Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Is it getting harder to write contemporary crime fiction?

by Rick Blechta

An early mobile phone
I recently read — if you’ve been paying attention — a few Nero Wolfe novels. The Wolfe series began back in the ’30s, so they’re pretty elderly. The world they portrayed at that time has long since ceased to exist and to be honest they seem rather “creaky” in spots, in that regard. I suspect I’m not uncommon in still wanting to read about Wolfe and Archie because of nostalgia for the time in which the stories were set, but some of the writing, perfectly acceptable then is very jarring now.

Fast forward to a more recent series, the Harry Bosch novels by Michael Connelly. The Black Echo first appeared in 1992. That’s over 25 years ago now, and thumbing through that while contemplating this post, I’m again struck by how out of date it is. While the years have been pretty kind to it, our contemporary world is far different than what Connelly describes in his novel in many important ways. The main thing separating 1992 Bosch with Bosch in 2018 would have to be technology. Like everything else, computers have swept over policing like a tidal wave. Harry is an old-style gumshoe even by 1992 standards, being all about pounding the street for clues, as an example, so the anachronisms are not all that important. But even skimming the book, I can see how his having a mobile phone would knock out quite a few scenes in the plot that were handled using 1992 technology.

It is with great trepidation, therefore, that a wise writer approaches technology as a main driving force in a novel. The shelf-life of current technology is very, very short and there lies the danger. In just one publishing cycle (the time it takes a book to go from concept to publication) so many things can change completely.

I’m feeling more and more as if I need the skills of a good futurist to make sure my current work-in-progress doesn’t wind up being anachronistic even before I finish writing it, since the plot relies heavily on current technology and its effects on contemporary living. Case in point: I’ve already had to change one plot point because it could no longer happen the way I initially described it. Technology caught up with me.

It now feels as if I have to finish this novel at lightning speed so other plot points don’t go the way of the dodo.

Is anyone else out there feeling this squeeze? And to the readers in the audience, does it bug you when something is obviously out of date?


Susan D said...

As I continue to write short crime fiction, I'm finding The Past is where I want to set the stories. Because Now is just so unstable. Technology, for sure. Attitudes. Serious political schisms....

Rick Blechta said...

Susan, I'm feeling much the same way. A book can go from believable to unbelievable in the time it takes to write it. Of course, it can go the other way, but who would start an unbelievable novel in the hopes that our fast-changing times will save it? ;)

Thanks for weighing in!

Anna said...

My suspense novel (if I ever get to it; it's waiting impatiently behind two other projects) is deliberately set in 1991 because I specifically want the action to take place beyond the reach of e-communications and because one of my characters is a photographer who uses film. Does that make it a historical novel. Probably!

Rick Blechta said...

Anna, I think that qualifies as an historical.

And I have some photographer colleagues/friends who wouldn't use anything but film.

Sounds interesting. Good luck!