…Reflection…Giving…Planning

Past, Present, and Future

Leave a Legacy

By Steve Hooley

It is the time of year when we reflect on the past, give gifts during the holidays, and plan for the future. So, how does that relate to writing? Can we learn from the history of writing to plan for the future of our writing? It has been said, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” (Winston Churchill, 1948, a paraphrase from George Santayana, 1905). And from geometry we learn that it takes two points to define the trajectory of a line. Could those two points be the past and the present? And does the trajectory of that line give us any clues about the future?

 

The Past – Reflection

For the past, we turn to British and American literature. Now, I am out of my element on this topic. I studied math and science in college. So, those of you English and literature experts, please help me out here.

For a listing of the periods or eras in British and American literature, I turned to Wikipedia. Here is what I found:

 

British Literature – periods and eras

Old English lit. – 658-1100

Late Medieval – 1066-1485

Renaissance

  • Elizabethan era – 1588-1603
  • Jacobean period – 1603-1625
  • Late Renaissance – 1625-1660

The Restoration – 1660-1700

18th Century

  • Augustan age – 1701-1798
  • Roots of Romanticism – 1750-1798

Romanticism – 1798-1837

Victorian lit. – 1832-1900

Twentieth Century

  • Modernism and cultural revival – 1901-1945
  • Late modernism – 1946-2000

21st Century lit.

 

American Literature

Colonial lit.

  • Early prose
  • Revolutionary period

Post-independence

  • First American Novel

19th Century – Unique American style

Late 19th Century – Realist fiction

20th Century prose

  • 1920s
  • 1930s – Depression era

Post WWII fiction

  • Novel
  • Short story

Contemporary fiction

 

I have gone back and reread “classics” from the 1800s in my attempt to educate myself. I have been surprised repeatedly by how much styles have changed from then until now. Many of those books contain techniques which we are now encouraged to avoid: omniscient POV, head-hopping, author intrusion, slow pace and entry into the story, lengthy description, tell don’t show, etc.

There were many cultural, societal, and economic reasons why those styles worked then, but wouldn’t work now. What can we learn from them?

Before we move from past to present, here is a link to John Gilstrap’s post from three days ago. John’s post It is a fantastic history of the publishing industry over the past quarter century.

 

The Present – Giving

We give gifts in the present. Do you consider your books and stories a gift to the future? If a gift is handed down to descendants and it is considered to be of value, it is a “legacy.” Are your books a legacy? Do you want them to be a legacy?

On a side note, but still about giving, today is “Goose Day.” If you investigate the secular tradition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and gift giving, you discover that we start with the 12th gift on December 13th and work our way down to the 1st gift on December 24th. This is December 19th, so if you are looking for a gift for your “true love,” it’s six geese a layin’ today. And hopefully, some of those geese will be layin’ gold eggs. Now, that’s a legacy.

 

The Future – Planning

If we wish our books/stories/wisdom to be a legacy, of value for the future, and maybe for us if we’re still around, how do we plan for that? Does our writing, or the way we publish, need to change? Can we predict trends for the future based on what has happened in the past and what is happening now? How will writing, publishing, and reading change? And how do we best position our writing to be ready for those developments?

 

 

  1. What era/period from the past would you choose to write in, if you could choose?
  2. Why did you pick that era/period?
  3. What new developments for writing/publishing/marketing/reading do you see coming in the future?
  4. Do you plan to position yourself for coming trends? How?
  5. Publishers Weekly says it’s about “what’s new and what’s next.” If you subscribe, what can you share about expected coming trends?
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25 thoughts on “…Reflection…Giving…Planning

  1. Good morning, Steve. Thanks for such a quietly intense post which will no doubt have many of us — me, for sure — thinking over the next few weeks and months as we stumble into the new year. Examining what has gone before is often instructive with respect to what lies ahead, regardless of how things change on the surface.

    To answer your questions:

    1) and 2) I would choose to write in the era of post World War II fiction. Books, especially paperbacks, seemed to be everywhere, particularly on those ubiquitous revolving wire racks.

    3) With regard to new developments, I see a further rise in self-publishing due to the consolidation of publishers and what I see as the continuing trend of mainstream publishers to give readers what they (the publishers) think the readers should have as opposed to what the readers want.

    4) No, I am not going to try to position myself for coming trends. Things change so quickly that it would be a hopeless task.

    5) What do I expect about coming trends? More people reading more due to lockdowns but not necessarily buying more books. Rather, they will go back and explore their own libraries for books they haven’t read or books that they have and remember fondly.

    Sorry to prattle on. I usually don’t do that (heh heh).

    Thanks again for a terrific post, Steve. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and Cindy.

    • Thanks, Joe.
      For questions 1) and 2), I guessed that many would pick the same era you picked. And for 3), I found your answer interesting. I hadn’t thought about that. I’ve wondered recently if platform and fame have become prerequisites for new authors to break in.
      Thanks, Joe.
      Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours!

