Historical Fiction: Life Before the Internet?

As a graduate of UCLA, I appreciate the hand my alma mater played in the development of the Internet. I can even give a grudging nod to the self- proclaimed inventor,former Vice-President Al Gore, who insisted the government put everything on-line. That’s made a lot of stuff easier to do (including filing our taxes). Thanks, Mr. Vice President.

But at work the other day, we got into a discussion of historical fiction (My first published work–coming in September–is an historical fiction novella, The Dogtrot Christmas). I’m working on a novel right now that takes place in 1993 when a Desert Storm widow gets a job as a researcher for a journalist. No problem, until I researched how she does her job because– no Internet!

One of my colleagues doesn’t really remember life before the easy accessibility of the Internet. To her, a story that takes place before the Internet and  cell phones, is almost anachronistic. She laughed, “even now when I read a book about a heroine in some sort of danger, I wonder why she doesn’t just pick up her phone and call for help?”

Do you see how different life was before, say, 1996?

Think how dated so many movies look now when the hero whips out the latest invention–a mobile phone the size of a brick. (Unless, of course, we’re discussing Maxwell Smart and his shoe phone). You can judge a movie’s era by how they manipulate the computer–and the size of the tower. The joke where Scotty addresses the computer in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (You can relive the moment here.), is no longer a joke.

I asked several editors recently to define historical fiction and they all agreed it was novels that took place during World War II and before. Or, as one editor put it, “I can’t say anything later than that, like the Viet Nam War, is historical fiction because too many of my reading customers would be insulted to be considered historical.”

I understand the feeling. I told my daughter once I didn’t have a computer when I was growing up.

“Why?” she asked. “Were you too poor?”

They hadn’t been invented yet.  🙁

But in the case of my current novel (tentatively titled The Corkscrew Heart), I have the advantage over some writers in that I was doing research in 1993 and I remember how much time I spent at the library reading books and magazines looking for information. I had no other concept on how to do research. The Internet hadn’t reached the general populace then.

We purchased a scanner in 1994 so I could at least scan in the information and keep it on the computer, but the notion I could just type in keywords and the information would turn up on my screen–what an impossible, glorious thought!

The world prior to 1996 or so, ran differently. People did not have such ready access to information nor the ability to deal with issues as quickly–at least not in a mechanical sense.  They could pick up a phone–and most were no longer tethered to a wall by 1996–but they’d have to call the library itself for information. You had to read the newspaper if you wanted to find out what movies were playing. You had to write a letter if you wanted to communicate with friends living far away–and it took a long time to get there, much less to get an answer.

For that reason, I think historic fiction really should be anything before the fall of the Iron Curtain. How about you?

Leave a comment


  1. Julie Surface Johnson

     /  May 13, 2011

    It’s all true, Michelle. I’m beginning to feel my age for the first time in my life. The upcoming generation is the first one to outnumber us baby boomers and many of them see our contributions as insignificant and irrelevant in this electronic age. Worse, though our contributions were foundational to theirs, it’s hard to argue that, at the moment, they look very antiquated. Besides, who has time to argue–it’s taking all my energy just to TRY to keep up.

  2. dzrt bxr

     /  July 16, 2012

    50 years previous rather than an event.


Thoughts? Reactions? Lurker?

%d bloggers like this: