Friday, June 21, 2024

What We're Writing--Debs on Time Anchors

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I've been thinking a lot this week about Hallie's Monday post on anachronisms and frames of reference. I always look up the most popular UK names for the years my characters were born, for instance, and I try to get music right for their time frames.

But because my series is long running and sort of floats in time, it's full of anachromisms for current readers. Many of these are unavoidably technological. I mentioned in a post last month that we've been watching Grey's Anatomy, which debuted in 2005. The show has aged remarkably well because the scope is so limited: the hospital, Meredith's house, the local bar. Oh, and everyone is in scrubs, which pretty much takes fashion out the equation. You may notice that the doctors are using Blackberries (remember those??) in the early seasons, but other than that the show could be set today.

It's not so easy to limit the world in novels, however, and as the first Gemma and Duncan book was published in 1993, there have been a lot of changes (not necessarily progress!) (Duncan has a phone attached to his car in the first book!)

I made a decision with that very first book that while every book would be contemporary, the characters would not age in real time like Ian Rankin's Rebus, who is forty in the first book and has now had to retire! So while three decades have passed in the "real" world, Duncan and Gemma and their family and friends have only aged about six years. (The ages of the children help me keep track of this.)

The snag in this system comes when you bring things into the story that are fixed in real time. I've tried to avoid it, but have goofed up a few times. A good deal of the plot of A FINER END revolves around the Millenium, for instance--ouch. But while I thought when I was writing NO MARK UPON HER that it would be glaringly obvious that Becca was training for the 2012 Olympics in London, now thankfully that seems a little fuzzier.

Despite my efforts (with a few slip ups) to write around things that so obviously date the books, some are unavoidable. Although I've decided that the pandemic (a very specific fixed point in time) didn't exist in my books, l must from now on refer to the King, not the Queen, etc., etc. It's all very tricky and I envy Rhys having control over how her characters fit into their historical framework!

Readers, do you notice these things? Or do they worry me more than than they bother you? 

Thursday, June 20, 2024

What We're Writing: Lucy's Throwing a Party

 LUCY BURDETTE: I’m deep into the first draft of Key West food critic mystery #15, as yet untitled and uncovered. You might remember that the book kicks off with the explosion of a boat off Mallory Square—the craft on which Hayley Snow and her mom and stepfather and many other Key West celebrities and characters are sailing.  Of course you’ll see a lot more about that event, but a second plot line runs alongside: the celebration of Miss Gloria’s 85th birthday. I love writing about parties and food in this series, woven around the murder investigations. I think it gives the reader (and me) a little break from the tragic events and consequences. The hat that Miss Gloria is wearing is like one that I bought for myself for a big birthday. (No it was not 85!)  

For once, my mother wasn’t having to cook all the food. She had insisted on preparing some hors d’oeuvres in advance—non-fussy dishes such as mounds of Key West pink shrimp, her famous cheese wafers, and a fancy Italian cheese, olives, and charcuterie board, so that Martha Hubbard could focus on the main course. Even with her cooking responsibilities minimalized, she’d been at the club house most of the afternoon to make sure the decorations were set up to her liking. The house looked even more stunning than usual, with glorious tropical flowers spilling out of their vases everywhere, amongst photos of Miss Gloria with her family and friends at all stages of life. Tables had been set up in the living room, dressed in white lace with pale pink napkins, good silver, and more flowers. Already the rooms felt alive with chattering guests, even though we’d had to make some hard decisions about the invitation list. Having lived on the island for over thirty years, my neighbor had befriended and was adored by a lot of people.

I found the guest of honor in the parlor, aka formerly the men’s smoking lounge. She looked adorable, positively radiant. We’d spent a lot of time last week trying out hair mousse and then combing her short white pixie so the little peaks stood up to her satisfaction. She pulled a fast one by showing me two different sweatsuits that she pretended to be choosing between, each of them baggy in the knees and elbows, though studded with her favorite rhinestones. In the end, she wore navy silk balloon pants, a white lace top, and a sparkling birthday crown with Birthday Princess written in sequins that I’d ordered for her on Etsy. It had roses and pink tulle scattered all over and glittery gold trim on the points of the crown. Wearing it, Miss Gloria reminded me of all the good fairies I’d imagined in my childhood. I hurried over to squeeze her into a hug and kiss her. 

“You little dickens,” I whispered. “All this time I worried you were wearing a saggy, faded old sweatsuit to your own party.”

“A gal has to have some secrets, even from you,” she said, her eyes sparkling with laughter. “It was fun to tease you and watch you be all careful and considerate of my awful taste.”

“You’re not only a dickens, you’re a little devil,” I said laughing and pulling her into another hug.

Question for readers: Do you enjoy nonstop, pulse-pounding action, or prefer to take a break sometimes with humor and fun?

Meanwhile, you can pre-order Lucy Burdette’s Kitchen (July 23) and A POISONOUS PALATE (August 6.)

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Rhys and Clare Champion Women's Rights.

 Rhys Bowen: Hallie’s post on Monday talked about anachronisms in novels. It’s something that drives me bonkers. To read about a character in Victorian times who says she’s stressed and needs to relax, who calls other people by their first name is such a red flag to me. (Freud hadn’t published at that time and mentioned those words).

So when Clare and I write our Molly books together we really work hard at getting everything right. Clare reads the New York Times for every day we write about. This gives a feel for not only what was happening, what the concerns of the time were, but attitudes and vocabulary.  Then we decide on our setting and I have books of photos of old New York, exteriors and interiors, maps. For the first Molly books I went to New York and walked anywhere that Molly walked, noting what one heard, smelled, felt.

Now we are writing Molly 22. (We don’t have a title yet, but like something like As We Go Marching On). The story actually presented itself from the time. We are up to fall 1909 and in New York there was a huge celebration called the Hudson-Fulton. It celebrated three hundred years since Henry Hudson discovered the river that bears his name and one hundred years since Fulton invented the paddle steamer and thus brought commerce to upstate New York. The whole city was strung with electric lights--still a novelty at the time.

The occasion was marked with impressive parades for two weeks—floats that rivaled the current Rose Parade and also a naval parade that stretched sixteen miles up the Hudson and included battleships from other nations as well as replicas of the original ships of Hudson and Fulton.

What struck us was that the committee was composed of 150 men. No women invited to give input in the design or composition of any parade. Not a single woman was invited to the opening banquet. And suffragists were not allowed to participate in the parade. At the same time suffragettes in England were being force-fed in British jails. So we had a story waiting to happen. What if suffragists were planning to disrupt a parade? And Molly was asked to spy on her friends? And what if something went wrong???

So we have the basis for our story and we’re just working out who is going to wind up dead and why. But we love featuring the suffrage movement because we are very conscious that half the population couldn’t vote at the time, that women were the property of their husbands. We are also conscious of women’s right being eroded at this moment so we hope the story will touch a nerve.

I just had a lovely letter from a fan who thanked me for opening her eyes to real history. She said she hadn’t enjoyed history in school but through my books she has learned so much and now wishes she had been a history major. I feel exactly the same way. I did not enjoy history in school. It was all about learn these dates and these battles and I got in trouble for asking how people went to the bathroom. I wasn’t being cheeky. I wanted to know.

I've learned so much from other writers: Charles Todd, Jacqueline Winspear, Anne Perry... So do you feel the same way about historical novels? Do you enjoy learning new things as well as getting a good story?