“Mrs. Eagle, wasn’t Paul McCartney in another band before he got into Wings?”
I’ll never be quite sure whether my 8th grade student was putting me on when she asked me that question. Perfectly straight 8th grade face waiting for my perfectly straight-faced answer. The year was 1981, maybe ‘82, and I think Wings had just broken up. It was the first time I felt the slightest bit dated. Fleetingly, to be sure—I hadn’t even reached my prime—but still I felt it. Within a few years I would encounter young people who thought of the Vietnam War exactly the way I’d regarded World War II—my parents’ war—waaaay before my time. History. The Draft—a big deal when my generation came of age—wasn’t an issue for my sons unless it was the kind that came out of a keg. But their boom boxes are laughable now, and Atari is a collectors’ item. And don’t get too cocky about your Android, my friend. It’ll be obsolete in the blink of an eye.
But will this year’s contemporary novel?
While you think about that question—because I promise to get back to it after meandering a bit—take a look at today’s exhibit B. The other night I caught a piece of a TV interview with somebody from Beloit College, which has been publishing its “Mindset List” since 1998. The latest list reveals the “mindset” of the Class of 2015, most of whom were born around 1993. Bill Clinton was their first president. Think about what was going on when you were 18. Now consider a few tidbits from The Mindset List, Class of 2015.
- Ferris Bueller and Sloane Peterson could be their parents.
- The only significant labor disputes in their lifetimes have been in major league sports.
- There has always been an Internet ramp onto the information highway, and
- Music has always been available via free downloads.
- Sears has never sold anything out of a Big Book that could also serve as a doorstop.
- They’ve always wanted to be like Shaq or Kobe: Michael Who?
- They’ve always been able to dismiss boring old ideas with “been there, done that, gotten the T-shirt.”
Check out The Mindset List for 69 other factoids to make you feel old along with webcast, videos and more class lists.
But first, back to my cogitation for the day. Writers who’ve been able to get the rights back to books that have gone out of print—some that might even (gasp) predate the Class of 2015—suddenly have access to a medium they can use to bring those books back. Self-publication is no longer considered a form of vanity, and small press isn’t that small anymore. The question is, should the author try to update these books?
If you’re digitizing a previously published historical novel, there’s no problem. But what about the contemporary novel with a 1993 copyright date? Should you take out the phone booth and give all the characters cell phones? Should you change Michael Jordan references to Kobe? Should you try to update the slang? What about the characters you’re writing right now? Do the adults speak your language? How do you handle teenage talk, which will literally be so last year by the time the book comes out?
I’m dying to hear your thoughts, and since I have a book coming out soon (ONE BRAVE COWBOY, 9/20) I’ll send one randomly selected commenter (check back on Sunday) an autographed copy of one of the earlier books in the series–see the 4-pack in the sidebar and take your pick.
“…for yourself, sir, shall grow old as I am, if like a crab you could walk backward.” –Hamlet