Someone wrote to me last week and said that I’m lucky to be able to work from home, and he’s right. I’m very lucky that not only can I work from home, I’ve been doing so for almost forty years now—starting in 1982. I believe I was an early member of what eventually came to be known as the “pajama media.” When Bill and I first married, I’d work on my writing in the mornings and then get dressed in time to go meet him for lunch at noon. It was a huge shock to his system when he retired and discovered that I usually didn’t get dressed until noontime. FYI, nothing has changed on that score. I much prefer wearing my robe and nighty to any other attire, but I digress.
So yes, I do work from home. In this time of self-distancing, I’ve been able to write the blog with no problem because I actually ENJOY writing the blog. For a writer of novels, writing a weekly essay of a thousand words or so is what my mother, Evie, would have called a “bus-man’s holiday.” Because how did bus drivers go on vacation back in the old days? They took a bus, of course.
I write the blog for fun. It allows me to mull my history and pull out interesting bits and pieces that may resonate with my readers many of whom occupy the same demographic I do. That’s why many of my blogs end up being trips down memory lane. The problem is, writing the blog is not my job. Writing books is, and writing books is a whole other kettle of fish.
In order to write a book, I have to think it into existence. Long ago, one of my kids said he hated it when I just sat in my chair, staring off into space. But staring into space is exactly what I have to do on occasion, because writing books requires almost as much thinking time as it does keyboarding time. It requires finding that creative spark or moment of inspiration that reveals a story I want to tell.
At the moment, I have two completed books written and in the hands of my editors before starting the next one. It’s never happened to me before, but hat means I have some time right now, but in this time of great uncertainty, that’s not much of a favor since creativity, like toilet paper, seems to be in very short supply.
In these challenging circumstances, there’s obviously plenty for me to write about, but the question is do I want to? I don’t remember who taught me the Latin term in medias res. It could have been my high school Latin teacher, Mr. Guerra, or my senior English teacher, Mrs. Medigovich. What the term means is: In the middle of events. And that’s where we are right now—in medias res!
I believe that one of the things that makes my blog interesting to both my readers and to me is that I’m recounting events from my past—from my childhood and young adulthood—with the benefit of hindsight, and hindsight, as you know, is pretty much 20/20. With perspective it’s possible to see how event number one inevitably led to event number two which resulted in event number three.
That’s the problem with what’s happening around us at the moment—in media res, we don’t have any perspective. There’s a good chance that all the fear mongering promulgated by the media will lead to corrective measures that are far worse than the pandemic itself, but the only way we’ll know that for sure is to get to the other side of where we are right now, and that reality has led me to a writerly dilemma: How can I write a book about my characters and put them into a here and now that may be totally out of line with how life ends up happening in the long run? The answer is: I can’t!
Fortunately for me, my books have fallen a couple of calendar years behind in terms of the passage of time in real life. Credible Threat, due out in June, has Ali Reynolds and her cast of characters living in the fictional fall of 2017. So I made the decision to set the next Ali book, as yet unnamed, in the spring of 2018. I’m reasonably sure I can remember what life was like in 2018.
One thing recent events has brought home to me is that we are all mortal. With that current landscape of darkness all around us, I can tell you that the next Ali book opens with the funeral of a character my readers have grown to care about over the years. No, I’m not going to mention which one. You’ll have to read the book yourself to find out who.
But at least I’ve started. So far I’ve written only part of the prologue—1500 words. That leaves me with 93,500 words to go, but who’s counting? I am, of course, but just like taking that first step on a thousand-mile journey, I’ve at least written the first few words. I’ve made a start, a small one to be sure, but a start nonetheless. As for how my characters will weather the pandemic of 2020? That will be fuel for other stories a couple of years down the line once we all know what happens.
In the meantime, you keep reading, and I’ll keep writing.