This seems like a good topic with which to start the “turnover” into the new year.
Like most authors, I want my books to last, to be free of the limitations of “dated” material and stay relevant for many years to come. Sounds fine – but does this mean I should resist the temptation to glean storyline ideas from today’s headlines? How does one achieve a balance?
A case in point is THE LAST MATRYOSHKA, (started in 2006 and published in Nov. 2010) in which private investigator Jo Epstein visits Russia for the first time. This vast country, with its labyrinthal political system, may be slow to change but there were still a few last-minute edits required before publication—such as handing over the presidency from Putin to Medvedev! I also kept track of developments in the conflict between Russia and Georgia and the insurgency in Chechnya, so that the plot would stay fresh for future readers. My reasoning is that readers enjoy a book that provides insight into current events, even when those events recede into the past, as long as the historical and cultural context is solid.
In ASK THE DEAD, Jo visits a fictitious Caribbean island, which was a great way to sidestep the issue. However, my next book is partially set in Cuba, and has sparked a whole new set of questions: Will today’s slow progress in reforming the Cuban economy reach critical mass and become a rapid transformation, such as happened in the Soviet Union in the ‘90s? Will the United States lift the embargo before (or after) the book is published? What about the status of Cuba as now defined in the Patriot Act? Since I do not have a working crystal ball, I have chosen to rely on interesting characters and realistic conflict to propel my storyline, with politics kept to the background as much as possible. It will be interesting to see if I find myself scrambling to incorporate last minute changes before publication, or not…wish me luck!
Please share your own views about timeliness vs. timelessness.