Saturday, November 05, 2011

Counterclockwise—Alethea Kontis

I had a dream last night that I attended NY Comic Con. It was a very nice dream. I lay in bed for a while after that dream, smiling. Eventually, I started thinking about all the work I had to do today: like writing the genesis essay for "Counterclockwise." I've been looking forward to this, because I had some great seeds for this one. You know, it's funny that we call them "seeds." One seed grows a plant. But a story is not just a plant. It usually takes many seeds that grow a story. The better analogy would be to liken a short story to a container garden...and something like the Ender series would be the pre-revolutionary grounds at Versailles.

So here are the fun little seeds that grew my pretty little container garden labeled "Counterclockwise":


"Counterclockwise" was originally written for the Codex Writers counterclockwise2009 Halloween contest. (I tied for 3rd place with Cat Rambo, losing to James Maxey. Again.) As you may or may not know, this particular contest is one that starts with one member giving another member a "seed" that he or she must incorporate into the story. Coming up with the seed is one of the best parts of this challenge. Receiving your challenge is the next best. Sometimes, the more complicated the seed, the easier the story is to write. My seed for this story was: In some way, shape or form, your story must involve a penguin. This didn't give me much to go on, but in many ways left me free to write a story I'd been dying to get on paper. That particular story was:


As mentioned previously, I do have some pretty spectacular dreams. I wish I could record them and share them with you, because writing never does them justice. I've fought scorpion monsters and serial killers (and invisible Aliens alongside Luke Skywalker!), I've woken from a dream within a dream within a dream (worried that one would be reality and I'd wake up from that too), I've died several times (by fire, firearms, and an atomic bomb), and I've met some of the most amazing people (like an artist and his wife from Italy, and a monk whose gorgeous poem I totally plagiarized). I have the best Premium Channel in the world, and it's all in my head.

Prior to the Halloween contest I'd had this dream, of which I only counterclockwisevividly remember the very end. It was a well-dressed man in a pub of some sort, holding a white glove. He was meeting a beautiful young woman who sat at a table there. She did not recognize this man, even though he held her glove in his hand as proof that they'd known each other. I was hit with an incredible sadness as I realized: they live in opposing timelines, and this is the last time he will see her.

Yes, before you ask, this was long before the most recent season of Doctor Who. And no, I have never read The Time Traveler's Wife. Sometimes ideas--even the really cool ones--are just ideas. But I knew I had to write about these people, their incredible love, and that incredible sadness. Somehow. In some setting. That setting was:


Ever since I read Witch Week as a kid (which I enjoyed far more than the first Harry Potter novel, btw), I have been obsessed with Guy Fawkes Day. I have always wanted to be in England on Bonfire Night--someday I still mean to go. Witch Week, if you haven't read it (and you really should) is based on an alternate present where Guy Fawkes successfully blew up Parliament in 1605, and in doing so split reality into a World That Could Do Magic and a World That Could Not.

I did some extensive Googling of the subject (as we authors tend to do nowadays) and discovered Change and Continuity in Early Cosmology by Patrick J. Boner. In it, Boner discusses at length the birth of a new star in 1604, the celestial "Fiery Trigon" that resulted, and Johannes Kepler's thoughts and debates about how this unique alignment of stars affected the social consciousness of the time. (It is speculated that a Fiery Trigon also occurred during the rise of Charlemagne, and appeared at the birth of Christ as the Star of Bethlehem.) I was fascinated by the whole thing. I lost hours upon hours on the internet. And yes, I do still have a sick desire to get my nerdy hands on a translated copy of Kepler's Mysterium Cosmographicum.

counterclockwiseSo: IF the Gunpowder Plot had been successful, in the presence of this Fiery Trigon, it stands to reason that something celestially and psychologically cataclysmic could have happened, like the world splitting into two. Perhaps it DID, and we found a way to fix it. Perhaps, instead of a World With Magic and a World Without, it split a pocket of London off into two worlds: one that lived forwards, and one that lived backwards in time.

What would these Secondary and Tertiary Universes look like? Would they have the same technological development as British Prime? No way, my worlds would definitely be a little more Steampunk. But my story would not be a story about the worlds. This was a love story. And thusly, "Counterclockwise" was born.

If "Counterclockwise" is like anything, I'd say that it feels most like Somewhere in Time. That soft-focus feeling is the feeling I had while having the dream. I remember loving that film, but I haven't seen it in years. I know, I should really read Bid Time Return one of these days.

Coincidentally, Matheson's Bid Time Return won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel right around Halloween-time back in 1976...the year I was born. I wonder what exactly the stars were doing back then.

Happy Bonfire Night, everyone!

[PS - If you liked "Counterclockwise" and want to read more, there is a deleted scene which I will post in a password-protected blog on my website on Guy Fawkes Day. The password is what the denizens of Nodnol (Tertiary Universe) are called.]

--Alethea Kontis

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