I wrote a mystery novel over a decade ago. Had a top agent send it a few places and then give up. I put it aside for a long time and now want to polish it and start querying agents.
I know that people write books about long ago (World War II, the Victorian era, Adam & Eve) but would having a story take place not all that long ago be a deterrent? I mean with scenes where a reader might say "Why didn't he just Google it?" or "Where's his cell phone?" Because a few things about the novel might make it a bit difficult to bring into the 21st century.
Unless, of course, I have to. But the presence of beepers and the novelty of personal computers do play roles in the story. I know that John MacDonald's Travis McGee novels are still on shelves, but people who buy them understand they were written 20 or 30 years ago...
So, if your setting is not contemporary (meaning set about now, i.e. when then novel is published), it's arguably historical fiction. In this case it's a historical mystery, like Ellis Peters wrote, just more by happenstance than by intent. Query away. Don't mention that you wrote it twenty years ago.
i could use an honest opinion: received rejection letter from literary magazine. is this (below) a form letter or at all made-it-past-the-slush-pile personalized?
> Dear [my name]:
> Thank you for sending us "story title". We really enjoyed this piece, but we didn't feel it was right for [literary magazine].
> We hope that you will continue to send us your work.
> The Editors of [literary magazine]
Formalized, though that doesn't tell you how far it got, especially for a literary magazine. Some people still do the formal one even if it was in the final running.
My current WIP is set roughly twenty years ago, and I've been told that this time frame could be problematic when I start shopping the MS. Twenty years isn't far enough in the past to be considered historical, but is much too far back to be contemporary.
The story isn't necessarily tied to that time frame by a major event such as war or disaster, and I originally started writing in the vague and general "present day." But I found the story just seemed to work better when set at the start of the '90s - possibly because that's when I went through experiences similar to those of my characters. So what do you think? Is a story set in the recent past at an automatic disadvantage?
So I'm currently struggling with this, too. I wrote a novel two years ago that was set in 1996 because it follows some historical events that happened in 1996. Various people who read it said that the connections to 1996 were kind of irrelevant and distracting, and I should set it in "now" and make it a generic president and just have the events be the events. However, because of the rate of advancement of technology, the story is definitely dated by 12 years. Only one character has a cellphone, and it almost never has reception and the battery runs out quickly. People have the internet but the way we did in 1996, i.e. they're not using it for communications in a time of major crisis, they're using pay phones and landlines and television. Really it would be a major set of revisions for me, but recently my agent has decided the manuscript is worthwhile in terms of trying to sell it to a publishing house, so she might ask me to go and do that. I'm not looking forward to it, but if it makes the story better, it'll be worth it.
The difference between "historical" and "dated" is a very fine line. If there's no reason for the events to be set in the past, they probably shouldn't be, but changing them is always a pain. On the other hand, if you're brushing off an old piece of work, brush it off properly.
One of the problems is that as we slowly approach the Singularity, technology advances at a rate where an ordinary story can become "dated" by a single reference to any piece of technology. We're willing to give some leeway, but not a lot. If it's set in "now," it should be current when you submit it. If it's loaded with pop-culture references, expect a short shelf-life.