Technology is expanding and evolving quicker than ever. This can make keeping your book in the present tricky if you spend a while writing the book. So, what do you do? You can constantly write and rewrite to keep your book current, or you can pick a time for your book to occur and commit! This week’s guest blogger, Sharon Marchisell, discusses her experience picking a timeline for her latest novel, Going Home.
Writing a novel in “the present” can be a challenge if your journey to publication is a long one. Technology changes quickly, requiring constant rewrites to keep your setting current. Not to mention the world leaders, global boundaries and political issues that keep your background fresh.
Your sleuth’s clever deductive reasoning and sneaking around suddenly doesn’t seem so extraordinary, or even plausible. And the bad guys can’t get away with as much as they once did. What about the cameras? What about caller I.D. and GPS tracking?
I recently picked up my first, still unpublished mystery, Murder at Gate 58A, to see if I could salvage anything. I started writing it in the late 1980s, when they had Smoking and Non-Smoking sections on airplanes. Pre-9/11 airport security was more lax; people without current-day tickets could actually walk onto the concourse to meet arriving flights at the gate.
In one scene, my heroine stops at a phone booth to make a call. Today’s readers would laugh out loud. What happened to her smartphone? Isn’t her car equipped with Blue Tooth? And where would she even find a booth with a working phone? Younger readers might even ask, “What’s a phone booth?”
Research trip to the library? Why didn’t she just Google her question?
I either had to do a rewrite just to purge anachronisms, or commit to writing a period piece. My once-contemporary novel is now a historical.
When I started writing Going Home in 2003, I had a full-time job and several outside commitments. I had about an hour a day to devote to writing, and I’m not fast. So I knew the journey to publication would be long. And I was right. After seven drafts and more rejections than I care to count, I finally got a contract from Sunbury Press in 2013, and the novel came out in August 2014.
Setting Going Home in “the present” would have been daunting. I decided right away that it had to be a period piece, eliminating the need for revisions just to keep up with the times. But what time? And then, how would I be able to keep myself there while I was writing, and resist the urge to give my heroine access to technology that had yet to be invented?
In 2003, our country’s wounds from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, were still fresh. Everyone remembers what they were doing when the towers fell. Images of those planes crashing into buildings are tattooed to our retinas. The aftermath of 9/11 was a period in time I would never forget. And so I decided to set Going Home in October 2001.
“Why 2001?” potential readers have asked me. What does 9/11 have to do with the story? None of my characters were victims in the attacks, unless you count Jean-Paul’s adoptive parents as collateral damage, killed in an automobile accident when they tried to drive home from Indiana after their flight was grounded. The novel is set in East Texas, far from New York City. But Michelle DePalma, my protagonist, was born in New York and lived there as a small child. I remember my New Yorker friends seemed to take 9/11 a little harder than everyone else. And Michelle and her husband both work for an airline. A former airline employee myself, I can attest that airline employees took particular offense to the use of our industry as a weapon of mass destruction. After 9/11, the airline industry was reeling; people were afraid to fly, and the security procedures we had relied upon had been invalidated.
The terrorist attacks on American soil left psychological scars on almost everyone. Going Home, which was inspired by my mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease, opens when Michelle DePalma goes home to check on her elderly mother, Lola Hanson, and finds Lola hovering over the bludgeoned body of her caregiver. Alone. An instant suspect. Michelle is forced into a new care-giving role while trying to solve the murder, as well as face the fact that her mother indeed has Alzheimer’s, not just normal shell-shock brought on by the 9/11 attacks.
So that’s the long answer to, “Why 2001?” And writing about that period helped me process my pain, even though, like my characters, I was not directly affected by the attacks and thus have dubious right to that pain.
I just hope my next novel, Secrets of the Galapagos, set in “the present,” gets a publisher soon, before I have to think about making it a period piece, too.
Sharon Marchisello is the author of Going Home (Sunbury Press, 2014) a murder mystery inspired by her mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s, and a personal finance e-book, Live Cheaply, Be Happy, Grow Wealthy (smashwords 2013). She earned a Masters in Professional Writing from the University of Southern California and is a member of the Atlanta Chapter of Sisters in Crime. Retired after a 27-year career at Delta Air Lines, she lives in Peachtree City, GA, with her husband and cat, and does volunteer work for the Fayette Humane Society. Read more about Sharon at smarchisello.wordpress.com
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