I collect sayings. My office file cabinets are covered with them. They stay until my cats decide they are wonderful play toys at which point they disappear. Two of my favorites are life begins at the end of your comfort zone (attributed to Neale Donald Walasch) and pray that you live in interesting times (attributed to a Chinese curse).
Interesting times, indeed. A year ago this month, I worked as a paralegal for a national law firm. I’d been at that job since 2004. It was hectic, crazy, and fulfilling. In my spare time—I wrote mysteries. On March 12, 2020, the firm announced that effective Friday, March 13th, it would transition all employees to work-from-home status. The projected reopening date was March 27th. As it turned out, the employees are still working from home, and I am now a full-time writer.
Nothing much about our current life resembles pre-pandemic times. Balancing on the knife-edge between the new and old world has been yeast for the bread of ideas. In pre-pandemic? days, the entrance to my bank lobby had a sign banning hoods (worn over the head) and sunglasses. Now it sports one declaring face masks covering the nose and mouth are mandatory. How much of the new reality should writers reflect in their writing? Will readers want to be reminded of life in the time of masks and social distance, or will they want to escape to pre-pandemic normality? It’s a tough call, and one that each writer of contemporary fiction has to answer for themselves.
The question has been hotly debated in Zoom meetings and Facebook groups. I’ve heard arguments on both sides of the issue. Some writers are concerned that if they address pandemic life their writing will be dated before it’s released. Others are concerned that by ignoring the pandemic, their writing will lack veracity and will anger readers. These are both valid concerns. Genre mystery writers have expressed a third consideration. Reader expectations. Noir and traditional readers accept the grittier aspects of the world on the page. The pandemic would not be out of place.
Cozy writers labor in a different field. Ours is the world of suggestion. Deaths take place off the page. We are kind to children and animals. We understand the conventions of our art, and the sensibilities of our readers. The world of the pandemic is harsh. We have been separated from our loved ones. We have been unable to offer empathy and kindness to the suffering. It is difficult to shape a cozy pandemic world, but will readers expect it?
Given the time lag between writing and publication, the question is an open one. I’ve not yet found references to the pandemic in my reading. That could change as books written post January 2020 come to market. My decision as a writer is to avoid including the pandemic. This is not as difficult as it sounds as my books are not date specific. They can comfortably exist in a parallel universe to real time. It will be interesting to see how others reflect these times at the end of the comfort zone.
Readers and writers, what are your pandemic preferences? Do you want to see them on the page or not?