The Big Idea: In Search of Lost Time


Got time for a Big Idea? Karen Heuler’s involves time itself — that having and getting of it, and what both mean for her latest work, In Search of Lost Time.


I started taking piano lesson in my mid-thirties because I fell in love with Chopin’s Preludes and I wanted to play them. I got a cheap piano (there are such things) and started taking lessons. But there was a strange thing going on. I couldn’t learn as fast as I wanted to. I wanted to play piano, but I didn’t want to lose time doing so.

Who wants to lose time? Who has enough time?

There’s a line from Andrew Marvell’s poem “To His Coy Mistress” that I often think of:

But at my back I always hear

Time’s winged chariot hurrying near

Time does indeed seem to be the quintessential Big Idea, the white noise behind all we do. Time happens without our consent, it happens without our noticing. We can do things in the fullness of time, or we can run out of time, or we can allocate time, but there’s never enough. Time is, in fact, our alternate reality. Had we used our time differently, we would have been different.  But there’s only so much time and there’s only so much we can do with it.

But what if we had more time? What if, in fact, we could purchase time? What would you do if you could use someone else’s time, no skin off your teeth, no tipping the hourglass even further? What would you do?

I hope you’d have a moral dilemma there. Yes, we all want to live and our urge to save ourselves overwhelms our urge to save others. But if you could dip here and there—a few minutes, say, from everyone on earth—would you do it? A few minutes? Who would miss a few minutes?

In my latest book, In Search of Lost Time, my main character has the ability to steal time, and possibly also the resources to get it to the people who need those minutes the most—the dying, for instance. To complicate matters, some people know she can steal time. And there’s a market for it. Of course there’s a market for it—time is the most valuable commodity there is. You can go for days without food or water, but not without time.

The sticky part, of course, is that you can’t get more time this way without taking it away from someone else. She’s not a saint but she’s not a murderer either. The underground knows who she is, as do some people who are running out of their own time. Who will she help, and how does the whole thing work, anyway? She’s new to it all. But there just might be someone who knows what to do about this strange ability she has, how to figure out a strategy for the most valuable thing there is. Can she avoid getting even more involved?

But enough about her. What would you do? If the world were starving but you could grab a few grains of rice from everyone else in order to survive, would you do it? Is just a little bit of theft really theft at all? Would you share what you stole—and how? How would you choose who to save?

These questions aren’t answerable for us; they merely let us look at the decisions we do make by looking at the choices we could make. And, by the way, those grains of time or rice don’t just come to you; you have to gather them. You have to see who you’re taking them from. The Big Idea gets personal.

What would you do?


In Search of Lost Time: Amazon|Aqueduct Press

Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

10 Comments on “The Big Idea: In Search of Lost Time”

  1. One thing that isn’t clear, unless I missed it, was were are you taking the time from? I assume it would be from the ends of the persons’ life. So instead of dying at 5:00 they die at 4:58, which means would someone traveling to say good bye miss them by a minute?

  2. Reminds me of Terry Pratchett’s ‘The Thief of Time’ and the time monks in that. I’ll be interested to read how a similar idea has been tackled.

  3. That’s a great idea/dilemma. I will buy this book – so I will pay you to burn some of my remaining hours in your honour on the altar of story.

    (I’m pretty sure that I would be able to tell myself that to steal a minute here or there wouldn’t matter that much – especially if I would use a bit of that stolen time to improve the lives of others.)

  4. Sounds like the movie In Time(which was good). I like stories that revolve around time. Hopefully this one is good.

  5. Jantar, I’ve asked the publisher to check on the Kindle status and thanks for pointing this out. In the meantime, you can get it through the Aqueduct link above.

  6. Sounds like a fascinating book- another one for the must read list.I like time/paradox stories, and this one raises so many interesting questions- do you take more time off bad people for instance, and how do you know if someone is going to make good use of the time they have been given. And do they know they have been given extra time?

  7. One problem with the moral dilemma about, would you steal a few grains of rice or a few seconds/minutes of time? — If it’s food, it all depends n just how hungry you are. Even the most altruistic person might steal some rice if he/she were hungry enough.

    Another thought: One of my cats was a rescued street kitten. For the first many weeks of his life, he never had enough food or water. Once he was rescued and given to me, he’s never gone thirsty or hungry. — But he will always, always eat more than he needs, even more than he can hold, because somewhere deep down in his kitty soul is the fear that he could be hungry again. So he will eat sometimes until he gets sick. He doesn’t learn from it either. — It makes me wonder how much we humans do the same in our behavior, whee our instincts and prior experiences prevent us from changing habits, even when they are proven unnecessary or untrue.

    So those are my problematic responses to the “stealing time” idea. — Wow, what a great book idea. I’m nt objecting, only thinking, wow, complicating factors.

  8. “What would you do if you could use someone else’s time, no skin off your teeth, no tipping the hourglass even further? What would you do?”

    A common occurrence in my neighborhood. People routinely buys others’ time–lawn services, home handymen for chores around the house, having groceries delivered instead of actually going to the food store to buy it themselves. I‘d imagine that thee would be absolutely no angst involved in doing more–kind of an Ayn Rand look at the world by many.

    bluecatship at 5:25PM–I have a friend who was an F-4 backseater who was shot down over North Vietnam and spent about three weeks on the ground on the lam before he was rescued. He said that afterwards, even well over a decade later, he noticed he was very protective of his food–put a plate in front of him and he would hunch over it and use his arms to form a barrier around it. (I’ve also read that no matter where the waiter puts your plate when s/he delivers it the recipient will move it, even if it’s only an unnoticeable nudge, in an unconscious form of asserting ownership. I’ve paid attention while eating out, and it’s true–everyone always moves/adjusts the plate, even if it’s only a fraction of an inch.)

%d bloggers like this: