Saturday, February 11, 2012

Time After Time by Allen Appel

Thriller Guy has turned the blog over to me this week. I asked him to put in a plug for my latest endeavor and he muttered something to the effect of “Do it your effing self,” so here it is.

I have put Time After Time up as a Kindle book, the first in my series of time travel books known as the Pastmaster series, featuring Alex Balfour, a mild mannered history professor who lives in New York City. Even though the books have been out of print for many years, I still receive weekly, if not monthly, kind letters from readers who read the books long ago or have stumbled upon them recently in libraries and used bookstores. There are four published books in the series, and one unpublished; I intend to eventually get all of them up as Kindles. Because many of Thriller Guy's readers are writers or are trying to be writers, I thought I would outline how the book, and the series, came to be. I have written some of this in earlier blogs.

In the mid '80s I was working as a free lance illustrator for the Washington Post, specifically the Post Magazine. I was pals with many of the writers there and eventually met my present wife who worked in the Style section. An agent from New York had come to Washington and signed up a lot of these folks to write books and for several months it seemed like everyone had scored a book deal. I remember sitting in the magazine offices one day and looking around and thinking, none of these people are any smarter than I am, all they know how to do that I don't is how to structure a book. I'm a good storyteller, why can't I do this? And so, armored with my own naiveté and fueled with clueless energy, I pitched right in and began to write.

I had an idea. I have always read lots of science books and had been reading about the early days of genetics. I knew that the genetic similarity between human and chimpanzee was very close. And so was born (pardon the pun) Cross, the story of a human/chimpanzee creature born in the African jungle. Truth be told, I can't remember much of this book, but there's a copy of it around here somewhere.

I quickly found that I had a facility with dialogue, so I wrote the entire first draft in dialogue with only a few sketchy passages about setting. I wrote in a white heat and finished the first draft in a couple of months. After resting up for a few days, I looked at what I'd done and realized I was far from anything approaching a novel. I started reading, almost at random, other successful novels to see how it was done. I quickly figured out the way you established a scene then worked within that scene. The physical aspects of moving characters around. I ripped through another draft in another couple of months. This draft was closer to a real book, but still not there. I read more, paying attention to how the authors created real characters. Another several months went by as I gave my characters backstories, hopes, dreams and lives. This time when I finished and read it over I realized I was getting closer to something that resembled a real novel. But even though I had the basic elements in place it needed to be smoothed over, it needed to flow from one page to the next and it needed a subtext, it needed ideas, it needed heart. So I rewrote it again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

A year had gone by, and after seven complete drafts I had a novel, and it was pretty good. Not knowing any better, I sent it off to one of the biggest agents in New York. And it was accepted. And she began to send it out.

And thus began my life as a novelist. Born in the simple notion that I was just as smart as everyone else, fueled by the energy of youth and buoyed by hope, which as we all know, springs eternal.

"I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter." James Michener

Nest week: The rejections.


  1. Just bought it. Again. Have the books. Now I have the electronic edition. Really Allen, you should have put it up at the normal price, i.e. $9.99 or something. I dug up one of my early emails to you, and am going to put it as a review on Amazon -

    "That would be very cool. I'm surprised they don't send you a Kindle to avoid the stacking of books . Say - you should look into that - see if your books can be made available for Kindle downloads.

    My favorite all time authors - yourself included (and I'm sorry if that embarrasses you - and I'll explain why shortly so you don't think me some gushing sycophant) - are in no particular order Stephen Hunter, Robert Jordan, James H. Cobb's Amanda Garrett series, Harry Turtledove, Steven Brust, Heinlein, Niven, Pournelle, and dozens of others from Burroughs to Verne. I've read deeply into nearly every genre. I admit that I really liked Stephanie Meyers books (thanks to my wife and teenage daughter). Never cared for the Harry Potter books at all. I've really enjoyed Gould, the guy who wrote Jumper and a few other interesting sci-fi stories. Connelly, Parker, Leonard, some Patterson. I never cared for Clancy, too corny. Same for Dan Brown. Some stories I enjoy most as unabridged audio novels rather than paper - Zane Grey westerns, John Grisham, and a few others.

    The reason I like your stories so much is the total immersion into suspension of disbelief. I not only enjoy the story, I learn history, and I learn some really cool writing style elements. For example, toward the end of the first Alex B. book, he bends down to pick up a gun from a dead guy. He acknowledges the heavier than it looks weight of it, and the warmth it still held from it's previous owner. These little things are so true to a persons real experience that I had to pause and admire it. The old adage about showing not telling. Your stories are full of scenes like that. When you get a good book, it's like you are there, in the story, better than high definition. I'm seeing my youngest kids figure that out now as they read way ahead of their grade and are discovering just how cool books can be."

    I hope your Balfour stories can take off in Kindle. Readers who discover them will certainly enjoy them as one of the best time travel series around.

    1. I have to agree with Mr. Lovell's favorite authors as many of mine are in there as well. And thanks for buying Time After Time. I priced it on the low end so I could see what makes a difference in Kindle sales. If I could sell enough of them we might be able to convince a publisher to do another in the series. I'm not yet done with the Civil War era and would love to go back there again.

  2. Alan,
    Great story so far--looking forward to when it starts getting rotten though--pardon the schadenfreude. And hooray for the return of the first novel in an excellent series.

  3. Allen, you know how much I love these books. (especially the one about the Native Americans - I'm blanking on the title & it's place in the series, but it's the best book you ever wrote.) I'm hoping the Pastmaster will return someday....
    Oh, btw - ``none'' is singular. You might want to fix that. ;-)

  4. I think you ought to write a companion cookbook to the series. Alex is a wonderful cook as i recall.

  5. Glad you are e-publishing your books. They’re so much more accessible for people who live abroad. Recently I downloaded Sea of Time, the fourth in the Pastmaster series, and just finished it this morning.

    It’s been years since I read the first three volumes of the series, but even without that background fresh in my mind, Sea of Time is an excellent read.

    You capture very well the ambiance of early 20th century London. When (in the last third of the book) the protagonist finds himself in a serious predicament, suspense builds to a high pitch. Your portrait of the harsh constraints that spring from the English class system is convincing and fascinating; your description of the different ways people react in crisis situations, thought provoking.

    My thanks to you and Alex for taking me on a fun adventure.