Contemporary Dilemma

Evil Genius coverNormally, I write historical romance, which requires extensive research into costume, social policies, where Wellington and Napoleon were at the date of my story, and whether Drury Theater had just burned down again or not. This can be an incredible amount of work, but once it’s done, it’s done. Napoleon does not unexpectedly move from that place in history and reappear ten years later as a senator instead of a king.

Then I started writing contemporary romance and mysteries. Stupidly, I thought it would cut down on research, and I’d be able to meet deadlines a little easier. Stupid in so many ways that I can’t cover all the flaws in my thinking! First off, there are people working in the industries I want to write about, and they know a heck of a lot more than I do, so the research has to be incredibly intense to hone every detail or I get whacked upside the head. And I am soooo not a detail person.

Worse, though, is that over these last few decades, technology and politics have made giant leaps with every passing day. The mystery series I plotted right after 9/11 was already almost outdated by the time the first book was written. I had to do a major rewrite when I got ready to publish it years after that. Now that I’m finally finishing the second book, that tragedy was several administrations and almost a generation ago. How do I reconcile the changes between Book One and Book Two when the stories form a consecutive time line? (And if you say “write faster,” I’ll reach through the computer and kick you! I’m writing two and a half books a year and fitting these in between.)

It’s bad enough when I reissue my older contemporary romances where the characters could have saved themselves a lot of time and plot space if they’d just used their cell phones (or heaven forbid, their smart phones now!)—except they hadn’t been invented when I wrote the story. With a little practice, updating technology is doable. (My computer genius in the first mystery who was so proud of her USB memory drive back in 2001 would look pretty stupid bragging about it today)

But current events can’t be rewritten the way technology can, unless I’m allowed to re-write history. The antagonist of EVIL GENIUS cannot still be mourning the wife he lost in 9/11 in the book I’m writing now, or he’ll be a middle-aged curmudgeon stuck in the past—not precisely the hero I’m aiming for.

I’m contemplating creating a fantasy world where everything stays the same no matter what year it is. Anyone got a better suggestion?





Contemporary Dilemma — 13 Comments

  1. At some point you have to throw in the towel. The work becomes a historical document, of its time. Otherwise you will spend all your time rewriting to keep up, and never get anything new done.

    • Unfortunately, I am writing a sequel to Evil Genius. I don’t want to change EG but it’s hard to keep up with the changes in technology and politics since the first book was written!

  2. Why keep up? The Sue Grafton alphabet mysteries remain contemporary to the character. A started almost 20 years ago. B came a year later but only 3 months had passed for the character. After 5 or 6 books the character was historical. This was a conscious decision by the author.

  3. You put something at the beginning dating the events — even using them like chapter headers with dates, as if this is being pulled out of a journal. (Remember that Barbara Mertz had Amelia Peabody narrating how she found her life’s work, best friend, and her lover/husband/partner in “Crocodile”. We sometimes forget that it was based on the journal style because she made it seem so fresh.)

    People do like to read history. They just need it presented correctly. I have a mystery I was all set to update, and a friend said Why? Lots of people love to read about pre-9/11. It is simple & nostalgic in comparison (not really, but 9/11 and the Patriot Act changed and complicated a lot of things.)

  4. On the other hand–making this an alternate World/Washington DC would mean that you can control what you keep, what actually changes, etc.. This would require some tiny tweaking of the first book eventually, perhaps, but might be worthwhile.

    I think I will do an alternate world urban fantasy just for this reason. Saves us updating every five years!

  5. I hadn’t thought about Grafton! Of course, I’m not a bestselling mystery author who can get away with anything she likes, but it would be ideal if I could go back in time. Until I reached the point where I forgot what the technology was in 2002. I’ve tweaked EG already because of the passage of time. Maybe I could tweak it back.

    And I did start this series in a journalistic manner but decided against it for reasons that have dimmed with time. Goes to show that instinct may be smarter than I am.

    • I’ve been thinking about all this a lot, because I want to do a more contemporary fantasy, but the slang changes every five minutes. Then I realized that changing slang might annoy elder races even more than it does human adults. The difference in who wants to learn what and why might be important. Lots of writers examine such things in different ways.

      Pat Briggs has her werewolves not like to talk about the past–it depresses them, reminding them of people they loved who are gone. So Pat drops tantalizing hints about how someone’s Latin pronunciation “stinks” and a character figures out that the person who made the comment once spoke Latin as a primary language. Ilona Andrews shows how fast what something meant can change in a society that struggles to keep any digital memory, and has a more modern landscape without the inconvenience of cell phones and airplanes shortening distance. Kevin Hearne has a druid who enjoys learning new slang every few years, and a vampire who speaks a proper English and is annoyed that it is starting to date him.

      I used an acronym to mean something similar but different in a far future society. Have fun with it.

  6. Fantasy readers apparently look at the world differently than mystery readers. I lose a lot of mystery readers simply because I don’t get into the police procedural stuff. They want concrete, not fantasy. I write about people, who are the same no matter what century, but those blamed war zones keep migrating.

  7. When I wrote HOW LIKE A GOD one of the heroes becomes an astronaut. The plan was for him to go to Mars. Unfortunately NASA fell off the sled; to this day we have not had a Lunar colony nor a Mars program. I decided not to wait for them, the slow pokes. I just wrote the novels and carried on with him going to the Moon and Mars. This makes them alternate history, but I can’t help that. If I wait for them, the books would never get written.

  8. Alternate history for a mystery book! Wonder how that will work? I’ll get complaints no matter what I do, but if I just label it up front: Alternate mystery?

  9. I was working in publishing the day the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union was acknowledged to be on the ropes. We had a cold-war technothriller almost on press, and I recall several very tense days with the author writing a prologue and tweaking things in the text so that the book looked prescient, while the cover designer and editor put their heads together over the jacket concept and copy. And the book got out on time, although it left a bunch of disheveled people in its wake…

    • Remember that THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER was in post production and ready for release, wasn’t it, as the USSR collapsed? And they stuck one line at the beginning of the movie…and suddenly everything was fine. The audience even applauded the first line.

      I used to say that I wanted to try being the supernatural Jennifer Crusie. Then she realized that contemporaries were changing so fast it was no longer fun, so she moved into supernatural.

      Now she’s the supernatural Jennifer Crusie….