Friday, April 22, 2016

Writing in the Present and the Past

Rick's post on Tuesday about the digital age and new technology struck a chord with me. I agree that as writers of crime fiction, we end up looking fairly stupid -- or making our characters look that way -- if we don't know about and make use of current technology in our books. I have tried a twist in my two Hannah McCabe books. They are set in the near-future, but in an Albany, New York that exists in an alternate universe. The characters communicate with an all-purpose device called an ORB. I've incorporated some other real-life technology already available but not yet widely used.

On the other hand, my Lizzie Stuart series is set in the recent past. The challenge there is to remind readers that Lizzie is in 2004 right now. Only problem, my memory of early 2000 is becoming a bit blurry. I haven't written a book in the series in several years. When I return to it with the next book, I'm going to have to do some research -- read some newspapers, look at some ads, get back into the technology of 12 years ago.

I thought it would be easier to write a historical thriller set in 1939. Even with the future looming and on display at the World's Fair, no one was able to pick up a smartphone and find information.  But I do need to know what  technology was available. That's a fairly easy question to answer regarding the FBI and large city police departments. But I must dig deeper to know how readily a small town police chief in Georgia would have been able to obtain information about a suspect or verify someone's identity.

And there are other questions I need to answer about 1939. Recently, I came across a collection of letters online. Letters to a young woman who was in her first year of college. Most are from her mother, with an occasional letter from her father, a minister. The letters are fascinating because the parents are keeping their daughter informed about what is happening at home. What has struck me is how often someone is ill that winter. The mother has a toe that has become infected and she is at home with her foot up in the early letters, waiting for the toe to drain and the hole to close over. She later comes down with a horrible cold, as do several other people she mentions. One of those people is a radio personality. A family in the town suffers a double tragedy when a young man attending the funeral of his sister, fails to dress properly for the wet, chilly weather, catches pneumonia, and dies soon after. All of this illness has reminded me that I need to know more about the state of medicine in the 1930s. I had this on my radar as a concern for the people struggling to survive the Great Depression, but even in this middle-class, well-educated family and among their neighbors, the danger of an early demise seems to loom over their heads. So research on the state of medicine in the 1930s is in order.

But right now, I am waiting to receive my new computer. I have turned over my old equipment to my computer guy and he is transferring everything over. I'm going to keep my outdated desk top to use for writing when I don't want to be distracted. The new laptop will have all of the most recent bells and whistles, including touch screen. It should be interesting to see how long it takes me to adapt

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