Saturday, March 27, 2021

Pandemic Pros and Cons by Kait Carson

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?


  1. Hi Kait, I’m perfectly happy leaving the pandemic out of my books. It is a time I’d rather not remember, and I’m not sure my readers would like the reminder either. I have seen the beginning of the pandemic mentioned by one mystery writer, but only at the end of his story. As you explained, I’m not sure a pandemic fits the tone of cozy mysteries.

  2. I did read a Michael Connelly in which he referenced just the start of the pandemic in the US. I have not chosen to include it in anything I am working on, and at this point, don't intend to, but will change my mind if we're still in its throes in 2022.

  3. @ Susan - was the writer you mention Michael Connelly?

    @Jim - That was brave of him, and as I haven't read the book, I'm curious as to how the pandemic relates to his story.

  4. My blog on Connolly's Law of Innocence, which deals with the beginnings of the pandemic, is up April 8th. It works in his book and I'm curious if future books will deal with it.

    I'm not writing about the pandemic, though in future yeas might throw in a reference to masks or social distancing.

    Because we still are masked, even when walking the dogs, I've noticed that the mask protects me from wood smoke and maple tree pollen. So masks will stay in my future, as needed.

  5. I'm leaving the pandemic out of my stories, Kait. Like you, my readers want to escape from the real world. Besides, my characters have enough on their plates dealing with murder in their small town! lol

  6. I used the pandemic in a short story, Unmasked, that I thought was powerful, but it was in an anthology to raise money for Covid-19 families/front line workers. I haven't been able to bring the pandemic into any of my other writings, yet.

  7. @Margaret - I wonder how many others will continue to mask occasionally. It makes good sense in certain circumstances. Once the emotion of the pandemic ends, I suspect it will be used as a reference in stories. I found the same after 9/11.

    @JC - Ain't that the saving grace of a small town! I suspect Margaret has a strong point though. In the future it will serve as a reference item.

    @Debra - Where was Unmasked published? I missed it, but would like to read it. What a wonderful undertaking.

  8. I don't plan to include the pandemic in my future mysteries.