I honestly can’t remember with who, but I was talking with someone about authors contextualizing their books with dates. Like, you crack open a book, and, right at the top of chapter one, it says something like autumn 2009. The other person was not a fan, which I totally understand, but it got me thinking, what are the advantages or the disadvantages?
With the exception of one of my series, all of my books are set in the real world. Not just that, but they’re set in the same universe. Sister witches is the culmination of the universe, and thus, it takes place last in the timeline. It’s set in 2018, and it would have been important just to note that because it sets it as the final story, but it’s more than that. I’ve also got months labeled in different chapters, which might seem a bit excessive, but here’s the thing. Each of the three books is set around a different high holiday. In the first one, everything falls apart around midsummer when the witches accidentally summon a greater demon. In the second one, the entire novel hinges around the coming together of Salem’s witches during a Halloween party. And, in the third one, the last big battle happens around the winter solstice. In my personal life, a lot of how I plan out my months is based around the high holidays. Am I going to Maine for this one, or are my friends coming to me? If we’re both busy, what kind of celebration am I holding to honor the holiday? We often look at the year together at the beginning and decide which holidays we’ll be able to celebrate together, and I wanted that same connection in the coven in sister witches.
So why do I also put dates in researcher & librarian? Why don’t I put months in the lovers, but seasons instead? Why is it necessary in something like the Fae story? I can understand why some people might find dating a book a disadvantage. It might date those books in a way that make them no longer relevant, simply because they were specifically set in a previous time, or it may come off as trying to set the reader too firmly in the real world when we’re reading to escape.
And while I can understand all those reasons, I’m always going to be for dating a book. I did a lot of research before I started researcher & librarian, and a lot while I was writing it. It’s set in the 30s, and I wanted to make sure the fashion was correct, the foods made sense, and the setting read as realistic. And while I probably could have done myself a huge favor by not dating it, and thus not allowing people to pick apart the research I put into making it accurate for its time, I also like that that date is there. It doesn’t leave any room for ambiguity. It is set in the 1930s in Portugal, and that’s important in a lot of ways for the characters in the story.
The same can be said for the lovers, too. Andrew’s story is a two thousand year history across time. Not only am I very of course I would date it, it makes it so much easier to write. He’s often surrounded by people that are deeply rooted in real world history, and being able to sketch Andrew’s story across their history gives me a clear direction to write in. But I didn’t want to be too specific with his because 300 BC is not exactly a time when people were noting the months that things happened, and it makes it a lot easier for me to just say, well, Gaugamela probably happened in the summer based on all these other things around it?
I 100% understand not wanting a book to be dated, though. Oftentimes, we come to books to escape, and seeing that queer people were still being imprisoned and killed in the 30s is not something people are going to want to be reminded of. But there’s a flip side to that because, although Freddie & Hugo have to hide their relationship from the public, they also find a queer community where they freely be themselves, and that’s a big thing in any time period, but to see it set against those that would rather squash that love is really uplifting to me. And heck, but I love the idea of setting my Fae story specifically in the early 2000s. That was my jam, y’all. That’s when I was a teenager growing into my emo phase, when all of my favorite music was being released, and a time that I remember fondly. Sure, it dates me to set it it then, and I honestly can’t think of current books that are being specifically dated in the early 2000s, but you know what? That’s my history, and it’s what I know best, and I’m really excited to be able to write in that time.
My books span across literal millennia of time, and I like being able to show that passage of time. Yes, Andrew exists in 300 BC, but he also exists in the 30s when Freddie is being chased out of Portugal by the Vatican, and he exists in the 50s when Irvine is hunting haunted houses in Scotland, and he exists in the 90s when he’s settling into Boston and working his way up through the ranks to become detective, and he exists in the 00s when Mason is finally opening his tea shop in Maine, and he exists in 2018 when Henley is becoming head witch of all of Salem, and how else am I supposed to show what it really means to live two thousand years than to tell you that, although he met Rafael in the 1580s, nothing happened between them for 300 years?
I’m always going to date my books. Unless they exist in a fantasy world, dating them just makes sense to me. It’s a way to set them in time, which I love because settings are so important to me. They influence characters and the way that they exist in the world, and I love knowing that specific setting. Which is probably hilarious because I can’t think of a single book on my TBR that might have a date set in it, but alas, I’m going to keep doing it to mine.