I’m a very lucky writer. All my published books, going back to 1987, are still in print. That’s 25 years’ worth of my stories, still available to readers, and still selling — which makes me very happy indeed.
But it also leads to some strange misunderstandings by readers who pick up one of my older books. They think I must be living in a time warp because my details are so horribly out of date. I try to explain to them that a certain book isn’t actually contemporary because it was written, oh, twenty five years ago. But then they start to argue that even then, I was already out of date.
Take, for instance, my book HARVEST. It was written in 1995. In the story, my character hunts around for a pay phone to make a very important call. Several characters, in fact, can’t reach certain people because they can’t find a landline. A reader took me to task for that, complaining that I was a moron because didn’t I know the northeast has cell towers? Everyone has a cell phone!
Well, no. In 1995, only a few doctors had cell phones. Most doctors carried beepers. I remember a discussion at our local hospital around that time, whether the medical group should buy one cell phone to be shared by all the doctors, who’d use it while on call. I tried to explain this to the cranky reader, but he remains unconvinced. In his mind, everyone was using cell phones in 1995, and there’s no way I could ever convince him I was right. (As if I’d write a book in 1995 and purposefully ignore current technology.)
I was also taken to task for VANISH, about an incriminating videotape that must be hand-delivered to a reporter. One reader thought my characters were idiots because they could have shared the video with the whole world by simply posting it on YouTube. D’oh! Why didn’t I think of that?
Well, I wish I had thought of it, because I’d be worth a fortune. The book was written in 2004. YouTube came into existence in 2005. If only I had invented YouTube.
And consider the weirdly anachronistic details in my very first book, CALL AFTER MIDNIGHT. Written in 1986, it was partly set in Berlin, where my heroine must navigate a city where tensions run high because of the Berlin Wall. Which was still standing in 1986.
Yes, readers. I’m fully aware that the Wall came down in 1989. Please, no more letters asking how I could be so woefully ignorant of history.
With the rapid changes in technology, and the fact that your backlist will now forever stay in print thanks to e-books, other authors must be facing the same criticism. “Why didn’t your character just use a fax machine?” “How could he get lost when he could have used a GPS?”
In another few decades, we’ll hear readers complain: “What’s with the cops using Glocks? Why didn’t Jane Rizzoli just set her ray gun on stun?”
It won’t satisfy anyone to point out that the book was written thirty years earlier. Because by then we’ll have time travel, and you’ll have no excuse.
Please, readers. Before you fire off a letter to an author complaining she’s behind the times, check the copyright date. And remember that books are usually written a year before they’re actually published. An author can’t be blamed for not knowing what the world will look like a year (or more) in the future.