M.G. Buehrlen, author of the upcoming The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare, has written a guest post on the inspiration behind her book.
Behind the book with M.G. Buehrlen
There are soooooo many books, television shows, and films that helped shape my debut novel, The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare. Some are fairly obvious influences, while others were tucked away in the storage room of my brain when I was a kid. I didn’t know they’d made such an impact on me until I re-watched and re-read much later in life. You never know which storylines will hit a chord with your muse, so you have to readreadread and watchwatchwatch. It’s a good thing I’m an entertainment junkie and couch potato.
Here are a few of the MVPs, in no particular order:
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
As a kid, I had a VHS copy of the Bill and Ted sequel, Bogus Journey. My brother and I watched it so many times that the tape wore out. Luckily, now I can stream it online if I get the itch to watch. It’s one of those cult classics with countless hilarious one-liners. “Station!” I didn’t realize the film had influenced Alex Wayfare until I watched the movie again a few months back. Bill and Ted’s ability to plant objects in the past, so they can use them to their advantage in the future, is one of the main skills my main character Alex has as a Descender (someone who can travel back in time). She can go back to any era and uncover lost documents, hidden treasure, forgotten medicinal cures, etc. and hide them away, sort of like a time capsule, to retrieve in the present time. She’s supposed to use her ability for the good of mankind, but there are other Descenders who use this ability for their own evil gain. Dun dun DUN.
When my main character, Alex, descends back in time, she actually “lands” in one of her own past life bodies. (She’s lived fifty-six past lives!) She can’t remember anything from these past lives, so the world, the people, and the culture is always different and difficult to navigate for her, a teen from our modern world. She could say or do the wrong thing and inadvertently cause an event that might alter history. Again, I didn’t realize this part of the book had taken root from an old TV show until I re-watched a few episodes of Quantum Leap a year ago on Hulu. I was just a tot when I used to climb onto the couch and watch this show with my parents, so I couldn’t remember any episodes in particular, but boy did the idea of waking up in someone else’s body strike a chord with my imagination. It stuck with me all this time, and I’ve been fascinated with the idea of “walk-ins” ever since.
How could I talk about the influences of my time travel sci-fi novel without including Doctor Who? Admittedly, I was a late bloomer to the brilliance of this show, but now I’m sort of a rabid fan. I was sworn into the fandom as a lifetime member once I saw “Blink,” which is arguably the best episode in the entire series. Sally Sparrow was the direct inspiration for my main character, Alex Wayfare. Sally is brave, independent, clever, somewhat of a loner geek, and she doesn’t quit until she gets to the bottom of the mystery. She’s one of my favorite characters of all time. I think she needs a spin-off series. Can someone write that? I’ll write that.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
This book. What can I say that hasn’t already been said? It’s simply brilliant. A work of art. A masterpiece.
After I finished reading The Book Thief, I went back through and studied it. I underlined sentences and flagged pages. On the surface, Death’s narrative is somewhat simple and matter-of-fact, but there’s something beautiful and unique about his choice of words and how he chooses to end a sentence or paragraph. I knew I wanted Alex’s narrative to have a similar cadence and feel, so I modeled Alex’s voice stylistically after Death’s. What resulted was a voice entirely unique to Alex, but Zusak’s prose was certainly a direct influence.
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Here’s another book that inspired The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare stylistically. I loved Julie’s narrative throughout the first half of the book and how she used flashbacks to tell her story. The entire first half is basically getting the reader up to speed, and while I usually find that style of storytelling tedious and boring, Wein immerses us in the backstory, bringing each thrilling scene to life. We feel like we’re there, experiencing Maddie’s past events in real-time. That’s how I wanted Alex to relay her backstory in Alex Wayfare. I wanted to make sure the handful of flashbacks Alex uses in the beginning of the book pushed the story forward instead of backwards. I hope I succeeded.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling
I’ve always loved time travel stories, but after a while they all seem to blend together and feel the same. When I read Prisoner of Azkaban, Rowling kicked my admiration for time travel up a gazillion notches. What she did with Hermione’s Time Turner was nothing short of brilliance. You don’t think of the book as a “time travel” book, but it certainly is. We just don’t know it until we near the end. The part that stuck with me most was when Harry knew he could defeat the Dementors because he’d already seen himself do it. Maybe that’s been done in a time travel story before, but that was the first time I’d ever seen that particular type of scenario. What a delightful twist I hadn’t seen coming. I re-read it over and over, rubbing the goosebumps from my arms. I wanted The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare to be full of those kinds of mind-bending twists.
One girl. Fifty-seven lives. Endless ways to die.
For as long as 17-year-old Alex Wayfare can remember, she has had visions of the past. Visions that make her feel like she’s really on a ship bound for America, living in Jamestown during the Starving Time, or riding the original Ferris wheel at the World’s Fair.
But these brushes with history pull her from her daily life without warning, sometimes leaving her with strange lasting effects and wounds she can’t explain. Trying to excuse away the aftereffects has booked her more time in the principal’s office than in any of her classes and a permanent place at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Alex is desperate to find out what her visions mean and get rid of them.
It isn’t until she meets Porter, a stranger who knows more than should be possible about her, that she learns the truth: Her visions aren’t really visions. Alex is a Descender – capable of traveling back in time by accessing Limbo, the space between Life and Afterlife. Alex is one soul with fifty-six past lives, fifty-six histories.
Fifty-six lifetimes to explore: the prospect is irresistible to Alex, especially when the same mysterious boy with soulful blue eyes keeps showing up in each of them. But the more she descends, the more it becomes apparent that someone doesn’t want Alex to travel again. Ever.
And will stop at nothing to make this life her last.
About M.G. Buehrlen
When she’s not writing, M.G. moonlights as a web designer and social media/creative director.
She’s the current web ninja lurking behind the hugely popular website YABooksCentral.com, a social network for YA (and kids!) book lovers. The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare is her debut novel. M.G. lives nestled away in Michigan pines, surrounded by good coffee and good books, with her husband and son and three furbabies. Say hello on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.
The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare releases on March 4th.