Spotlight Post: The Obsidian Compass by Liesl Shurtliff (Guest Post)

Hey everyone! Today, I’m incredibly excited to share with you a guest post from Liesl Shurtliff, author of The Obsidian Compass, book two in the Time Castaways series (October 15, 2019 from Katherine Tegen Books)!! I really enjoyed Liesl’s book, Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hood, so I’m excited for her new series! First, here’s more about the book:

Liesl Shurtliff, New York Times bestselling author of Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin, continues the action-packed Time Castaways trilogy with book two, in which the Hudsons sail across time and history as they embark on a daring rescue mission.

With magic, mystery, and adventure, this is perfect for fans of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library and Percy Jackson.

Mateo, Ruby, and Corey Hudson have lost their friend Jia to the villainous Captain Vincent’s clutches, and now they’re determined to bring her back to safety. But the Hudson kids don’t have a way to time-travel without the Obsidian Compass, until Mateo figures out the secret component to get his own homemade compass working.

Soon the whole family—plus their wacky neighbor, Chuck, and his rusty orange bus, Blossom—are swept up in another epic journey.

With their own time-traveling vehicle and some help from history’s most famous young markswoman, Annie Oakley, the Hudsons think they’re prepared to sneak onto the Vermillion. Unbeknownst to them, Captain Vincent already knows they’re coming. In fact, he’s counting on it…



And now here’s the guest post from Liesl! Enjoy!

The Joys and Struggles of Writing Time Travel

By Liesl Shurtliff

This is going to be so fun! That’s what I said to myself when I signed a contract to write a time-travel trilogy. And it has been fun. Fun and thrilling and deeply satisfying. Time Castaways is a rollicking family time-travel series full of adventure and history and family drama. Book 1, The Mona Lisa Key, starts with three city kids, Mateo, Corey, and Ruby Hudson, who board a Subway train in present-day Manhattan and end up in Paris on August 21, 1911, on the very day the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre. (True historical event!) The adventure continues in Book 2, The Obsidian Compass (Available October 15th) sending the Hudsons to the Siberian Ice Age, The 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, and Yellowstone National Park. I’m neck deep into writing Book 3, The Forbidden Lock.

With nearly three time-travel books under my belt, I have a slightly more sober perspective on writing time travel. Any time someone even mentions time-travel in my presence I immediately shiver and metaphorically curl up into fetal position. Time travel, I have learned, is not something to take lightly. Writers beware!

I’ve been vocal about my pains. I complain to anyone who will listen, much like those women who have dramatic birthing stories. We want the world to know what we’ve been through! If people ask me which of my books has been the hardest to write I don’t even hesitate. “Time travel is a beast,” I say. Some will ask what makes it so difficult. There are a million reasons, I think, but two stick out in my mind. For one, when writing in a universe where time travel is possible, the possibilities are endless. Wait a second, you say, isn’t that a good thing? Sometimes. It’s good to have lots of possibilities, but eventually you need to create boundaries and parameters. Rules are very important when building a fantasy world, otherwise your story can get out of control. Sure, you could go wild and have no rules, let anything happen without logic or reason. Some writers might be able to pull it off, but you run the risk of your story not making much sense and being rather weak and dissatisfying to your reader. (Or it could be incredible! Go ahead and try it!)

Time itself exists to create certain constraints within our world. As Einstein once said, “The only reason for time is so everything doesn’t happen at once.” Time creates order. Remove time and you have chaos. I had to work really hard to create certain rules and logic with a concept that felt limitless and illogical. What happens when you time travel? What are the physical effects? What can you do outside your own timeline? What can you not do? Do you age when you travel outside your own timeline? Can you live for an extended period of time outside your own timeline? Can you see yourself? What happens if you do? Is it different if you see yourself twenty years in the past versus twenty seconds? There was a lot to consider, and each answered question birthed twenty more questions. I tried to avoid falling back on old tropes and clichés or things that have been done in recent popular entertainment. I wanted it all to feel unique and fresh. That is the burden of all writers.

The second reason time travel can feel so overwhelming is simply keeping track of everything. Timelines, character ages, places, dates, events… I have several Google sheets where I keep track of all of these things. I’ve given access to my editors, copy editors, and beta readers, and it’s still difficult to keep it all straight. We have to double, triple, and quadruple check. How old is that character again? How long did they hang out in the wrong decade? How much older are they than their mother now? It takes a village to keep everything straight and in the end we’re all dizzy!

Once, when things got particularly difficult with this story, I posed a hypothetical. If I could travel back in time, would I tell myself not to write these books? Nope. These books have been massively difficult to write, but also incredibly fulfilling. I’ve learned so much, both about writing and myself. I would never take that away. Plus, I’ve received so many thoughtful letters from readers telling me how much they loved Book 1 and can’t wait for Book 2. Just the other night I caught my own 10-year-old son reading in bed far past his bedtime. He was reading my early copy of Time Castaways #2. The joy of even one reader washes away all pains.

That said, I would travel back to myself in the beginning of writing these books, when I was full of so much hope and inspiration, give myself a hug and say, “I’m here for you whenever you need to talk. Any time.” Because in my time-travel world, we should be allowed to help ourselves through the tough stuff. But if that were the case, would the tough stuff really be all that tough? Gah!


About the Author:
Liesl Shurtliff is the New York Times bestselling author of Rump: The True Tale of Rumpelstiltskin, other books in the (Fairly) True Tales series, and the Time Castaways series, She was born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, the fifth of eight kids. She now lives in Chicago with her husband and four kids, where she writes full-time.



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