Time Stamp-Q&A

Emily Answers Questions on Time Stamp

Sappho’s Sisters
did you come up with the idea of intertwining the time-lines of the two stories? Did you have to make an actual blueprint to decide how that would work or did the story “tell itself” like a see-saw?

—It was a matter of waiting for an idea. My original version of Will’s story, started long ago, began in December, 1972 when he was 72 and the earlier years with Reeve and the even earlier story of the lynching were put in mostly as flashbacks. I wanted to change that. The lynching story always had particular power for me because of the subject matter. Eventually I decided it was the place to begin the book, and that I should move Will’s story line chronologically forward until the climactic period of the Christmas bombing in 1972.

I had long considered expanding Maddie’s part in the book, which had been very minor and ended in 1972 as the book itself did. Once I was thinking hard about starting from scratch with the book, saving only some of the stronger Will sections and modifying some of the others, my thoughts of Maddie pushed ahead well into her career and later marriage. I realized I wanted to include those things while still retaining the dominating significance of that Christmastime for both her and Will.  Finally, it just occurred to me that I would start Will’s story at its logical beginning and hers at its logical end and, in alternating chapters that I’ve described as being like two converging arrows that aim toward the same place, let the impact of Will’s story propel Maddie’s into the future, metaphorically as well as literally. Once I was committed to that idea, it was simply a matter of deciding which scenes and stories from each life would be the basis for each chapter.  

Which character do you know the best?

—I should probably know Will best because I first wrote about him long ago and he’s stayed with me for years. Also, though he’s older than I am now by the end of his life, I suppose I should be able to identify with him more because of his lifetime of experience. Yet I feel I know Maddie better than I know him. It’s perhaps because I created her so recently and so have a much more immediate sense of living her experiences with her. I already knew what Will had gone through. With Maddie, it was something I had to discover and she simply became much more vivid to me in spite of the fact that the contours of her life are so very different from mine. I liked her energy and her combination of confidence and vulnerability. She was fun to write.

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