It’s been a year now since the pandemic descended upon us. As a retired person, I was in the enviable position of being able to go into lockdown without too much trouble. I live in a state where most people are decent about observing public safety rules and, although I suffer from cabin fever as much as the next guy, I’ve been able to stay home with my hubs. I’ve also been able to get a fair amount of writing done, which I’m hoping to get out for people to see fairly soon (Konigsburg returns!). But like a lot of other writers I’ve been struggling with a central dilemma: do you write about what we’re all going through or do you stick with the “before times” (and hopefully the “after times”)?
There are all sorts of possibilities involved in writing about the pandemic, of course. You could do a mystery where someone was murdered during a Zoom meeting, for example. I like this idea, although at the moment I haven’t figured out how it could happen. You could do a contemporary romance in which a bunch of incompatible people are quarantined together, which is a variation on the “incompatible people trapped by the weather” trope. You could do a thriller in which a heroine living in a remote location must rescue a wounded hero from the bad guys, with the added wrinkle of keeping the two of them safe from infection.
But the problem with all writing that includes the pandemic is that we don’t—as yet—know how this is all going to play out. And you run the risk of writing a book which becomes almost immediately outdated. Think of where we were last year at this time when many of us believed the pandemic would be over shortly. I remember telling my kids that we were cancelling our April trip to see them, but we’d surely reschedule in May. If only that had been true! If I’d started a novel based on that premise (the tough pandemic that passed on by summer), I’d have been revising and probably junking the whole thing by July.
So the books I’ve been writing take place in a kind of fantasy space where there is no pandemic and life is going on as usual. This feels a little uncomfortable to me, I admit. For all the people who swear they want escape rather than realism, I worry that ignoring current events will lead us to another kind of obsolescence. Will there come a time when people want to see their lives reflected in what they read, complete with toilet paper shortages and vaccine lines?
This is an unprecedented time, and it’s hard to know which way to go. But one thing I can promise you: I’ll keep writing. One way or another, the stories get told.
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