Monday, August 7, 2017

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

- from Susan

By taking the easy way out. My stories are all set right now. Where technology is concerned, that means no need for historical research into things like flat screen TVs and cell phones, like pal Cara Black has to do for her mid-1990’s series, or Sue Grafton has to do for hers. The problem with near history is we’ve all lived it and can spot anachronistic errors instantly. Remember the blinking green c-prompt on the dark screen (shudder)?

Politically? I avoid the topical political environment since it changes daily, as in “Breaking News: The White House has …” But my characters live in a world that is shaped by national and local political realities, even if I don’t enumerate them. In the third Dani O’Rourke novel, the slippery ethics of Silicon Valley and anti-social acquisitiveness of the one percenters play a major role in the story. Tim Hallinan’s Poke Rafferty series stands out for me because he shines an unblinking light on the corruption of the Thai government without sacrificing one iota of gripping story.

In fiction, I haven’t tackled the environment in the U.S. or France, where my new series is set. I wonder if I could do that without turning my traditional mysteries into angry screeds or dark stories about greed, collusion, and tragedy? I think, even if I could avoid that, my books would take a different turn and I’m not sure I could do that well. Could I hold a reader’s interest or would I turn her off if I had a character researching the garbage gyre(s) in the Pacific Ocean or the shocking loss of avian species since 1900? Maybe I can figure out a way. I suggest you read Kirk Russell’s Deadgame as a prime example of the best environmental crime fiction.

I have read some crime fiction that handles some or all of these issues brilliantly. But as often as not, the inclusion of a major plotline about politics or the environment falls with a thud as it morphs quickly into lightly or vastly paranoic lines – a protagonist fighting Them (and They are frequently dark government forces who want to kill anyone trying to save the planet). Not sure that does much good for reforming real political landscapes or protecting the fingerling salmon in California from drought or polluted waterways.

The question is a good one though, and it may make me a bit more conscious of the need and value of reminding readers of what we stand to lose when we don’t bring these issues into our daily lives and deal with them.

 This is my latest, set in France with not a single reference to Macron or his wife. ;-)


Paul D. Marks said...

Susan, it's hard to deal with politics sometimes in fiction because A) it's so topical and B) it often turns into a polemic diatribe. And when that happens, even if I agree, it turns me off and stops the action dead.

RJ Harlick said...

I agree, Susan, that it is best to leave politics to the news media. Readers usually chose fiction so they can escape the political swamp swirling around them. Good post.

Unknown said...

I agree as well about heavy politics. Crime fiction is in ways about prompting change, but only through the characters' actions.

Susan C Shea said...

I see we're all on the same page vis a vis incorporating any contemporary politics into our writing. I think I'd feel a lot differently if I were writing historical fiction/ How do any of you feel about that?

Paul D. Marks said...

Susan, my novel White Heat, which takes place during and partially in the middle of the Rodney King riots, deals with politics and/or culture to some extent. But first and foremost it's a mystery-thriller.