Tuesday, April 01, 2008


We are in the throngs of doing some house remodeling. In the process we removed the carpet from one of the bedrooms and discovered a lime green, bright yellow, and tan linoleum in a huge daisy print. I graciously offered this find to Paty for use in her cabin at a reduced price since the treasure was glued for life and had to be removed in a million little pieces. If this discovery could have been removed in one solid sheet the pristine covering would have created a unique take on the floor in her rugged cabin, and I could have garnered twice the price. Instead, I suggested she could apply the gems to the ceiling for an eye-popping mosaic conversation piece. I’m still a little hurt she rejected my clever idea and turned me down flat. My solution offered a remedy to reshape dated material into a timeless work of art.

The brilliant idea induced me to think about timeless in regard to writing. Have you ever read a book without checking the copyright first and quickly discovered within a few pages or chapters that the word choices and descriptions have dated the novel? I have found myself thrust into a seventies living room with avocado green carpet, harvest gold brocade couch and orange bean bag chairs. In another book characters from the sixties dashed across the pages in hip huggers and bellbottom pants with wide leather belts. Language choices, yea, far out, cool man, and totally radical slang also dates the material. These earmarks slap a time warp onto every page of a novel.

Personally, I love to read books written in a timeless frame. They leave the reader believing it’s written in the present day. They can slip between the pages of a book and never guess the copyright or time period from detailed descriptions of furnishings, clothing, cars, popular product trends, and sayings.

I’m not suggesting I don’t like historical, western, or regency books, to name a few. I love books set in a specific point in time. I’m talking about books that could fit into any decade with the removal of some word choices. Over detailed information can dress a book in a distinctive frock found only in a sliver of years.

If one can ignite the urge to purge dated material from their manuscripts, they can expect future generations to enjoy their books without the invasion of intrusive dated material adding layers of wrinkles to their stories. Hold dated descriptions at bay and lavish your attention and talents onto your unique characters, plots, turning points, black moments and resolutions. Let each page of your book don a suit of timeless fashion pressed to pristine freshness.

Do you want your books to show signs of age or do you hope they’ll be read decades later with their true birth date well hidden?


Paty Jager said...

Hey, I would have taken the pieces of flooring and made a mosaic- if I'd had the time and didn't mind tipping my head back for hours as I implanted them, oh so carefully, on the ceiling! LOL

As for the timelessness of a book. In my contemporarie, I don't consciously put in anything that would set them at a precise time although Nanny has a computer technology and a cell phone and I mention a song, but that song is already about fifteen years old. So I'm not sure I really dated that story. And I usually don't mind a story being dated, it's the plot and characters that draw me in not then it is set.

Unless I'm reading a historical- then I want the surroundings to match the time period or it upsets me! LOL

So as you see, I'm wishy washy on the subject!

Interesting Blog!

PS: did you get all the quilts finished?

Flo Moyer said...

I loved that flooring!

Now, as to dating a book--I get so torn on this. I have seen reader comments on how, hey, a heroine in her twenties would never wear such and such. So I strive to put my heroine in something "age appropriate" or stylish. However, if you do that, by the time the book actually gets published, you run the risk the stylish item is a dinosaur. I think that might be why a lot of twenty-something heroines are dressed in very quiet, low key styles that anyone might wear. Also, I don't want to be dated, so I try to leave out any references to real life happenings. I have my current hero having served in Iraq, but I don't say when, or if the war is still going on, etc.

Now that I think about it, you know, I'm not even sure I want to reference where my hero served. I say this because my 1995 book was recently reprinted in a foreign country. That makes it 12 years after original publication, and 13 years after writing it. So say someone reads my current book 10 years later, and the war is well over, it's going to make my hero seem ancient or date the story, either way. I think I'm going to make where he served generic. Whoa. Thank you for bringing this topic up, Lori. :-)

Elisabeth Naughton said...

Hmmm. This is an interesting topic.

