Other posts in Rhobin’s rounds

Rhobin’s question is: In what time period do you prefer to set your stories — past, present, or future? What are the problems and advantages of that choice? Would you like to change?

OK, here is a catalogue:

700 BC: The Stories of the Ehvelen (four published books)

1850 – 1866: Guardian Angel

1930s – 2000: Anikó: The stranger who loved me

1500 years into the future: Sleeper, Awake

12,000 years into the past – 2013: Ascending Spiral

2015: Hit and Run

2015 -2017: the Doom Healer series (unpublished as yet)

The short story collection Through Other Eyes ranges from Viking times to the distant future, with several of the stories set in the present.

The four stories in Bizarre Bipeds are all in the future, though the three shorter ones could come true very soon.

The 26 stories in Striking Back from Down Under are all contemporary — sort of. They could be in our time, but many are not necessarily in the world you see on the news.

Then there are my nonfiction books: When you are building your house, or doing woodcraft, or feeling strong negative emotions, or worried about cancer, or have questions about your mental health.

From this I deduce that my preferences have nothing to do with it. I am a helpless victim of inspiration. What comes, comes, and I obediently record it.

Sleeper, Awake started as a desire to draw attention to the way we humans are destroying the web of life that keeps us alive. So, I wanted to write about a society that developed after humans have long recovered from disaster. I needed a witness, and almost immediately a lovely lady started to tell me her story. Other characters popped out, and again, I simply recorded their experiences. I didn’t know what the story was really about until the last scene. You won’t either, but no cheating by reading ahead!

Anikó: The stranger who loved me is the story of my mother, so I had no say in the period. She was born in 1918. Her terrific trials started in the pre-WW2 days, and continued behind the Iron Curtain.

Hit and Run started as displacement therapy for me. A blind old man was referred to me as a victim of crime, after a bunch of teenagers knocked him down and hurt his old seeing-eye dog. You can’t do therapy if you identify with your victim, but must keep professional distance. So, I needed to do something about my outrage. I invented old Sylvia, who witnessed a far more horrendous crime, thinking I could write about just punishment. Only, she had other ideas, and she was steering the story, not me.

Guardian Angel is in Victorian times, because Maraglindi wanted me to write about her, and that’s when she lived. She will reincarnate several times, the last one being in the present.

People in my Doom Healer series have taught me a lot. They have explained to me that there actually is no such thing as time. It is an illusion while temporarily living in the material universe. The REAL reality is without time, space, distance. So, that’s why my writing is all over time.

Problems and advantages?

The major problem with historical writing is its main advantage: the need for research. Nowadays, with the internet, this is much easier than it used to be. When I was researching the Ehvelen stories, I had to travel to a university that’s not TOO far from my county home, and spend all day in the library. But then, I love learning for its own sake, finding out all sorts of odd facts.

Writing about the future is speculative fiction, which, believe it or not, also needs research. “Anything goes” stories are hard work, because as the author keeps inventing new impossibilities, the reader needs to fit them into “suspended disbelief.” This is why Isaac Asimov said that a science fiction story should have exactly one scientifically impossible feature. His was faster than light travel. In Sleeper, Awake, mine is “electro-gravitational modulation.” Everything else in the story follows the laws of nature as known in the 21st century.

Contemporary writing… it depends. Hit and Run is firmly in the Now, but makes no reference to politics and other current affairs events, so it’s OK. The reason I abandoned the Doom Healer series (returned now after my young hero Bill solved the problem for me) is that change in politics, environmental events etc. was too rapid. There is no point in writing something that is out of date by the time it is published!

I thought I might finish by reproducing the change that allowed me to continue:

    In early 2015, two teenagers introduced themselves to me. I was looking for examples of characterisation for a book on writing I add to from time to time, and there they were. They wouldn’t leave me alone, but kept telling me their story, so I was forced to put the writing book away, and recorded what Bill and Grater had to say.

