Ah yes, Gitmo. The copyeditor is referring to a passage in The Gatekeeper where one of my characters wonders if they're incarcerating Americans there now too. When I wrote it eight months ago, this was a timely reference. But if the copyeditor hadn't been on her game, my book would have looked dated when it came out in November.
Which brings me to today's topic: how do you keep a political thriller timely? The Gatekeeper was my first real foray into politics, at least literarily speaking. And now I'm sitting here gnawing my nails to the nub, watching immigration issues rise and fall in the nation's consciousness, and wondering if by November something dramatic will have happened that will either make my book appear incredibly timely, or terribly passé.
Therein lies the pitfall of writing something politically based. I was on a panel at Left Coast Crime a few weeks ago where this question came up. The pat answer is to stick to something tried and true, a conflict or issue that is ongoing and seemingly intractable. One of the other authors joked that if peace arrived in the Middle East before his next release, he was screwed (he added quickly that of course, it would be great to have peace in the Middle East. Just not by October if possible). A significant portion of the television show 24's success can be attributed to the fact that it hit the airwaves shortly after 9/11, feeding upon the sudden collective consciousness of fear and paranoia. Which is why now, the show feels a little tired--in the aftermath of the last election, the Jack Bauer model just doesn't seem as relevant as before. Not that we don't still have enemies outside our borders, but we're all a bit fatigued of having that fact shoved down our throats.
Of course, every book faces this hazard if it's written with any sort of current "markers." Simply by including a fax machine, CD player, or website in your text, you run the risk of sounding outdated when it hits the shelves months later. When I wrote for magazines, we aimed for "evergreen" stories, articles that would be timely if they came out next week or next year (that way a piece could be resold ad-infinitum once the rights reverted). That's a bit trickier with fiction, when you're dealing with 100,000 words instead of 1,000.
Getting back to my Gitmo reference...I changed the text slightly. The character in question is above all else distrustful of the American government, so I inserted a line saying, "The feds claimed to have closed it, but that was probably a lie like everything else they said." Problem solved. I got to keep the reference I had grown attached to (I know, I know- kill your darlings. But that line served to illuminate this character and his mindset). And The Gatekeeper will still feel timely and relevant when it comes out. Hopefully. Fingers crossed. Barring any unforeseen circumstances.