Tag: COVID 19

The World Needs Romance Authors

holding up the worldI think the world, particularly journalists and politicians, needs to take a lesson from romance writers on how to critique.

Now that the COVID-19 crisis is moving into a new, and hopefully, end stage, all the pundits are out assessing who did what when, and complaining it wasn’t enough, was too much, was too late, missed the mark, etc. etc. Maclean’s, which bills itself as Canada’s magazine, published its latest issue with a black cover and the headline, “report on Canada’s mishandling of the crisis of the century.” In a time when we’re all struggling to maintain our mental health, this cover felt like a slap in the face.

As romance writers we’re taught that the critique is meant to be helpful to the author. It is not meant to destroy her writing dream. It is not a place for the critiquer to promote herself or her ideas. We learn to sandwich our criticism between layers of praise. The end result is to encourage the newbie writer to keep trying, to keep learning and to get better. If a critique results in the would-be-author giving up, the person writing the critique has failed.

To be fair,  Maclean’s did highlight bright spots in Canada’s response to COVID-19, most notably the response of individuals who found ways of helping out whether it was turning distilleries into makers of hand sanitizer, car manufacturers retooling to make PPE, or the compassion and dedication of health workers. Still, the overall tone of the magazine was negative.

Governments and their actions need to be scrutinized, I’m not denying that. But if the scrutiny is based on 20/20 hindsight without any recognition of the moment when decisions were made, it is unfair. If the analysis is intended to push a political agenda, that serves only one party, it is suspect. As with any great event in history, our response to COVID-19 should be examined. We should look for ways to do better. We should recognize that another pandemic can occur. We need critical thinking. But we also need people willing to take on the enormity of government. Given the level of personal attack and smear campaigns that are becoming standard practice, I wonder anyone even wants to run for office.

Politicians, agencies and public administrators will make mistakes. Pundits make mistakes too, but they are never headline news. If a journalist predicts a disaster and the disaster does not happen, that “expert” is not vilified in the press. There will be barely a mention of the miscalculation. Yet public figures are excoriated on everything from their policy statements to their hairstyles.  

I remember a conversation with an optimist once who complained that even the weather report listed 40% chance of showers. “That’s 60% chance of sunshine,” he grumbled. “Why not say it that way?”

As an optimist, I’m on his side. As a citizen I expect my leaders to put every ounce of effort into keeping me safe. I expect them to use science, technology, tradition and research to develop plans to make my country a place where every citizen is cared for and valued. As Maclean’s points out, there are many areas where we could have done better. But to imply that it was all a disaster is incorrect and serves only to fuel cynicism and distrust at a time when we need confidence and team spirit. “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,” and all that.

Magazine’s like Maclean’s give no space to romance writers but they could certainly learn something about collegiality and encouragement from us.

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What I miss the most

waiting for the rain to end.

The weather where I live has been grey and gloomy for weeks. The Covid-19 restrictions from Public Health get tighter and tighter and our case numbers hover in the dangerously high numbers. The vaccine supply is shorted.  I’m at home nearly all of the time. I have my husband and my cats for company. They have already heard all of my opinions and complaints and tend to wander off when I start preaching.

While staring out the window and pining for the day when life returns to “normal” I recalled something I posted here, some time ago about a book called The Book that Matters Most. It was a fun read and sparked great discussion among my book reading friends. Thinking of that book, I started a list of What I Miss Most. Sounds dreary, I know, but sometimes it helps to “define the problem.” So here’s my list.

