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warp because my details are so horribly out of date.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that even then, I was already out of date.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.