One of my favorite books was written in the early 90's. It's VERY dated as the hero is movie star and it references a lot of movie stars popular at that time - Patrick Swayze, Kevin Costner, etc. It's never bothered me, but I can definitely see it dating a book, and though *I* still like all those guys, young readers may not identify with them or the characters in the book.

In my second release I make reference to 911 and the establishment of special section of the FBI created after the terrorist bombing. I know it will date the book, but it's an important plot point that helps the hero and heroine figure out part of the suspense plot. I understand the concept of books being "dated" but sometimes I think there are some things you can't avoid. (This being one.) Of course, now I'm going to be thinking about this more in detail...

Karen Duvall said...

Lori, what an interesting topic! Personally, I don't mind reading a book that's dated itself. It's almost like reading a part of the author's diary, which makes it more personal to me. Trends change year by year, be it music, television, cars, household appliances, etc. It can't help but influence what we write.

My book Project Resurrection is futuristic, but the future I've written about is not so distant. At the time I wrote it, there were no DVDs, yet I use them in the story and call them VidDisks. 8^) Electric cars, cell phones, voice recognition, and reality TV were fiction at the time I wrote the book, but all of it's a real part of our daily lives today. Who'd have thought at the time I wrote the story that my theory about reality television would come so close to the truth? Kind of freaky.

Sometimes the fashion or music of the present plays an important role in a story. Some things don't last more than a year, and the book may not be published for a year or more after it's written. I'm fascinated by the Japanese Harajuku girls and see the fashion influence making its way to America very shortly. How long will it last when it gets here? Wisdom says not to include the Harajuku fashion trend in a story, yet the temptation for me to do so is strong.

An older lady in my crit group is writing a contemporary story and the heroine is in her thirties. She uses words like "far out" and "groovy." Can you see what's wrong with this picture? Dating a work is one thing, but mixing the eras is a whole nuther thing.

Lori Barber said...

Paty, great timeless artwork takes time, and what's a few hundred dollars in treatments to fix your neck...great artwork is also expensive. LOL

I agree that a book with a great plot and characters trumps any dated material within its pages.

All but one quilt is finished. I sent it to a professional machine quilter. Much cheaper than the therapist I'd need to pay if I machine quilted another one on my forty-year-old sewing machine.

The baby shower was Saturday. Over 45 women attended. Oodles of lavender and sage green - baby's nursery room colors.

Flo, nuts, if I still had the flooring I'd been sending it your way.

It sounds like you do a great job to avoid dating your books. Little reminders and memory jogs are so helpful no matter how many years we've been writing.

Eli, I totally agree, there are some things (dated pieces of information) that you can't avoid. And frankly, there are readers who love dated material and want to know what it was like in a certain block of time.

Karen, I like the concept that dated material is like reading the author's diary.

I can see where writing into the future can become a freaky parallel to reality yet to come.

You and Paty both mentioned music/songs. They seem to defy time.

Alice Sharpe said...

Lori -- Interesting subject and like you, I am aghast at Paty's rude refusal to put in a little elbow work in order to create great art. You offered her a chance to make her cabin a real showpiece, but alas....

And, no, er... I don't want it either.

Flo brought up a great point about reprints that I had never thought about. I usually keep references to timely subjects a little vague. My heroines wear jeans more often than not. In my very first book, I had a character say, "Nonsense!" The editor immediately called me on it. Nobody says that any more, she informed me. I changed the word and then forever more, became aware of how often I say that antiquated word!

Things like popular phrases really date a book, the Far outs and the Groovies being real alert buttons. That said, I had a kid address another guy as, "Dude," in this next book which will probably date it terribly.

And Karen, you are obviously clairvoyant.

Lori Barber said...

Alice, well shoot, I could have created a bidding war with my flooring and got in some practice as an auctioneer. Every time you itched your nose or scratched your head I would've upped the anti.

What nonsense! How could your editor expect you to delete a perfectly good word! I know I use words and phrases in my own speech and that of my characters that's dated. A part of me likes being an individual who spouts a different tune and verse than everyone else. I like to call it a unique cadence.