  1. Casual friendships. Seems like an odd item to put in the number one position but there it is. I keep in touch with my close friends via e-mail or telephone or zoom. But the lady who sits beside me at Bible Study, or the woman with the hair appointment just before mine, or the vet, or the letter carrier–these are people I know only in one specific instance but I miss them. I like to hear their views on events of the day because they are outside my close circle of friends. They connect me with the world in different ways. They make me part of something bigger. I need these casual acquaintances to give perspectives that may not align with my own.
  2. The library. At present my library is available for pick-up and very limited browsing. I miss the freedom to peruse the shelves in my own time. To pick up a volume and read a few pages before deciding whether to check it out. I miss seeing the community notice board in the lobby. I really miss inspecting the “returns” trolley. I am convinced that all the best books have been checked out by someone else and I’m eager to scan those favourites. It’s a way to connect with other library patrons.
  3. Line-ups. What?  I can hear you all shouting that we line-up all the time. Yes we do. Outside stores to get in and inside stores to get out, we’re all in line six feet apart. Not many casual conversations at that distance. No playing peek-a-boo with a baby when parents are terrified of exposing their children to disease. No tips from a smart shopper on a bargain I overlooked. No connection!
  4. Exercise class. I know, there are endless exercise videos on the internet and I’ve got enough room to work out with one of them by myself. But that’s the point. Exercise by myself is a drag. Exercise with a bunch of other reluctant trainees keeps me at it and usually provides a laugh or two. We connect over a mutual dislike of exercise.
  5. Choirs –– both as a singer and a listener. There is something soul refreshing about making music in a group. Again, I can participate in on-line versions of rehearsals and concerts but they lack that vital element — connection. And with music, the connection is heart to heart without any interference from the mind.

I could make a longer list, but it seems I have defined the problem — lack of connection. On Sunday our minister preached a virtual sermon warning of the consequences of an  “us vs them” mentality. Without the kind of connections I mentioned, that us/them attitude flourishes. Such a mindset makes for an unhealthy society. 

As a writer, how can I use this insight to my advantage? 

In a dystopian novel, us-and-them makes a perfect excuse for war.  In a tragedy us/them is the driver behind the Romeo and Juliet story. In a comedy personal quirks, e.g. neatnik vs slob, can lead to funny situations. I write historical romance so feuds, immigrant vs native, rancher vs farmer provide plenty of scope for conflict. What’s needed is ways and means for connections if I want to lead my characters to a happily ever after ending. How to make those connections?

  1. Proximity. That’s probably the easiest one. Make the feuding families share a fence line, or a water source. No matter how much the clans dislike each other, they cannot avoid meeting.
  2. Common goals. In my present wip the two lead characters work in a frontier hospital. Despite their differences, they work together to cure disease and ease pain.
  3. Children. In a frontier town children all attend the same school. The grandfathers may hate each other, but the children play together. As time goes by they may fall in love with the “enemy.”
  4. Outside agency. Again, sticking with historical, feuding families may have to pull together against fire or drought or flood. Who is to say the patriarch’s won’t see the good in one another then?
  5. Mutual friend. Make them both friends with a third party. If A spends time with the librarian and B is a book lover, chances are A and B will run into each other frequently. This device even lets the librarian act as cupid when she sees two people who would be perfect together, feuding.

Most philosophies hold that hardship is opportunity. It is up to the individual to find that opportunity and make something of it. The disconnect between all of us during this pandemic is not fun. I don’t like it. I wish it would go away. But, if I look for opportunity, perhaps this time of physical distance can lead me to better insights into my characters and their journey to HEA.

What about you? What do you miss most? Will you use it in your writing?

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Cancelled

hand made ornaments for my family

In my part of the world, we are under severe restrictions due to COVID-19. That means no gatherings in the home or elsewhere at Christmas. No live church services on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. No office parties. No family home for Christmas. It’s a rather dismal outlook.

As my gift to readers looking for some joy in the season, I’ve written my annual Christmas short story. It does involve the pandemic, but it ends on a hopeful note. 

To read “Christmas in the Time of COVID-19” click here to subscribe to my newsletter. The story is part of the welcome package.

However you spend Christmas, I hope it is filled with joy and deep meaning for you.

