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Saturday, January 25 2020

This month’s Round Robin Blog Hop asks the question: How can contemporary fiction cope with the rapid changes of today’s world?

Well, I’m not sure it can. Or should. Some stories are just better told in a setting two years ago, or ten, or twenty. One of my best stories, one that ended up winning silver at the Royal Palm Literary Awards last fall, takes place partly in the present and partly in the the 1970s. I once pitched it to an editor who loved the premise but asked if I could set it during the current overseas wars instead of during the turbulent times of the Vietnam War. While I respect the expertise and experience of good editors and agents, I didn’t for even a heartbeat consider reworking this story because the way our country treated soldiers returning from Vietnam was appallingly different from those coming home after WWII or today’s wars in the Middle East and that aspect was a key conflict for my hero. By changing that time frame, I would have lost much of the story, and lessened the satisfaction of the resolution. So “Keeping Up” with today’s changes would have made it a very different story.


On the other hand, there can often be a universal theme to a story that fits today, last year, last century or even in the years to come, and all you need to make it current are secondary plots that address today’s issues. That said, however, once you use a current event or theme, you anchor the book in a specific era. Today you might write a romance where the heroine is deeply concerned about the issue of Global Warming and this drives her goal, motivation and conflict. But will this still be as compelling in twenty years as it is today? Already people are beginning to forget the collective shock and the following patriotism of 9/11. Others are denying the holocaust ever happened. I had a friend recently remark after binge watching old black and white TV series while she was recovering from surgery that what hit her was how prevalent cigarette smoking was. Everyone did it. All the time. Everywhere. Today people are just as obsessed with drinking water from plastic bottles bought by the case, so a book where someone filled a glass at the sink would date the story and who knows if this obsession will still be in vogue two years from now when perhaps everyone in the country has a built-in filter systems, much like they have AC today, but didn’t have it as a regular thing 30 years ago.


Bottom line for me is there is NO WAY to keep up with the rapid changes in today’s world without permanently linking your story to a specific era – today’s era – which might be very different next year, or even next month. Our world adds something radically new every day. A cure for cancer might be discovered tomorrow. Cars that drive themselves are cutting edge today but five years from now we might be appalled that anyone actually drives a car that does not have it. I read an essay last month about a guy on a business trip who decided to use only the technology available in 2010, just to see how much had changed in ten years. Among other things, he had to ASK people how to get places and then hope their directions were accurate or easy to follow. No Google Maps. And remember the Blackberry? Or go back a bit further when doctors on call wore pagers? Or 20 volume encyclopedia sets lined a bookshelf in many homes and all libraries.


I used to marvel at the incredible changes my grandmother had experienced as her life unfolded. She was born in 1886. Telephones were brand new at the time and radios hadn’t arrived. Nor had automobiles or airplanes. Yet she lived to be 102, well into the age of television, computers and space travel. Now I think back on my own life, not nearly as long as hers (yet) and I remember my pediatrician making house calls, walking home from school for lunch, kids loose in the back seat of cars on the move, roller skating and biking without helmets, drive-in theaters and so many other things that no longer happen. So, unless you are writing a story with no setting details - and how boring would that be? – then keeping up with our rapidly changing world doesn’t really make a difference in your stories. What’s important is creating characters readers care about and plots that are compelling, whatever era they are set in, with whatever technology is appropriate for the story, against the backdrop of whatever current social world works to help drive the plot and the characters in their quest to reach their goals and find resolution.


But maybe some of these other authors have a different take on the question. Perhaps they are addressing the changes in the publishing world which is just as dramatic and different as everything else. So, hop on over and check them out. And, WELCOME TO 2020.


Dr. Bob Rich 
Helena Fairfax 
Connie Vines 
Judith Copek 
Beverley Bateman 
Fiona McGier 
Anne Stenhouse  
Rhobin L Courtright 

Posted by: AT 12:02 am   |  Permalink   |  3 Comments  |  Email
Saturday, December 28 2019

   In the year 2000 my friend Cathy and I welcomed the new century and a new millenia in Times Square New York. I like to tell folk I kissed an angel on New Year's Eve in Times Square as the century changed . . . because I sorta did. While we waited for midnight to arrive we watched celebrations in Sydney Australia, Bangkok and Singapore, over the Eiffle Tower and London Bridge and Halifax Nova Scotia and a bunch of places in between on giant screens erected along Broadway. But the man we had befriended, a pilot more used to the climate of Dallas and Buenos Aires, was poorly dressed for a chilly December night in New York City so we found ourselves a subway grate to stand on and stay warm. Then at midnight this fun and fascinating man kissed us both. And his name just happened to be Angel. 