    Clearly, this was early 2015 in their world as well as in mine, so, naturally, real events in the real world were part of their story. Only, very soon, things intruded that weren’t on the news, as well as those that were. But did I listen? Did I realise this was actually an alternative reality?

    No, because there were so many similarities. I kept writing, eventually ending up with three volumes and the start of the fourth, when the crunch struck. This was in 2016, when the Democratic establishment shafted Bernie Sanders, and, against all predictions, Donald Trump became the President of the USA.

    I could not believe it, but went into shock. For weeks, I kept thinking, “It can’t be true!” This is the first stage of grief: denial.

    I could not believe that a self-confessed sexual abuser, a supposedly wonderful businessman who had gone bankrupt six times, a person who was known to refuse to pay his bills, and to have defrauded people, a demonstrably serial liar… could possibly have been the person selected from among fourteen Republican hopefuls, and then, incredibly, defeat Hillary. OK, there is a gerrymander, and Hillary had over three million more votes than Donald, but all the same, I suffered Trumpitis, and could not write.

    Even more than grief and outrage, I was handicapped by a world gone crazy, with changes every day that made writing contemporary fiction impossible. Anything I wrote was guaranteed to be as dated within a few months as Jules Verne’s writing.

    So, I told Bill and his friends to leave me alone, and wrote about the 19th Century: safely stable in the past. But Bill is a very determined young man ⎯ after all, he is the Doom Healer ⎯ so, occasionally when I woke, he whispered to me: “Hey Bob, there is no reality. It is the construction of consciousness, and whatever you truly believe is real, for now. All things are change.”

    At last, he got impatient with my resistance and shouted at me that in HIS reality, Bernie Sanders was president.

    After this, recording his story again became easy, and compelling.

Please leave a comment, then visit these writers below and read their response to the same topic.

Rhobin L Courtright

Beverley Bateman

Anne de Gruchy

Marie Laval

Skye Taylor

Anne Stenhouse

A.J. Maguire

Judith Copek

Victoria Chatham

Heidi M. Thomas

Marci Baun

Helena Fairfax

Diane Bator

About Dr Bob Rich

I am a professional grandfather. My main motivation is to transform society to create a sustainable world in which my grandchildren and their grandchildren in perpetuity can have a life, and a life worth living. This means reversing environmental idiocy that's now threatening us with extinction, and replacing culture of greed and conflict with one of compassion and cooperation.
This entry was posted in Rhobin's round robin. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to When?

  1. Dr Bob Rich says:

    Thank you, Victoria. I am delighted if I can be of service to you.
    Mind you, conventional wisdom is to specialize, but I’ve never been able to follow well-worn tracks.
    Currently my main aim in life is to promote Guardian Angel. Shameless plug!


  2. Wow, Dr. Bob! I will no longer worry about switching my genres after reading your blog. Your body of work is fascinating and gives me the courage to explore beyond my present reaches.


  3. Dr Bob Rich says:

    Thank you. Yes, I am an obedient slave.
    Today, I was supposed to write a commissioned magazine article. I have all the material, just need to convert it into a 700 word essay.
    Instead, I wrote a couple of thousand words in the 4th book of my Doom Healer series.


  4. okwriter says:

    As usual, I enjoyed your post. You traverse most eras and I loved that you explained by saying you are a helpless victim of inspiration. What comes, comes, and you obediently record it. You must have a marvelous muse.


  5. Dr Bob Rich says:

    “There are many mountains to God, and many paths up each mountain.”
    Shintoist proverb.


  6. Skye-writer says:

    I guess I’m not the only one who likes to switch it up instead of sticking to just one genre or time. But you’ve been a lot further afield than I.


  7. judyinboston says:

    This was a most impressive list of fiction and non-fiction. You must be a busy (and well-organized) man. I agree it was hard to write after the election. Almost as bad as after 9/11. But you seem to have survived. Going back to another time was undoubtedly helpful. I went back to the 50’s but am still (somewhat) mired in the present. It’s interesting what influences a writer’s decisions. Very thought-provoking post.


