Moral imperatives and the hill of beans

(Now that I have a few other things out of the way – why oh why did I ever think it was a good plan to publish a book in the spring? *curses tulips* – I hope to blog here a little more regularly, as well as refurbish the website, update and organize my Pinterest page, and start paying some attention to Twitter. But meanwhile, have Thoughts.)

My friend Lisa, whom I value as a beta-reader in part because she forces me to think about the big picture instead of just about clever quips and juxtapositions, asked me recently what was the moral imperative of Time and Fevers. To which I answered, after some boggled silence, that I hadn’t really thought in those terms, but that if authorial choice and ethical principles speak through character development, then I’m perhaps saying something broader through the specifics of growth and maturation.

Well, no, I didn’t say that exactly. I said, “It’s the book where George grows the fuck up.” By which I mean he starts paying conscious attention to other people’s needs when they come into direct conflict with his. He’s not always very good at it, but it becomes a process he understands enough to follow most of the time. It’s also the book where Beatrice quotes the bit from “Casablanca” about three little people’s problems and the hill of beans, and then stomps on it a bit, as if to say, “There are things bigger than your conflicts and concerns, but that doesn’t mean what you feel doesn’t matter.” Beatrice, who tends to be the moral center of my novels as much as a flawed and fictional human being can be, is very good at seeing the big picture and the tiny details, which makes her a valuable person to have around. (And she and Charles and everyone else are not done with quoting from “Casablanca,” as you might have guessed by the title of Time Goes By.)

To expand on this theme a little: I think it became clear in Time for Tea, and more so in its sequel, that I’m using time travel as a way to express the mattering of people in general. It’s as easy to dismiss the humanity of someone from a previous era of history as it is that of someone living in a distant country in one’s own time, and the ability to visit and observe and like (or dislike) inhabitants of one’s past would be a fascinating way to make discoveries and expand moral horizons, analogous to but not quite the same as geographic traveling. It’s simple enough, and not terribly original (which doesn’t mean it’s not necessary), to have my 22nd-century characters (particularly Olivia, the time travel newbie) note that the people of centuries gone by are utterly real and powerful and vulnerable, and to interact with them in significant ways. What gathers more emphasis as the series goes on is the effect of those interactions on everyone concerned, and on time itself. What does it mean to be changed by people you should never have met in the normal course of things? To be hurt or helped or loved by them, or to grow up a bit because of them, or to alter their lives utterly?

These are of course questions that the novelist asks herself daily, regarding the people who live in her head. 🙂 Which just means that it’s important to see them as real – at least real enough to matter a hill of imaginary beans.


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