Some genres (like blogs), by nature, lend themselves more to the timely than the timeless. We want new, fresh, up-to-the-minute information, and one way to demonstrate this is by writing what’s timely. [Insert clever remark about the Giants winning the Super Bowl and/or my favorite Super Bowl ad.] See how easy it would be for me to paste something right there are be very timely?
It’s not such a good idea, however, to let that spill over into your novel writing. It’s an election year, so publishers may want political books! I just saw an agent interview where she said she wants to see a steampunk novel in verse that features a rabbit as the main character! I’ll write that!
I think a temptation exists, especially when writing for tweens and teens, to demonstrate how relevant and cool we are by writing what’s popular (and timely) today. It seems easier to connect with readers by naming a popular song than describing the core emotion that the song represents. But which will result in the better book, both today and ten years from now?
I am currently reading (and thoroughly enjoying) Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson. I think this book works on many levels and for many reasons, and here’s one of them: It has that elusive quality of being timeless.
Reviewers have compared this book to everything from Romeo and Juliet to Jane Austen to Alexander McCall Smith. I agree with all of them. I had read several chapters before I came across a subtle reference to emails exhorting the major to save a Nigerian princess and knew for certain that the novel was taking place sometime near the present day (or at least after phishing scams had been invented.) Until that point, the prose and dialogue and plot would have all been equally comfortable anytime in the last fifty years or, probably, the fifty years to come. And for that reason, I think this book just may be read fifty years from now.
(By the way, I don’t think telling a timeless story means being vague. Books like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn are very specific about both place and time, but are still widely read and deeply felt because they have that timeless quality.)