We asked author Nicole Valentine to talk about her love for “Easter eggs” and reveal a few from her debut middle-grade novel A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity.
I like to plant real-world anchors in my fiction. A real-world anchor is something that exists in the novel’s universe but also exists in our world in a more ordinary way. It can tether the reader to reality as they fall into the alternate universe of the novel. Much later, when the reader stumbles upon the anchor in the real world, it does the reverse: It ties the fictional realm to the real one.
In A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity, the tree with the doorknobs that Finn discovers is, in fact, very real. You can find it at the top of Dorset Peak and have your own Instagram-worthy moment.
Note: If you explore Dorset Peak, outside of Dorset, Vermont, Nicole recommends a good trail map, lots of water, some sturdy hiking poles, and a buddy. And most importantly, always tell someone where you are going.
The origin of the tree with doorknobs is a mystery. It sits up there on the peak, a “door set” in Dorset. Get it? Vermonters are witty. When I discovered it, well… odd things happened. A magical system was born. I don’t know what will happen if you find it. It all depends on whether you are a Traveler.
The old marble quarry turned swimming hole is real too. For many years it was a well-kept local secret, but the internet has changed that. It has ended up in many “Best Of” lists and is now a tourist attraction. For more than a century, the marble from that quarry was sent by train up and down the East Coast to be sold and used in construction. It was used to build Harvard Medical School and The New York Public Library, as well as the Arlington National Amphitheatre, the Supreme Court, and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. In my novel, both Aunt Ev and Gabi seem to agree the mountain has a magical feel to it. The Travelers use stones from the mountain to keep grounded and not Travel accidentally. While the marble from that particular quarry site is no longer being mined, the nearby Danby quarry is still operating and delivering Dorset Mountain marble all over the world. I have often wondered if they know how unsafe it is to be distributing magic rock across the globe. I hope they are at least keeping track of where it ends up.
The novel also includes a nod to some dubious “proof’ that time travelers exist. Aunt Ev tells Finn how she was once caught on film, talking into a cell phone in the background of a Charlie Chaplin movie. In fact, background footage from Chaplin’s 1928 film The Circus does show a woman behaving in a seemingly anachronistic way. Very astute readers will also notice that Aunt Ev’s first appearance and her propensity toward theft is a wink to a certain character in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.
And there is so much more. As I’ve said in the book, You can find all sorts of things, no matter where your particular universe happens to lie. You must work for your knowledge, though. It takes time to see the whole picture.