Hello Readers!! I'm delighted to have author Noah Chinn on my blog today talking about writing mystery novels. He's also got a new release out!
The Living Past: Writing Mysteries in the '80s
Being an editor means the time you spend as a writer tends to suffer, but it's all the sweeter when you finally have a new release out. In my case, it's the second James & Lettice Cote mystery, The Plutus Paradox.
Set in Vancouver in 1985, it revolves around the sudden kidnapping of Lettice’s father, Harold–a man she thought had been dead for fifteen years. If that wasn’t strange enough, the couple is left to care for the missing man’s six-year-old daughter, Lettice’s sister, also named Lettice.
I have a fondness for 80’s era mystery shows, but why is it a good setting for a mystery novel series? It’s not like the books are chalk full of self-aware jokes from the era. There wasn’t a single Miami Vice joke in Getting Rid of Gary, despite the first couple chapters taking place in Florida (to be fair, though, that show didn’t start until 1987).
That’s because the books aren’t about making fun of the era. Before starting I thought about one of the most influential mystery writers – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
You may know that Sherlock Holmes was so popular that some people believed him to be real, or at least as real as a fiction person could be. Maybe they just thought him real in a Santa Claus kind of way, but we all know 221B Baker Street still gets letters for the great detective to this day.
But what was odd about this reaction was that Doyle’s mysteries were never written in the present day, it was always in past, years or even decades earlier. It struck me as odd that people would think about Holmes in a present tense even though the events being recounted were firmly in the past. As time leapt forward for Doyle, it crawled along for Holmes as he became more and more popular.
And I think the reason for that is because of the age Doyle lived in. Gaslight London was giving way to Electric London. Victorian England was rapidly changing, perhaps more rapidly than some would like. The horse-drawn carriage was slowly to be supplanted by the automobile.
In this time of flux, there must have been something nostalgic and reliable about Holmes, a touchstone to a past that was increasingly romanticized even within the reader’s own lifetimes.
I think we live a similar age now. Only now the obsolescence of tech is sometimes measured in months rather than years, much less decades. I’m sure it’s hard for some people to imagine using a phone that isn't also a portable computer with touch screen.
And then there are things that have changed our lives so much just imagining a time before can be difficult. Think about how ubiquitous YouTube or Facebook is and remember that they only came about 11 and 12 years ago, respectively. Trying to imagine that you could be in the 21st century and NOT see these things around is mind-boggling.
And yet many of us grew up in a time before all this was (waves at the Internet) all this. And we got along just fine.
I think, much like Gaslight London of the 1880s and 1890s was for Doyle’s readers, the 1980s and 1990s are a similarly nostalgic touchstone, and will be for the foreseeable future. It’s a different time. It’s history. But one we can still touch before it slips away forever.