As I write this post, Team TTT&T’s Oliver Latsch is in Utah, USA, interviewing Gail Halvorsen, aka “The Candy Bomber,” aka “Uncle Wiggly Wings,” aka “The Chocolate Pilot.” He's the post-WWII US military flyer who, in 1948, came up with an ingenious idea for delivering treats to the children of Berlin, then trapped by Soviet Russia's blockade of the city. Gail's story is the inspiration for Oliver’s upcoming Time Traveler Tour to Berlin, slated for publication in 2018.
 

When the Soviet blockade of the western sectors of the German capital began, the city only had 36 days worth of food for its 2 million inhabitants. Coal for energy and medical supplies were running perilously low as well. Neither train nor automobile nor river barge could penetrate the Soviet sphere of influence that surrounded Berlin. The only way into the city was down – from the air. 


 It took a joint allied military operation to save Berliners and to keep Berlin from falling into Russian hands. The Berlin Airlift, officially called "Operation Vittles," could be considered the first battle of the Cold War. But rather than a battle of weapons, it was a battle of wills. One the allies eventually won, at least in part.

The airlift – and the stand off it represented – lasted 10 whole months and spanned a harsh German winter. In addition to “lifting” food and supplies, the allies looked for ways to lift the spirits of the people as well. The key was to give them hope as they struggled to stay warm and stare hunger in the face.
 

It was Halvorsen who, after meeting a group of kids through a fence at Berlin's Tempelhof airport, came up with the idea of using handmade miniature parachutes to send them candy, bubblegum, and chocolates. He and his crew fully expected to be reprimanded for this action was unauthorized. But by the time the generals found out, they’d already received sacks full of letters, cards, and pictures expressing gratitude for the kindness. Even the tiny parachutes were returned, to help with the next run. The people didn't want it to stop!


The military government quickly realized this was a public relations coup and let Halvorsen and his friends continue the drops. Their “Operation Little Vittles” would go on to shower 23 tons of treats over the Berlin landscape. Each time the Candy Bomber delivered his sugary payload, he would rock his plane, left-right-left, several times to wave at the waiting children. With this gesture, Uncle Wiggly Wings reminded them that they were not forgotten; he encouraged them to hang on. And they did.

Through this story, we will bring Gail's amazing story to life while providing young people a window into the complex and devastating ideological conflict that divided Berlin, Germany, and the world for 45 years, until 1989, when Berliners, using hammers, axes, even their hands, broke down the wall that separated former neighbors, family, and friends.


Oliver is now trying to “crack the character code” for this story, a process I explained in last week's newsletter. But his task is more complicated than it would seem…


To create a successful Time Traveler Tour, it’s not just about who the main character is, but how he or she is able to speak from the past in an authentic and believable way today. It’s what we term “the time-traveling device.” Though Gail looms large in this historic tale, Oliver must determine if he is the best 1st person narrator for the story and tour.


Maybe someone close to him would be more effective, like another pilot? Or someone charged with making the tiny parachutes? Or one of the hungry children whose life Gail so sweetly touched?

Indeed, the right choice of character might actually turn on the device: Will the story be better told from the air? Or the ground? During the Soviet blockade? Or once it’s finally broken? Will it be best recounted from the cockpit of a C-54? Or from the city streets daily littered with candy? Or perhaps from the point of view of a young Russian conscript powerless to stop the kindness (and hungering for a little vittle himself)?
 

In researching Charlotte’s story, Beware Madame la Guillotine, I discovered that she spent the day leading up to her twilight beheading writing letters. In a desperate bid to explain and justify her act of murder, she wrote not only to her father and sister, but to the citizens of France as well. This became my time-traveling device, and so Beware Madame la Guillotine acts as Charlotte’s memoir written from prison on the day of her death.


To lend dramatic tension to Michelangelo’s tale, Mary Hoffman placed him in his self-imposed exile of 1530 where he waited out possible arrest and execution not knowing whether he would live or die. To pass the time, and probably keep from going mad, he drew with charcoal on the walls of his cold, stone cell, whose location was lost to history until 1976.


Now, with Gail's help, Oliver searches for the time-traveling device that will bring The Chocolate Pilot’s tale of the Berlin Airlift to life for 21st century kids, who know nothing of Cold War and fallout shelter drills, while tying that story to histories being made today.


