Fabien Roy’s novel Buckyball has all the good bits of the Groundhog Day movie and the Replay novel by Ken Grimwood – plus more!
In the novel, main character James takes a buckyball – a drug which has the side effect of taking you back a fixed time in the past. This means that James relives a portion of his life – until the return catalyst is triggered. The novel brings together many aspects of time travel and introduces new takes on the opportunities – and horrors – of reliving the same part of your life again and again and again….
In this author interview, Fabien shares his thoughts on not only the writing process, but also looks at some of the implications on the time travel element in Buckyball.
Fabien, many thanks for giving us some of your time!
The idea of repeatedly reliving a part of your life over and over again is a theme which was famously brought to the screen in “Groundhog Day” and in the novel by Ken Grimwood, “Replay”. What are the key differences that Buckyball has over these plots?
Fabien: O.K I have to admit I’ve never read Replay. When I first came up with the idea for Buckyball, I discussed it with my sister who immediately pointed out that it had been done before in a novel by Ken Grimwood. Frustrated but undaunted I pressed on. I wrote the story I had in me. I did not read Replay because I did not want to be sidetracked or even inspired by ideas that had not crossed my mind.
I find myself being diverted by many anecdotes as I begin to answer your questions. Tangent thoughts. Here’s one that relates to the it’s been done before.
Firstly, I am not a very literary guy. You have to imagine me saying that line with a prop arrow through my head. I do not consider myself a writer leaving that title to those who weave words with ease and beauty and who write to describe a whole world that enshrouds us. Never having mastered my mother tongue French and my adopted tongue English, I like to write in a first person mode to mask my grammatical inadequacies.
Stories I have, and in order to pull them out of me without the constant worry of being grammatically correct, I put myself in a character that is forced to write.
So, coming back to the it’s been done before. As a creator of stories, there is nothing like the bursting of the initial kernel that opens up a new story. There are many; they are not all good, but most are workable. I came up with the greatest epic idea where a virus turns the population of the earth blind. This was in 2000. Oh! The story revolved around a blind woman that was the leader of the U.S.A. survivors. I was flying high on the breath of that plot line when I bragged about to a friend.
It was not only the wind that was knocked out but clipped wings that fell with me. Yes, it had been done before. I abandoned that storyline immediately but found some solace in the fact that I had momentarily thought of an idea that had been developed by a Noble Prize laureate.
Back on track. There is a lot of comparisons done between Buckyball and Groundhog day. It is the repeating of the same events that enable such link, but it stops there. If the Buckyball players die, they do not survive a repeat and the big difference is that the Buckyball players have the ability to control the repeat cycle which gives them a workable time machine.
The “Never again!” line is commonly said the morning after a heavy night’s drinking; your novel turns this concept upside when it comes to taking a recreational drug ( a “buckyball”) and builds a solid bridge between the senses and science. How did you find your inspiration to mix science with drugs?
Fabien: I wish I had a noble reason for mixing science with drugs, but it was just an excuse to enable my characters to travel through time. Here we go with another tangent thought. When my oldest son was 18 months old, I was driving on a nice curvy country road heading to the city when a familiar song popped on the radio. It was Safety Dance. I remember thinking where I was when I first heard that song and thinking how incredible it would be if I were transported back in time to that exact instant, on a Saturday Night Fever illuminated dance floor in Trois-Rivière during a break in my first long distance bicycle ride.
That’s how I came up with the idea of a song bringing someone back in time. I lived in South Florida for 12 years, 6 of which I worked as a waiter in one of the best restaurants in North Miami. That’s why the story takes place in South Beach. We tend to write what we know. I dated a girl who was in the South Beach club scene and tagging along; I was introduced to electronic music. After that relationship had waned, I found myself still drawn to this new world of nightlife. I likened myself to an anthologist who had stumbled across a new species and had to explore. Others likened me to a looser who did not want to go home to an empty apartment. No matter which perspective I looked at it from, I knew one day I would write about that lifestyle and my Buckyball kernel gave me the perfect setting for my novel.
Aren’t all drugs mixed with science?
Several characters – including James – play out several ways of reliving their lives. Are there any ways which didn’t make it into the novel, and why didn’t you choose them?
Fabien: There are many different paths I could have chosen for my characters but I can’t think of a specific one except the millionaire’s life. That is the reason I made sure the lotto numbers were different at each lifeturn. If not, the characters would have been big shots with loads of money and it would have gotten repetitive and boring.
You mention a song in Buckyball (“El Nino” by Agnelli and Nelson) which is an important catalyst in the time travel methodology. How did you come to find this song, and is there anything about it which lends itself well to the story line?
Fabien: When I became interested in electronic music, I did not know anything about it, and I purchased a lot of CD’s based on the Best Buy clerks recommendations. He did not know much about it either pointing to anything in the electronic music section that had a cool cover. I did find myself in possession of Paul Oakenfold’s Tranceport Cd, and that was a good buy. Several years later, when I began to write Buckyball, I picked El Nino because I liked it and I thought the title was cool. At that point, in the early evolution of my story, I did not want to linger and procrastinate on what could or should be the perfect song for my novel and decided that was it.
When I write, I sometimes can get lost in trying to find the perfect name for such and such a character. I have learned to use the first thing that spontaneously pops in my head and go with it.
I’m happy I went with El Nino because the song was not top 40 stereotypically popular. That way my Buckyball infused characters could not accidently turn back. I avoid a lot of mess that way.
Oh! One last thing that makes it a great song for lifeturning; at one point there is a woman who speaks in Spanish and I know she mentions the word Magic. It’s a mysterious magical electronic dance tune!
Is it a correct assumption that life turns assume a single timeline rather than a parallel universe approach?