   Two years later the United States Peace Corps sent me to the South Pacific, to a Polynesian Island nation called Tonga. A long way from Times Square and a whole lot warmer. The New Year in Tonga is celebrated with the ringing of church bells and young men making little explosions in the bottoms of the long hollow shoots of Bamboo that could be heard all over the island. As it turns out, I'll be back in Tonga this New Year's Eve, visiting the family that shared their home with me for the two years I served with the Peace Corps. It's hard to believe it's been 20 years since I kissed an Angel in Times Square, or even 18 since I celebrated with my Tongan family, but as you read this blog, I'll be in the air, somewhere over the Pacific, arriving on my little island just in time to welcome the New Year Tongan style again. And I wish you all, my family, friends, fellow bloggers and authors, a wonderful, prosperous and healthy 2020.

   And because we are sharing a short story or an excerpt for the December 2019 Blog Hop - here's a Christmas story I wrote that I hope you will enjoy, called Santa's Helper. 

   The little girl climbed up into Santa’s lap and carefully smoothed her skirt over her knees.

   “I know you aren’t really Santa Claus,” she whispered into Santa’s ear.

   Lt. James “Mac” MacAlister leaned back and peered down at the girl from under the bushy white eyebrows someone had stuck on over his own sandy brows. This was not an accusation he’d been prepared for when he signed on to do this gig with the Toys for Tots program.

   Mac gave the thin young shoulders a hug and confided, “I’m one of Santa’s elves. Santa Claus can’t be everywhere at once and right now he’s busy at the North Pole. So he sent me to find out what all the good boys and girls wanted him to put on his list.”

   “Is that why your suit doesn’t fit so well?”

   “What gave me away?” He chuckled in his best Santa imitation.

   “You feel like my daddy used to,” she said poking at Mac’s muscular, very unSanta-like belly.

   Mac wondered if her father was a fellow Marine, or perhaps just liked to work out. Either way, she made it sound as if the man was no longer with the family.

   “What would you like Santa to bring you?” he asked, trying to redirect the conversation.

   “I don’t need anything. Not really . . .” she trailed off wistfully. “But my brother wants one of these.” She pulled a tattered page from a toy catalog out of her pocket and spread it out for him to see. It featured a Tonka Dessert Fox SUV.  “He’s still too little, and he doesn’t understand why Daddy can’t come home. And Mommy says Santa Claus isn’t coming to our house this year, either.”

   Tears prickled unexpectedly in Mac’s eyes. He blinked them away and gave the little girl another hug. “Surely there must be something you would like?”

   The girl folded the page from the catalog and pressed it into Mac’s hand. “Just the truck for Sammy. Even Santa Claus can’t bring my daddy back in time for my dance recital, and that’s all I wanted. Except maybe—” she paused, then added in a hurried, hushed little voice, “maybe a new pair of ballet shoes.”

   Mac produced two Tootsie Pops from his voluminous pocket. “One for you and one for your brother. And I’ll be sure that Santa Claus gets your message, but I need to know your name so he’ll be sure to deliver the truck to the right house.”

   “It’s Maggie,” the girl chirped as she slid off Mac’s lap. “Maggie Reynolds.”


   The Dessert Fox SUV was easy. Finding out where Maggie Reynolds lived wasn’t hard either. Discovering the whereabouts and status of Maggie’s father was the challenge. But Mac wasn’t in Intelligence for nothing.

   It turned out that Sergeant Don Reynolds was stationed in the Middle East, seven months into a year-long tour. His wife was pregnant with their third child who was due in less than a month, and money was tight.

   Mac did some more recon to discover what Maggie’s mother needed most in the way of assistance. He sent his own Marine elf, aka Sergeant Trisha Burke, out to find the SUV for Sammy and a new car seat for the coming infant. He got another buddy to promise a total overhaul of the family’s aging vehicle and paid a local nursery to deliver a tree to the Reynolds home. Toys for Tots would put a few things under the tree, but there was one other surprise Mac had in the works. He hoped he could pull it off. Perhaps he could change Maggie’s mind about the scope of Santa’s powers.


   Maggie hurried to her spot. She fluffed the spangled tutu and peered over the ruffles to gaze yet again at the brand new ballet shoes that had appeared on her doorstep just that morning. They were exactly the right size, and they had ribbons that matched her tutu perfectly. How had Santa Claus known?

   If only Daddy could have seen her dance tonight, then her Christmas would have been the best ever.

   As the curtains began to part, the music started. Maggie quickly placed her feet in the correct position and raised her arms into an arch above her head. She lifted her chin, determined to smile and pretend that Daddy was sitting in the front row like he’d promised. The curtains parted, and she pointed her toe to begin the dance.

   Then she hesitated. Her heart thumped in her chest, and tears slipped down her cheeks. There, in the front row, holding Mommy’s hand sat a Marine in his best blue uniform clutching an enormous bouquet of pink roses.


Santa Claus had brought Daddy home in time after all.   


For more Short stories and excerpts - hop on over to these bloggers:

Victoria Chatham 
Marci Baun 
Dr. Bob Rich 
Anne Stenhouse 
A.J. Maguire 
Fiona McGier 
Beverley Bateman 
Diane Bator 
Rhobin L Courtright 

Connie Vines

Posted by: Skye Taylor AT 12:02 am   |  Permalink   |  6 Comments  |  Email
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