Check out this message from the Candy Bomber himself!


Do you have an idea for a story, character,
and time-traveling device?

Click COMMENTS and let us know!
 

In my last post, I wrote about how I found the voice of Time Traveler Tours thanks to a perceived failure. But the learning did not end there. Not by a long shot. It took another misstep en route to preparing our newest title, IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF GIANTS, to make us realize we had not yet cracked the code as to who our characters should be, and what stories they should tell.


It was another lesson learned by trial and error on our way to developing our mission and vision for Time Traveler Tours & Tales...
 

What happened was this...
 

When Mary Hoffman first pitched me her idea for a Time Traveler Tour to Renaissance Florence, her intention was to rewrite her book, DAVID: AN UNAUTHORISED AUTOBIOGRAPHY, to a size better suited to our condensed format. But this was more easily said than done.


David is an 80K-word work of historical fiction. TTT wanted a factual tale of 8-10K words. Not only is that a lot of darlings to kill, but Mary’s narrator, Gabriele, was an invented character. Although the research suggests he could have been, he is the stuff of fiction.

By this time, I had already written and published BEWARE MADAME LA GUILLOTINE, but my next two stories – to Versailles in the era of monarchy and Napoleonic Paris – were not tripping easily off the proverbial tongue. In both cases, I had invented the narrators and plopped them in non-fictional settings. One editor suggested this might be the problem: that by using characters who had not actually lived through the events they were narrating, I had compromised the authenticity of each tale.

But I’d poured years into each of these stories already. I was attached to my darlings and convinced they should work to capture my readers’ imaginations. Perhaps the problem was with me. Perhaps a more experienced writer could work the right magic.

 

That’s how I came to give Mary the thumbs up to let Gabriele, her imagined model for Michelangelo’s David, narrate our factual tour through Renaissance Florence. Fortunately, she realized much more quickly than I did that Gabriele really wasn’t up for the task.
 

Thus began the hunt for the perfect tour guide for
IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF GIANTS...

It is a little known fact that Michelangelo went into hiding in fear for his life in August of 1530. For 446 years historians knew that he’d fallen on the wrong side of the Medici family; they knew that he’d gone underground to escape possible execution; they knew that he was missing for between three weeks and three months. But no one knew where, nor how he'd managed to survive.


Then, in 1976, 10 years after the historic 1966 flooding of the Arno River, the mysterious hiding place was found. During a cleanup effort to finally shovel away what remained of the drenched and ruined coal supply stored beneath the Medici Chapel’s New Sacristy, a worker struck one of the walls of the room with his shovel. All at once, a four-centuries-old layer of plaster fell away, revealing drawings and doodles that were very clearly by the hand of Michelangelo!


This was obviously the best dramatic hook for the story. But once he’d been pardoned and allowed to come back into the light, Michelangelo covered the evidence of his imprisonment to protect his protectors. He took his secret, and theirs, to the grave. That’s why for 446 years we only ever knew that he had been hiding, not where.

There was only one person, therefore, who could divulge the details of the master artist’s 1530 plight: Michelangelo himself!


As with Charlotte’s story, IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF GIANTS practically wrote itself once we’d discovered the right character to tell the tale. That’s when we realized that our Time Traveler Tours are best led and narrated by real historical figures – whether well-known, like Michelangelo, but with a new story to tell, or less-known, like Charlotte, who played a key role of one of history’s most seminal events.


Real people telling factual tales through 1st-person storytelling.


This is our mandate, and our foundation. It is how we aim to ensure that no one says, "History is boring!" ever again. It is how we promise to be the media brand that parents, teachers, and readers can trust.


That’s why, in February of last year, I was back in Paris and Versailles story-hunting for new characters for LEGEND OF THE PLANT HUNTERS and EMPIRE OF THE DEAD. And why TTT&T Rights & Opportunities Agent, Oliver Latsch, spent two days in Berlin just this week – prior to attending the Frankfurt Book Fair – searching for the voice of our Cold War tour and tale to come.


More on that journey – and story – next week.

Did I ever tell you the story about how I met Charlotte Corday? How she came to be the narrator for Time Traveler Tours’ first title: Beware Madame la Guillotine?
 

Did we ever disclose how Mary Hoffman came to choose Michelangelo as her guide for In the Footsteps of Giants when she thought that job would fall to the model that stood for the David?


