As the author of one of this month's suggested reads, Rain Is Not My Indian Name, I thought I'd discuss a question I struggled with in writing the novel: how should I weigh the need to convey a contemporary setting with the risk of dating the book too quickly?
Because so many images of Native people in books are historical, I wove a few pop culture references - mostly related to science fiction - into Rain's narrative to give the book a fairly "now" feeling. However, I selected and framed these tidbits carefully.
For example, I planted into Rain's character that she is a lover of science fiction -- recent and classic. That way, she would be as likely to mention "The X-Files" if we were to assume the story is set in the year 2001 as she would be to mention "The X-Files" if we were to assume the story is set in, say, the year 2010. This particularly holds true because the sci-fi fan base as a whole tends to have strong memories and long-standing loyalties.
Likewise, I refer to the "Bat Out Of Hell" albums by the band Meatloaf, a favorite of Rain's brother Fynn, as "vintage." So, from the first time the reader sees the reference, she knows that this is not meant as a time marker to indicate when the story is set but rather a "historic" reference.
(It did, however, require some conversation with my editor to establish that albums of both the 1970s and the 1980s would be considered vintage to today's teen readers; and on a personal level, we were both amused to find that a bit distressing).
In this way, there is a general early 21st century feel to the story.
Do you think that making Rain a science fiction fan was an effective way for me to weave in pop culture tie-ins without dating the book too quickly? Why or why not?
Also, do you believe that dating the book really matters? Does it bother you to read a book written for a contemporary audience that has a few tie-ins that seem a couple of years old? Or do you just assume that the story is a near history, set a couple of years ago, and go ahead with reading the story? Why or why not?
- Cynthia Leitich Smith
* Note: Cynthia's short story entitled "A Real Live Blond Cherokee and His Equally Annoyed Soul Mate" appears in Moccasin Thunder: American Indian Stories for Today, edited by Lori Marie Carlson, which is another of this month's recommended reads at readergirlz.
Check out the November 2009 issue of readergirlz.
Read my responses to the questions Cynthia posed in this post.