The real and the imagined

The Inventors’ Daughter series is filled with real and imagined characters. Many of those in the first book are drawn from people I know. 

The phenomenon is something like people from Kansas appearing in the Land of Oz. My Dr. Cadeus Vulpine, for instance, is a shifty version of my friends Bret and Roy. Both are witty, articulate and precise men who are great fun to talk to. Both are race car drivers coincidentally. Saffron Chilliwack is an expansive, fulminating and bracing woman not unlike my writer friend Joy Laughter. (Yes, that is her real name.) Hildegard Becker (Mom) is a concoction of my aritist mother, a pinch of my sisters and a sprinkle of my friend Hilary, a very nice, real-life scientist.


Dad and Uncle Charles, the two brothers in The Inventors’ Daughter, were created from a pair of real brothers. The men have been estranged since their turbulent adolescence when the older brother broke with his father and lived among the winds. Like Charles, he coiled himself in the mystique of music. For decades he lived in Charleston and New Orleans composing and performing in night clubs and on the streets. And like my Charles Spotsworth, he becomes conflicted by a vagabond’s need of the road and the yearning for intimacy that age laid upon him.

My Gerald Spotsworth character owes his nature to the younger of the real-life pair. Perhaps reacting to the tumult around him, he found comfort in the order of mathematics. Unlike his older brother, he went to college where he did very well indeed. He taught high school math, wrote educational books for children and programs for mathematical calculations for scientists.  Later in life, he made a career of supporting large business computers.  He too is a musician.  I believe this musical thread precedes the brothers’ troubles, and I hope that someday it serves as a bridge to rebuild their relationship upon.

Let me say that I wasn’t aware I was writing about the brothers until the novel was over half-finished. I’m not sure the characters would have worked so well with the story if I tried to force the real events into it.

I suppose I was drawn to pick their story because I have an older brother who is a scientist. He and I are musicians as well.  Except for a rough spot in adolescence when he and our father were very cross with one another, we were steady friends, and are to this day.  We talk on the phone every week, and every year we get together for several days and reprise our old repetoire.  You can see how powerful a family’s history can be.

My inspiration for the new novel The Timearang Pirates is a marvelous woman and her three daughters whose home is a boat they sail among the Pacific ports of North America.  Did I mention my mother was an artist?  I have not forgotten the many times she packed me, a paint box and an easel around the Western United States in a station wagon.  More on that later.

ten day immersion vacation

It’s good to be me.

I’m currently in the middle of a ten day immersion vacation to plot out my new novel Timearang Pirates.  I get up at 5:30 AM. By 6:15 I’m being served the world’s best double-tall split-shot Americano by Corrine or Precious at a cozy Fremont cafe on the shore of the ship canal a mile north of the Seattle Space Needle. I take my seat at my favorite table and work on my story until about 9:30, have some breakfast and go to the gym.  

After a shower, I read source material before and at lunch.  Next, I’m off to the library for two or three more hours of writing.  A couple of late afternoons, I watched relevant films: Master and Commander and The New World.  Around five o’clock I venture out for my last espresso of the day with my friends before returning home for dinner. 

Quelle vie, non?

My Fremont friends Corinne and Precious

Time Travel and Mythology

Dream City Today

Creating backstory for a novelist is a challenge. Creating backstory for a tale about travelling back in time to the origins of a city of one’s own invention requires a bit more effort.

The Timearang Pirates, the working title of the second novel in my current series The Inventors Daughter , is such a story. I don’t want to give too much away, so let’s suffice it to say that Erin Isabelle, my eleven-year-old protagonist, goes back three hundred years – to the founding of the city – to fix something broken in time.

Fortunately, I had laid a few breadcrumbs in the first novel. In The Inventors’ Daughter I more or less felt my way through the story with my eyes closed, for I didn’t know the characters or the setting. I just knew it would be a fantasy novel for kids.

The characters came quickly. I started with a clever, sensible girl who keeps her inventor parents from wrecking their city with their creations. Their being professors required teachers, students and deans. As there was an invention to finance, I needed a financier. Being a crime story necessitated criminals and someone (a reformed wicked uncle perhaps) to help my hero catch them. Bingo, I had a deck chairs filled with characters.

Setting was another matter. Having originally placed the tale in New York, I found myself struggling with its geography. I went to college there for eighteen months, so I knew the city reasonably well. But I was warned by others that I should be very accurate lest those who knew the city much better – like the majority of people in the publishing industry – would be put off by my likely gaffs. I mentioned this to my professor at the University of Washington. Without looking up from her work, she flicked her hand dismissively and said, “Make up your own city.”

Everything changed from that moment forward.

The city became Dream City. It was an appropriate name for of noir story. This was a book that many kids would read at night before they went to sleep. “The City of Dreams,” would be the motto of the city. Central Park became Morpheus Park, named after the son of the god of dreams. Gods made me think of the 18th and 19th centuries founders of the city whose education would have been steeped in Greek and Roman mythology. It was also an era of scientific curiosity and very dark nights in which to study the heavens.

Astromomy is the study of stars and planets, so why not have references to them in the city itself? Like New York, Dream City would be a grid of north-south avenues and east-west streets. So, I named the avenues after the planets and constallations; the streets, after stars (with some exceptions for historical purposes).

Most significantly, being a world of my own invention, I could place Dream City wherever I wished. I chose to build it across three islands a foggy mile off an unnamed continent. I made the shapes of the islands astronomical: Star, Moon and Comet – all of which were created from a circle, the negative parts of which were submerged. I made up a native legend about how they fell from the sky. To keep the references in the city straight, I created three maps. One from the discovery of the islands by Europeans ( Pirate Map ), a modern map on the same scale ( Modern Map) and a detail of the central island ( Modern Map Detail) .

Now, before jumping into the second novel, I must create the details of the founding of the city. For it is into that moment that an interloper has leapt, disturbing the future for Erin, her inventor parents and The City of Dreams.