Looking back on my blog posts from eighteen months ago, I’m amazed to see how much our writerly world was and continues to be impacted by the COVID-19 virus. I’ve heard that creative expression has dried up for some folks, and I get that, I do. My entire sympathy goes out to any writers who suddenly found themselves sharing their at-home office workspace elbow-to-elbow with a spouse and even more so to those parents who needed to homeschool their kids.
Stephen King recommended that writers have a room with a door that they’re willing to shut and keep closed until they’ve reached their daily writing goal. Sound advice, but I can’t begin to imagine how I could coherently string words together if I had kids pounding on the other side of the door wanting me to fix their lunch.
If you were one of those writers, I salute you. I honestly don’t know how you did it.
Another thought-provoking change was that 2019 online conferences and podcasts were fresh and innovative opportunities. I’ve been wanting to attend Bloody Scotland and the St. Hilda’s Crime Fiction Weekend in Oxford, Great Britain for years. How marvelous it was to suddenly sign up in 2020 and attend these international conferences online. So easy! So exciting! So fun! Now, however, I’m suffering from Zoom burnout. I’m toast. I can’t sit through one more online panel, regardless of the stellar author lineup, or the intriguing topic, or the tempting exotic location. My brain is fried. I wake up struggling from nightmares because I think I’ve forgotten the Zoom meeting ID.
I want to see and talk to real live people, preferably in a convention hotel bar.
After being so patient and following CDC protocols, it’s frustrating that our crime fiction conference attendance is still so iffy. Bouchercon 2021 NOLA got cancelled because of a COVID-19 spike. Once again, my heartfelt sympathy goes out to those conference Co-Chairs, organizers, sponsors, volunteers, panelists, and moderators who put in years of effort only to learn that the conference plug got pulled three weeks before the launch date.
Ice that with the cancelled award ceremonies and it gets even worse. I feel for those steady, hard-working authors who deserved to get peer recognition for their creative crime fiction only to see that small bit of annual glory snatched away. Sure, they’ll get the honor and the awards, and they can update their biographies and their websites, but they’ll be getting their medals, certificates, and teapots in the mail. It’s heartbreaking.
And yes, these New Days have been grueling. It’s hard staying positive as we move forward, but there are bright spots on the horizon.
Print, eBook, and Audiobook sales were up significantly in the first half of 2021. Apparently, people have rediscovered the joy of reading. Personally, to hammer my earlier point, I think that everyone is sick of staring at monitors and screens. (The irony being, of course, that’s what you’re doing reading this blog.)
And we’re starting to tentatively see in-person conventions reopen. Killer Nashville was held this past weekend using recommended safety protocols. Approximately 300 authors attended, and I was one of them. It was joyous to meet and to talk shop face-to-face again and to listen to such insightful panel presentations and guest speakers. Kudos to the Killer Nashville family and team who made it happen under such trying circumstances. Best of all, I brought home the 2021 Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award for Best Attending Author with "Love Power," my new Crescent City NOLA Mystery featuring Gigi Pascoe, my transgender sleuth. I am deeply honored by the recognition.
Hopefully, we’ll see other crime fiction conferences and venues reopen soon. This is our brave new world and COVID will mutate. How are we going to manage living with it?
And what does this mean to me, the writer? How have I coped so far?
I’ve been using a cake analogy to get me through this creatively challenging time, and to keep me productive and sane. (My friends would say it’s no real surprise that I’m using food as my focus.) Here it is: Cake is the writerly work we do to create our stories. Cake can be any flavor, and it’s the base of our effort. It’s the hours of deep research to make sure we get the details exactly right. It’s the time and effort we take to find and use the perfect word or polished descriptive phrase. Cake captures the illuminating idea with a startling new image that thrills our reader’s imagination.
Frosting is the conferences and award ceremonies, the fabulous peer and reader reviews and recognition, the marvelous in-person time spent discussing our writing craft with other authors. It’s tasty, it’s sweet, and the first bite of cake with frosting is fabulous, but you can’t eat a whole lot of frosting without the base cake. At first it's cloying, and then it becomes false.
How do I use this analogy? Whenever I feel disheartened by our current world situation, I settle in and focus on writing the very best story I can because writing stories is the best thing I do. Yes, I can dress the story up with fancy buttercream flowers, but that doesn’t alter the need for a solid and substantial cake base. And in the end, as long as I can re-read my stories with an open honest mind and say, “Damn, that’s pretty good,” I can enjoy my writing life, have my cake and eat it, too.