    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Thank you, Judy. Don’t know about well-organized. I am actually quite scattered, doing 16 things at once, but then regular meditation helps.
      Maybe you and I could exchange beta reads of works in progress?


  8. Dr Bob Rich says:

    Just Bob, Helen. I need the Dr only to distinguish myself from other people named Bob Rich or Robert Rich. One of them writes on big game fishing, which I consider murder of other sentient beings, so I don’t like having his books attributed to me!

    It’s not so much that Trump inspired me to write, but got in the way of it.



  9. Your writing covers an amazing range, Dr Bob. I love the way you’ve been inspired by real events and your imagination has taken off in different directions. Also it’s good to hear Donald Trump has inspired you to write. Let’s hope he inspires lots more positive things than negative. We can hope, and we can hope the hopers will win out.
    Great post, and best wishes for your writing.


  10. Marie Laval says:

    How fascinating that the time setting of your stories are so diverse! I am writing a contemporary romance set in Paris at the moment, with an English heroine and a French hero, and my dilemmas are: 1. do I mention Brexit at all? After all If the book is accepted for publication, it won’t be out before at least 2019, the date of England’s withdrawal from the European Union, with all the turmoil and uncertainties it will cause – but then again, it may never happen! 2. do I mention the terrorist threat, the raised levels of security and the atrocities committed in Paris and in London? I have not alluded to the first in my draft yet, but I have mentioned the second.


    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Thank you for the visit, Marie. As I said in my post, that’s my exact problem with my current wip, the Doom Healer series. The solution is either a visibly alternative reality as I did there, or a focus on issues that completely ignore politics. The terrorist attacks can be included (and hoping there won’t be significant ones in France from now on), but no mention of things like Brexit either way.
      Another solution I’ve just thought of is to put the story a few years in the past — 2005?



  11. heidiwriter says:

    Wow, you’ve done it all! What fun!


    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Heidi, and you’ve just triggered something. My grandbabies are visiting this moment from interstate. 6 year old has done a magnificent job of reading “10 apples up on top” by Dr. Seuss for me, and “What fun!” figures prominently.


  12. Rhobin says:

    Nothing wrong in being led by inspiration! It seems your characters have taken you throughout time and to some amazing places. I’ve got Guardian Angle and Horse to read, but I think I sent you a message about why they’ve had to wait. And I won’t say anything about your viewpoint on Trump. You can use the dregs of your worst imaginings (which seem to be mostly good, deep, and wildly erratic in a good way on a good day) and know some of what I think.


    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Thank you, Rhobin. I can be as disparaging about Trump as I like, since I live in Australia. You are welcome to do the same about the dinosaurs ruling my country, who torture asylum seekers, and are trying to give taxpayers’ money for a coal mine.
      Maraglindi in Guardian Angel has asked me to let the world know, her book is entered in a contest, details at http://wp.me/p3Xihq-155


  13. wildchild says:

    How much long does each story take for you to write? You’ve spanned quite a bit of time, so I imagine you have a lot of trivia in your head. LOL


    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Hi Marci,

      Years ago, a friend told me I was a walking encyclopedia. Only, don’t ask me about film stars and gladiatorial sports.
      The quickest book to write was Aniko: 3 months from when I could make myself start. Others may take years. I started Guardian Angel in the early 2000s, put it away, and revised it several times.


  14. Hi Bob, So much of interest in this post. I do hope your writing mojo has recovered. Anne


    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Thank you, Anne. I’ve pretty well completed my year-long project of renovating the house I’d built 30-odd years ago. Now I am doing less physically, my mental energy is returning. Currently I have returned to a book on depression, and working on the 4th volume of the Doom Healer series.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Joan Y. Edwards says:

    Wow! Intriguing study of your works according to the years of the emphasis.


    Never Give Up

    Joan Y. Edwards




    Flip Flap Floodle, the little duck who never gives up on his song

    Joan’s Elder Care Guide: Empowering You and Your Elder to Survive


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