The Gate of the Year

Darcy reached into his bag and gave Edward a hard copy of The Gate of the Year. Edward handed the blue box back to Darcy in return; Darcy put the headphones back on and clutched it close to him.

Edward started to read: 

It was cold and rainy that January 1941 morning when Maggie Hall waited at the train station for her grandparents to come and take her and her brother to their farmhouse. If Maggie were the dramatic type, she would have noted that the weather matched her outlook on the situation pretty well.

It had been almost been a month since that terrible December night, though everyday it felt like it was happening all over again. Her mother had arranged an extended visit for her and her brother Harry ostensibly to help her aging grandparents, but Maggie knew full well all her parents really wanted was for her and Harry to get as far out of London as possible.

* * * *

My senior year of high school, I joined a critique group for other young writers, despite the fact that at the time, I had no novels in progress. Within a few months, I had two ideas for one. The first was about a teenage girl who is transported into the middle of a literal fairy tale, which eventually evolved into Once Upon My Mind.

The second was about Maggie, a young women from London in 1941 who has been sent away to the countryside to live with her hard-hearted grandparents, anxiously waiting for news from her older brother who’s in the war, with only the diary her brother gave her for company. Nearly sixty-five years later, Peter, an American boy who has moved into the same house and finds her diary, which helps him deal with his own anxieties about the future. Shortly after developing this idea, I saw the cover of this book at my library; mistaking it for a fantasy. In each book I’ve written so far, I have had at least one of these unforgettable “Eureka!” moments, and for this book, this was it. I decided to add a fantasy element: that Maggie and Peter should be able to talk to each other across time through the diary.

The book’s working title was the rather meaningless The Other Side of Yesterday. Circa 2011, I decided to rename it after, as David Andrews called it, “the poem the King mentioned in his last Christmas speech” (actual selection from poem starts around 8:20):

Unfortunately, the more fleshed-out earlier draft is currently missing, but here are some more fragments from one of the later drafts of the book. Here Peter and his friend Ryan discover the diary that belonged to Maggie (named Margie here) for the first time:

I reached down to pick up the floorboard, only to realize that underneath was something bright and somewhat shiny. I pulled it off and found a pack of gum. The label looked like it was from the 1940s.

“Hey cool, let me see that,” Ryan said. He opened the package and pulled out a slice.

“Don’t eat that!” I said. “It’s probably fifty years old!”

“It looks brand new,” Ryan said.

“I don’t think Kiley’s grandfather was still hiding gum at his age,” I said.

“Well, what else is there?” Ryan asked. I pulled out a few issues of an old pulp magazine called Tales of Wonder. I had seen an issue in a plastic bag once in a used bookstore when I was browsing with my dad. Underneath the magazines was a small brown book with no title.

I opened the book to see the year 1941 on the first entry. “It’s a diary,” I said. “I think it’s a girl’s.”

And here’s when Margie and Peter first realize something strange is happening. Margie’s parts are written in third-person point of view, while Peter’s part is in first-person.

Margie raced upstairs to mark Freddie’s letter in her diary. She opened the book and…

This was the last straw. Not only had Harry ignored her threats, but now he was playing childish pranks on her? Did he really expect her to believe that some boy named Peter Barnes from the future was writing in her diary?

She couldn’t go to her grandparents again. So, surreptitiously, she got some manure and blackberry preserves and left a little “present” for Harry.

* * * *

Something in my room smelled really funny when I got back from dinner. I ran to the floorboard.

“Is that…” I stupidly stuck my hand in it. I almost screamed, but I didn’t want my mother to come in and ask me what was going on. So I went and got some Lysol and cleaned the floorboard out.

* * * *

Why hadn’t Harry gotten her “surprise” yet? Now Margie felt really bad. What if her grandparents found out? She would be in so much trouble for sure.

She anxiously ran upstairs and lifted the floorboard. It was clean.

“It’s impossible,” she said. She placed her hand on the bottom of the floorboard. All of sudden, she felt the funniest feeling, as if a hand was touching hers back. She immediately yanked it up.

* * * *

My biggest struggle as a writer has always been the middle of the story. I never really figured out an engaging Act 2, when Peter and Maggie start writing to each other, other than “And then we wrote to each other.” So as I was figuring it out, I put Gate on the back-burner to work on Once and later Time.

Early in Time‘s development, I decided that Colin would bond with Edward and later Eleanor over a fictional book. Some of my first fantasy memories were of reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and The Hobbit, so I also fell in love with the idea of Gillian befriending a member of the Inklings during her travels. I remembered The Gate of the Year and thinking about how it sounded like a good name for a Narnia-esque time travel fantasy. Everything pretty much came together from there: “Peter could be from the 1960s!” “David could have based Margie on Gillian!” “There could be a whole series of Margie and Peter travelling through time!”

Even though the ideas of Gate worked out better as a fictional novel rather than a real one, its elements of time travel and message of hope are all over Time and Tenacity as well as my next novel, Once Upon My Mind. I hope to defictionalize The Gate of the Year one day, but until then, I hope you enjoyed these snapshots!