Thursday, July 28, 2011

Keeping Pace with Technology

Elizabeth Zelvin

When I wrote the first draft of Death Will Get You Sober back in 2002, my techie character, Jimmy, had to show his girlfriend, Barbara, how to look something up on Google. By the time the book was published in 2008, “google” had become a verb and an activity in which a savvy New York professional woman would certainly need no instruction.

In the first draft of Death Will Extend Your Vacation, written in the summer of 2007 and set in the Hamptons, Jimmy was considered an eccentric for insisting on taking his computer to the beach. I thought it was rather daring of him to insist on lugging his computer out to the East End of Long Island and setting it up in a tangle of cables and peripherals. At some point what I originally envisioned as a desktop became a much more portable laptop. However, neither Jimmy nor I wanted to risk getting sand into the laptop, so when Barbara dragged him to the beach, he took a PDA (personal digital assistant, if you’ve always wondered) along. It wasn’t clear whether he could access the Internet on it, but at least he could function, tapping happily away while Barbara and my protagonist, Bruce, swam and schmoozed with the gang of recovering alcoholics, codependents, and other members of twelve-step programs I created to serve as victims and suspects.

Death Will Extend Your Vacation was accepted for publication early in 2011 and is slated to appear in April 2012. While the manuscript was being edited, it occurred to me that nobody talks about PDAs any more, so I upgraded Jimmy to a netbook, one of the pint-size laptops that first came on the market in the fall of 2008 and soon appeared all over. They were especially popular with the write-in-Starbucks crowd. I got mine in 2009, a classy little dark-red Acer that I assumed would be the latest big thing for a while. Wrong!

Amazon’s Kindle first appeared in 2007, changing the face of publishing and reading itself forever. I remember this, no matter how my aging memory deteriorates, because when I signed the contract for Death Will Get You Sober, the electronic rights were not considered very important, and by the time I signed the contract for Death Will Help You Leave Him, they were. Kindle and its competitors affected us primarily as readers—and as authors who wanted readers to buy our books. But once the e-readers started busting out all over like the proverbial June, could the iPad and its ilk—featherweight tablets that functioned as both e-readers and computers—be far behind?

I had almost completed my response to the copy editor’s queries on Death Will Extend Your Vacation—my last chance to make changes before the manuscript is set in type (an archaic phrase in itself)—when I realized that if Jimmy is really a computer buff (much less a computer genius, which I kind of regret labeling him way back when), he wouldn’t be caught dead on the beach in 2012 (“now” for people who will read the book when it comes out) with anything less than an iPad. It’s too late to do anything about the fact that the sunbathers all around him should be thumbing away on their smartphones. Oh, well. Once print books become extinct, authors will be able to make these changes even after publication by accessing and editing their e-books.


Sheila Connolly said...

Remember how much easier it was to write mysteries before cell phones? Now people ask, why didn't she just call the police? And you have to go to great lengths to explain why your protagonist couldn't do that (like she was in the middle of the Arizona desert where there are no cell towers). And forget about finding a working pay phone.

Looking forward to the new book!

Sandra Parshall said...

I just read John Sandford's BURIED PREY, part of which is set in the pre-cell phone era, and it was very distracting to have the detectives always looking for a pay phone. I rarely use a cell phone myself, but I've come to see them as the norm in books.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Less than a week ago, after I wrote this post, an editor caught something I hadn't thought of regarding the iPad at the beach: Jimmy has to worry about getting sand ON it rather than IN it, and he can't CLOSE it, he has to close it DOWN.

JJM said...

I can see the time swiftly coming when you'll either be forced to publish only electronically and push out updates periodically, or write only historical novels -- at which point you risk embedding anachronisms of another sort. What do you mean I can't do the Times (of London) crossword puzzle in ink in 1888??? [laughter]--Mario

Susan Russo Anderson said...

"Once print books become extinct, authors will be able to make these changes even after publication by accessing and editing their e-books."

Oh, I so hope that never happens because I love books. And I, alas, am a techie type with both an iPad and a Kindle. (The job made me buy them both, which, now that I see it in print, kind of sounds like the dog ate my homework . . . . )

But if people take iPads to the beach, they are risking fate. And also I think they would be more likely to take an e-reader since an e-Ink screen is easier to read in bright sun, rather than an iPad or an iPod or one of those android thingys since their screens are video and very hard to see in bright sun.

Besides, I might be very wrong on this—and the numbers say I am—but I can't see really reading on an iPad, not for hours on end, unless you are pretending to read when you're actually playing some game like Angry Birds.

Leslie Budewitz said...

I was using my cell phone as a watch in a meeting I chaired this a.m., when the darn thing actually rang! And I didn't know how to turn it off without answering it! (A colleague came to my rescue.)

But of course, the protag in my WIP is a 30ish business owner & Seattle transplant -- I'm going to need a smartphone tutorial!