An Interview with fantasy author and RB contributor Samuel Ben White

Sam White
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The following is an interview with Sam White, creator of the “Garison Fitch” series of time travel novels, the comic strip “Tuttle’s”, the (why not?) on-line comic book “Burt & the I.L.S.” and erstwhile contributor to Republibot which was conducted by the oddly-monikered JMK2 …

Q: What inspired you to write science fiction and, specifically, time travel?

A: I have always enjoyed science fiction and fantasy, having grown up watching the original (and best) “Star Trek” with my three older sisters. As I got old enough to read, I would read whatever sci-fi I could find in our school library or the children’s section at the public library. I was fascinated with the possibilities of … possibilities.

As for time travel, I have also enjoyed history–historical fiction, actual histories, biographies–and that lead to a desire to be there, to be in history. To, as Doc Brown says, “Witness the birth of Christ.” One day back in high school, I was talking to my father about wanting to write a time travel story (I had been writing for quite a while, mostly detective stories and westerns) and he suggested a story where a modern person goes back and finds themselves taking the place of Patrick Henry. From that germ of an idea grew (several years later), the story of Garison Fitch.

Q: What was the inspiration behind the “Time” series?

A: Whoops, I should have read ahead on these questions, huh? Kind of already answered that.

But seriously, the story of Edward and Marianne started being written back when I was in junior high. I was writing on an old manual typewriter back then and must have started and stopped the story a dozen times, usually petering out with the two teenagers just barely making it to the mountains. I never could get them past that point. Sometimes it took me a hundred pages to get to the mountains and sometimes only ten, but it always washed out right there. And, really, while the characters had traveled through time into the future for the story, it was never really a time travel story. Time travel was just the vehicle that got them to the story.

Then, in high school, I began writing the westerns and the detective stories and got sidetracked from Edward and Marianne–though I made some desultory tries, probably at least once a year. I continued to write in college, though still not on time travel–though I began collecting notes for this epic story I wanted to tell. It was still the story of Edward and Marianne and it still followed most of the earlier line, but I still didn’t know how to get them over the mountain.

Right after college, in my first year of marriage, the story of Garison Fitch finally clicked for me. I wrote it out and was extremely pleased. Over time (ha!) I came to write two more Garison Fitch stories and had a modicum of success selling them–mostly to family and friends, but a few strangers. Around the turn of the century, I returned to the story of Edward and Marianne. For some reason, when I hit on the idea that Edward was the grandson of Garison Fitch and Bat Garrett–and that Marianne was from the family that populated my westerns–I was able to get them over the mountains. (Astute readers of my novel “All the Time in Our World” will notice that I eventually had the teenagers reach the mountains and then turn right, which delayed their crossing of the mountains for a while, but they eventually made it. Yay!)

Q: Is there a correlation between yourself and Garison Fitch? Are you Garison Fitch?

A: I answer that–in all seriousness–with, “Ha-ha-ha-chuckle-snort-choke-haw-haw-HAW!” Garison is everything I am not: smart, handsome, fairly confident. On the other hand, maybe Garison is who I wish I were.

The characters who are closest to me are Bat Garrett and Edward. Both of them have strengths I wish I had, but both have a lot of my personality–especially as far as sense of humor is concerned. Some readers think I’m more like Edward than I am, but I think that’s because Marianne is so much like my wife.

Q: Was there a particular person in your life from which you drew the characters of Heather, Sarah and Bat Garrett?

A: OK, I just answered the Bat question. As for Heather, she is named for a good friend of mine from high school who I had a crush on. She looks like another girl I had a crush on during that same time period. Her personality is pure Louis L’Amour. By that, I mean that she’s not a wilting wall-flower. She’s a full partner with her husband, not someone who walks behind him–or in front of him, for that matter.

I think Sarah was created “out of whole cloth” more than any other character I have. In the early versions, she wasn’t very well developed. But the more I re-wrote, the more I came to like the idea of the girl who’s just waiting for her moment to shine in a town that has turned its back on her. I like people–in real life, especially–who overcome the unfairness of life, rather than grumble about it. She became less of a waif and more of a strong personality in her own right. As the stories go on, we learn that she--more than anyone else--was really the person who influenced Garison's personality.

Q: How extensive was your research on both quantum physics and the theory of time travel?

A: Watching “Star Trek” and “Back to the Future.”

Seriously, my stories were always designed to be about the people in them, and time travel was just the vehicle. Garison’s battle, for instance, is not really against time travel, but himself. Still, I realized–once I got going–that I needed to come up with my own logic for how things would work out. So, essentially, I decided that my version of time travel would be based on the idea that there is only one timeline. I have since read people who argue for multiple timelines and multiple realities. I think that can make for interesting fiction, but for my stories, I have always written them on the premise that there’s only one timeline.

Which has led to some interesting discussions over the years with people who have become so caught up in the “multi” concepts that they can’t conceive of my “single” concept. They try to argue with me, quote Einstein et. al. I try to explain it this way: A] this is fiction and I’m the writer so I can tell the story the way I want. 2] If I wrote a story where I deemed it crucial to the storyline that the sky over the planet in the story be plaid-colored, that’s fine as long as I am consistent in everything related to the sky. In this case, I wrote a story based on there being one timeline, and have stuck with that.

Reminds me of a Christian critic who stated that he outright rejected any science-fiction that was based on a young earth model of creation. How stupid (of the critic, not the writers). If a writer wants to write a novel from the perspective that the earth was just created 8 seconds ago and all our history and memories were programmed in by God–then do it! To say that any fiction has to conform to someone else’s idea of what’s “right” based the current mores of theology, science or whatever is to miss the point of fiction. Fiction is about exploring the “what ifs” of life and thought. Granted: it needs to be interesting and/or entertaining, but it can be as wild and unconventional as the author can successfully create.