Sunday, July 2, 2023

Q&A with Aaron Jacobs




Aaron Jacobs is the author of the new novel Time Will Break the World. It is based on the 1976 kidnapping of a school bus driver and his passengers in Chowchilla, California. Jacobs also has written the novel The Abundant Life. He lives in Brooklyn and in the Catskills.



Q: How did you create your cast of characters in Time Will Break the World?


A: Since the novel is inspired by a true story, I had some characters already in mind, the kidnappers in particular and the school bus driver.


One thing I didn’t do was base the student characters on the real kids. I would have felt too great a responsibility to get their stories right, to tell them correctly. I’m not a journalist or a nonfiction writer. Time Will Break the World is a work of fiction and at a certain point the demands of a fictional story supersede the reality that inspires it.


Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: I stole the name from a Silver Jews song. The songwriter David Berman died when I was working on the first draft and I ended up binging on his band’s music. At this point, the Word doc was called buskidnapping. Just a placeholder name.


The title, though, also refers to a moment in the novel, when the kids are buried in the moving van and the bus driver is thinking about how the value of one day for a man his age is less than the value of one day for a child. A child’s day is worth more because they have fewer days to draw from.


Time Will Break the World also means inertia and entropy. Just give it a while and things tend to fall apart on their own.

Q: Did you need to do any research to write the novel, and if so, did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: There was so much research!


It’s a common occurrence in my writing that I’ll get interested in a topic and immediately realize I don’t know anything about it. I needed to research the Chowchilla bus kidnapping, which I did by going back and reading old issues of the Fresno Bee, a local newspaper that covered the incident. It gave me great insight to see how the story unfolded in real time, before anyone knew how it would end.


Also, there is a large section of the novel devoted to the 1984 Summer Olympics that I needed to research. The Olympics: A History of the Modern Games by Allan Guttman was a big help in this area.


This is where I was most surprised to learn that the Olympics, which is supposed to be an athletic spectacle to promote ethics, diversity, and peace, is actually run by a wildly corrupt and hypocritical governing body, the International Olympic Committee. Even the idea of amateurism began as a way to keep the lower classes from participating in what were considered pastimes of the upper class. 


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?


A: I certainly hope readers enjoy the novel. I have no problem with reading for entertainment, and I think Time Will Break the World would be a great book to take on vacation or to the beach this summer. But I also hope readers come away feeling as if they have read something true to life, that the characters act and feel like real people.


Beyond that, I believe this novel shows that people don’t have to be paralyzed or frozen in time and place by the traumas they endure. I think if you look at the characters in this novel, you see this at play. The kidnapping will forever be a pivotal moment for them, but its reach varies at different points.


Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’ve been working on a few craft essays about the writing of Time Will Break the World. But I also recently finished a new short story. And I might have started a longer piece that has the potential to grow into a novel. It’s waaayyy too early to tell.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: My website is And I’m on Twitter and Instagram at @itsaaronjacobs. Thank you so much for the interview.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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