Behind The Story
When you’ve been married for nearly a decade and a half, you end up having some conversations with your spouse that fall well outside the “how was your day” routine. I got to thinking—and I can’t even recall now what made me start the thought process—about how different my wife and I were now from the people we were when we got together and got married.
I wondered, with some degree of alarm, if my wife would even be able to stomach the fool that I was fifteen years ago. I then thought that perhaps she might tolerate such an imbecile—temporarily at least—if it meant being able to enjoy a relatively slender and hair-possessing version of my physical self.
Which is not to suggest my wife is shallow. In fact, she assured me during the course of the ensuing conversation that she wouldn’t bother with such a twerp in her current incarnation. But while our mutual consensus was that we wouldn’t necessarily be inclined to trade years of developed respect and camaraderie, I theorized that we weren’t particularly typical in that conclusion.
As is apt to happen when one prone to writing speculative fiction speculates, I started envisioning a couple who could spend a night with a time-traveling version of their spouse. Initially I thought the story would be more of a time-travel tale, focusing perhaps on the older individual returning to the past in the midst of perhaps a painful separation to “recapture” the love they remember from the person their spouse had ceased to be.
But as I turned the idea over in my head, I realized the other half of the story was examining the motivation of the younger person to engage with an older version of their spouse or significant other. I envisioned some sort of four-way mutual swap, and I realized the time-travel angle would introduce too many paradoxes and too much logical weirdness. In the end, I believe this would have forced the story to be about the technology/mechanics far more than I wanted. What felt like the core of the story was the nature of change and the dual aspects of nostalgia and hope for the future.
As I wrote the story, I intentionally left the details of the swap and of the agency which coordinates the rendezvous vague. I had some concepts in my head about how those things worked, but they never felt necessary to tell the story I wanted to relate. As my editor, Graeme Hurry, noted, “It’s more fun to speculate.” Really the story is about what people want out of their relationships versus what they think they want, and the mythology behind these swaps isn’t necessary to explore that. It might, as a matter of fact, get in the way.
During the editing process, most of the effort was centered around getting the interactions between the characters right to convey what I wanted to about Travis and his perception of Rori/Aurora. Some of my readers suggested that in earlier versions Travis’s reaction to the climax wasn’t consistent, so I had to comb carefully over his responses to Aurora’s revelations about herself (and, in turn or by comparison, Rori) to make sure it added up.
I also got several questions about the significance of seventeen years. In truth, it was a play on words I really wanted to use for the title (initially “The Seven Year Switch”) but I felt seven years was too short of a span to accomplish what I wanted, so I bumped it to seventeen.
Some beta readers, and even Mr Hurry, note that there is a stronger sexual element to the story—particularly in the beginning—than one usually sees in speculative fiction. I toyed a bit with both amping this up as well as diminishing it somewhat. I settled where I did because it felt significant, particularly in light of the ending, to contrast the physical connection between the two versions of the characters with their mental connection (or lack thereof). Part of the conversation with my wife that sparked this story included a detour into the notion of whether such a coupling would constitute infidelity. Early on I thought the exploration of that topic would be more central to the story, and while it remains a pivotal element, it’s more left as an exercise for the reader than as a detail explored in dialogue or exposition.
In the end, I’m pretty happy with the way this came out. I think it’s probably the first of my published pieces that is fully reflective of what I want to accomplish as a writer. There are always bits and mechanical quirks that could be improved upon, but from a concept, plot, and execution standpoint, it does what I intended it to do. The more I write the more I come to understand how difficult that can really be, and the more pleased I am when it occasionally comes together.