Monica Byrne, a novelist, playwright and screenwriter, is working on her third novel. Although Byrne now lives in Durham, North Carolina, she grew up in Annville, and the Victorian home at 515 E. Main St. where she lived as a child will be featured in the book, titled “Ordinary Time.”
The youngest of five children, Byrne and her parents, Donald E. Byrne Jr. and Mary Anne (Tietjen) Byrne moved to the Annville area in the mid-1970s. Her dad, now deceased, was a religion professor at Lebanon Valley College.
“Mom loved old houses, and there was a big old house on Main Street that she liked. The story in our family was that mom asked the owners if they were interested in selling, and they were, so my parents bought it,” she explained, “We grew up in that Victorian, which was built in 1898.”
Byrne said it was dilapidated when she was growing up, but the home’s new owners have restored it.
“It was a great house to grow up in, but repairs were costly. It has a slate roof, and slate roofs are expensive to repair. And, when we were growing up, the home did not have insulation,” she said.
“My whole world growing up was on Main Street. I would bike up and down the street visiting friends and going to the A-C pool and playground (Annville-Cleona Community Pool).”
She describes Annville as a great place to grow up.
“Everyone knew my parents and my family – everyone knows you and your story. In Durham, when I meet someone I always have to explain my background before I can be friends with someone,” she said.
She said “Ordinary Time” takes place in an alternate version of Annville called Immervale, a place where time is not linear, which is why people visit the town and its inn. (The nonlinearity of time is due to the nuclear plant at the edge of town.) At the Immervale Inn, which is based on the Victorian home of her childhood, every guest room is named for a different month.
Every room has a different effect; for example, in the January room, a guest can turn on the snow effect and it will snow.
“It’s magical realism, or at least it starts that way – the idyllic house is not what it seems,” Byrne explained.
“Ordinary time” is a Catholic term referring to the time of the year outside of Christmas and Easter (and Advent and Lent, respectively).
She anticipates having a draft completed in February and will present it to agents, who will then represent it to publishers.
Byrne holds a bachelor of science degree in biochemistry and religion from Wellesley College and a master’s degree in geochemistry from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“I was intent on becoming an astronaut. I even got my pilot’s license at Riegle Airport, Palmyra, but in grad school I realized I wanted to become a writer,” Byrne said. “My family was really supportive about my change of direction; my desire to go into science was a real departure for my family since everyone was into the arts, teaching or religion as an academic subject.”
Her mom was diagnosed with brain cancer when Byrne was 7 and was bedridden by the time she was 15. She passed away when Byrne was 20.
“There’s a web of care in Annville. For several years when my mom was sick, people would drop off meals for our family every Sunday, and that was really appreciated,” Byrne said, “When I look back I think I wanted to become an astronaut and leave the planet as a reaction to my mom’s illness, since I was always into art and writing as a kid.”
She’s written several plays, the most produced of which is “What Every Girl Should Know.” Her short stories have been published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Shimmer and Fantasy Magazine as well as Tor.com.
Byrne’s first novel, “The Girl in the Road,” was published in 2014 by Random House. It won the 2015 James Triptree Award, an award presented for science fiction or fantasy fiction that explores or expands gender roles. A synopsis on Amazon.com describes “The Girl in the Road” as “an extraordinary vision of the future. In a world where global power has shifted east and revolution is brewing, two women embark on vastly different journeys—each harrowing and urgent and wholly unexpected.”
Her second novel, “The Actual Star,” was published last year by Harper Voyager. A synopsis on the publisher’s website indicates it takes place across three timelines over two millennia and a journey over six continents. Although the three tales are thousands of years apart, they all converge in the same cave in a jungle in Belize.
Byrne held a book signing for “The Actual Star” at Midtown Scholar Bookstore Café, Harrisburg, on Sunday, Nov. 27.
She said her work on “The Actual Star” and “Ordinary Time” has been funded through Patreon, a crowd-funding source for artists. Byrne said she’s been with Patreon since 2015 and has built up to 550 supporters.
“Through my supporters I’m making a living wage that I use for groceries, rent, transportation and healthcare,” she said.
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