapping and escape part was plotted for me, since I was writing a version of a story that really happened. For the sequel, and, yes, as I said there’s a sequel, sort of — one of the main characters in my work in progress is Chuck’s son/grandfather, and True Gold is about his adventures in the Klondike in the late 1890s with a young woman he rescues along the way, which I hope to have up on Amazon and Smashwords by June — I tried writing a full outline, using techniques I read about on author Holly Lisle’s website. At least I thought it was a full outline. It appears now, however, that I was just plotting to the first event horizon, so I am apparently using the same method I did last time, just coming at it from a different angle.

7. What is your favorite part of the writing through publishing process, including marketing, and what is your least favorite?

Call me insane, but I love revision. I feel about revising the same way I do hand quilting, which is my favorite part of making a quilt. The writing process (as I do it, at least) does have a lot in common with the quilting process, come to think about it. First I get the idea, then I figure out how to make it work, then I write the first draft/cut and piece the top, then I revise and layer in the rest of the story/do the quilting, then I proof and go over it one last time/bind the quilt. It helps to think of it that way, too. That way I don’t expect a finished story when all I’ve got is a pieced top. Because my most complete rough drafts are, to put it kindly, only about half of the finished story.

My least favorite part so far is marketing, but that’s because I have a lot to learn. This interview, I hope, is a good first step. Thank you for the opportunity.

8. Why did you choose self-publishing over the agent and book publisher route?

Honestly, if, in the seven or eight years I wasted submitting Repeating History to agents and publishers only to be told over and over that it was a good story but not something they thought they could sell, someone had offered to take me on, I would have jumped at it. But self-publishing suddenly became more acceptable and economically possible at just about the time I was ready to throw in the towel on traditional publishing, and I thought, why not? Besides, I have a fairly entrepreneurial spirit — I am an independent museum curator in my other life — so being in control of the entire process appealed greatly to me.

9. What is your favorite part of the book?

There are two, both have to do with Chuck’s realizing what’s happened to him and who he is. One is when the party of tourists he’s stumbled into tries to plug up Old Faithful (the early tourists did a lot of stupid things, but then I don’t think the early tourists had a monopoly on stupidity) and he recognizes what’s going on as one of the stories his great-grandmother told him when he was small. The other is when he and Eliza and Anna arrive at the Bottlers’ ranch and he’s standing out on the porch staring at the stars and realizing that if he really is his great-grandfather, he’s going to marry Eliza. And that he’s not unhappy about that turn of events at all. I know a lot of people look at the whole “I’m my own great-grandfather” storyline and roll their eyes (several agents certainly did so), but honestly, it’s my favorite part of the plot. What would you do if you had the chance to live the life of someone you idolized, only to find out that things didn’t happen the way you always thought they had at all? Second chances has always been the main theme of my writing, and Chuck’s story is the ultimate in second chances, so far as I was concerned.

Thank you, Meg, for providing us some insight not just into your book, but into the writing and publishing proocess!

Meg Justus clearly knows a great deal about subjects ranging from Montana history to geysers and anything in between, and I’m sure she’d be delighted to visit your blog to talk about them!

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16 Responses to “An Interview with M.M. Justus, Author!”

  1. What a great interview, Lori and Meg! Great questions for Meg elicited some wonderful writing information as well as a few details about her new book. Repeating History is on my to-be-read pile 🙂

    Alice

  2. Meg said

    Thank you, Alice! Lori asked some terrific questions.

  3. filkferengi said

    Interesting description of your writing process, Meg! It reminds me of the orienteering class ze spouse & I took together.

  4. I enjoyed this interview. Time travel has always been fascinating for me and it sounds like “Repeating History” is a winner.

  5. Great interview! Congrats, Meg.

  6. Jacki said

    Great interview and an interesting look ‘behind the scenes’. I grabbed the book when it first came out and thoroughly enjoyed it, even for someone who has never been to the US and knows very little of its history. The plot and characters were engaging and the story romped along. Very much looking forward to the sequel.

  7. Great interview! Interesting, Meg, how you write from one event to the next. I too write without outline and sort of that way although a bit more like where the character (s) lead me. Repeating History sounds like a story I’d enjoy. I love Yellowstone and have been there lots of times dating back to 1957. I knew about the Nez Perce kidnapping. In my new book coming out in June, my character arrives in Yellowstone just after the Big Hole Battle. Now, don’t get excited, he passes through Yellowstone and goes on to Virginia City. 🙂

    • Meg said

      Oh, the characters lead me, too. They’re the ones who know how the plot goes.

      And good for you sending a character through Yellowstone, too.

  8. Jean Lamb said

    This was a really neat interview, and a very helpful one to other writers, too. (going off to buy the book…).

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