Time-dropping

If trying to impress someone by referring to famous people you know is name-dropping, then what should we call writers trying to impress us with too much period detail? Time-dropping?
BLACK STILETTO: Black and White is the second book in a series by Raymond Benson about a 1950s masked crimefighter called (obviously) the Black Stiletto. The backstory of the first book, I gather, is that Judy fled an abusive Texas family life for New York, fell in love with a mobster and went Punisher on the mob when he got whacked. The second book, in which she cracks down on the Harlem drug trade, juxtaposes Judy’s diary entries with the present-day experiences of her son, learning about her past for the first time and trying to avoid exposing it in the present (not for any convincing reason).
As an action novel, the book is blandly readable. As a historical novel, flawed. Part of the problem—the biggest for me—is that the name-dropping feels very forced. A lot of the references come up in Judy’s conversations with herself in her diary, and having her go on at length about the merits of Fabian vs. Elvis feels very forced (if it were just her and her friends chatting, I wouldn’t have such a problem?).
Lesser problems are words that don’t seem to fit the era (I certainly never heard “wimpy” in the current context growing up) and attitudes. Having Judy cheerfully free of any racial prejudice is a bit of a stretch but conceivable. It’s not that I want to read about raving bigot protagonists, but it feels almost like Benson’s hand-waving it away. In fairness, it’s a tough thing to work with, as I’ve discovered in my own writing.
And likewise, this presents the FBI cracking down aggressively on organized crime. From most accounts I’ve read, J. Edgar Hoover (legendary FBI Director) didn’t give a hoot about taking out the mob: His passions were Communists, leftists and civil-rights activists. And that’s a lot less forgivable, as it’s harder to hand wave away. I don’t think Benson rises to the level of accuracy I discussed a while back—good enough to fool a reasonably informed layman.
And since I’ve devoted this post to a writing topic here’s a writing link: Simon & Shuster have announced a subsidy-publishing venture that looks very well designed to charge aspiring authors a lot of money. Not so much to help them. Not the first time that’s happened with an established publisher either.

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2 Comments

Filed under Story Problems, Writing

2 responses to “Time-dropping

  1. Pingback: Writing links | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: Lost in the Seventies: Historical Fiction without Time-Dropping | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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