Bethany Schneider, a professor of 18th- and 19th-century American literature, never fancied herself a novelist. But after working on a complicated essay about Abraham Lincoln, she needed a writing project with levity. So she turned to Nick Davenant, a character she created seven years earlier and had almost forgotten about, and The River of No Return, a time-travel adventure novel written under the pseudonym Bee Ridgway.
The Plot Thickens: The novel tells the sweeping story of lovers who hurtle through time and travel from modern-day Vermont to Regency London in a quest to bring down a secret society that controls time travel. Schneider calls the book’s genre a mash-up … think A Wrinkle in Time meets Harry Potter meets Jane Eyre, with a sprinkling of the apocalyptic. It’s a page-turner with a complex plot and political underpinnings.
Haven’t I Read That Before? Schneider transports her readers to 19th-century England, in part, by weaving in dozens of text fragments, including literature she teaches such as a Nathaniel Hawthorne short story, “My Kinsman, Major Molineux,” poetry, and nursery rhymes. “What I wanted to do was evoke for my readers (an) almost unconscious sense that there’s a history of literature under the surface of the book,” Schneider says. “I don’t want that to be pedantic or name-droppy, but I wanted to give you a whisper from some other time.”
Mix and Mash: Schneider’s first draft was a love story with a time-travel flavor, but her agent saw its potential as a “genre mash-up,” a book with Regency romance at its core but also one that could include other genres such as mystery and historical fiction. “That really excited me because I think about genre a lot; I’m really interested in how genre makes stories—how the rules that we follow in making stories determine the kind of stories we can tell,” Schneider says.
Quidditch, Anyone?: When a student couldn’t make it to class because she broke her leg playing quidditch, the Harry Potter series’ sports game played on broomsticks, Schneider figured she needed to read what her students were reading.
Just Do It: Her novel, she says, is “completely and utterly” influenced by Bryn Mawr. “Bryn Mawr is about giving women permission to be amazing, brilliant, incredible, intellectual, creative people,” Schneider says. “Any Bryn Mawr student that I can remember, if I had said to her, ‘I’m thinking about writing a crazy time-travel adventure novel,’ would say, ‘Do it!’ If I’m going to be teaching these people, I better have the courage they have.”