Originally Published: https://www.mindymcginnis.com/blog/craig
As the author of the Dr. Kyle Chandler Thriller Series, a series of suspense/thriller novels about a busy trauma surgeon with a private investigation hobby on the side, the premise for these stories is set in the mid-1990’s. Why would I set these books in that decade instead of the present-day, you ask? Well, there’s a couple of simple answers to that question.
Prior to my career as a fiction novel writer, I was a plastic and reconstructive surgeon for twenty-five years. I completed my surgical training in the late 1980’s and started my private practice in 1990. Believe it or not, I wrote the initial draft to the first book in the series, Cut to the Chase, in the late 1990’s. One of the best pieces of writing advice that I was ever given was that an author should “write about what you know.” And I definitely knew about the practice of medicine in the 1990’s because I actually lived through it. So when it came time to re-edit and resubmit my manuscript for publishers, I left the story timeframe in the 1990’s.
The overall independence of the field of clinical medicine, particularly the status of private practice medicine, is quite different today as compared to the 1990’s. Back in the last decade of the twentieth century, managed healthcare was just beginning to exercise its influence over how physicians were expected to treat their patients. Today, physicians are minion employees of large healthcare corporations where bottom-line profits take precedence over doing what is best for your patients.
Because large managed healthcare corporations were beginning to dominate healthcare in America in the 1990’s, I made them the antagonist in my first novel, Cut to the Chase. One of the recurring scenarios in my series is that as my protagonist progresses in each novel, he is like David facing overwhelming odds against a Goliath opponent. In each situation, it leads to the theme of “never give up.” So I extended this theme in my second novel, Hidden Agendas, where my protagonist, Dr. Kyle Chandler, is up against powerful corporate businesses, one somewhat legal, yet corrupt, the other quite dangerous. It made the antagonist for the second novel just as believable since large corporations of the 1990’s were just as ruthless back then as they are today.
Will the readers understand enough what it was like back in the 1990’s to stay interested in the stories of my series? I think so, but I’m sure it might depend on the age bracket of the readers. After all, the 1990’s is definitely not the same as the year 2022. My two sons marvel at the thought that we actually survived in a world without cell phones and the Internet for most of that decade. If you needed to find out some information about something, you couldn’t just quickly “Google” it. You had to go all the way up to the library or bookstore and look it up. Imagine that. There was no such thing as an iPhone. You listened to music from cassette tapes and CD’s, not streaming phone apps. Not really worse than today, just a tad different.
You might suggest that younger readers may not be as interested in stories set in an earlier time period. You could argue that because they didn’t live in that time period, they probably wouldn’t understand the 1990’s as well as the present time. I’m going to send you a little pushback on that one (listen young readers, you’ll eventually get to the stage where you think thirty years ago is NOT that long ago, trust me). I’ve read dozens of stories, both nonfiction and fiction, where the setting of the book is more than decades ago and I still enjoyed the book immensely. I truly feel, and I’m going to bet that other readers do also, that the era of the story you are reading doesn’t matter if the plot and characters are interesting and attention-grabbing.
So how do you grab the reader’s interest and keep them turning the pages of your story even though it is set in the 1990’s instead of in present day? Well, for my series of suspense/thriller novels, I try to create an interesting beginning to hook the reader. I make my characters seem believable but still individually unique. Most of my characters and plot situations come from the crazy individuals and hard-to-believe situations I experienced or heard about during my career in medicine for over thirty years. I use machine gun fast, snappy dialogue between characters to create a kind of tension. I feel the plot should be fast-paced with a surprise ending. And I think these techniques work just as well for stories set in the 1990’s as present day.