 

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Escape or Reflect the Times

I had been hoping to post pictures of my newly renovated office this week. Sadly, I can only report “out of stock” messages for the wallpaper I wanted. After much more searching, I’ve found another that uses the colours I want and I’ve just ordered it — promised by Dec. 14. Fingers crossed I don’t get another oops message.

Meanwhile, we’ve cleared the drop cloths from my desk and I’m working on my Christmas short story. I spent a lot of time pondering the place of COVID 19 in my fiction. As an historical writer, I would have every excuse to set my story in another age and ignore the pandemic altogether. Yet, the virus has had such a huge impact on my day-to-day life, I find it hard to put it out of my mind.

My book club met last week and I asked if they would read pandemic stories or if they’d stay clear of the topic. They all said they didn’t want to read about the virus, yet one pointed out that no one wants a war yet our appetite for war stories seems limitless. This year every second book I pick up seems to relate to either the first or second world war. Is there anything more to say on the topic? Yet I read these books and enjoy them enough to recommend to friends. 

Maybe we’re happy to read war novels because we know how it ended. We know the good guys won and evil in the form of Hitler’s Nazi’s was defeated.

 

I’m a terrible sports fan. I’d rather watch the game after it has been played and I know who won. If my team was victorious, I’ll enjoy every minute of the recorded events. If my team lost, I don’t bother. I’m sure “real” sports fans cringe when they read that. Maybe our fascination with war stories is like that. We don’t want to live it, but we’ll read about it after it’s over.

A couple of my favourite television shows aired new episodes last week. One stayed in 2019 and avoided the pandemic. The other embraced it head on, expressing fears for the characters’ health, their financial well-being, their emotional stress levels and the state of the world. I actually liked their approach better than the “bury your head in the sand” angle.

Now, a survey of two is hardly definitive, but I’m leaning toward writing about the world I inhabit, i.e. using my fiction to reflect the time I live in. What about you, dear readers? Can Christmas and Covid live in the same story? Can we have a happy ending while isolating at home? Or would you rather escape the current crisis and read about a different world.

Please leave a comment so I can be sure the story I write is the story you want to read.

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Disconnected

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, by Jennifer Ryan has entertained, challenged and heartened me in the past few weeks. WWII has disrupted village life in many ways. The men are gone. Women have taken jobs. Servants have deserted the large houses to enlist or to work in factories. The final straw is the decision by the vicar to cancel choir because “you can’t have a choir without men.”

From that point on the story unfolds as the women of the village discover their own voices. They assert their own power. They stop waiting for the war to end so that they can live again. They determine to live, even while war rages in the skies above them. They prepare for a possible Nazi invasion while caring for each other, falling in love, grieving their dead, and yes, singing in their own choir.

The book is well written, the story well told, but I think it resonated so strongly with me  because I, too, have been waiting for life to start again. When COVID-19 closed down our economy and our culture in the middle of March, I had a mindset that said I only had to wait it out for a few months and everything would go back to normal. So, I waited for the stores and cafes to reopen. They did in May, but it wasn’t like it used to be. So, I waited some more. Our church resumed in-person worship in June, but it is not like it used to be. No hymn singing, no choir and we all sit six feet apart in our own little bubble. I feel disconnected.

I have realized that the “waiting” is getting me down. Living a half-life while waiting for a miracle is soul-destroying. Like the ladies of Chilbury, it is time to start living a full life now. The-way-it-used-to-be may never return. I’ve already missed Easter and Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and Canada Day. Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming and I want to enjoy them in 2020, not in some never-never future.

This new resolve doesn’t change my day-to-day tasks much, but it does change the way I regard my days. I’m looking at them for possibilities rather than hindrances.  I’ve put aside the “waiting” attitude and realized that this is my life, now. It is up to me to make the most of it.