  2. I’m content right where I am. I write first for me. My books straddle genres, so no traditional publisher would want them. My voice is mine. After a talk one person in the audience came up to me and said, “I read your book. You talk just like you write.” I doubt I’d fit in anywhere else.
    I agree with Joe about the rise in self-publishing, although there are a lot of authors who are publishing because they can. Readers are the new gatekeepers.
    I could never write to a trend. I don’t even like trying to write to a theme, such as when there’s a call for stories for an anthology, etc.
    I don’t attempt to predict the future. Which circles back to my first response.

    • Thanks, Terry, for your input. I understand what you say about voice. That’s me, too. And that’s one of the wonderful things about Indie publishing. We don’t have to fit into anyone else’s mold. We can write and publish what we want. Readers are the gatekeepers.

      Have a wonderful holiday season!

  3. No surprise here, Steve. I (like Joe) would choose post WWII, in Los Angeles, writing in that new form: mass market, spinner rack paperbacks. I’d have several of my books and stories turned into movies, starring people like Robert Mitchum and Dick Powell. By the 1970s I’d be recognized by literary departments in the university, and give popular lectures on the college circuit.

    As for marketing, it will always be true that the best marketing is between the covers of the book (or the digital beginning and end points!)

    • Thanks, Jim, for stopping by. Would those mass market paperbacks be “pulp fiction?” That’s what I expected you to choose. Your Ty Buchanan, Force of Habit, and Romeo series would all be best sellers. I just finished Long Lost. Great read. Once again, it cut into my sleeping hours.

    • I was in those graduate schools in the 70s. Popular fiction was thought of as garbage and not worth their time. You’d need to wait until popular media and fiction became a thing worth of studying which was years later.

  4. Thank you for this thoughtful and thought-provoking post, Steve.

    1 and 2. Another Boomer checking in for post-WWII, although I’d also go back farther in history. With any generation, the times they grew up in mold values and beliefs for the rest of their lives. The undercurrent of fear during Cold War, the horror and shock of JFK’s assassination, the divisive Vietnam war influenced all of us Boomers, consciously and subconsciously.

    3. More indie publishing. I hope plucky upstart companies will chip away at Goliath’s current near-monopoly. I suspect underground literature will develop, away from Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

    4 and 5. Still waiting for answers from my Magic 8 Ball. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magic_8-Ball

    Merry Christmas to you and your family, Steve.

    • Thanks, Debbie. Amazing how many of us, Baby Boomers, are choosing the post WWII era. I think it would be fun to write during the time of Dickens, when many of the books were serialized in newspapers.

      I agree with you on the small presses. I hope many start and many are successful. And when you get some answers from that magic 8 ball, please let the rest of us know.

      Merry Christmas to you and your family, Debbie.

  5. 1. What era/period from the past would you choose to write in, if you could choose? I would choose early 20th century (1900-1930’s) to be a writer.

    2. Why did you pick that era/period? So much was in flux in the U.S. at that point. Communications, transportation, social issues. You could get access to information a little quicker and probably stand a better chance of your manuscripts surviving. The nation was growing but not not yet covered in concrete and asphalt. The American Dream (despite the downturn of the Depression) was still very much alive. I would have been in a much better position to assimilate and synthesize all the happenings of the mid to late 19th century, my favorite time period to write about. And I would definitely use that synthesis of past events to become a historian. That job would be the bees knees.

    3. What new developments for writing/publishing/marketing/reading do you see coming in the future? Unfortunately, I don’t see it as a coming new development, but something on my wish list is that for readers of non-fiction, I wish in the future there would be a way, in addition to the book, to electronically organize the information so you could retrieve it as necessary while still protecting the author’s copyright. Yes, I know someone is going to mention the search feature on e-readers, but I have found them to be wholly unequal to the task. Either that or someone please develop a way to give me a photographic memory. 😎

    4. Do you plan to position yourself for coming trends? How? Nope. I do not stand a chance of being trendy. Nor do I want to. After all, I write mostly historical–exploring the past and evaluating for what I can learn from it for today. It’s a way to examine trends, but not with the intent of being trendy.

    5. Publishers Weekly says it’s about “what’s new and what’s next.” If you subscribe, what can you share about expected coming trends? N/A

    • Thanks, BK, for your comments. Your comments on #1 and #2 remind me of what I always say about the “greatest generation.” I believe they saw more changes in technology and lifestyle during their generation than have any before them, and maybe more than any will in the future. – from horses for transportation to a man on the moon – Amazing.

    • Some time back, publishers of nonfiction were talking about concierge or a la carte publishing where they’d sell bits and pieces of books for research or other books. It’s not my market so I’ve not kept up, but I’m sure something like that is happening now.

