Irina Shapiro:

I am very pleased today to host Irina Shapiro, my fellow time travel author.  One of the unexpected pleasures of writing--usually considered a solitary pursuit--is the many fascinating and wonderful people I've met as a direct result.  I've 'known' Irina for awhile via the Time Travel Romance and Fiction group on Facebook, but we recently got to talking more, and--not surprisingly!--Irina has a great story to tell--not only in her books, but of her own life and path to writing.

Welcome, Irina!  Tell us about yourself and your background.

I was born in the former Soviet Union but came to the United States at the age of twelve. I’ve always loved reading, but in Russia, my reading material was limited to what was state approved. Once I learned enough English to understand what I was reading, I was in absolute heaven. I could finally learn about all the things I’d wondered about since I was a child, and the first place on the list was England. I started with Dickens and worked my way through most classics within a few years, then I turned my attention to Agatha Christie and Victoria Holt, who introduced me to gothic romantic suspense.

I am actually named after Irene Forsythe from the Forsythe Saga, which my mother read while studying English at the University of Moscow. Few people these days are familiar with that book, but I like the idea of being named after a character; there’s something timeless about sharing a name with a literary figure. I continued the tradition by naming my daughter Rebecca, after the character in Ivanhoe.

Life is ironic, isn't it?  As I mentioned in our conversation, I've been fascinated with Russia my whole life, have studied the language, work for two schools of music founded by Russians, and have many colleagues at the schools from Russia.  And here you were across the world equally fascinated with English and England!  I love Victoria Holt, too, by the way.  How long have you been writing? What got you started with writing?

Despite my interest in literature, I got a degree in Marketing and International Business from Bernard M. Baruch College in New York City and worked in my chosen profession until I left work in 2006 to stay at home with my autistic son. After a few months, my mind began to long for escape, and for the first time in my life I tried to write. Within a few days, I had a first draft of a novel. It was short, choppy, and disjointed, but it was a start.

I never intended to publish it; writing was just an emotional outlet and a form of mental time travel, but as time went by the writing improved, the stories became more elaborate, and people’s interest in reading my work increased.

I self-published my first book on a dare. I never actually expected anyone to pay money for what I’d written, but sales started to trickle in, and all of a sudden, a door I hadn’t even known was there opened. I’ve written seventeen books to date, and hope to keep writing for many years to come.

What are some of your favorite books?

I like all kinds of books and will as happily read a thriller as a romance novel, but my favorite book is Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. The last book I really loved was The Light Between Oceans.

My own books have often been compared to Outlander, although I'd never heard of the series when I started mine.  But I have enjoyed her books.  Which have influenced you as an author?

Outlander was the first book I’d ever read in the time-travel genre. Until then, I assumed that time travel was mainly science fiction, like Doctor Who or Star Trek. Science fiction and fantasy never interested me, but the idea of a modern-day woman going back in time and living history was very intriguing, and the possibilities were endless.

This is what intrigued me, too, from the time I read In the Keep of Time as a child--the idea of living history, of really knowing what it was like for those who lived it.  It's what I like about time travel.

One lesson that I learned from reading Diana Gabaldon is that as an author you shouldn’t shy away from certain topics. There’s nowhere Diana Gabaldon won’t go, literally, and I gave myself permission to do the same. There are those who find some plot lines offensive, but as a whole, the readers enjoy the unpredictability of certain story lines.

I try to walk a line of keeping my writing very family friendly, not getting graphic or gratuitous, yet telling what life was really like.  For instance, Shawn, in fighting with James Douglas, realizes that some of his own fellow soldiers are raping women.  His modern sensibilities are shocked.  In another scene, we get an unpleasant idea of what the evil MacDougall is doing to a servant.   People want different things out of their reading and writing, but for me, I want to know what life was really like.

Tell us about The Hands of Time

The Hands of Time is the story of Valerie Crane, a modern day teacher who goes to England with her sister, an art restorer, to recover from a painful divorce.

How does Valerie come upon this clock?

Valerie is left to her own devices while her sister is working, so she wanders into an antique shop on one of her walks.  She finds the old ormolu clock sitting on a shelf at the back of the shop. Valerie has no way of knowing that the clock is a time travel device that had been invented many years ago by the proprietor, who was a scientist before his theories on time travel were ridiculed and he was shunned by the scientific community.

The time on the clock is incorrect, so Valerie turns the hands to the right time purely out of habit. She sets the time to 4:05 – which can also be read as 16:05, and winds up in 1605, a few months before the Gunpowder Plot is uncovered.

Does the reader ever know how or why the clock moves people through time, and if so, how does it do it?

I explain everything to the reader in detail. I think it’s important for the mode of time travel to make sense, and for the reader to know how the characters come to be where they are. This information is also useful for subsequent books because the clock figures in all of them, although eventually the scientist invents a digital version to make the time travel device portable.

We'll be back tomorrow to talk more about the Gunpowder plot, and about one of Irina's other series, Wonderland.

If you'd like to learn more about Irina, visit her website or find her on facebook.

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