These stories are core to our burgeoning media company for they form the foundation of our model and Voice. They also both stem from potential failures that – were it not for our tenacious spirit and a willingness to pivot – resulted in twin successes.


First the story of my discovering Charlotte Corday…


It was a rainy day in Paris, 2009. I’d been working on an interactive history of the City of Lights for teens and tweens for more than three years. At that point I had written three sample chapters that took readers to

  1. Versailles in the era of Absolute Monarchy;

  2. Paris in the throes of Revolution; and

  3. Underground Paris in the age of Napoleon.


I had researched the market and competition and crafted a 70-page book proposal expounding on all the reasons why every editor would be crazy NOT to produce my book. That's what you have to do to sell a book of nonfiction. 


My family loved my sample chapters, as did the members of my critique group. But I wanted the validation of my future target readers – youth – before seeking the agent and/or editor of my dreams. As Lily and her friends were then 13 and 14, beta readers were not too hard to find.


“It was great,” they told me, handing the manuscript back just pages after cracking it, well before reaching the end. That, and their body language, betrayed the truth: 

They did not find the story compelling. 


I tried adding more gruesome details. That didn’t work.


I cut the story down to half its original size, making the writing as economical as I possibly could. That didn’t work either.   


Now on my 100th revision, literally, I was on the brink of despair, convinced it was time to put the MS in a locked drawer and throw away the key; certain I’d wasted three years of my life, that it was all a failed experiment and that I should give up writing all together.

I grabbed my umbrella and headed out to one of my favorite Paris places: the Palais Royal, birthplace of the Revolution and where Charlotte Corday bought the knife she used to murder Jean-Paul Marat. I walked to the location of the infamous cutler that sold her weapon and there, on a stone pillar dating to 1784, I found a chalk picture portrait of the murderess herself, just at the point of being washed away by the rain.


As I stood there watching it disappear, it was as if Charlotte reached through the ages and shouted in my ear: “Let me tell the story,” she said. "Let me speak through you as I was never able to speak in life.”


I ran right home, pulled the story out of the proverbial drawer, and dusted it off again. I had not yet thrown away the key, thank goodness, because out of my 3rd person nonfiction tale emerged the 1st person tale of historical fiction you know today: the one that went on to win industry accolades. The one still being discovered by teachers and parents today.


It took me three days to re-write the entire story from Charlotte’s point of view. It was easy, as if the story wrote itself. As if, indeed, Charlotte spoke through me as I wrote.


As it turned out, the problem had not been with the content or the writing. The problem had been with the voice. Like most historians, I'd resorted to the 3rd person, which creates a distant point of view, when I'd needed to get right up close and personal.

This time, when I asked the same teen readers to review the manuscript once more, they refused to give it back until they reached the end. I observed as each and every one of them was hooked and drawn in from the earliest paragraphs. They loved Charlotte, flawed though she may be. Her story resonated with them at last.
 

“Great!” they said, handing the paper draft back to me. And this time I knew that they meant it.


That’s why we’ve made a commitment to 1st person storytelling voice for our Time Traveler Tours & Tales. We given the job of turning history on to the historical characters themselves.


But Mary’s challenge was a different one. She began her process in the right voice, but she’d picked the wrong narrator. Stay tuned for that story next week as we continue to reveal the foundational pillars of the Time Traveler Tours mission and model.

BIG THANKS to Olivia Muus, Danish marketer and designer, for her fabulous photos of historical figures taking selfies. What a great way to #TurnHistoryOn!

BIG THANKS to Olivia Muus, Danish marketer and designer, for her fabulous photos of historical figures taking selfies. What a great way to #TurnHistoryOn!

At Time Traveler Tours we combine the traditional power of narrative with the magic of the touchscreen to #TurnHistoryOn. We put the story back in history to ensure that no one says, “History is boring!” ever again. 


This is our unique proposition: the value-add we bring to the worlds of museum education and educational tourism. 


Today I'm going to share with you five reasons why presenting the past through historically accurate storytelling is the main ingredient of every book or app we produce...


Everyone loves a good story. 

Story calms the mind. It renders us open to new learning. As the oldest human art form, it’s become part of our DNA. We’re all wired to receive information through story.


Narrative storytelling can explain big, complex themes without being didactic. 

