Friday, June 19, 2015

Why Modern Technology Hates Suspense Writers by Stuart R. West

For my just released book, Ghosts of Gannaway, I did an awful lot of research (emphasis on the “awful”). I uncovered more about the 1930’s and mining than any one person should know. Now, I’m the type of writer who likes to jump right in and let the characters run wild. Once I set them up, they pretty much chart their own course and fate. So the uncustomary preparatory research made me antsy. But thanks to the miracle of “Mr. Google,” the research wasn’t nearly as bad as it could’ve been.

Which made me wonder how writers managed to research during the pre-internet era. Good ol’-fashioned phone calling and pavement pounding, that’s how.

Writers are spoiled nowadays with the convenience and luxury of computers and the internet.  When I was in college (back in the ‘80’s, a decade not known for much other than big hair and even bigger shoulder pads), I pounded away on my portable electric typewriter, a then state-of-the-art contraption. Armed with a bottle of white-out at my elbow, it was slow, frustrating going.  I couldn’t imagine writing a novel on a typewriter, wouldn’t have the patience. Just a couple of weeks ago, I found out my daughter had never used a typewriter. To my horror, she didn’t even know how to return the carriage. And I’m really beginning to sound like a grumpy ol’ coot, aren’t I? (“You kids get outta’ my yard!”)

But even with the ease of computers, progress isn’t always a good thing for writers. Especially suspense writers.

Sure, I’m able to research with a few clicks of a button. But since my research over the past several years has included poison, witchcraft, black magic, animal tranquilizers, human sedatives, cults, hate churches, designer guns, lock-picking, serial killers, toxic gases, and other thriller staples, I’m sure I’ve raised a few governmental eyes. Probably on a couple of “To Be Watched” lists. Before the internet, writers could more easily maintain anonymity. A double-edged sword.

And since I like to wallow in suspense and thrillers, the advent of cell phones has made it tough. It’s hard to strand characters in perilous situations when they can just make a call. Characters in my books have the worst phone service providers ever; lots of dropped calls and fading batteries. Like Clark Kent, I miss phone booths. Hitchcock loved ‘em and for good reason. 

Then there’re all the electronic eyes everywhere! Security cameras, traffic cams, satellites looking at who knows what. Pity the poor fictional criminal; it’s next to impossible to pull off a nefarious deed these days without being witnessed.

Don’t even get me going on the state of forensics now. A crook practically has to hermetically seal himself in a plastic bag to pull off a successful murder. I envy the thriller writers of yesteryear, when the bad guys could perpetrate their crime, then boom, off to the Caribbean. 

I can’t keep up with the technological advances. I wrote a thriller a year ago, one I thought was relatively “cutting edge.” But, recently, a writer took me to task for having my anti-hero using a flip phone. “That’s so, like, five years ago,” she said. So I texted her back (painstakingly tap-tap-tapping three times per each letter on my flip-phone), Oh, yeah?

Progress. Bah! (“You kids call that a haircut?”)

What say you, other writers? How about it readers? Has progress helped or hindered what you write and read?

Ghosts of Gannaway, a decades spanning ghost story by Stuart R. West, from Books We Love Publishing is out now at the special sale price of .99! That's a whole lotta research for under a buck!

Click here for Amazon.

Stuart R. West's blog: Twisted Tales From Tornado Alley
Twitter: @StuartRWest