Has Technology made writing crime fiction harder?

Before I retired, I had spent most of my working life in field of Information Technology. When I started out, MS Windows was still a glint in Bill Gates eye! The personal computer was only just becoming affordable even for large companies. There were no cell phones or Internet for the mass public. How things have changed.

As a new writer who is trying to developed his first novel about spies and assorted ne’er do wells, I have to face the fact that technology in a story line can cause a problem for a writer.

I’m referring to the arts of concealment, or evasion, of hiding in plain sight – tactics which protect my white hats being seen by my black hats, and from my white hats knowing everything about their targets from day one!

The problem is that lately there’s just too much technology coming on line, and as a result authors are running out of ways to protect their most cherished creations.

Back during the height of the Cold War pretty much all and author had to worry about was blown agents and dangerous checkpoints. And yes, don’t forget to sweep your hotel room for bugs, of course. Trust No One, even though your protagonist was of course going to end up trusting someone. Preferably a member of the opposite sex, or else you’d soon run out of plot points involving deceit and betrayal, not to mention being plagued by a wholly unmarketable deficit of sex. Ok, well it was the sixties after all.

But technology, at least, was still relatively creaky and cumbersome. Listening posts were, by current standards, ancient places with whining tubes and transistors, crackly reception and overburdened translators. By the time someone finished decoding the hero’s latest transmission from Prague the writer could have him on a train halfway to Budapest, or even seated on a nonstop flight home, enjoying his second martini.

Now look at what authors have to deal with today. Cell phones come with GPS, turning every one of them into a potential tracking beacon. Even if you buy one of those cheap burner phones, it’s pretty much no good after a day or two, thanks partly to the NSA and its caching and screening of millions of calls. And don’t even think about logging onto the Internet. Well, okay, maybe for a second or two on somebody else’s laptop, or on some public library’s machine.

I think I just said public library? Forget that. Those places have cameras just about everywhere. In fact, you can forget about hiding your agent or their target in all sorts of places these days. CCTV is just about everywhere now, especially all those locations you pass through when you’re on the run – airports and train stations and even seedy bus terminals, gas stations, rest stops, convenience stores, fast food joints, ATMs (which you’d be a fool to use anyway) and toll booths.

On TV it’s easier to incorporate Tech. It can very visual and pushed to it’s limits. In the series ‘Person of Interest’, we see the Bluejacking of cell phones and the use of GPS to track people, as well as access to mega enormous databases.

As if all of this weren’t bad enough, we’re now seeing the widespread use of drone technology, some of it carrying, both armaments as well as cameras that can record and analyze thousands of images at a time. And it’s not just the government using drones. It’s everybody and his brother, even in places as crowded as major cities. Most of them have cameras, and most of their operators are itching to post every last image on YouTube or Facebook.

But having spent my life dealing with the use and abuse of technology, I’ve taking the challenge of trying to include it in the story that I am working on. The theme is International espionage, both commercial and governmental, with terrorism thrown in for good measure.

Maybe it would have been easier to place a story line in say the 1940’s before Tech exploded on the scene. However, once the genie is out of the bottle, we have to write about it!

Been there!

How to start or restart writing, that is the question? At some time or another, even old hacks as well as new and aspiring writers will have hit the block. One hopes that words just flow like water from our fingers. Unfortunately at others the stream is like a turgid dripping of words  which freezes in to suspended animation.

When this happens perhaps you get up from your work and walk around. Make a coffee, or go to the bathroom. Maybe shout and scream, before bashing your head against the wall. Well I hope you don’t go that far!

For me starting to write for my own pleasure a couple of years ago was the above and more!

I started late. I had retired and felt that if I was to get an idea I had had for a story on to paper, then now was the time. The idea had been kicking around for a number of years and having never tried to be a creative writer, the prospects both excited me and scared the bejeebers out of me. (I will let you know how I actually started in a later blog.)

Writer’s block has plagued many successful writers, including William Golding, Douglas Adams and Ian Rankin.  Ian is among my favourite crime authors and I recently had the good fortune to  be able to listen to him for a couple of hours in Toronto. He was on one of his whistle stop tours of Canada.

Tom Wolfe said recently he was only inspired to write again after a stroke brought him close to a terminal writer’s block, and it may have been the ever running sands of time that inspired me to start writing for the first time.

I hope that through this blog (and I have no experience with blogging either), I will be able to talk about my journey into writing.

SE – 12th April 2016, Florida.