Friday, August 11, 2017

The Times They Are A-Changin’

The world is changing faster than you can write - technologically, politically, environmentally etc. How do roll with the changes in your fiction?

by Paul D. Marks

I don’t really think about it. We’re just immersed in those things so they make their way into what we write by osmosis. As long as we’re not living in a cave these changes just become part of our daily lives and thus our writing.

However, It’s true that the world is changing faster than we can write. Between the time we write something and the time it comes out that snazzy (anachronistic word choice) new cell phone we mention is already an outdated brick. But there’s not a lot we can do about it. Ditto for the rest of technology and politics. So you just have to go with what’s current at the time and hope for the best. Or you can try to be generic in your writing as to technology or politics, but I think if you do that you miss something that gives it a sense of verisimilitude.

As far as environmentally goes, unless the place you’re writing about ends up falling into the ocean or getting covered in volcanic rock, most places don’t change all that quickly. Now, if you’re talking a cityscape, those can change via development, and somewhat quickly. But usually you can see what’s coming in that arena. However, you can also choose to just go with it as it is at the time of writing. For example, I’m working on a story now and a couple scenes are set on a specific corner in L.A. That corner is being leveled to make way for new development that, by the time the story sees the light of day, may exist in the form of new buildings. My scenes take place at a construction site on this corner. As I say, that site maybe no longer be under construction but might be a building or partial building when the story comes out. But I’ve chosen to go with the site as it is now. Besides, how many people will know what this particular corner looks like at any particular moment while they’re reading my story?

The harder thing, in my opinion, is not what’s changing today, but writing something set in the past, especially the recent past. We’ve all been there in our lives so it’s easy to spot that smart phone in the 1980s before smart phones existed, except for Dick Tracy, who had one in the 1940s in the form his wrist radio.

My novel Broken Windows, the soon-to-be sequel to White Heat, is set in 1994 and in writing it I had to make sure that I had the right version of Windows for the characters’ computers (3.1 – remember how cool that was?), the correct songs, and other things common to that era. But also to make sure that I didn’t transpose things that we’ve become accustomed to since that time into that era. Believe it or not, that actually takes some thinking and sometimes some research – trying to remember what was appropriate to that fairly recent time and get it right.

Long before White Heat, I did a satirical novel about a screenwriter trying to make it in Hollywood. While almost everything he goes through is real (happened to one extent or another), the story was very much part of the time in which it was written, the 1980s. The humor was very topical to that time – remember Jessica Hahn? See what I mean. That gave it a very short shelf life. And that novel actually got picked up by a major publisher. Then that publisher’s editorial staff was swept out and replaced by a new editorial staff. As a new broom sweeps clean, my novel was swept out with them. But because the humor in it was so topical and timely it was never picked up by another publisher. I still like the story and one of these days I plan to rework it but sans any topical humor.

So I think the key is just to roll with it, go with the flow. Write what you want, try not to be anachronistic but also try not to create sci-fi with things that don’t exist unless that’s something you’re doing on purpose. Just write a good story and send it out in the world to stand on its own two fonts.


And now for the usual BSP.

My short story “Ghosts of Bunker Hill,” from the December 2016 Ellery Queen is nominated for a Macavity Award. If you’d like to read it, and the stories of all the nominated authors, please check them out at the links below. If you like my story I hope you’ll want to vote for it. And thank you to everyone who voted for it and got it this far:

Lawrence Block, “Autumn at the Automat”:
Craig Faustus Buck, “Blank Shot”:
Greg Herren, “Survivor’s Guilt”:
Paul D. Marks, “Ghosts of Bunker Hill”
Joyce Carol Oates, “The Crawl Space”:
Art Taylor, “Parallel Play”:

If you want to read a great article on the Macavity nominees, check out Greg Herren's blog:

My story “Blood Moon” appears in “Day of the Dark, Stories of the Eclipse” from Wildside Press, edited by Kaye George. Stories about the eclipse – just in time for the real eclipse on August 21st. Twenty-four stories in all. Available on Amazon.


GBPool said...

We still read Shakespeare where men are wearing togas or plumes in their hats and we can sort of understand their references: "A horse. A horse. My kingdom for a horse." And, no. It's not a western... but it could be. If the writing is good and you don't put a wristwatch on a gladiator, it will probably be fine. But it sure is something to tax the research skills to make sure you get most of it right. Thought provoking read there, Paul.

RM Greenaway said...

I thought I'd like to write about the near past, but I see there are even more challenges than the present. And a lot of people around who will remember if you got anything wrong. Remember the noises the computer used to make when connecting? I'd like to see you write that out in phonetics!

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Yeah, go with the flow, and I'm looking forward to Broken Windows.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Gayle. I really do think that it’s harder to write something from the recent past than the ancient past. We know there were wristwatches or wrist radios in Shakespeare’s time. But were there smart phones in 1990? That ones hard to remember.

Ah yes, RM, the old modems and their sound. And remember how you had to put the phone in the modem cradle or something like that. It’s hard to believe how far we’ve come how fast. And I do think it’s harder to write something in the recent past than something set a couple hundred years ago.

Sometimes it’s hard to go with the flow, Dieter, but we try. And I’m looking forward to Broken Windows seeing the light of day too. It’s been a long and winding road. I should write about that some time…

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