Saturday, May 24, 2008

How We Got into the '50s

When I wrote about “that year” in my piece a few days ago, I deliberately didn’t mention what year I was talking about because I haven’t yet discussed the time setting for my story. Because of the way Tangled Strands has evolved over the years, the time setting has bounced around a bit.

For starters, remember that I wrote the bulk of the story in 1986-87. So I wrote it as the world was in those days. Fine. When I got it out about four years ago and starting working on it again, one of the first things I knew I needed to do was “update” it into these times. So I started working in things like cell phones, seat belts, child car seats, and the like.

Then I let my son read it. I’m not sure how far he was into the story when he said to me, “Mom, I like your story, but it feels like it happened in another time.” Well, true because it was written in another time, but I assured him I was updating it by adding things like cell phones. “No,” he said, “it is more than that. It has the feel and values of another time.”

I didn’t fully understand what he meant, and I was still sure I could “fix” it with additions of modern things. But I never forgot he said that. It wasn’t until sometime later when I was playing with the ages of my characters that it hit me full force—Don Paul was right: Tangled Strands really does take place in another time, a previous time. (Don't ask me how Don tagged it for the ‘50s since he wasn’t born until ’64! ).

My first idea for solving this was to set it in the time it was written—the late ‘80s. When I attended the Blue Ridge Writers Conference a year ago, I decided to use that question as my conversation starter—at meals and when I spoke to authors, editors, and agents. Could I sell a story set in the 1980s? Predictably, I got a variety of opinions, but more than one who really knows the field told me, no, it wouldn’t fly in the ‘80s. The ‘80s aren’t “old” enough. They aren’t current, but they aren’t old enough to be “historical.”

The idea of the ‘50s, on the other hand, generated enthusiasm. The ‘50s, one multi-published author said, are “romantic” and she could see it making a good story setting. And to think my son told me that many months before. Hasn’t it been the experience of all civilization that parents tell their children things they don’t believe until they discover it themselves much late? Occasionally it happens in reverse . Thank God for sons with two Masters degrees.

Placing it in the ‘50s, I thought, shouldn’t be too hard since I was not only alive in those years, but I wasn’t a child. I did high school, college, and marriage in those years. I know they didn’t say things like “Way cool!” in those days. Of course I now had to go back and pull out all those cell phones and seat belts. I’ve found more than just those, and I’ll share them here from time to time.

Much more weighty than things like that are a couple key story elements that are a real challenge to put in that decade. For one of them I’ve found a compromise solution, but I’m still struggling with the other one. Things just weren’t done like that in that time, yet the element is crucial to the story. I’m not giving up. As I’ve said before, stay tuned!

By the way, the year for which I needed the Easter date was 1959. And another quick search on the Web brought me the complete TV schedule for that year with all those innocent programs we used to enjoy . You’ll have to watch for some of them in Tangled Strands.

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