Some stories are timeless—they transcend one reality and have meaning in any context. The essence of fairy tales and myths are timeless. You can update the setting, give the characters contemporary names, and fool around with the details, but Cinderella is still a girl from the wrong side of the tracks (the lower caste, the impoverished ghetto, or simply the middle class) and is therefore not the Prince’s equal; and Icarus flies to near the sun (takes outrageous risks in his space mission, pushes the technology envelope until it breaks) or otherwise commits hubris in assuming the role appropriate only to a god.
Then there are timely stories. These are tales that ring true at the moment. They feel “ripped from the headlines” or prescient if they seem to predict an unbelievable—and yet real—twist of fate. Timely stories expose something important about the here and now, revealing a dark side, a funny side, or a poignant lesson. Timely tales do not need a contemporary setting. The rise and fall of a dictator from a distant time and place can feel timely in the context of a rise and fall of a dictator today. A story may also feel truer and more pointed because it makes the present clear by being set in the future or past.
Stories of a specific time are another animal. These are tales about people and places that only makes sense in that specific, unique setting and time frame. Because so many settings echo with other times and places, the specificity of these stories tied to a particular moment is important. The last night on the Titanic is the last night on the Titanic. The erupting volcano in Pompeii, the first walk on the moon, the 1964 Worlds Fair in New York, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth, the assignation of Martin Luther King, the Degenerate Art Show in Munich in 1937, the Cubs winning the 2016 World Series, and other extraordinary events, present creative writers with solid backdrops for stories. There’s a lot of freedom in how the stories are written, but the settings and events are not malleable.
What kind of TIME do I like writing? All of them, of course!