In the end I believe we need to go with our heart and the heart of our characters, whether it's vogue or not.

Genene said...

Interesting topic, Lori!

I struggled with this in my first book -- about a former rock star. I started writing the book in 1992, but didn't sell it until 14 years later. To make things even more interesting, my teenaged years when I had crushes on rock stars were the late 60s and early 70s. Soooo, I tried not to reference specific events, songs, etc. that would date the book, but tried to stay with more universal emotions of a teenager having a crush on a rock star or movie star and then growing out of that crush. I also focused on the romance and those universal emotions of falling in love, so I didn't have to go into great detail about the hero's career. I also read biographies of stars from different decades to pick out those universal (or timeless) elements so the book wouldn't be dated. I hope I succeeded!

And when does a book become "historical"? World War II is now considered "historical," yet my parents tell stories of their lives during that time. If I live to be 100 and still write 30ish romance heroines, I guess my memories will be historical too. Talk about reading diaries!

And at the risk of offending those of you vying for Lori's floor pieces, I have to say I never cared much for the oversized prints in an avocado green/orange/gold color scheme. I'm usually out of touch with current trends, so I guess that's a good thing in writing timeless books. Though I could be locked in a time warp and not be aware of it. LOL!

Glad your quilts got finished, Lori! Thanks for the interesting topic and reminder to watch what we write!

Lori Barber said...

Genene, I'm locked in the same time warp with you. Ditch the big daisies in those nauseous colors.

It sounds like you've done your homework and scored an A+ on your book.

A few years back I watched a little girl eye a rotary dial phone in an antique store. A few seconds later she asked her mother, "How do you use it?"

I quickly felt like an antique myself.

Karen Duvall said...

Oh yeah, Lori, I forgot to mention my own unearthing of retro chique while gutting my old kitchen. Egads, what a mess. It was an old house, originally an A-frame that had been added on to, and there were 4 layers on the walls. Under the paneling was a layer of wallpaper with big yellow and orange daisies all over it. There was that fake brick stuff on half the wall behind the stove. Truly hideous. And someone had covered the icky green linoleum with carpet, but under the linoleum was a wood floor so rotted near the sink that it felt spongy when you walked over it.

We didn't do the job ourselves but hired handymen to do the dirty work. In the process of creating our gorgeous new kitchen, we got a brief glimpse of those who'd lived in our home before is. It was an eerie flash to the past.

Alice Sharpe said...

Genene- While plotting this current book, I asked my editor if there would be a problem mentioning the Viet Nam war. She said something about it being historical! Man, made me feel old!

Of course, this is the same editor that was having lunch with me and another woman my age in Denver a few years ago. The other writer and I got to talking about where we were when Kennedy died and how everyone we knew could pin point the moment. My editor said, "I used to see him around New York." The other writer and I stared at each other. The editor was referring to John Kennedy Jr. of course, and we were taking about his father, the assassinated president. We all laughed over that one for a long time.

Lori Barber said...

Karen, Awk, you win!

When we remodeled our keeping room (family room) we found black and white wallpaper of men in long coattails with red bow ties and flappers with red beaded necklaces dances on all four walls! The sight gave one an instance headache. What were the previous owners thinking?

wavybrains said...

Great Blog as always Lori.

I find it is more often dialogue (or lack thereof) that dates a book rather than details. For instance, a historical (regency) from the 70s or 80s often has a simpering heroine giving long Bronte-esque backstory in between snippets of dialogue. There's a lot of brooding going on. Westerns from that same time frame seemed to have a lot of "stranded" and "rescue from savages" themes that date them today.

But I can always tell a dated contemporary by the clothes. For the love of simplicity, don't dress your heroine in pantsuits!!!!!!!!!!

Lori Barber said...

Wavy, I agree, dress your characters in simplicity, a fashion that never goes out of style.

Karen Duvall said...

Gee, Wavy, you mean baby blue polyester suit pants and jacket with the quarter-size buttons is out? Dang! I thought my gal was stylin'!