I’ve heard from many people who are in the same state of suspended animation, waiting for life to start again. They are all as tired of it as I am. I’ve shared my perspective, gained from The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir and received a resounding “Yes!” I hope this post may bring some joy into the life of my readers. Even if my words don’t lighten you attitude, I’d recommend the book.  Ms Ryan presents the tale in a fresh and upbeat mode –maybe it will lift your spirits as it did mine.

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After the Virus

homemade masks

In my part of the world we’re moving into phase 2 of the reopening of the economy. Restaurants, bars and cafes will have some indoor seating. Some streets may close to traffic in order to allow more patio seating. Hairdressers and dentists can open their offices. Gyms are back in business. 

Some stores require a mask, some provide hand sanitizers. Some will not allow customers inside at all but offer pick up at the door.  Social distancing is still required everywhere.  We’ll all have to learn new rules and more than one set.

Looking at life after the shutdown, I wonder if there will be COVID inspired stories. Authors still write about the defining moments in history, like the two world wars, the American civil war, the Napoleonic wars, and Roman conquests and a host of other seminal events. Will this be the story of our time?

As inspiration for fiction, wars are “easy.” Lots of scope for derring do, for self-sacrifice, for love against the odds, for heartbreak and sorrow and starting over.

Illness, especially one that keeps us all at a distance, doesn’t provide as much scope. The “enemy” is invisible. We don’t know if we have defeated him or never encountered him. Mostly we are asked to sacrifice for the sake of others, but we can’t see the results. We don’t know if our neighbours are healthy because of what we did, or if it is just luck. 

When I look at the bookshelves, I don’t see a lot of plague literature, even though the Black Death wiped out 50 million people, 60% of Europe’s population.  Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks, a selection of my book club, is the only novel I’ve read with the plague as a major feature. I found the story unsettling. the scale of death incomprehensible. Maybe I’ll read it again in light of our own experience.

Five centuries later, the Spanish ‘flu took the lives of millions of people. Again, it has not been a major theme in American literature. The Smithsonian offers up an explanation with this report.

Will our generation of writers tell about this defining moment in our history? Will we have stories of heroism by front-line workers in hospitals?

Will we have love stories about how couples kept the faith with each other while one was on a ventilator and no visitors were allowed?

Or what about those couples with long-term marriages who could not visit each other after fifty or sixty years of marriage. Will they be the inspiration for fiction writers?

Will we have psychological thrillers about families forced to spend eight weeks together inside their homes?

Will we have stories about the lost moments — no graduation ceremonies, no big weddings, no milestone birthday parties, not even a proper funeral for loved ones who died. I think that latter is one of the saddest consequences of this silent killer.

With so many deaths, will we see a surge of “starting over” stories?

Or will writers shy away from a real-life event that is just too overwhelming? How can a fictional story stand up amid the reality of COVID 19? Similar questions were asked after 9/11. See this article in the Economist. 

What do you think? Writers, do you see an opportunity for story-telling in our current experience? 

For readers, do you want to read about “Covid lockdown?” Or would you rather put the whole thing out of mind? Are you too busy figuring out how to live with our new normal to have an interest in the worst moments of the epidemic?

Share your thoughts in the comments section. We could have a great conversation.

 

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Social Distancing Blues

flatten the curveSo, how are you all doing with this social distancing thing?

 

 

 

Here’s how I’m coping.

  • As soon as someone says, “stay home,” I want desperately to go out.  
  • I wander about the house looking at the chores I could do, but not actually doing any of them.
  • I find myself compulsively watching newscasts repeating the same information over and over.
  • I should be glad of the extra writing time, but can’t settle at my computer.
  • I sleep too much in the day, then can’t sleep at night.
  • I want to go out for lunch even though I don’t “do” lunch on weekdays.
  • I whine that the library isn’t open, even though I have a stash of books at home.

You get the picture — I am the opposite of a heroine!

