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2015 -2017: the Doom Healer series (unpublished as yet)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