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Friday, July 13, 2012

Why the Heck Can't She Just Use a Ray Gun? Tess Gerritsen

Tess Gerritsen left a successful practice as an internist to raise her children and concentrate on her writing. She gained nationwide acclaim for her first novel of medical suspense, the New York Times bestseller Harvest. She is also the author of the bestsellers Life Support, Bloodstream, Gravity, and The Surgeon. Tess lives with her family in Maine. (PHOTO CREDIT: Paul D'Innocenzo) --as appeared her blog.

I’m a very lucky writer. All my published books, going back to 1987, are still in print. That’s 25 years’ worth of my stories, still available to readers, and still selling — which makes me very happy indeed.
But it also leads to some strange misunderstandings by readers who pick up one of my older books. They think I must be living in a time warp because my details are so horribly out of date. I try to explain to them that a certain book isn’t actually contemporary because it was written, oh, twenty five years ago. But then they start to argue that even then, I was already out of date.

Take, for instance, my book HARVEST. It was written in 1995. In the story, my character hunts around for a pay phone to make a very important call. Several characters, in fact, can’t reach certain people because they can’t find a landline. A reader took me to task for that, complaining that I was a moron because didn’t I know the northeast has cell towers? Everyone has a cell phone!
Well, no. In 1995, only a few doctors had cell phones. Most doctors carried beepers. I remember a discussion at our local hospital around that time, whether the medical group should buy one cell phone to be shared by all the doctors, who’d use it while on call. I tried to explain this to the cranky reader, but he remains unconvinced. In his mind, everyone was using cell phones in 1995, and there’s no way I could ever convince him I was right. (As if I’d write a book in 1995 and purposefully ignore current technology.)

I was also taken to task for VANISH, about an incriminating videotape that must be hand-delivered to a reporter. One reader thought my characters were idiots because they could have shared the video with the whole world by simply posting it on YouTube. D’oh! Why didn’t I think of that?

Well, I wish I had thought of it, because I’d be worth a fortune. The book was written in 2004. YouTube came into existence in 2005. If only I had invented YouTube.

And consider the weirdly anachronistic details in my very first book, CALL AFTER MIDNIGHT. Written in 1986, it was partly set in Berlin, where my heroine must navigate a city where tensions run high because of the Berlin Wall. Which was still standing in 1986.

Yes, readers. I’m fully aware that the Wall came down in 1989. Please, no more letters asking how I could be so woefully ignorant of history.

With the rapid changes in technology, and the fact that your backlist will now forever stay in print thanks to e-books, other authors must be facing the same criticism. “Why didn’t your character just use a fax machine?” “How could he get lost when he could have used a GPS?”

In another few decades, we’ll hear readers complain: “What’s with the cops using Glocks? Why didn’t Jane Rizzoli just set her ray gun on stun?”

It won’t satisfy anyone to point out that the book was written thirty years earlier. Because by then we’ll have time travel, and you’ll have no excuse.

Please, readers. Before you fire off a letter to an author complaining she’s behind the times, check the copyright date. And remember that books are usually written a year before they’re actually published. An author can’t be blamed for not knowing what the world will look like a year (or more) in the future.


  1. A ray gun! That's too funny. I always check the date a book was written before I start reading, just because of things like this. I just like to know when a book first came out.

    I live in New England, and in 1995 nobody I knew had a cell phone!

  2. Ha! Thanks for turning a fact which must be frustrating into a delightful fun post for us to read. My YA speculative is set in the future, and I'm already anticipating readers who think I'm way behind in how soon we'll have specific technology. Oh well.

    Now about that time travelling...

  3. This is one of my favorite posts I've read this week -- even this month. Funny but so, so to the point. I need to find my quill pen to take notes.

  4. Heaven forbid we actually went through a time when people didn't talk on their phones 24/7 in the post office, grocery store, restroom, and church.

  5. Tess, your posts always crack me up while they make me think! So true. Personally, I love reading old sci-fi and seeing how forward-thinking those books were. In EARTH ABIDES, even though the characters don't have ipods or cell phones, the MC does check the radio when disaster strikes, and we still have it around today. It's actually the only way we could get news when we were recently holed up in West Virginia with no power for ten days.

  6. Great points! It's interesting to see when our contemporary work starts to become "history." BTW, I love Rizzoli & Isles. :) I didn't know about the books until I started watching the show.

  7. One of the "curses" of contemporary novels--woe be when they're no longer contemporary, but not old enough to be considered "real history."
    Entertaining post!


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