Repeating History is about second chances. It’s also about how heroes aren’t always so heroic as the stories say they are. In Yellowstone in 1959, Chuck McManis, a college dropout and self-described failure, strolls past a geyser, gets hit by an earthquake, and is flung back in time 82 years. Straight into the middle of the flight of Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce Indians, with the U.S. Army in hot pursuit, and into the life of the great-grandfather he idolized. He rescues/is rescued by the woman he comes to love, and sets out to fulfill the destiny laid out before him, only to discover that his past is where he really belongs after all.
2. Why do you write?
I write because I find it impossible not to write. It’s difficult to answer this question without winding up in cliché country or sounding like a fool, but I simply enjoy telling stories. And I meet the most interesting people in the process.
I started in the archives at Yellowstone National Park. By the time I was done, I had been to at least a dozen museums and archives, mostly in Montana, had gotten on a first-name basis with my local library’s interlibrary loan clerk, and had talked to experts on, among other things, geysers, motorcycles, horses, antique guns, and the Nez Perce Indians. Oh, and I learned how someone would die of gangrene from a gunshot wound. I also spent a lot of time (and took a lot of pictures) in Yellowstone itself, following, as much as I could, in Chuck’s footsteps. All for the sake of research, of course.
4. How did your main character come to you?
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.
Plotting. I am forever trying new systems in hopes that it will come easier, but it doesn’t seem to work that way. For Repeating History, which is my seventh manuscript, 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, and was lucky enough to find a first-person account by someone who was there. For the book I’m working on now, 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.
6. Where do you write?
I believe the phrase is, have laptop, will travel. When I’m home, I write while sitting in the reclining wing chair in my living room, often with a cat snuggled in beside me, because my desktop computer is permanently connected to the internet, and that’s just too much of a distraction. There’s a reason I don’t have wifi at home. But I have been known to write in campgrounds, hotel rooms, my car, and at picnic tables. A special treat (one I tend to employ when I need a jumpstart) is to take the laptop up to the Carbon River rainforest (jpg att.) in Mt. Rainier National Park (about 45 minutes from my house).
As for passions, I have a thing for geysers, actually. I don’t remember my first visit to Yellowstone because I was only four at the time, and while I did get to spend a day there when I was nineteen, and a few more days (with a reluctant then-spouse who was too impatient to wait for anything to erupt) in my twenties, I didn’t develop a full-fledged passion for geysers until I spent a week on my own in the park when I was forty, and saw the eruption of Grand Geyser that inspired Repeating History. Since then, I have gone to Yellowstone seven times in the last twelve years, and have spent most of my time there wandering around the geyser basins waiting for things to go off.
There’s just something about them. Geysers are said to play, and that term is very apt. They’re so exuberant that people have been known to applaud after an eruption. No two eruptions are alike, and even the most predictable of geysers change from day to day, season to season, and year to year. They’re geology on a human scale, and they’re absolutely fascinating. There’s an entire organization devoted to them: http://www.geyserstudy.org/, where those of us who call ourselves Geyser Gazers hang out.
8. Where do your ideas come from? (readers like this question)
This is a good question for this book, actually, 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.
Mostly, as with Repeating History, my ideas come from history. As a former librarian and a literature and history major in college, I love doing research and reading about historical events and the people who participated in them. My current manuscript, a sequel of sorts (one of the main characters is Chuck’s son) is set during the Klondike Gold Rush in the waning years of the 19th century, and was inspired by accounts of women, in particular, who had made that arduous journey.
9. What has been the most successful in your marketing efforts? (writers like this)
I’m still learning about marketing. So far, what’s worked best for me is word of mouth. The problem is getting the books out to the mouths that will pass the word along. I have been visiting several blogs, which seems to be generating some interest. I plan to make another trip to Yellowstone this summer and take along a nice supply of promotional bookmarks. It will be interesting to see how that works out.
10. What’s your favorite food from your part of the country?
I live an hour and a half from Paradise. Literally. Paradise is a visitor center/inn/trailhead on the south side of Mt. Rainier. As John Muir once said, the meadows on Mt. Rainier are “the most luxuriant and the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountain-top wanderings.” Most of the time when I go up there, however, it’s with a picnic in hand, and I’m afraid I don’t do much in the way of extraordinary picnics. The iconic food of this part of the world is salmon, and it does not transport well. Cooking it can be as simple or as extravagant as you want it to be, though. I generally bake it with a little onion and some lemon juice. Anything else really is overkill.
11. Tell us about your pets — we love animals.
I have two teenage cats, Elli and Elena, who are littermates, and came to live with me last September when they were three months old. I had just lost my two elderly male cats, Morgan and Linnet, the previous January and June, respectively, after over seventeen years together. The girls are long-haired tortoiseshells. Elli’s base color is black, and Elena’s is gray. They’re named after two of the girlfriends of my alltime favorite fictional character, Miles Vorkosigan, and they are a complete handful. They are particularly enamored of getting things wet, which, in a lifetime of living with cats, is a completely new twist to me. But they are about as cuddly as cats get, so I forgive them.
12. What is next in your writing life?
I am working on True Gold, the Klondike Gold Rush book I mentioned above, whose narrator is a young first generation Norwegian-American woman who has caught gold fever and run away from home. On her way north, she meets Will, who is the son of the hero of Repeating History and off to make his fortune, and his traveling companion Eric Hoel, who is a photographer, and his goats (he’s based on a real life person, goats and all). Together they make their way to Dawson City, and as soon as I figure out how it ends I will be glad to share that with you. I hope to publish it in June.
After that, I have one more book to write in this mobius strip of a trilogy, which will be about Chuck’s father in the aftermath of his son’s disappearance, and what he finds out about his own past. And after that? History is full of ideas. And at least some of them have my name on them.
Thank you so much for having me here. I’ve really enjoyed it.
Oh, and here are the links to my book, which is an ebook only, at least for now:
On Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005E8S8UM
On Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/76672
On Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/repeating-history-m-m-justus/1104728901