Monday, August 10, 2015

Those new fangled ways.

So here's the thing: You can use modern references in your books. Sometimes they might even do you some good, but I don't think you should go out of your way for them. Listen, there will be a lot of back and forth over whether or not mentioning McDonald's Hamburgers is going to affect your story's longevity. The answer is always going to be "Maybe."

What do I mean? I mean just what I said. Maybe. When I was writing SERENITY FALLS I made mention of two of the characters watching the latest Schwarzenegger movie at the drive-in. Well, first, drive-in theaters are nearly a thing of the past. Most of the people who go to them do so because 1) they're cheap, or 2) nostalgia drives them to those nearly empty lots. They've been on their way out for a long time and some scattering of the old places just don't know it yet. Second, Arnold isn't quite doing movies like he used to these days and when he does, it's taking a lot more Hollywood magic to carry off some of those scenes.

Those sort of references date the work. I'm okay with that. The world changes. It's like going back and looking at a  few of the movies from the early 80s or late 70s: They're still fun, but the fashion sense and technology aren't quite up to snuff.

Here's the thing for me: I'm writing stories. Sometimes they take place in the here and now. Other times they take place in, well, other times. Different worlds. Today, right now, if you're writing a novel of mutated ants growing to gigantic proportions and taking over the world, the odds are good you're going to do some research that indicates what MIGHT cause radical growth in insects. It might be a pathogen generated in a terrorist cell that has an unexpected effect on ant colonies. It might be recombinant DNA used to stimulate plant growth in third world nations that has gone horribly wrong. Those pesky growth hormones have gone too far, etc.

In the 1950s it was the Atom Bomb. Everything was the Atom Bomb, because that as the shit that scared us into sleepless nights back then. These days we look at a lot of different possibilities that are less violent on the surface and just as terrifying when we examine them with eyes wide open. The specter of the Cold War is still there, but it's much smaller these days. there's still the threat of a possible nuclear attack, but  we also have diseases mailed directly to our front doors, dirty bombs and the occasional kid with Ebola trying to sneak into the US to get medical help. It's not really that the world has changed, by the way. We have. As a culture we are more knowledgeable than we once were (or at least the knowledge is there and readily available if we decide to look for it).

You want to use a computer and drop a brand name? By all means, do so. Once upon a time Isaac Asimov thought the future of computers were the ones made by Tandy. Once Upon a time AT&T was the only phone company until MCI came along to break up their monopoly. Once upon a time the FDA actually regulated the foods we were exposed to. Once upon a time the phrase "9/11" would have had most people scratching their heads. If, by the way, you do not know what 9/11 refers to, you should immediately search it out on Google. Once upon a time, by the way, Google wasn't even a word, and "Nanu Nanu," was a phrase uttered by a young, exciting comedian who had his own show called Mork & Mindy. These days the nation still mourns the loss of Robin Williams, an actor of extraordinary talents who suffered deeply before taking his own life.

See my point? It's all dated. Ten years ago almost no one had heard of 3D printing. Twenty years ago most of the scientists in the world though the quest for artificial intelligence was a neat idea and now most of the serious ones are begging the rest to stop, please, God, before it's too late.

Once upon a time self-publishing your book was a great way to guarantee your complete failure as a writer. These days it's acceptable as long as you follow a few simple rules.

Once upon a time, people went to Borders Book Stores and bought books, went to Camelot Music to buy their cassette tapes and hit Blockbuster Video to rent a VHS tape. Try doing all three of those things in one day in most of this country and you're going to be doing a LOT of driving. Or you could just go to and A) download a book for your Kindle, download the latest MP3 and stream the movie onto your TV or even you cellphone.

NOTHING STAYS THE SAME. That doesn't mean you cannot or should not use the the brand names of actors and products in your tales. It just means you have to be aware that you are likely going to date that tale. The good news? Stephen King has always made references to real products and he's doing just fine because, ultimately, talent will outweigh a few anachronisms. The other good news? if your book is available for download you can always go edit the text and update those references.

New reference for you: INNSMOUTH NIGHTMARES just came out from PS Publishing. I recommend it very highly, but I am rather biased as I have a story in it. 

Another reference for you: Christopher Golden, Jonathan Maberry and yours truly are doing a weekly podcast called Three Guys With Beards. You should check it out when you have the time. We talk about stuff. And, you know, stuff. 

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