Tortoise & the Hare: A Novel in a Race with Technology

You know that you can’t step in the same river twice, right? Well how can you write a novel set “now” when “now” is rushing ahead of your typing fingers?

Has technology been good for the novel? So far, I think so. Starting with the printing press and moving to desktop computers and eBooks, the mechanics of writing for publication are easier than ever, I think. (In my case, I’m relieved to have no more clothes ruined by White Out, after the typewriter drum slams into that corrective fluid.) True, some writers complain there are too many writers and not enough readers. Well, I think that is a symptom of larger changes. Let’s talk about smaller changes–the words we need to use.

Technology and the now-cliche rapid pace of change poses word choice problems for the literary “now”. Because machines are increasingly integrated in our lives, and the machines themselves evolve rapidly, the names for the machines also changes rapidly. So any pretense of writing about “now” needs to be extra cagey about referring to these types of objects and their associated venues.

In my case, i wrote a bicycle adventure novella in 2000 for publication in a small bike magazine. I rewrote it over the last year for publication as a novel this week, 2015. Fifteen years and so much has changed… Now if I started writing the novella in 1810 and rewrote it as a novel in 1825, a letter would still be a letter, a candle would still be a candle. If I didn’t mention the experimental railroads in England, I don’t think it would ruin the feeling of “now”. I would merely need to be careful about my references to Napoleon.

In a novel set “now”, meaning “around the year 2000” when I started, and meaning “around the year 2015+” when I finished, it seems reasonable that a character would want to use technology to talk to another character remotely, both spoken and typed electronically. So what words should a writer choose to express this?

Between 2000 and 2015, email became less a part of popular life. It’s still important for office work. But in private life, it seems more old-timey, something older people are more likely to cling to than the young. In private life, has mostly usurped the role of email. People still talk on the phone, but are more likely to text. The subculture of texting has even established its own form of English, with abbreviations, acronyms and symbols.

In 2000, many people used mobile phones in the USA and called them “cell phones” or might say “my cell”. But then the brains in these devices became as sophisticated as desktop computers (another term prone to expiration). iPhone came out in 2007, an Android phone in 2008. Use of “cell” declined, while people identified their phones by brand, or called them “mobile phones”. Apart from use, people writing about the technology used the term “smartphone”, but few people use that in average discussions, so far. And all the while, many Americans were giving up their landline. Children growing up now may be flummoxed how to use a landline. And recently video chatting has become practical with Skype, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, and so on… I use these myself with ease. While video chatting sounds science fictional, what about Twitter and all the social media platforms clamoring for our attention? These weird new forms of social display, group communication, new forms of obnoxiousness, commercialization, self-promotion, entertainment, togetherness? Fictional characters might use these, but certainly some of them will not last long. Even a strong brand might transform the way it functions and change its name.

In this case, I think a writer is safe for a temporary, moveable sense of “now” to just use the term “phone” and to consider them mobile and smart. I did feel I needed to update references to email, and avoid references to brands. Since my characters are mostly active, away from home, bicycling, and sometimes in peril, it was easy to avoid social media references. But I think a novelist trying to write the about normal life of “now” would have more difficulty. It might be unnatural to avoid references to technology that are a big part of many people’s lives, yet will soon change again. Therefore it might be best to give up the “moveable now” and fix the time, or find some other compelling, creative solution.


My novel, Dangerous Bicycle Mystery Quest is available now in popular eBook formats around the world (#kindle / #nook / #iBook / and more). It will be available as a paper book around September, 2015.

Published in: on June 3, 2015 at 4:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Gifts of a Four-Legged Office Assistant

My writing routine changed recently when my chief office assistant fell sick. Although screened for Feline Leukemia, it turned out Phineas had it from birth. As the vile retrovirus switched from latent from active, he weakened. It was only then we learned what was happening to him. For all the while, he was valiantly making his rounds, continuing his duties supporting me.

He had a few weeks to live. I happened to have flexible responsibilities just then, so I could stay by his side for his remaining weeks. Some of that time he chose to take his post on my writing desk, or in my home office window. He would lie heavily on his side, eyes open, watching birds.

Of course, this home hospice care was sad and difficult. Aside from some obligations, I did not care to do much writing. I did, however, think about it. When he chose to lie in a patch of sunlight on the floor, I would sit next to him with my iPad and read.

As I thought I was assisting him with my company, he was *still* assisting me.

You perhaps have heard the famous Montaigne quote? *”When I play with my cat who knows whether I do not make her more sport than she makes me?”*

It was difficult to read for pleasure, so I ended up reading about the Cloud and how I could integrate it more into my writing life. This was Phineas’ last gift to me as my writing assistant. Without his gentle disruption of my habits, who knows when or if I would have taken time from my usual concerns to explore these developments?

Although already a DropBox and GoogleDocs user, I hadn’t yet realized how Cloud infrastructure had integrated to give writers significantly new ways to work using Cloud, desktop computer and mobile device. These Cloud storage devices can provide more than just floating copies of files. I don’t know if this is internet 3.0, 4.0, or 5.0, but something has changed. There are new options, and good ones. I will write more about that later.

Phineas supported me to the last day, feverish and weak, but still trying to help me. After two days, medication failing, his temperature rose to 105.9F. He chose to spend his last hours on my writing desk. With loving mercy, we said good-bye. He was not quite six years-old.

Published in: on June 11, 2013 at 9:19 am  Leave a Comment  
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