Thursday, August 30, 2012

Guest blog post: Time Passages

Guest post by Jim Winter

I hit on this a little bit on my own blog, but I think here is a good
place to expand upon it. Should a series character live on a calendar
or a floating timeline? There are pros and cons to either.

Philip Marlowe lives on a floating timeline. So does James Bond, Mike
Hammer, and, most notably, Spenser. I remember reading The Godwulf
Manuscript years ago. Parker firmly fixed him on the calendar. He was
37 and a Korean War vet. Now? He’s too old for Vietnam, probably just
right for the Gulf War and just young enough for the early days of
Afghanistan. That’s a loooong slide.

Granted, Robert Parker probably never imagined his character would
last as long as he has. Spenser has outlived him. But what does that
do to his credibility?

On the other hand, Sue Grafton fixed Kinsey Milhonne firmly on the
calendar and vowed never to write her past the 1990’s. When a letter
of the alphabet yields a book that takes place a few months after the
previous one, the story’s actual date is that many months after the
date of the last. Kinsey isn’t 27 in 1984, and six months later,
turning 28 in 1992.

Two writers who thrive on the calendar are Reed Farrel Coleman and
George Pelecanos. The times and, in GP’s case, the pop culture are
huge components of their storytelling. Reed Coleman’s Moe Prager is
very much a product of New York’s history over the past forty years.
Tell me his later stories would have been the same without 9/11 or his
early work relevant if it weren’t for New York City culture in the
late 1970’s and early 1980’s.  As for George Pelecanos, yes, even he
admits it’s an excuse to go back through his music collection, but
damn, doesn’t he nail the times he writes in? Some writers say their
city is a character as much as their protags and antagonists. In the
case of Coleman and Pelecanos, the times when their work takes place
is even more a character.

I’ve struggled with this as I’ve brought back Nick Kepler. When I
wrote the three novels that are either released or gathering
cyberdust, 2002-2004 was, essentially, the present, or at least the
recent past. Now?

I’m working on a story that takes place about four months after
Northcoast Shakedown. That makes it late 2002. I have to back project:
AOL instead of Facebook, cell phones did little more than make calls
and txt. Not many people had an iPod yet.

So what about it? Do series characters need to float in time? Or
should they stay on the calendar?

Jim Winter is the author of Second Hand Goods. He is currently working
on something so secret, he'd have to kill the head of the NSA if he
told you about it. Find him loitering at


Al Tucher said...

I often find floating characters annoying, but as you say, writing fixed characters has difficulties. Some editors find the recent past stale, when they have no problem with settled history.

And I narrowly escaped having my series character, prostitute Diana Andrews, consult Google in 1997, a year before it debuted.

Steve Weddle said...

These CALENDAR TIME THINGS are like an umpire at a baseball game -- best when they're not noticed.
Get it right. Don't screw it up.
Don't make a big deal out of it.
my 2cents

Anonymous said...

Robert Parker is a shit writer. Wouldnt put much stock in way he did it.