Tuesday, February 1, 2022

As Time Goes By

How do you handle the passage of time and the aging of characters in your series (if you don't write a series, speak to this in terms of your preference as a reader)? Are your characters living in a short span of time while many years pass in our world? Does time pass at roughly the same pace as the publication of each book? Or do you have a different method?

From Frank

I write a number of different series ("gritty crime fiction from both sides of the badge," after all!) but I tend to handle the passage of time the same in all of them. Simply stated, time passes, though often not at the same rate as in the real world. The characters feel the ravages of the passage of time and the cumulative weight of the events they experience.

To keep this short, I'll only touch on one series, my main one.

The River City series, first published in 2006, begins in 1994. It is now 2022 in the real world. In the seven River City books so far, we've made it to 2004. That's seven books, ten years of fiction time. The eighth book will jump forward to 2008, so we'll be at eight books, fourteen years. This jump is partly due to my desire to "catch up" with this series, eventually getting it to the present day.

Might be a while.

Ten years might not sound like a long time to some of you. But it represents half of my policing career. And there have been significant changes to characters over that period.

[Massive Spoilers Follow]

Veteran officer Thomas Chisolm went from the hero mentor to being viewed by the new generation as a dinosauer, and he retired in 2004.

Once imagined as the series lead, Stefan Kopriva went from a brash young officer to disgraced ex-cop (and to his own series, Stefan Kopriva Mysteries) and cautionary tale for other officers.

Connor O'Sullivan went from jokey sidekick to thoughtful friend of his best friend's widow to a sergeant trying to live his best life while respecting the past.

And Katie MacLeod emerged as the core of the series, an officer who has endured crisis after crisis, not afraid to confront her own vulnerability but also refusing to be beaten by it. She's shown incredible courage and tenacity but has grown weary as well. Once considering herself "Patrol for life," she has recently taken a promotion to detective and will be embarking on a new stage of her career in the next (8th) book, set in 2008 (released later in 2022).

These are just a few of the changes that time and events have ushered in for these characters. There are a slew of other examples. In a series that is rooted in realism, I felt it was important to show that the passage of time and the weight of events have an impact on people. Stress is both acute and chronic. And people change.

I get the desire writers (and readers) have to keep a character much the same, to not mess with a winning formula. But the worlds I've created, including River City, just don't allow for that. Time has to be let in, and the events that occur each outing must continue to be dealt with. That's just the way it is.

I have a pretty good idea what is going to happen to these long-time characters as this series catches up to present day. And because life is cyclical, new characters come on the scene. I'm excited to share the ultimate fates of those characters who were already on stage in 1994 (River City time) and to explore the paths these new additions will take.


BSP! Do you need a healthy balance in your crime fiction? Something to offset your consumption of cozies, police procedurals, and private eye stories? How about a little of A Grifter's Song? This is a series involving a couple who are grifters on the run from the mob. Every episode is a complete story of a con, set in a different location, written by a different author.

I created and edit this series (and sometimes contribute). It begins with The Concrete Smilewhich introduces Sam and Rachel, a pair of con artists who love two things -- each other and the game. As they are about to discover, however, the game isn't free. And when their scam involving the owner of a concrete company takes longer than it should, the threat of the pursuing Philly mob grows. Will they score and get away or end up wearing a concrete smile?   

The series continues even as we speak. Today marks the release of Gabriel Valjan's Diamond Dogs, episode #23 of this series. Sam and Rachel are trapped in Newark, NJ, in a snowstorm. They are offered hospitality by a veteran grifter who recognizes them as one of his own kind. What begins as a little storytelling over dinner turns into an offer from this diamond dog -- would they be willing to make one last run with him?

This series is in its fourth season and will continue with episodes from Trey R. Barker, Vincent Zandri, Kat Richardson, Paul Garth, and Hilary Davidson dropping the first of each month (March-July). 

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