  6. 1. How timely, Steve, because I’m currently writing a historical thriller set in 1947. Surprised to find so many others focused there (not JSB so much), but for me there are personal reasons. In my research, 1947 pops up EVERYWHERE as a watershed year. My protag is an expat widow returning Stateside from Mexico, and caught up in a search for an assassin. Also, I’m re-reading some Ray Chandler works and realizing how drastically life details have changed since.

    2. Why pick 1947? I have memories from that year and before in Southern California–Burbank, Los Angeles, the Valley, San Diego. Although my childhood self was oblivious to adult issues of the time, it’s fascinating to revisit the era from today’s perspective. A rich trove of material for my story.

    3. New developments? Artificial Intelligence as a writer’s tool. I don’t like the idea, but writer/blogger Joanna Penn makes an intelligent case for AI’s insurgency into writing and its inevitable future presence.

    4. I certainly won’t indulge in audible and AI at this late stage of life. I tried dictation for a short while out of necessity but abandoned it for my comfort groove–butt in chair, fingers on keyboard. That’s something for a younger generation of writers to grapple with.

    5. As I pointed out in (3) above, I recommend reading Joanna’s take. She’s active in the trends and making a business from it. I think her recent posts re: AI bear watching, if only for interesting reading. I may still be around to see it materialize, but I won’t put any of my time into it.

    • Thanks, Dan. 1947 sounds like an interesting year. And thanks for the reminder about AI. I hadn’t thought about that when I wrote this post. I’m going to check out Joanna Penn’s blog. I’ve read several of her books. She’s really a treasure trove of information.

  7. Good morning, Steve. I second Joe’s characterization that this is a “quietly intense” post will give us much to think about as we leave the singular year that was 2020 and head into what will, for better reasons, be the equally singular year I believe will follow.

    I’ve been a fiction writer for most of my life, and an aspiring author since I was nineteen. Thirty years later, I finally became an author when my short story “Dead Wife Waiting” was published in 10FlashQuarterly. Ten years after that, I have a number of books and stories out. But, there is always more to learn and improve. In some ways, I feel like I’ve barely begun given how much better I writer I can become.

    I used to fantasize about jumping back to my late teens or early twenties, with the knowledge and craft learning I later picked up and being able to write amazing fantasy and thriller novels that would knock readers circa 1980 or 1985s socks off. It was an era when seemingly any hardworking mid-list novelist had the chance at the best-seller list. I after I read it, I realized this was my novelist’s version of Ken Grimmwood’s novel “Replay,” which features a middle-aged hero that wakes up one morning in his teen-aged body. I also fantasized about having writing career in the 1950s and 1960s, namely because I’d have the advantage of my more “modern” writing style and storytelling sensibilties.

    Now, that seems both arrogant and naive. Writing styles and storytelling approaches reflect their eras. Ours is driven by visual storytelling, and the 21st century storytelling technique of getting into the story at once and amping the narrative drive (something I love as a reader and a writer). But, earlier eras had their own approaches to telling a great story.

    One of the online writers groups I belong to is a talented group of indie urban fantasy novelists, and the discussion of “writing to market” has been an ongoing topic for several years. I don’t write to market. I write the story I’m passionate about, which is why I’m the writer in the group who has the urban fantasy series featuring super-powered individuals and crime fiction vibe with thriller pacing. Several of my fellow members sell way better than I, and that’s fine, their audiences are larger than mine. We’re all about finding and nurturing our own readerships.

    I think that will only become more pronounced in the future. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do think the digital self-publishing, in eBook and audio, will continue, alongside “traditional publishing” (especially trad-pubbed small press titles).

    Thank you for a very thought-provoking post that’s also made me a bit wistful for my youthful self’s efforts, failed though they were, back in the 1980s, and also the gratitude I feel for all the great novelists, including the crew here, who have taught me so much.

    • Thanks, Dale, for your thoughts. I knew your comments would be interesting with your background in the library. And yes, if we could take what we know now, and go back to our youth. Of course, we might find more lucrative endeavors with that knowledge of the future.

      Wishing your a happy holiday season.

  8. Good Saturday morning, Steve (and Kill Zoners). This piece made me reflect or introspect. It’s also timely because I just bought Agatha Christie’s “Death On The Nile” for my wife, but ended up dog-earing it myself. I see a clear pattern of “what’s old is new” happening, and it makes me comment that if I could pick any period to write in it’s today. We learn so much from the past – all the periods – and can apply those writing lessons to create new “old” works, if I’m making any sense here.

    New developments coming in the future? Hmmm… I think we’ve seen a run on the “Girl” trend – in crime fiction, that is. I’ve found a niche with based-on-true-crime stuff and will pursue that for the next year or so. It seems to be working, and I see a big push towards true (or almost true) crime happening in books, videos, podcasts, etc, so it’s probably a good bet to jump on that train before it’s gone, girl.

