Present Thoughts About the Past and Future
There are some exciting things happening this week in my writing career. In a few short days, the cover for INVENTORS AT NO. 8 will be officially unveiled. Advanced reader copies are also on their way. However, there are even more exciting days to come in the future once the book is released and it’s in the hands of readers.
Thinking about the future is both fun and a little scary, but I actually spend quite a bit more of my time thinking about the past. The INVENTORS is set in 1828, a time so far removed from life in the modern world that I had to stop and research a million little details while I was writing it.
But what exactly is the past? Why do we love reading and writing stories about people long-dead and places long-gone? I don’t know the answer, but this is my favorite quote about the past:
“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” (L.P. Hartley)
I love this quote! It so perfectly describes what I enjoy about reading and writing historical novels. It helps explain why authenticity and research are so important to the experience of novels set in the past. We want to feel the differences, but also notice the similarities between our time and another time.
I was curious to see if there were any other quotes I could find about the collective past. How do other people see it? It’s a ghost, a memory, a date on a calendar. And here, paraphrased, are some of the more unusual metaphors for the past:
The past is…
… the ornament and food of the mind of man. (Leonardo da Vinci)
… the beginning of the beginning, …the twilight of the dawn. (H.G. Wells)
...[the layer of an egg that is the present] that had the future inside its shell. (Zora Neale Hurston)
… the only dead thing that smells sweet. (Cyril Connolly)
… indefinite and exists only as a spectrum of possibilities. (Stephen Hawking)
It’s interesting that the past most often referenced is your own immediate personal past. “The past” as a concept separate from history is perhaps too big to be contemplated often. I know that if I were asked to explain the past in my own words, I would come up empty-handed.
However, if you cram all of those other brilliant ideas together, then maybe the past is…a dead ornamental chicken that lays eggs in the indefinite twilight.
Yep. You can quote me on that.