Well, it’s been a little more than a year of lock-downs and warnings, sickness and death, constriction and austerity as a result of the global pandemic sparked by the COVID-19 virus. Big, big changes. Have you had enough space to see how this is all affecting your writing?
For me, I’ve seen a shift to smaller casts – people with more localized problems, and only two to four people in a story. You can see this with my Christmas story last year – a crappy boss, a heroine wallowing in loneliness, a mystery man passed out on the pavement, and a touch of Mother. This is
quite compact for me; I usually like to write a party with loads of people, and lots of interactions.
With the new year, and the hope of new vaccines, I shifted again to a cast of thousands. But, my people weren’t people . . . they were space cats. I only go out to buy groceries once or twice a week, and my nearest neighbor in the winter is about 2 km down the road. However, with my retirement from my dayjob, I’ve gotten to know the cats on the farm. Instead of people-watching, I’ve been kitty-watching, and seeing how they build their social structures, and learning how their behaviors are influenced by their environment.
I’ve talked about my Space Cats before. Captain Greebo, the strong and taciturn hero (turns out he sings, too – I have to work that part in). Tabby Kate, the former nightclub caterwauler on the run. Tuxedo Jones, who I don’t know very well, is the villain of the piece. He lives in the barn, so it’s easy to him as I please, and not as he is.
The most interesting character is Lady Black. I haven’t committed her to paper yet. At first, I thought she was Greebo’s sister. Then I suspected he was her son. However, Great-Aunt is probably the energy I need for the story. I need some sibling rivalry misplaced through the generations, but also that sense of kinship or even love. I don’t know if she’s a villain, or a prickly ally to Kate and Greebo.
I do know the real-life Lady Black has a disagreeable personality. She attacks randomly, and the kittens are afraid of her. Tabby Kate actively dislikes her, but that only extends to defending her boundaries. I think Tabby is afraid of Lady, too.
But it turns out that Lady Black has a good reason for her nastiness – something in her mouth hurts. (She’s a feral cat, and taking her to the vet could result in some serious damage for everyone involved.) When she eats hard food, she makes noises that sound like an Exorcist soundtrack. Since realizing this is probably the root of her nastiness, I feed her soft food, and leave her alone when she comes to camp out in the box on the porch.
Oh, I get side-tracked easily! I find cat dynamics so fascinating! The point is, I’m writing characters with a lot of drama and love, but they also get distracted easily by ribbon, food and herbs in the mint family.
Fundamentally, though, how much has changed? I still write hopeful stories with optimistic or (dare I say it?) happy endings. I write stuff with a touch of surrealism and outright fantasy. In most respects, my writing hasn’t changed that much. The feeling that people need some cheerful, funny, quirky stories has only been reinforced by the pandemic.
(I’m almost sure that people who like drama and stories that don’t end happily will also find that post-pandemic audiences need that, too – that they need something to process the trauma and strain in safe proportions. I don’t think readers have fundamentally changed during the pandemic, but I do think they will feel they deserve a bit of a treat in the next few years, be it a dunk in the hard dystopia that might have been, or skimming lightly like a rock over a comedy of manners.)
What do you think? Have you noticed any changes in your writing or reading this year? It’s natural to change and evolve and continue on our arcs . . . I think the pandemic has given us a push – moving us to new arcs, or pushing us further along our old ones.
Between the pandemic and the policies and behaviors of the previous administration here in the U.S., I noticed a big change in my entertainment consumption. First and foremost, no books appealed to me. I wasn’t enthusiastic about anything new that I read, and I wasn’t interested in any of my old favorites. I read a couple things and felt blah about them and DNFed a lot more.
What I did instead was watch TV—a lot. But I couldn’t watch anything with difficult themes or violence at all. I mean NOTHING. And what passed for “nothing” among my friends when they recommended things to me was almost always too difficult when I tried to watch it. Marshmallows, that’s what I wanted. The Great British Baking Show. Midsommer Murders. Queens of Mystery. Somebody Feed Phil. Every decorating and home remodeling show ever created. Like that. Very soothing, and always a happy ending.
I thought for a while with the new administration and the advent of the vaccine that I’d be able to revert, however slowly, to my old viewing habits. But I never had time to readjust, and now that the honeymoon’s over and Covid-19 cases are on the rise again, I’m still firmly ensconced in marshmallow heaven.
There is nothing wrong with marshmallows! Marshmallows powered the 1920s!! And the 30s, 40s and 50s, for that matter. Wodehouse. MGM musicals. Dorothy Parker, but not too much of her poetry in one go. (Her theater reviews were collected though, and were a good read even though most of those plays and musicals have to be Googled now.)
Why not a book about creating a nest? That’s my obsession this summer — clear off this porch I had built with our “new” garage, and get it set up for lounging and ukulele playing, with a table for refreshing beverages and little cookies. A lot of my creative mojo is going into dreaming about that, and if my medication still works, I might be able to accomplish some semblance of that reality this summer.
But even converting a closet into a cushiony reading nook could be a project in nesting for the dedicated reader. Or a story about turning a closet into a cushiony nook . . . think of it as a Robinson Crusoe story . . . .
LOL, this is great advice for ME! YMMV. But . . . writing a story that feels like Home and Garden TV would be easier than actually doing a renovation. How do those shows make it so compelling? Because I admit, every time I got to the States, I loved spending a few hours watching those shows on the hotel TV.
Something so satisfying about it.
I’ve spent the pandemic hiding out in comfort reads and old British mysteries. Like Kay, it has been hard to find books that appeal to me. The books I’ve been reading most recently are set just after WW I and the subsequent pandemic. There is comfort in seeing right triumph over wrong and happily-ever-afters occur, despite the hardships endured. I’ve also been binge-watching old game shows on television. They’re from the 70’s and 80’s and most of the stars are probably long dead, but they remind me of a simpler time.
In terms of writing, that has been quite a challenge. No matter how “mashmallow-y” my stories start out, they keep taking a turn for the dark and depressing. I’m working on changing that.
I want to do marshmallow-y, too, but things always seem to take a dark twist . . . or a quirky one. I guess that’s just my true voice. There’s an audience for that . . . just, how can I write stories that I don’t particularly want to read myself? Seems like a hard sell if I want OTHERS to read them.
I would love to get a DVD of the old Gong Show. I think they’ve got some on YouTube, scattered around. I loved that as a kid. There were so many surprises in that show.
I just finished a couple of books set post-war; KJ Charles m/m romances, Slippery Creatures and The Sugared Game. Thrills, chills, a practical soldier and a milksop aristocrat who is more than he seems. (The aristo is not quite to my liking yet, but he’s got a lot of potential when he finally opens up. I like him, I just don’t adore him. Will Darling, the soldier-turned-bookseller, is really, really good, though. It just strikes me that he’s a lot like Thomas Cromwell — the book I’m reading this week is Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, and that’s good too, but not super-marshmallowy. It’s got a few soft and pillowy spots in it, though.)