Friday, May 27, 2011

Old News

As I write this, the “May 21, 2011 Rapture” predicted by a California preacher has failed to materialize. It was all over the Internet for a week beforehand and one day after. Now? Not a word on the first page of Google, CNN, Yahoo, or MSN. The world moves so fast today that like the “Rapture moment” any hot news item may be cold and old in 24 hours.

The mystery series I’m writing takes place in the present day. I always have to make certain that I don’t have my characters talking about a fad that couldn’t hold the headlines longer than a month. We can always count on “stupid celebrity tricks” to be in the news, but beyond the expected drugs-and-rehab duet, it’s impossible to predict which celebrity will be all over the headlines by the time my next book goes to press. In addition, I’m a geek who doesn’t keep up on fashion, but fortunately I have co-workers who do.

I mention Paris Hilton in my next book, but will her name make people scratch their heads come February? Will the musician I have my characters listen to be a one-hit wonder? I’ve read recently published books that referenced an event whose fifteen minutes were over six months ago.

Writers: How do you avoid “missing the moment?” Do you keep tabs on current events in news, sports, entertainment? Do you beg your copyeditor to let you make a last-minute change? Or do you only make references to long-lasting celebrities and news—the Beatles and gas prices, for example?

Readers: Do you just chuckle when a present-day book talks about something outdated? Or does it take you out of the story altogether?

If you’ll excuse me, I need to refresh MSNBC again.

Newspaper photo copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos


Keith Raffel said...

Alice, there's plenty of controversy in ebooks versus paper-and-pulp editions, but here's one place ebooks definitely have the edge. You can post them almost immediately after the editing is dead. If there's latebreaking news that affects the story, you can modify an ebook in minutes. This all come to me when Bin Laden was captured. I changed the text of my ebook Drop By Drop the next day without stopping the presses or anything.

OTOH, one of the treats in reading classic mysteries or ones set in foreign countries is the references that take us out of our current time or place.

Good post.

Robin Allen said...

I struggle with this a little. Modern day references are so easy to use, but yes, they date our books. I stay away from them for the most part, but in my second book, I make reference to "opinions about whether Kate should be with Jack or Sawyer" (a reference to the TV show, Lost). I'm using it as an example of things in the past, though, but now that you've made me think about it, I might take it out.

Beth Groundwater said...

I don't tend to make a lot of references to current pop culture in my books, but when I do, I try to pick long-lasting celebrities, food chains, products, etc., like Dairy Queen, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pink, Starbucks, Teva sandals, etc.

Alan Orloff said...

In my first drafts, I use a lot of proper names and brand names, etc. By the time I'm done revising, I've dropped a lot of them in favor of more generic descriptors (unless I get some product placement cash, of course!).

Alice Loweecey said...

Thanks for the thoughts, gang. :)

Alice Loweecey said...

That's my oldest son playing the saxophone in the second photo. He objected to being the illustration for "one-hit wonder." I told him to write music that'll be remembered. :D

Jessie Chandler said...


Great post! I tend to use pop cutlure references in my books, but like Beth, I try to use pretty solid, long standing, and well-known ones. It's hard though, when I want to use one of those 15 minutes of fame references. In some cases, I think that Keith is right one too, when he talks about how he can sometimes appreciate being taken out of the current time or place by something that brings him back into the past. Maybe as long as the story isn't inundated with lesser known or "temporary" references, there's no harm done. On that note, Robin, I think you should leave that Lost reference in your book if you want to. I really doubt it would hurt a ting!