Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Include or exclude reference to this damn pandemic

Hi Janet!
I hope you're well and keeping your spirits pieced together during this very weird time. On the phone with my son this morning:

Me: So, since this is Friday --
Sam: Thursday. Today is Thursday.
Me: Wait, are you sure?

Sam: Positive.
Sam: I'm sure.
Me: I'll just google it.

I have been wondering if you are getting questions from writers about incorporating the pandemic in stories set in the present time.

I am on the new novel now, and can go in a few directions. But I wondered what your thoughts are about including/excluding such a massively influential time in life.

Stay safe, and keep your sense of humor where you grab it easily.

P.S. I checked and it's definitely Thursday.
Don't alter your book to include the pandemic. We're too close to current events right now to have any kind of perspective.

Given the glacial nature of publishing, you'll have a chance to revise later if your editor thinks it's a good idea.

But look back at books set in the early 60s. Not all of them mention Sputnik, and that was a real game-changer (1957).

Not all books set in the 80s mention AIDS. And that was cataclysmic beyond measure, particularly in the arts.

On the other hand, am I the only one who thinks we're due for a resurgence of country house murders in the coming months? Locked in, no where to go! 


Aphra Pell said...

Ok, ok, I confess, both the WIP (editing) and the WIP (writing) contain murders in what could technically be classified as country houses. And the two WIPs (plotting) contain castles. There's aruined priory in there somewhere too.

But in my defence, all the ideas were conceived well before The Event.

I just happen to like old buildings. A lot. I once tried to write a romance, as an exercise in learning different styles. My heroine ended up in a quasi-romantic relationship with a ruined castle. I don't know what happened to the hero. I think he's in the shrubbery somewhere.

Mister Furkles said...

Country house murders: difficult times draw people together. Not likely to see more domestic homicides. Besides, folks in the country (if rural is what you mean) can get out of the house but can't go to the movies or to the shopping mall.

The things that get into novels are wars that last years: WWI, WWII, Vietnam, and the cold war. Pandemics that pass in a few months, not as much. The plagues in Europe that killed large portions of the population would if there were novels then. Famines that last multiple years and starve a large percentage also.

Note that the Korean war and many of the shorter wars that didn't involve everybody in the country don't get into many novels. The middle east wars and other conflicts result in many non fiction books but not very many novels.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I do wonder if this pandemic will bring a surge of new material for My Favorite Murder podcast. I hope not.

But yeah, after 9/11 - well, it still feels too close to write about it effectively though many have. It'll take years to understand what has happened to the world in the past couple of months.

Some speak of a new depression era. Others a great awakening. I split the difference. A price will have to be paid but I do expect there will be a new renaissance of sorts. I hope it involves people wanting to read more. And I hope it slows things down so people can stop and appreciate the few moments we get dancing about on this floating piece of beautiful space debris.

Kitty said...

I try not to think about The Virus. My son and his wife both have had it. She was afflicted in December and he was sick more recently. My daughter is a nurse who cares for COVID patients exclusively, and her husband is an ICU nurse. So I've been watching "Hetty Wainthropp Investigates" on Brit Box where normal people might die from stabbings or blunt force traumas to their heads.

CynthiaMc said...

I'm tired of death. I'm going for love and sunshine.

I was having fun with my dystopian until it started coming true. Maybe if I write good times they'll return.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

I don't want to read about this while we're living in it - I may not ever want to read about it. Except, perhaps, how our human presence here on earth is better? enlightened? for having suffered. How we've learned, woken up. Can we tread more lightly on our environment while working toward a greater impact on what is essential?

nightsmusic said...

We've had four domestic murders in the last three weeks in my area. Yes, they are in fact happening. I think we had two all of last year.

Peter May just released a book he wrote in 2005 or 2008, I think, titled Lockdown. He'd sent it to his publisher originally, who told him they didn't think anyone would want to read about being locked down during a pandemic. He asked about it again a bit over a month ago and they jumped on it. Go figure. I have not read it though I like him as an author. I don't want to read about it.

My daughter is still working in the COVID unit and emotionally, it's taking its toll. I haven't hugged her since the beginning of March. With my lung and heart issues, I don't dare go near her. Again, I don't want to read about it. We're living it and that's not my idea of reading 'entertainment'.

Colin Smith said...

Mister Furkles: M*A*S*H* comes to mind. You did say "didn't get into many" not "didn't get into any" so this doesn't refute your point. Though that was a very popular novel/movie/TV series.

You don't necessarily need to reference the current situation to use it in a story. There are experiences we are living through now that can inform our imaginations as we work on something that may have nothing to do with a global pandemic. For example, you may now have a better insight into what it's like to be a prisoner in your own home. Or to live in fear. Or how easy it is for governing authorities to use fear as a way to manipulate people and exert power... Oh, did I say that out loud? ;)

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Although, I have to add - My brother writes poetry. He's been published in numerous anthologies. He spent the last three days working on a piece, influenced by what's happening. He shared it with the curator of a museum in OR and she was so moved by it, she wants to pair it with a black and white photograph on display at the gallery.

Troubling times creates introspective art.

Linda Shantz said...

Mister Furkles reports of domestic abuse are on the rise right now. It's a real, scary thing in these times. There have been domestic homicides. The mass shooting in Nova Scotia last week began with domestic violence.

I don't know how to make a live link in Blogger!

I certainly don't want to read or write anything about the pandemic right now. The pandemic would obliterate my WIP!

Just Jan said...

I read to escape. I write to escape, too, except for the journaling I've been doing the past few weeks. The pandemic is too real right now for me to want to read or write about it.

But I do like Colin's idea of using current experiences to influence our writing. I feel there's going to be some very interesting material that comes out of this time.

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...

Yes to country house murders. I loved, loved, loved the movie Knives Out.

Adele said...

I love a good country house mystery.

But I'm thinking of Shirley Temple, dimpled bright-eyed curly-haired well-fed darling of the 1930s movie industry. Finances had crashed, Germany was gearing up its military in a very concerning way, there was a huge drought throughout North America ... and look who the big money-maker was. A tap-dancing six-year-old. (OK, 3 when she started, but she lasted a long time)

After all these years of zombies and vampires and post-apocalyptic visions, I'm ready for happiness.

Megan V said...


I think writing/revising to avoid is potentially a better course of action. I’m gearing up to query my paranormal murder mystery and recently revised it again, focusing the revisions on avoiding discussion of pandemics etc. —changing dates, revising language and so on, because I don’t think my story needs to acknowledge the pandemic at all.

That being said, I think it’s possible to incorporate subtle references/acknowledgement of our present reality—if necessary.

If you’ve ever watched FRIENDS (a show I didn’t care for but was VERY popular) you know that the show never talked about 9/11 despite being set in NYC at that time. However, if you go back and watch you might notice some very subtle things that the show did to acknowledge the impact of 9/11 on the world and characters—things like the appearance of the American flag in the coffee shop and an FDNY tribute on a doodle board, on a shirt etc.

Alyssa R said... I the only one whose brain is now firmly convinced that it is Thursday, despite evidence to the contrary?

Kaye George said...

It's Wednesday. I don't want to read about this for a good long time and I'm not going to write about it. I DID write some apocalypse stuff before this happened, but won't do it again soon.

Fearless Reider said...

Through sheer coincidence, the middle grade draft I finished lasted week (yayyyyyyy!) references the 1918 flu pandemic as part of the history of my small-town setting, and that reference echoes a few times through the novel as my characters work on a history project that's an essential plot point. I'm revising now, and I have wondered whether I should take out the pandemic references. Although I wrote those sections more than a year ago, I don't want to be viewed as throwing in something topical for the sake of seeming current. On the other hand, I think the references could be a touchstone for young readers who are trying to come to terms with what they have experienced. For now, I'm keeping them in, but I'm interested in others' opinions.

Kitty, I like your strategy. Bring on the blunt force trauma!

Kate Larkindale said...

Actually, where I am, it is Thursday. Although because Monday was a public holiday, I keep thinking it's only Wednesday. It's so hard to keep track when every day is essentially the same... I've been thinking about whether to reference the pandemic in the YA I've been working on, but it just feels too soon to write about it. We don't know how it ends. It would be too easy to write something that ends up being completely wrong and ends up being unpublishable as a result. Better to stick to the stuff we do know about.

Craig F said...

I am writing sci-fi as a kind of escape. This one is more about being the first humans on another planet, so this pandemic doesn't really fit.

There might be another type of pandemic that hits my colony, but it will be far, far away from this one. In others words, it won't be a long dragging affair. Maybe something almost magical.

