Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, today pondering, not for the first time, the difference between book time and real time. Cozy mysteries and contemporary romances, two of my favorite types of reading, have this is common: they are set in the present in the “real” world, but with a caveat or two.
Both genres generally avoid making references to current events, especially politics. Pandemics haven’t come into consideration before, but ongoing wars are usually ignored. In part this is to avoid “dating” the story. It’s also because a book is written long before its publication date and even longer before most people will read it. Writers can’t predict the future any better than anyone else.
Clive Cussler tried to find a way around this by putting a dateline in his novels that was a few years ahead of their publication date. That was fine when they were new, but I recently reread Flood Tide, published in 1997 and set in 2000. In 2020, the ability to suspend disbelief was much more difficult—I knew for a fact that the apocalyptic events the author described didn’t really happen.
I’ve never done a survey, but I suspect that many novels, unless they are historical or futuristic, go out of their way to avoid telling the reader what year it is. That said, writers generally need to have a calendar of some sort in mind when they map out their plots. What month the story is set in makes a difference. So does the choice of a day of the week when it comes to creating certain scenes. I was very aware of this in writing A Fatal Fiction, if only because I happened to be writing a story set at exactly the time of year I was experiencing in reality.
I have a timeline for the series. I know in what year Mikki Lincoln was born, when she married, and when her nephew, who has a role in this story, was born. In fact, all the continuing characters in the series have somewhat detailed life stories in my notebooks, not only to flesh them out, but also so that I have a quick reference guide to how old they are and when the major events in their lives occurred. That still gives me some choice when it comes to the date of each novel. In my Liss MacCrimmon series I once let five years pass between books, mostly to let fictional time a chance to catch up with real time.
A Fatal Fiction was (mostly) written in the spring of 2019 for release on June 30, 2020. While I was in the early plotting stages, I realized that using 2019 as the year of the story would put Easter and Passover and Maine’s Patriots’ Day in the same week, a coincidence I could utilize in the story. Then serendipity came into play. In addition to weather forecasts and reports, I had access, by way of a Facebook group, to daily posts that include the weather in the town that is the model for my fictional Lenape Hollow, New York. As much to amuse myself as for any practical purpose, I decided to make the weather in my novel match reality. Since I was already doing this with things like phases of the moon, it didn’t strike me as too weird.
Okay, it was a little weird. But it was kind of fun to start a new scene, taking place on a new day, and discover that Mikki was going to have to do her sleuthing while ducking rain showers. I took a few liberties when the story demanded it, but overall I let reality have its way.
Now here we are in 2020 and I’ve just finished writing next year’s Deadly Edits mystery, Murder, She Edited. Once again, I never say what year the story takes place in, but the clever reader in July of 2021 and later will find it easy enough to figure out that it is set in the summer of 2020. That brings me to a dilemma many writers are facing right now—how much reality should we include in what is supposed to be escapist literature?
The book was due on my editor’s desk today, well before anyone can say with any certainty what the summer of 2020 will bring. At the moment, my text makes no mention of the world-shaking events that have taken place during the first half of 2020, but it can still be revised before publication. The real question is, should it be?
Leave your answer to that question, or any other comment you’d care to make, in the comments section below or at my Kaitlyn Dunnett Facebook page and you’ll be entered in a drawing to win one of three Advance Reading Copies of A Fatal Fiction. Shadow will pick the winners at noon on Friday, June 5. Unfortunately, I can’t ship books outside the US right now, but I’d still love to hear from international readers.
With the June 30, 2020 publication of A Fatal Fiction, Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett will have had sixty-two books traditionally published. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries and the “Deadly Edits” series as Kaitlyn. As Kathy, her most recent book is a collection of short stories, Different Times, Different Crimes, but there is a new, standalone historical mystery, The Finder of Lost Things, in the pipeline for October. She maintains websites at www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com. A third, at A Who’s Who of Tudor Women, contains over 2000 mini-biographies of sixteenth-century Englishwomen.