Modern References

I’ve been quilting for the past two weeks. When I sew, I set an audio book up and listen to someone read aloud to me while I stitch. I’d rather have company, but in lieu of someone sitting there chatting with me, I’ll take a story.

How To Flirt With A Naked Werewolf by Molly Harper

This week, I queued up “How To Flirt With A Naked Werewolf” by Molly Harper. Now, before I say anything, I want to tell you that I really liked this book. It’s a super read. Light, funny and quirky. The heroine was raised by hippies and had a lot of parental baggage. She is a southern magnolia who runs to Alaska to escape her crazy parents who interfere in her life.

I really enjoyed all the drama. The book is told first person so you really feel like you understand the heroine and all her foibles, worries and needs.

And since it’s got werewolves, there’s some action–which I love. One of the things I found interesting was that in Mo’s point of view, she channels Jennifer Garner as Sydney Bristow in “Alias”. Kind of a ‘what would Sydney do?’ moment here or there when things get violent.

I didn’t watch Alias while it was running weekly, but a year or two later, I watched the whole series start-to-finish with a girlfriend and I enjoyed it immensely. So I know who Sydney Bristow is and why the heroine would think of her in a scary situation.

But what about in five years? Will anyone remember that reference in a few years? That TV show ran for four or five seasons. It was good. It might be in re-runs, but it might also fade away. Is using a reference like that in the best interest of the long time viability of the book??

Here’s what I’m thinking… there are a LOT of references she could have used that have already stood the ‘test of time’. Like say, for instance, James Bond. If she said, ‘what would 007 do?’ she could be fairly certain that thirty or forty years from now, people would still know who James Bond is. That franchise has been around for over forty years.

So using a modern reference is dicey. At least it can be. Or is it just me? Do you wonder if some things in books will stand the test of time, or if ten years from now, a new generation of readers will scratch their heads and wonder?

–Sandee Wagner

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12 thoughts on “Modern References

    • Meggie,

      I often wonder how hard it would be to ‘talk around it’ or use a more time-nonspecific reference. I guess it helps to imagine what shows/characters a heroine would like/love or emulate. Deep characterization? spw

  1. I understand the concern presented here, but I also wonder if it’s worth it to worry about it. Pop culture changes, cities change, technology changes, transportation changes, etc. If it’s an important enough aspect of the plot there should be some sort of explanation attached no matter how brief (like “Sydney Bristow, chameleon agent from the show ‘Alias'” or something to that effect…

  2. I agree, Sandee. Especially with the proliferation of backlists in e-books now, it’s a guarantee that readers are going to come across short-term cultural references that make them go “huh?”

    I was reading something a few months ago, an older romance I’d gotten as an e-book, and the character had the newest !! technology — a car phone that even honked the horn when you were out of the vehicle to let you know a call was coming in. And another book not long ago that was supposed to be current time, but the character gets off the plane and her family’s waiting at the gate with all the other friends/families. Has the author not flown, watched the news or read the Internet stories about airport security for the past ten years?

    Either choose something that’s stood the test of time, or make up your own “Sydney,” explain it and use it the same way.

    • Marilyn,

      I think if you are repackaging a book as an e-book, you need to take the time to update this stuff. Didn’t Jackie hit on that in one of her posts? If you are re-releasing something that is 10-15 years old, then you need to update stuff like that. People do not hang around the gates at the airport anymore. Car phones are not ‘new’ technology. They are over.

      I guess I just wondered if I was the only person who looks at band names, song titles, TV show references and wonders if it will hold up as long as the book will. spw

      • Unfortunately, a lot of authors have publishers putting their old books up without asking. Harlequin has made my entire backlist available, and I didn’t have a clue until someone mentioned downloading my first book. They don’t give anyone the opportunity — that I’m aware of — to update, I’m not sure I would have had the time to update fifty-some books, but I would’ve given them my best shot.

        Way back before the Internet, legendary romance editor Leslie Wainger always cautioned her writers not to use references that would date the books, but some stuff slips in when you’re not looking. I have the rights to only three of my books, but if I decide to Kindleize them, I’ll definitely tighten and refresh them first.

    • It was a good show. You should check it out. I watched all the seasons on DVD. They did a couple of interesting things… first, every single episode featured the heroine dressing up and assuming a persona. Wig, makeup, accent… she did a really good job. Jennifer Garner is quite an actress. Second, they arced a story through out the whole season. Each episode had a story, but there was an overarching bad entity that endangered the world… it was good. spw

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