In The Archive of Alternate Endings, author Lindsey Drager has penned a historical fiction which follows the 75 to 79-year passes of Halley’s Comet and answers the questions: What things change? What stay the same?
Expertly crafted, The Archive of Alternate Endings weaves stories of our past with fantastical peeks into the future, at a rapid pace. Blending fact with fiction is challenging. Writing it so that the reader believes it as all true is an art. “Historical fiction is speculative … in the vast majority of cases it is our own brains that fill in gaps," Drager told Spine. “If you are going to speculate history, it should be for a good reason.” She did just that, by touching upon important moments in history and reminding us that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Through her research, Drager uncovered events during the years of Halley’s Comet sightings that sparked connections with the world today. Drager honed in on aspects of a fairytale that had been prominent in the real world over the centuries and combined it with a glimpse of what Halley’s Comet may have witnessed with each visit across the Earths’ orbit.
One of those discoveries came in 1835, the year the Grimm Brothers published their first work of short stories. Turning her focus on the tale of Hansel and Gretel, young siblings, who are turned out from their home by a mother, find themselves lost in the woods and captured by an evil witch. They must fight for their lives. Over the years, the reason for the childrens’ exile has varied. In one version, a stepmother doesn’t want her husband's children. In another, the parents leave their children in the woods because they are too poor to feed them, and in yet another, Hansel is the only child told to leave the family home due to his homosexuality. Gretel, standing by her brother's side, departs with him. Drager compared the key aspects of the various plots to true events which coincided with the appearance of Halley’s Comet in the Earth’s orbit.
In 1456 during the Great Famine some parents chose to give their children away or cast them out of their homes, in order to feed themselves.
During the AIDS epidemic in 1986, men were shunned by their families due to their illness and sexuality.
“The true hero of Hansel and Gretel is Gretel,” Drager stated. “But that piece has been overlooked.” Gretel was the strongest of the two, daring to kill the witch and save herself and her brother. History has shown that gender politics is repetitive, and Drager highlighted this in the novel. A woman’s accomplishments and courage to speak out have been met with criticism throughout history. In the year 1456, for example, Drager's novel shows that a woman could be unceremoniously institutionalized by a man of status who deemed her attitude or actions to be unfit or simply unwanted.
Drager explored connections between times the comet passed within the Earth’s orbit, and she also examined different responses to the event itself. Halley’s Comet has brought both fear and jubilance to humanity. Drager said during the comet's passing in 1910, “people thought it was going to release harmful gases and feared for their lives. In contrast, on its next pass, in 1986, the comet’s arrival was heralded with t-shirts and stickers in its name.
In her novel, Drager doesn’t dwell on the past. Rather she leverages patterns from history to tell a story of life, love, and humanity. The world is ever changing, but one constant has been love. Is that enough, however to keep the world spinning and its occupants living? Drager stretches her view, through the lens of Halley’s Comet, centuries in to the future.
Though she had an immense history to review, Drager completed the novel in twelve months by writing in chronological order and linking the fragments together. “Usually I have to let the story percolate, but I was under contract,” she explained. This does not mean the novel was rushed. It is laser focused on the specific years of Halley’s Comet and the events of those times. The Archive of Alternate Endings opens the reader's mind to what once was, and what could be.
Lindsey Drager is an author, an assistant professor of creative writing at the College of Charleston, and the nonfiction editor for Crazyhorse magazine. Drager told Spine that she identifies with science fiction writers who admire the future and other worlds. Halley’s Comet will next appear in Earth’s orbit in 2061. The Archive of Alternate Endings appears on bookshelves May 7th.
E. M. Panos's passion for fantasy and mystery began forming at a young age, with episodes of Godzilla and Scooby-Doo. Later, she became enthralled with the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Shirley Jackson, Anne Rice, Marvel Comics, and Joss Whedon. Today, Panos is an avid reader of all things fiction. As an author, she pens short stories, novellas, and flash fiction which contain elements of the supernatural, mythological, and/or fantasy. Find her on Twitter @EMPanosWrites.