    I’m going to stick my neck out on a technological prediction. I could be wrong, as I usually am, but I think interactive books are comin’ around the bend. I see text-to-voice vastly improving so an ebook reader (Kindle/Kobo, etc) will have a realistic voice-over feature as well embedded video graphics and musical soundtrack all being selective on one device. That’s what I’ve asked Santa for, anyway.

    Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and a very healthy 2021 to everyone!

    • Thanks for your comments. I’m in agreement with you on two things. I think the “true crime stuff” is here to stay. Just listen to the gossip at every office, or notice all the “true” scandal magazines at the checkout counter. Humans love the scandal.

      And on the future, I would guess we’ll see more technology and interactive components available in ebooks. Audible books have become very popular, why not add background sound music and video?

      I almost used a short “Christmas Carol” with the ghosts of writing past, present and future for this post. In the future, Old Scribs (Scrooge) watched himself adding five data tracks (one for each of the five senses) to a holographic skull and brain wearing a “reader’s visor.” But my wiser self told my crazy self that was a little too much for his post.

      Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

    • Interactive books already exist. They’re called video games which have stories, backstory, character arcs, etc. Just ask your kids.

      TTS voices have improved to such an extent that some TTS narrated Reddit stories on YouTube are hard to tell from a human voice.

  9. Thought-provoking post, Steve. Love the pic, too. Great job!

    1. & 2. I would’ve loved to write true crime in the late 1880s when H.H. Holmes roamed the streets. Imagine?
    3. Whatever it is I’m sure it’ll blow our minds.
    4. No, I do not chase trends.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Sue. And thanks for the help with the pictures. I just couldn’t help but add golden eggs on Canva. Better than the white wash.

      And on #3, I hope you will continue to “educate” the rest of us on better ways to market.

      Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

  10. As someone with multiple degrees in literature, criticism, and writing, my advice is don’t read the classics of literature or genre to help your writing. Current works by respected new writers teach you far more about narrative and style than even established current writers because narrative has changed dramatically just in the last 10 years. (Click on my name to go to my writing blog then click on my “History of Narrative” label for the full pedantic lecture. )

    “The Twelve Days of Christmas” start on December 26 and end on the Feast of Epiphany. I was very sad to learn this because I thought I was born on “Partridge in a Pear Tree” Day. I must settle for St. Lucia and her festival of lights.

    “What era/period from the past would you choose to write in, if you could choose?”

    My writing has always been ahead of the trends by about 20 years. I “invented” several genres and subgenres including paranormal suspense at a time when no publisher wanted them so time and trends have never been my friend.

    My period of degree specialization in literature was American and British literature of the 19th Century because that time and fiction spoke to me, but my voice is now so I doubt I’d have done any better at a writing career then than I have with my 20-year-old future trend nature.

    “What new developments for writing/publishing/marketing/reading do you see coming in the future?”

    The major future shifts started around 10 years ago with the wild explosion of popularity of the ebook and the shift to the Internet for everything from sales to marketing. We’ll just be seeing more of this, and marketing follows the readers online. We’ve moved from blogs to Facebook to where ever is happening right now.

    “Do you plan to position yourself for coming trends? How?”

    In writing, following the trends is usually a foolish endeavor, particularly if your publisher is traditional. By the time your book is finished or out, the trend has passed. Write what you want to write and read, then find your reading tribe. The best place to be if you are a trend whore (their term) or want to do what you want is self-publishing because you can shift trends or genres as fast as you can write. Figure out who is selling and see what they are doing to promote themselves and where they are promoting themselves. A surprising amount of these successful writers share their tricks on their blogs, etc.

    • Thanks, Marilynn, for all the great advice. I’ll definitely check out your blog and the “History of Narrative” lecture. I appreciate your sharing what you have learned over your academic and writing career.

  11. I’m very late to chime in, but such a thought-provoking post deserves a response. It’s especially interesting to me since I”m writing an article entitled “The Gift” for my own blog to post this week.

    #1. I’m happy writing in this current time period. Actually, my two books take place in 2010 so that I can make use of certain technology and still use the history of some of the characters. I may want to address earlier eras as I get better at the art.
    #4. I’m not interested in trends. My goal is to continue to develop my writing craft while being intentional about the content. I want my books to be more than entertainment. I want to provide ideas that make people think.

    Thank you, Steve, for your article. Best wishes for the Christmas season and a happy and healthy 2021.

    • Thanks, Kay. It’s never too late.

      “I want my books to be more than entertainment. I want to provide ideas that make people think.” I think that is one of the most profound thoughts expressed today. And that is why I write. With your goals and determination, I am certain that you will leave a legacy.

      Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy ( and healthy and successful) New Year.

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