Narrative has the power to transport you from the real to the imagined, especially if the imagined was once real. History told through story doesn’t sink under the weight of chronologies, names, dates, and random facts. And because story is so effortless to access, so easy to “hear"...


Historical tales are capable of informing the present. 

Narrative builds bridges from yesterday to today. It provides answers to the enduring problems faced by humanity, again and again, throughout the course of history.


Stories from the past give voice to the voiceless and articulate universal themes.

Historical tales are thus capable of aiding the understanding of both society and individual. The search for identity, acceptance, belonging, and self-worth: these are common historical narratives that never fail to edify, educate, and inspire.


Stories from the past allow readers to see that societies can change, often for the better; that revolutions can be peaceful; that violence is never justified; that the individual can find hope even in the most hopeless situation; that diversity does enrich life; that conflict can be negotiated positively.


Stories show us who we are and what we share as people, across cultures, time zones, and centuries. They explain the unexplainable. They empower us to question. They encourage us to experience vicariously the pain and power of others. They empower us even as they entertain.


Story makes history accessible. Story turns history on.

That’s why we aim to put the story back in history. Because dates, facts, names, and chronologies are only part of a bigger whole made real through the experience of those who were there. That's why we ask our characters to take us by the hand and show us their world through their eyes. 
 

That’s the TTT&T Way: 
the unique value we provide as we weave our
stories into the fabric of both time and place.

And I don't mean by watching reruns of the Flintstones.


In my last post, I mentioned that my work for Time Traveler Tours & Tales is only one of my jobs. I also work in collections at the Rancho La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. The site is famous for being one of the only museums in the country that has a live paleontological excavation on site. And here's the thing:
 

I love paleontology.


The Tar Pits are in the Hancock Park section of Los Angeles. The attraction boasts the legacy of what happened during the Ice Age (1.8 million years ago to 11,700 years ago): that's when asphalt “seeps” trapped millions of plants, insects, and animals over the years.


Our team excavates chunks of these asphalt seeps to get a unique snapshot of the environment and biodiversity of one place at one time. It’s an immensely important resource to not only paleontologists, but also to climate change biologists.


My colleagues are working on excavating a huge block of tar right now, and it’s unique because they have to dissolve or clean away the tar to get to the bones, rather than chip away at rock like most fossil excavations. The bones aren’t fossilized because the tar preserves them. Some of them look brand new. Even wood preserves here at Rancho La Brea! 


Once my colleagues excavate the material, identify it all, and clean off all the tar, they give the bones to me to process it into the museum’s permanent collection.
 

The most frequent animals I work with tend to be Dire wolves (Canis dirus), of Game of Thrones fame, and Saber-toothed cats (Smilodon fatalis). I am professionally trained to write numbers on every bone, write (yes! hand write!) the information into a catalog book, and database it.
 

After that, I use special materials and methods to find each bone a home in our collections space. The large bones usually just get a box, but small animals, such as rabbits or rodents, require foam, vials, and small labels.


My jobs with TTT&T and La Brea aren't a surprise to any of my friends or family. I always felt a strong connection to history. My very first “chapter” books were Laura Ingalls Wilder and any type of historical fiction that I could get from the library. My curiosity was insatiable. I read through the entire dinosaur section of the library, then picked up the first book in the next shelf. It was Lucy, by Dr. Donald Johanson. I was sold: from that point on, I wanted to be a human paleontologist.


I was determined to connect with Dr. J in the pre- social media age. When I was 12, I called information to get his number and talked to his wife. I told her that Dr. J was my hero. A few months later, I received an autographed National Geographic and an invitation to see his lecture at a local university. I walked right up to Dr. J and he remembered me!


“I am honored to shake your hand,” he told me. Even since then, he has always been supportive of me in my journeys with time-travel. I’m sure I’m not the only kid he’s inspired.
 

My role at TTT&T fulfills a complementary role for me: that of becoming a steward of transmitting information to a new generation. I am confident that a kid is going to use In the Footsteps of Giants during their time exploring Florence, and it’s going to flip the switch in them, too.


Books changed my life in the 80s and 90s. Our mobile apps are going to change lives in the same way now.
 

What place or time would you like to experience as a
Time Traveler Tour?
Click "comment" to the right and let us know.
 

Thanks for reading!
Melissa Dusette
Museum Liaison & Community Manager
Time Traveler Tours