Brenda said...

It is a tough question and one that makes me envy the historical writers.

Steve Forti said...

Craig, I hear you. My WIP is sci-fi, as well, and I like the escape of it (although trying to keep it realistic, and hopefully the human element hopefully keeps it rooted). And while this all did make me think about the minor subplot with a spreading disease in an enclosed living space, I kept the pandemic out of it. Stuck to what I found fascinating - zero gravity reactivating dormant viruses in your body.

Hope you're all staying safe and productive. And sane. Keep talking here to help keep me sane.

The Noise In Space said...

I actually shelved a new released I’d been waiting to get for months because it only vaguely referenced characters in quarantine. I have no idea how long it will be before something like that is appealing to me again, if ever. I’m not watching Contagion or Outbreak in the evenings, I’m watching Shaun the Sheep and trying not to cry. But I know there are large groups of people doing the opposite, so *shrug*.

Katja said...

Hm, what is the exact age for middle grade again?

I'm just wondering because my first thought is that young kids and pandemic doesn't go together. Just my opinion... especially while I'm trying to get that article I wrote out there.

Might be just me, though.

CarolJ said...

After reading the blog post and the comments, I'm feeling more comfortable that I decided to adjust the timeline in my current contemporary novel so it ends just before the virus hits the state where the book is set. I clipped scenes that couldn't be pushed back to hold them for the next book in the series, and I'm down to two situations that require new ones.

I think there will be readers who want an upbeat ending to help cope with what they've been through, and may still be going through when the book comes out. Fits my goal of writing about life, love and second chances.

So thank you all!

AJ Blythe said...

Like many others, it will be a long time before I want to read anything about this. I certainly couldn't write about it, so will continue on my merry way writing in covid-ignorance until instructed to do otherwise :)

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Megan V I've always thought of FRIENDS as a 90's show, so I was very confused by your comment until Google told me that it ran until 2004! Whoops!

At the beginning of last year, I started submitting a short story that maybe isn't even scifi anymore, necessarily, due to the world we live in. It's an awkward, slightly too-long length and was getting nice rejections, but. Rejections. So I whined about it on Twitter, as I try not to do too often, editor asked me about it. And has picked it up. So I think sometimes, there is still hope (particularly if the story still has hope!)

With regards to my works in progress (which, weirdly, are all scifi), either the world as it is has no bearing on the world that I'm writing, or the timeline has advanced such that I can drop in a reference and it's no big deal. Or I can leave out the reference and it's no big deal. It's interesting to think about people who write more to "the real world", though, and how that will (or won't!) change what they write. I really look forward to it, actually.

AQA said...

First of all, excuse my English. I read it quite well, but I don't have the same skills writing it. Let me tell you I am new to your blog and I love it.

I'm from Catalonia, Spain. About your last point, we have different phone numbers and indications if we suffer these kind of situations. There is a protocol for civilians. Police was told to be specially carefull about this kind of problems. We are asked to call by ourselves if we hear some kind of things, to care about our neighbours. It's not only about murder and physical violence, but sexual abuse. We are trying to "protect" women and children, and other kind of possible victims, from loneliness and its effects too. Definitely, I think violence increased. There's a lot of difficult situations at homes, as usual, but not having somewhere to go and alcohol abuse, can worsen it. I suppose we will have data later. It's something that worries me too.

KDJames said...

Reading all this, I keep thinking back to what Sol Stein said in his book Stein on Writing (paraphrasing): the purpose of non-fiction is to impart information; the purpose of fiction is to evoke emotion.

My emotions about a pandemic are already evoked, and in an unpleasant way, thankyouverymuch. I have no interest in reading fiction that's going to escalate or poke at those feelings. Maybe not ever.

But I've come to realize there are two very broad, general groups of response to this current situation: those who have been personally affected by worry and/or grief over loved ones, and those who have not. It's not affecting all of us the same way. It may never deeply touch the lives of some very lucky people, other than the minor inconvenience of isolation or (mostly) temporary economic woes. It feels impossible to me, but some people may never process this as life or death stakes.

So, as with anything in writing, it depends. But I suspect that, given the major impact it's having on NYC and that most of publishing lives there or has close contacts there, this might not be the best topic to include in fiction right now if you hope to take the traditional publishing path.

Thanks for asking the question, OP. It helped me clarify some thoughts.