It’s all happening at the same time as if the Buckyball phenomenon gives the observer the chance to see reality as it passes through the double slit experiment. They are probabilistic realities that lifeturners are privy to. I just blew my own mind with that answer. Next question, please.
We read from James’ viewpoint, so we always go back in time with him to 11 June. This means we have no idea what happens to people who remain ‘ behind’ in the future. What are your thoughts about the future that was left behind?
Fabien: I shouldn’t have asked for the next question. I’ m not entirely sure never having given it much thought. I always told myself I’ d have to develop some theory if there was a sequel but the first person narrative of Buckyball does allow room for a literary sequel. I can explore that realm in the screenplay, but I will not go into that aspect right now.
I’ve always imagined two possibilities. The first they become subatomic mush and cease to exist when a lifeturn occurs, and the other possibility is that they are living in a subalternate reality. It’s not a parallel world, though, it’s as if all the particles in the world, the same that make up are reality, are vibrating at a different entangled vibration. I might be making this up as I go along, but your question as helped me develop the sequel to the Buckyball script.
At the beginning of each life turn, James (and some of his counterparts) believes that previous actions have no consequence because everything gets reset. It doesn’t matter if you kill someone, for example, because they would still be alive at the beginning of the next turn. This opens a morality issue – is it right to do something wrong if there are no consequences. What’s your position on this?
Fabien: I would like to quote Jesus as seen through the eyes of the animated series South Park: “I’m not touching that with a sixty foot-pole.”
Do you think that time travel is more likely to be made more possible through biological means or through more conventional physical means such as with a time machine?
Fabien: Definitely a time machine. I do not think we will go back to the past but when the science catches up with theory, and we find a way to travel at almost the speed of light, eh! even half the speed of light would do, I believe that humans will leave in a spacecraft and travel at high speed to come back to earth after a year and find that many years have passed. They will be the first time travelers. Talk about the new Neil Armstrongs. What a wait that will be. Kids will watch the craft ascend in 20 547, and they will sit with their grandkids in 21 005 to see these time travellers emerge almost as young as when they left. That is the new frontier and Mars is a stepping stone towards it.
What was your biggest difficulty in writing “Buckyball” and how did you overcome it?
Fabien: The biggest difficulty I had was keeping all the life-turns in check. I can’t tell you how many times I was proofreading and found an inconsistency with the timelines involving the lifeturns. Who was still alive, who saw what, who killed who, who traveled where.
I fixed some of them by improvising and just finding excuses for it without even thinking how it would affect the story, and it worked. Like the airplane crash over Fort-Lauderdale that I changed from Wednesday to Monday. And there is the Calico cat that crosses the street in a lifeturn and stares at a mannequin in a window in another; I ‘m too afraid to check if that cat is inlined with the lifeturns.
I overcame these difficulties by using an excessive amount of post-its.
3M’s share went down 0.09% when I finished Buckyball.
Several readers have commented that reading Buckyball reminded them of their days spent partying and in nightclubs. Did you write these sections from experience / memory, or did you need to acquire new research?
I did not need to study how to bruise Tequila.
Here I go with another tangent thought.
I’ve always liked to take pictures, and, as I’ve mentioned before, when I discovered the South Beach nightlife, I compared myself to an anthropologist but I likened myself to a National Geographic photographer beforehand, and that has been a fantasy world that I have comfortably inhabited. The moment I purchased my first Canon AE1 in a Pawn shop in south Florida, I’ve been on a photographic quest. My favorite local has been the Badlands of South Dakota which always appears in most of my stories. Now, while exploring the South Beach nightlife, I acquired this little Canon APS camera. It was tiny and took these great panoramic shots. This was before the advent of digital cameras.
With this camera in a pocket and in hand, I recorded these nightlife lovers. I used these photos to inspire me in writing Buckyball.
If you were able to set your own life turn date, which date would you choose and why?
Fabien: October 16th, 2006. My daughter is born. All my kids are born.The oldest is almost four. I get the chance to relive the stay at home fatherhood with all of the answers to all of the problems before hand. I’d know how to avoid some illnesses and how to detect others earlier. It would be the greatest time to relive. Elders often told me to enjoy the time when the children are young because it passes very quickly. When you are in the midst of it, it sometimes doesn’t feel as if it is passing by quickly. Time is definitely relative. And, I’d also know which pipes to fix before they burst.
What would be your biggest fear of having life turns, and how would you deal with it?
Fabien: I explored my biggest fears with James losing Sarah , Myriam and Juniper. How would I deal with it? I’ll quote Chef from South Park elementary school cafeteria: “ I don’t want to touch that with a forty foot pole.”
What would you say to someone who told you that they’d already lived next week?
Fabien: Been there, done that.
Do you have an explanation for Deja Vus?
Fabien: I wish I had a good answer to that one, but I do not. I can’t explain Déjà Vu. I’ve experienced them quite often. By often I mean once a year, and it’s never anything elaborate. It’s sometimes just being on a street corner, and a pedestrian says hi as a car honks while the train is passing down the hill, and a cloud passes in front of the sun as the smell of dried book pages emerges. It is so familiar, yet you know it’s the first time you are living that instant. I can not explain it but I’ve experienced it.
How would you spend your perfect day?
Fabien: This might be really corny but everyday of my life has been a perfect day, even the worst day, because it was a day where I was part of the miracle of being alive.
If you were a superhero, who would you be, and what would you use your super powers for?
Fabien: I am my own superhero, and my power is to create worlds where my characters can take me where I would never dare go.
Buckyball really is a well thought-out novel with many aspects of time travel – and it’s thoroughly recommended. Hmmm…or did I say that already?! 😉
Fabien’s better alternative to Replay is available from Amazon.com