When it comes to Mitch Albom, the Free Press columnist, WJR-AM (760) radio host and best-selling author, the thing everyone agrees on is that he’s a busy man who’s frequently time-challenged.
In “The Time Keeper,” his first fictional work since “For One More Day” was published six years ago, Albom explores the eternal question of time. He shared his thoughts about the book, which arrives in stores Tuesday, with the Free Press.
QUESTION: Considering the deadline challenges we have at the newspaper, I’ve really responded to the themes you explore in “The Time Keeper.” What inspired you to write about time at this point in your life?
ANSWER: Getting older. There’s been a lot of sickness and death in my family the last few years. When that happens, it’s really inevitable – you start to look at how much time you have yourself.
One morning, I saw a deer running across my backyard. … This one stopped. It was eating and it looked around. For whatever reason, and I must’ve been on some deadline or late for something as I always am, but there was a voice inside of me that said this deer doesn’t know what time it is. It doesn’t care what day it is. Tomorrow is the same as today.
Yup, that’s just animals, I thought. But then I thought that there was a point where we were like that. When nobody knew what day it was. People didn’t know how old they were or how many years they lived.
I just felt that there must be some story here and that led me to the invention of time. And there’s that picture of Father Time people have and I just started to wonder what’s the story behind him. I started to do more and more research, and then I realized that there wasn’t a story about Father Time. Essentially, we’ve seen him as this cartoon figure or in sculptures and paintings throughout time, but no one’s ever provided his real back story. That’s like Superman but without anyone telling you he’s from Krypton.
Q: It’s a really huge theme, time, one that we are all, in different ways, dealing with.
A: What I’ve learned from doing these books with big subjects, and time is a huge subject, is to tell it in a simple way. Some of the books written about time, they’re so thick you can’t even lift them. We’re all so interested in time, and so I just kind of shrunk it down into this fairy tale.
Q: Most people, as you write, think that the trick is to have as much time as possible.
A: Right. We want more time, but why? So we can work longer or be more efficient? You can live for 200 years and blow every one of them or you can have 20 years and live every one of them to the hilt.
But if you really live forever, there won’t be any need for those emotions that make us human beings: loss, sadness, joy, happiness. All those things have to have a counter. You can’t be happy without also being sad. If we have all the time in the world, we can do anything, everything. And then, really, nothing that makes us who we are matters.
Q: I’m probably as guilty as anyone for not cherishing the time we have.
A: I don’t write these books from up high. I write them from down low. Every single book is me trying to slap myself in my own face, saying I need to do this.
I’d love to say I got every one of the “Tuesdays with Morrie” lessons and I’ve kept to all of them perfectly. But that’s just not true. I fail every day at something. I write my books as much for myself as I do for the readers.
Q: You illustrate different consequences of taking time for granted. With information now at our fingertips in an instant, are we even more guilty of not appreciating our time here?
A: I think everything is going so fast that we’re losing ourselves. And, because everything is going so fast, the only thing that seems to matter is to go faster.
Q: Are you already plotting the next project?
A: I am going to try and get things out faster now. I really enjoy not sitting in a basement all the time and being able to do all the different things that I get to do: sporting events, working on radio … Hopefully, about every two years or so, we’ll have something new coming out.
(Laughs) I have a lot of story ideas, I could just never make the time.
Q: The first-ever 100 Houses project was held Aug. 25. You organized the event, and volunteers rallied to board up abandoned homes near Detroit’s Osborne High School. How’d that go?
A: It was a huge success. We were aiming to have 300 volunteers, but we ended up having about 600 people involved; 450 were volunteers. We had all the glitches you could have, but we still ended up doing 105 houses.
When you think about school starting and how many kids will be walking around these abandoned homes and how dangerous that is, it’s frightening. And while we didn’t fix everything, we did make a little dent and learned how to do it moving forward.
We’re hoping to beat the cold weather and do another one in early November. And when the weather gets warm again next year, if people are willing to come out and volunteer and we can get the donations, we’ll do it again.
Q: “Leslie,” a two-part series for the WIGS YouTube Channel, made its debut online last month. The project, starring Catherine O’Hara (“Best in Show”) and Detroit’s Anthony (Cass) Castelow, who was in your 2011 TV movie “Have a Little Faith,” was the first project you directed. When we talked before “Faith” debuted, I remember you telling me that you weren’t interested in directing.
A: (Laughs) And I was right. There is just so much technical stuff that goes into directing, I didn’t know what I was doing. It’s like a Rubik’s Cube, this puzzle of a million different potential shots you’re trying to put together. I’ve found a whole new respect for that business.
I’m very surprised at the great response we’ve received. I was pleased how it came out, but I’ll stick with writing.