Time traveling to a ‘Cretaceous Dawn’

By REBECCA SCHWAB

OBSERVER Contributor

The Book

We’ve all read tales of time-travel, especially stories of people being projected far into the future. These tales are often cautionary: don’t keep doing what you’re doing, humanity, or this is what you’ll get.

Less common are stories about being projected far, far into the past; yet that is exactly what Fredonia resident Lisa Graziano and her brother Michael Graziano have given us in their novel “Cretaceous Dawn.”

This is not “Jurassic Park;” dinosaurs are not brought into the present. It is not an alternate reality, one in which dinosaurs and humans peacefully co-exist. Nor is it a comedy, with a Will Farrell-like protagonist running from a bumbling and destined-to-go-hungry T. rex. This action-adventure story, in part, is OUR story. The novel shows us what our world was like 65 million years ago, and introduces us to our predecessor, Purgatorius.

Lisa explains, “(The novel’s) inspiration was the earliest creature that could almost be called a primate, Purgatorius, which may have been around at the very end of the Cretaceous. The origins of human beings.”

The book doesn’t revolve around Purgatorius, though readers do get to meet him.

“We meet him early on in the book just once,” Lisa says, “when the paleontologist Julian, in absolute awe, recognizes him in a tree. He says to it, ‘Well, aren’t you proud of me? I’m your own grandson.'”

The novel is adventure for adults, and it is also educational. A science lab accident sends physicist Yariko; paleontologist Julian, her colleague; another colleague, Dr. Shanker; Shanker’s dog Hilda; and a security guard (and a half) into the Cretaceous period, the end of the Age of the Dinosaurs.

This is not the dry and musty reading of high school science textbooks. The half of the security guard that didn’t travel back in time was left in the present-day physics lab, and his death is being investigated by police chief Sharon Earles and a team of physicists who try to figure out what happened in that lab, and where the missing people (and dog) went. They have to solve the mystery and get the lab equipment up and running if Yariko and her friends have a chance at being saved.

Meanwhile, the modern day scientists DO have to figure out how to survive in a prehistoric landscape, and yes, avoid getting eaten. The Grazianos are both scientists, and both have Ph.Ds. Lisa is an oceanographer, and taught for years at Sea Education Associations. Michael is a professor of neuroscience at Princeton University.

So while they may be practical, they also know that running from carnivorous dinosaurs is good stuff.

In addition to exciting and fast-paced, Lisa and her brother wanted to keep the narrative as accurate as possible, save for the parts when science crosses over into science fiction.

“We aimed for giving readers a feel for what late Cretaceous North America would have been like to hike through,” Lisa says. “The idea was to have them feel as if they were there, but making the details as vivid as we could: the geography, the temperature, the plants, the animals, the geology. We wanted people to learn about paleontology and other things while enjoying a light adventure story.”

The Grazianos’ research for the book was extensive and exhausting, but they didn’t stop there. After the book was completed, they sought out two specialist scientists to fact-check the novel’s historical and scientific details.

“We had two paleontologists review the manuscript for accuracy in the scientific details; one was a late Cretaceous animal paleontologist who studied the Hell Creek formation, and the other was an expert in the plants of the time and region,” Lisa explains. “I think we presented paleontological and physics research, and a typical university research lab, pretty accurately – so accurately, in fact, that many readers thought the ‘graviton vault’ was a real thing. Hopefully, readers are able to recognize where we leave reality for the pure fun of science fiction, such as with time travel.”

The Process

Co-authorship isn’t easy. Yes, there are two people to do the work, but there are also two often-clashing ideas about who the characters should be and how the book should turn out. When the co-authors are siblings, discussions don’t always remain polite.

“Working together was difficult at first,” Lisa admits.

Her brother wrote the first half of the book and passed it off to Lisa when his energy for the project waned. Agents were already interested, though, so Lisa and Michael agreed to share the work and complete the novel together.

“There were some funny incidents,” Lisa says. “I had no idea what (Michael) had in mind for the second half of the book, so I wrote what I thought was a fabulous second half. He was appalled. It was not AT ALL what he was thinking.”

And the character of Yariko, the female scientist? Lisa insisted on adjustments.

“I read his opening and had a gagging reflex over his only female character. She burst into tears about every page and a half and had to be helped over every little bit of mud and calmed down and talked out of panic attacks,” she remembers. “I couldn’t understand why he’d portray her that way; that was not his concept of women at all.”

Lisa made her point as authors will: in writing.

“I actually wrote a fake chapter, I think it was chapter 4, in which the three male characters with her exchange a look after she bursts into tears and refuses to go a step further for the 18th or so time, and then all together they pick her up, tip her into the river, and hold her down until, well, you get the idea,” Lisa recalls. “I was saying to (Michael), ‘this is what every reader will want to do with Yariko. She is intolerable.'”

After much “friendly” discussion between brother and sister, though, it was all worked out.

“I was able to recreate (Yariko), at least within the limited bounds set by the story, and rework the other characters somewhat. I created three main characters of my own (one being the aged female T. rex), and added bits of information from my own field of science (oceanography). They are fairly simple characters, of course, but that works in this type of book,” Lisa says.

In the end, Lisa enjoyed working with her brother, and even recalls the disagreements with a fondness one reserves for siblings.

“(Working with a relative) is probably quite different from working with a colleague. For one, we didn’t worry about being polite to each other,” Lisa says. “I actually kept the printed drafts with our written comments for years; there were 10 or 12 of those, and they were a lot of fun to look back at. I tossed them at some point, which I kind of regret now.”

This novel truly has something for everyone: attractive brainiac scientists, a cute dog, hungry dinosaurs, straight-talking cops, eager grad students, geographical and historical accuracy, scientific details, a love scene, science fiction time travel equipment, and an ending that is equally happy and sad.

“Cretaceous Dawn” can be bought at www.leapfrogpress.com by clicking on “Available Titles” and “Fiction;” and at Amazon.com in hardcopy and Kindle editions. Both Lisa and Michael Graziano are freelance authors and editors. See more of their work at www.leapfrogpress.com.