Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Work in Progress: [Insert Swear Word Here]

I’ve been revising my novel, and now that my class at Johns Hopkins has ended for the semester, I’m able to get serious. I’m working through the manuscript chapter by chapter then planning to read the whole thing in one last swoop to take care of details.

One BIG detail that I can’t ignore is that I have to decide when this book takes place. Kids, this is the danger of taking f-o-r-e-v-e-r to write a book…when I started, I did all the math so that everyone would be the ages they are and the book would take place in 2005 (for example, the first chapter opens at Nora’s surprise party for her 40th birthday, so she was born in 1965).

Now, however, as time marches on, it seems odd and random that the book would be set in 2005. Remember, that even if I were to sell my book tomorrow, it would still take a year to show up in the stores…and that’s if everything goes perfectly, which it never does. So the book would be out in 2009 at the absolute earliest.

Because the novel is about family estrangement, I thought it might be interesting to set it in 2000, so the specter of September 11 looms ahead in the reader’s mind. Good idea…but I can’t begin to tell you what that simple-seeming adjustment has wrought! How can Nora be having her 40th birthday in 2000 IF Callie also has to be going through her “punk” phase as a teenager in the early 1980s WHEN the mother, who grew up loving the Beach Boys (first big, big album in 1964) dies? As it turns out, the solution requires that Nora be born to a 12-year-old mother…and obviously, that’s no solution at all!

This doesn’t even get into the odd bits of research required to discover whether people were using Facebook in 2000 and if cell phones took photos back then. All that versus the stress of wondering whether the average reader will think, “Wait: she took a picture with her cell phone and that technology wasn’t in popular use until 2002! I better immediately send a nasty email to the author!”

My advice: historical fiction! 1907 sounds good for the next novel, don’t you think?


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.