Wicked Wednesday: The Passage of Time

Hi. Barb here. Wondering about the passage of time.

Four of the Wickeds are writing the third book in their series. And Sherry just handed in her first (Yay!). So I’m wondering how the Wickeds are handling the passage of time in their series. Clammed Up, the first book in my Maine Clambake Mystery series takes place on the first day of Clambake season in the “undefined now.” (Actually, if you checked the moonrise and tides tables they would jibe with 2012 when I wrote it.) Boiled Over, the second book takes place in mid-August of the same year, the height of the season, and Mussled Out, the third, on Columbus Day weekend as the clambake shuts down.

calendar flippingBut what happens if I’m lucky enough to get the series renewed? Do I “gently” move the next set of books forward to 2015 or so? Authors of long-running series (okay, I wish!) handle time differently. Sue Grafton has famously kept Kinsey Milhone in the 80s. Ruth Rendell has slowed down time, so her Inspector Wexford, who was 52 in “From Doon with Death,” in 1964 finally retired from police work in “The Vault” in 2012.

Wickeds, have you thought about how you’ll handle the passage of time in your series? How do you like to see it handled as readers?

Liz: Lots to think about with this question, Barb! In my first book, Kneading to Die, the story opens in present day, summer time. The second book, A Biscuit, A Casket, happens right around Halloween (my favorite time of year!). I struggled a little bit with the setting for the third book. I’m not a huge fan of winter and I thought it might be tough to have things happening on the town green if it was buried in snow. But since it’s a New England setting, I thought it might be odd to have them skip winter altogether. So I compromised and set it in February, hoping we’d hit only the tail end of bad weather.

If, as Barb says, I’m lucky enough to have the series renewed, I think I’ll continue on the path of each season. One of the things readers seem to love about New England is the change of seasons, and with different weather comes different challenges and situations for the characters. Stan is in her mid-thirties, so she’s got plenty of time!

2010-09-15 06.19.10
Farm to Table dinner at Cider Hill Farm (http://www.ciderhill.com/) cooked by Phat Cats Bistro (http://www.phatcatsbistro.com/), both in Amesbury, Mass.

Edith: Great questions, Barb! I’m marching through the seasons in my Local Foods mystery series, too. A Tine to Live, a Tine to Die opened at the start of the farming season in New England, on June 1. ‘Til Dirt Do Us Part starts at a fall farm-to-table dinner. Farmed and Dangerous, which I’m writing now, takes place in snowy January. I love using the feelings of the different seasons. And farmers, of course, are very attuned to the changes in not only temperature but also day length and the slant of the light. I’d love to see my contract renewed, and think a spring book with Cam frantically trying to nurture seedlings and getting the early tilling done would be a natural.

But the other question about the passage of book time versus real time — that’s tricky. Sure, I set Book One in 2012. So in book time, Book Three takes place seven months after Book One, but will release two years later. I suppose we can ignore real time until some major technological or news event changes the way people live their lives. For farmer Cam, maybe genetically modified seeds will be outlawed, or non-organic produce will be made illegal. Okay, don’t all laugh at once. She’s also a former software engineer, though, so there might be a leap in some kind of software that assists growers. In that case, I’d have to catch her up with the present. I am pretty careful not to tie anything very closely to real events, so the time setting is pretty fuzzy, given that there are cell phones, web sites, and texting.

Barb: I have to admit, as a reader, I love it when series “skip” some time and something significant–a death, a retirement, a promotion, a divorce, a birth–happens off stage and the series characters are dealing with it as you start the new book.

Jessie: I’m moving slowly in my Sugar Grove series. Drizzled with Death takes place in late November and Maple Mayhem is set in January. While I realize that adds up to a high body count for a small town I enjoy allowing relationships to unfold slowly. If I jump ahead in time too much that can’t happen. It is funny though that it makes more sense to me for bodies to crop up here, there and everywhere than it does for my characters to form attachments quickly or resolve difficulties in their personal lives at a fast clip.

Julie: This is such a great question. I am not just a cozy writer, I am a cozy reader. I find that I am OK with seasons passing, but I don’t like to get stuck in a year. And with technology you have to be SO careful, because it can/does date you. I have a few manuscripts that live in a drawer. One was dependent on floppy disks and having to buy a program in order to break a code. Hello? Between the internet and flash drives (never mind DropBox), the tension no longer works. It is like cozies work in a magical reality, where everyone stays the same age but keeps going through seasons, but I am OK with that.

Sherry: I just sent in the first of my Sarah Winston Garage Sale Series, Tagged for Death. It is set in April. The third is set in the winter so number two will be set sometime in the mid to late summer. I have to figure out exactly when soon. I mention Facebook in my novel which will date it at some point, however if people are reading it that long after publication I will be very grateful. I like how Janet Evanovich has handled time in her Stephanie Plum series. Stephanie remains about the same age in all the books, but as times and technology changes so does Stephanie. I wish I could remember the name of the author I saw  several years ago at the National Book Festival who said he wished he’d aged as well as his series character.

Readers: How to do you like to see time handled?

2 Thoughts

  1. As a reader I like the time to move on, but more slowly than real time. I want my characters to be around for a long time.

  2. As a reader, I don’t mind if time passes between books. The one exception is that sometimes the author feels compelled to explain everything that happened in the time between books, which can really drag down the start of the new book, especially if there’s too much telling. I think I would feel uncomfortable if only a short interval occurs (and you couldn’t really have a body a month!)

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