On a 1937 December morning, as sunrise light streams through the high, arched windows of Grand Central Terminal, Joe Reynolds spots an out-of-place young woman near the station’s famous gold clock. After coming to the woman’s aid, Joe learns three things: Her name is Nora Lansing, she’s a wealthy Manhattan socialite, and she absolutely captivates him.
This serendipitous meeting begins an unlikely love affair that defies both time and tragedy. As Joe and Nora find each other again and again, they slowly unravel the mystery surrounding Nora’s strange circumstances even as the threads of their lives wind tighter together.
Just like Joe and Nora’s love story in Time After Time (Random House, June 11), the formation of Lisa Grunwald’s sixth novel began with a moment of serendipity. While browsing the library stacks at Columbia University for books relevant to train travel in the 1950s — something she needed to know about for her previous novel, The Irresistible Henry House — Grunwald came across a 1946 book by David Marshall titled Grand Central.
“I fanned through the pages the way you do and landed on a few paragraphs about a beautiful young woman who appeared one morning at four a.m., lost and confused, by the gold clock in Grand Central,” explained Grunwald in her correspondence with Spine. According to Marshall's book, when a gateman tried to walk the young woman home, she disappeared only a block from the station. Although he searched for her, she was nowhere to be found. And when he went to her home to inquire where she might be, the woman’s aunt revealed that her niece had been killed at Grand Central almost 40 years before.
Grand Central also contained a description of several days during the year when dawn’s light seemed to bring the star-sprinkled ceiling of Grand Central’s Main Concourse to life, a phenomenon which Grunwald later discussed with her friend, historian and architect James Sanders.
When Grunwald brought up this curiosity to Sanders, he explained that it was “a celestial phenomenon that occurs when the annual progress of the Earth around the sun coincides with the geographical alignment of Manhattan and its street grid,” called "Manhattanhenge." Also known as Solar Grid Day and the Manhattan Solstice, Manhattanhenge happens every year, a few weeks before and a few weeks after the summer solstice.
But, Sanders elaborated, today a Grand Central Manhattanhenge sunrise no longer exists. Once the United Nations Secretariat Building was built along the East River, it blocked dawn’s light from reaching the windows of Grand Central’s Main Concourse. When the UN building was completed in 1952, true Grant Central Manhattanhenge sunrises faded from existence. They only exist now in the memories of people who experienced them and in books like Marshall’s Grand Central.
Although Manhattanhenge sunsets still spark a New York celebration at their every occurrence, Grunwald found herself drawn in by the lost Grand Central sunrises — and by the lost young woman she’d read about earlier.
Even though Time After Time began with a moment of serendipity in the Columbia library stacks, its journey from idea to final draft took a lot of hard work and research—and a lot of timelines, dates, and charts.
Besides reading through Marshall’s Grand Central — where she learned about many details included in the novel — Grunwald made a few visits to the terminal itself. However, health issues kept her from visiting too often, and anyway, Grand Central was no longer the terminal of it was in the 30s and 40s.
“I read… I think just about every book about Grand Central. I read the monthly newsletter that the New York Central Railroad put out. I read newspapers and magazines of the time. I studied old photos … I looked at maps … I got hold of a catalogue from the [now-defunct Grand Central] art gallery, and notes that had been printed privately about a class that was taught there … I found a menu from the original Oyster Bar. Just about everything I described that was an object was something I researched. The key fob for the Biltmore Hotel room key I found in a listing on eBay. I believe I’ll be unconsciously looking for tidbits about old Grand Central for the rest of my life!”
As the story came together, Grunwald realized that it would span decades. She knew it would take Joe and Nora years to figure out how Nora’s supernatural circumstances were tied up with Manhattanhenge. She also knew that the UN building should play a part since it was what kept the Manhattanhenge sunrise’s light from reaching Grand Central after 1952. Still, she considered reevaluating the timeline and ending the story before the UN building’s construction.
“But then I guess there was one other piece of serendipity: I’d gotten hold of a 1948 issue of LIFE magazine because I had learned that there was a feature in it about ‘Underground New York.’ And, indeed, there was an extraordinary illustration — a cross-section of the terminal that showed me how the whole complex was laid out in a way I had never fully grasped. Fabulous. Then I turned a few more pages and found an article about plans for the United Nations building! A ridiculous coincidence, but there you have it. I put it under the category of the kind of sign that I don’t believe in at all but that seem to pop up now and then — and can’t be ignored.”
Although “fact and fiction don’t always mesh,” as Grunwald noted, in this case, Time After Time’s story and the story of how it came to be have much in common. Grunwald required both research and imagination to create Time After Time’s world of history and magic. And although both Joe and Nora’s romance and the process of writing had serendipitous beginnings, it took so much more than that to make them work.
Find Lisa Grunwald online at lisagrunwald.com
Professional editor and proofreader. Lover of all things SF/F. Avid supporter of other women.