Monday, November 07, 2011

Guest Blogger: MEL TAYLOR

There must have been a teen in the late 1960’s who held a device called a transistor radio, listened to Top 40 music and wondered if technology had reached its zenith in pushing music through a half-inch speaker, sometimes from hundreds of miles away. Clearly, the answer was no. Technology was about to take off, just like those history-making flights to the moon. It was a time when computers filled up a room, and events were recorded on film. Fast-forward to today and you can buy a smart phone that talks to you. Technology is moving so fast, you’re concerned that new flat screen you purchased, fresh out of the box might be outdated before you get it set up. So, for mystery writers, how do you inject 3-D defying techno gadgets into your books without one day dating them right up there with BETA recorders, VHS, audio cassettes, analog TV, and Pong?

For writers, there is a balance of using technology with strong characters. Deborah Sharp, author of the great Mace Bauer mystery series, has this reflection: “I’m a technophobe, so I don’t know enough to toss around the names of all the newest gadgets. Still, I think it’s difficult to avoid any mention of cell phones, caller ID and the like, since they’re an integral part of our lives.”

Joyce Sweeney, award winning author and founder of a very successful critique group in south Florida, embraces technology: “I use current technology at the time of writing because there’s no way to really know what will happen next. If I think a certain item is waning, I would leave it out.” Even with a dated item, Sweeney says it should not be a problem. “I find that readers don’t mind ‘antiques’ in their books.”

I posed the technology question to author Paul Levine. I have read all of his books in the Jake Lassiter series: “A book has to be set in its time and place. I’m not going to worry about what technology will replace the cellphone or Netflix or Facebook. By the same token, it would be a mistake to have a character in 2011 constantly using pay phones! Technology is changing too fast to worry about it, so that what we write in 2011 might be somewhat dated by its publication in 2013, but that’s part of modern life.” Paul Levine, author of “Lassiter.”

For me as well, the key is technology can’t be avoided. The book is a snapshot of life. I mention gadgets in their proper place, as part of the flow of the story. After that, when it comes right down to the core, the direction is to pour all of my efforts into the characters, the plot, pacing, setting, and those delicious unexpected twists. In my first two mystery books, my main character is a TV reporter. Much of his world has not changed much except for the introduction of High Definition or HD, a bigger use of computers and the disappearance of the beeper. Technology will continue to flourish and that’s good. Still, in my experience, readers will share with others on what they like about how characters respond to the obstacles we writers present, rather than the model number of a fancy device.

I am sure that 1960’s teen trying to dial in Wolfman Jack would be proud.

Mel Taylor is the author of the Deadline books. Murder by Deadline and Encounter by
Deadline by Avalon Books. His character Matt Bowens is a south Florida TV reporter who works in front of a TV camera and solves crimes with the help of photographer Ike Cashing. He has just launched a collection of short stories called Deep Trouble, available on Kindle,Nook and iBooks.

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