How To Stop Time (HTST): So, do you want to, like, go out again next week or …
ME: I’m, I’m sorry, but I don’t think, I don’t think this is going to —
HTST: Was it something I —
ME: No. No. It isn’t you; it’s me.
HTST: Not that old —
ME: No, really. Look, there are lots of nice readers out there for you. Millions.
ME: Millions. Like, maybe even best seller millions. And book clubs. And —
HTST: Book clubs? You think?
ME: Definitely. And don’t be surprised if you find yourself a nice screenwriter either, someone who will like you for your good qualities, treat you right, and adapt you.
HTST: You’re not just saying that? Be honest with me.
ME: I’m not just saying it. I am being honest. I mean, what’s not to like, right? You’ve got a character who lives nearly forever — people love that kind of character. Just look at all those other stories like that. He gets to meet Shakespeare and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Captain Cook — everyone knows who those people are. You’ve got a romance. Two of them even — one in modern day and one in the 1600s. And you introduce them really quickly, not a lot of time dragging out the whole why they fall in love thing. You go down easy. The chapters are short. It’s got history, but not with all that super detail that bogs down other books. And you always make sure that something he’s doing in his class (you made him a history teacher — that’s cute) leads us into a flashback. Plus, there’s lots of really clear threads that tie things together. It wraps up nice and neat. And your first-person narrator tells the reader everything they need to know. I can absolutely see you as a movie, you might even like dressing up as a screenplay.
HTST: See now, you sound like you’re saying nice things about me, but it kind of, I don’t know, feels like you’re calling me shallow.
ME: I don’t think I —
HTST: Is that it? You think I’m shallow?
ME: I wouldn’t say shallow so much as, I don’t know, easy maybe?
HTST: I am not easy!
ME: Ok, Ok. It’s just. Well. It’s a little too neat, the ending. And the connections and coincidences. The quotes about time that happen to spring up. The direct segues. And the people. Did it have to be Shakespeare? I mean, everyone expects it to be Shakespeare, so why not surprise them a little? As for the history, I don’t need a Ken Follet-sized tome filled with historical minutiae, but there’s a happy medium between that and, say, Wikipedia.
HTST: Did you really just compare my historical detail to Wikipedia?
ME: I didn’t mean —
HTST: No, no. Keep going. I did ask you to be honest after all, right? I think you also said something about “all those other stories” like me.
ME: Maybe I should —
HTST: Who’s David?
HTST: David. Don’t think I didn’t hear you say his name when you were reading me. Who is he?
ME: Just, just some author I know
HTST: What’s his name?
HTST: And Cloud Atlas is better than me, is that it? Smarter? More sophisticated?
ME: No. I mean, well, yes. But that’s not, that’s fine. Not everyone needs to be brilliant.
HTST: Well, I’m glad I don’t have that burden, apparently.
ME: I, I just like to work a little more for things. Your narration, for me, is just, just a little too forward, too on the nose, it’s always telling me things.
HTST: So, in addition to not being “brilliant,” I also talk too much?
ME: Some people like that sort of thing. And, and I did like what you had to say. You know, about living in the moment, enjoying life for what it offers, especially the supreme joy of human connection. Sure, maybe you said it a little too often, I mean, I did get it, but still, it’s a nice thing to think about.
HTST: So, I’m “nice.”
ME: Nice is good. Look, I really meant what I said about it being me, not you. And how lots of people will pick you up and not want to put you down. They won’t care the romances aren’t really fully constructed; they’ll just accept the characters are in love because you say so. They’ll think it’s neat he gets to meet Shakespeare. They won’t really want to think too hard about how living for so long might change someone — they’d rather have the love story and the father-looking-for-his-long-lost-daughter story (even if the character should have known that … well, never mind). And you’ve got a cold, rich, old guy who plots from the middle of his web of shady connections. Everyone likes one of those.
HTST: You know what I think?
HTST: I think you’re a snob. I think if I can show people a good time that’s enough. For them and me. I think it’s you, not me.
ME: That’s what I was —
HTST: Don’t call me. I’ll call you.
HTST: And no, I won’t be calling you. Maybe David Mitchell will.