But, I want to do my part to flatten the curve, so I’m staying put. I don’t feel vulnerable for myself, but I have a lot of older friends and others with asthma or on chemotherapy. No way will I be the one that spreads the virus to them. I also have family in the healthcare system, sure don’t want to add to their workload or put them in danger if supplies of masks, etc. run out.

Now, after a week of moaning and avoiding my fellow humans–I don’t have little ones or elderly relatives in my home– I’ve resorted to my failsafe coping mechanism — lists.  

I’ll share some of mine here in hopes they’ll help others find peace at home.

  • Gratitude  — I’m warm. I have enough to eat. I have a roof over my head.
  • I have endless ways to “socialize” electronically.
  • I have some new, unread books and several shelves full of old favourites.
  • The cats are endlessly amusing and nice for cuddles.
  • There’s more, but you get the idea.
  • Chores — Adapt the old housewife’s routine. Monday is wash day, Tuesday is ironing, Wednesday is mending(sewing),Thursday is shopping, Friday is cleaning, Saturday for baking and Sunday for church. I may substitute “exercise” for “ironing” or rearrange the shopping and cleaning,  but you get the idea. Make a schedule and write it down.
  • Reach out to friends. We can’t go to church physically, but we can watch a service on television, or get one on-line. Our minister sent out a youtube of his prayers and sermon on Sunday morning. I watched it during our regular church time. Then, as if it was coffee hour after the service, I telephoned several church friends just to check in. They were all grateful for the call.
  • Keep my family close. My brothers live four provinces away, but we all managed a phone call last week. They are healthy, I am healthy, and we are reminded that we are family–a blessing like no other. 
  • Write. Just like in the days before COVID-19, my writing  benefits from routine. I’ve resolved to watch only one newscast in the morning, then go to my desk.  Somedays I stay there until I’ve reached a certain word count, other times I set a time limit. I’m not inflexible with my “rules” but it sure helps to have personal guidelines in place, especially in times of stress.

We are having beautiful, spring weather. Gardening isn’t on that list of housewifely chores, but I’ve been outside, digging in the dirt, encouraging the crocus and daffodils. I’ve walked around the property and made plans for the vegetable garden. I’ve pruned the roses and the fruit trees. Like all gardeners and farmers, I’m convinced that next year,  next month, next week, will be better. The world needs optimists!

Keep safe, everyone. Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. Stay home with a good book.

If you have a great way to keep calm and useful during this pandemic, please share in the comments section. It’s a safe way to be social.♥

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Be a Better Blogger

blogging for authorsBefore the order to stop all public gatherings came down, my writer’s group, VIRA, met with Barb Drozdowich. Barb is a writer with 27 books to her name, but not romance, or even fiction. Instead, she writes technical books for writers. The topics cover websites, mailing lists, blogging, self-publishing and various social media platforms. In short, she wants to ease the technical challenges that face authors so they have more time to create stories.

What with family issues, COVID 19 fears, and travel requirements, we had a small turnout, which was disappointing for all of us but Barb handled it with grace. For those of us who were there, we got a very personalized lesson on how to manage our on-line presence. I gave myself a pat on the back because my website name matches my author name and ends in .com. I’m smarter than I knew. 🙂

I bought her book on blogging. I’m a real slacker when it comes to social media, so I thought I concentrate on something I already do and look for ways to improve. The first advice in the book is to think of my blog as a conversation. Look for me to be more chatty and less expository. Now that’s a non-chatty word but one I love! 

Since leaders around the world, including our own Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, are urging as all to stay home even if we haven’t travelled and we’re not sick, we’ll all have a lot of time for reading. Since all the major sports leagues have cancelled events, even my husband has nothing to do but read. As well as spending time with my favourite books, I plan to spend time reading Barb’s advice.

I think this blog counts as writer kindness. Kindness from Barb in offering her wisdom to a handful of authors. Kindness from me for telling all of you about her workshop and her books.

Stay safe everyone. Wash your hands often. Don’t touch your face. Enjoy guilt-free reading time.flowering tree

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