On Writing and Pandemic-Land

I did not expect to write a novel and then find myself doing the editing process from my room.

I write in coffee shops. I practically live in coffee shops. And now I’m stuck inside, my options being essentially my room, my living room (where my roommate works on her grad school assignments), or my tiny deck (where I can see dozens of people apparently ignoring social distancing down at the park, and where I can eke out enough sunlight to stay warm if I squish myself into the southeastern corner…but then I can’t see my laptop screen!)…so…my room. 

Time passes strangely when I can’t go out, order tea, eat chocolate, or perhaps more importantly, take the train 40 minutes out of Boston just to get away from my ordinary neighborhood. There’s no journey, no time to get away from the screen or the notebook and think through plot points or similar on the train as I go from point A to point B. It’s just me, staring at my laptop. My neighborhood has expanded to become my coronavirus-circumscribed “world”…and by neighborhood, I mean my house and, again, by house I mean room. The sun goes slowly from east to west…slanting in one window, and then eventually in the other, painting the walls with pale light. It’s very quiet, other than the children at the park, and it’s actually great for editing, now that the story has (thank God) gotten out of my head and onto the page. Because for that, I needed a lot of caffeine, not the kind I can easily brew at home.

For that, I required good chai. 

Story-telling, for me, is often a sort of…contemplative, aesthetic experience. This novel was a physical experience. There was a story inside of me that all but demanded to be let free, put down on paper/the screen, in a way I’ve never experienced before. Even if I was dead tired, I had to write it. I couldn’t step away from it. It was like I had eaten something dense and I could feel it, a physical thing. It’s by far the most epic thing I’ve ever written, to the point that I sometimes am amazed that those words came out of my hands (I have two modes when re-reading my writing: *cringe* and *whoa*, and this is very much the latter, thank God). It seems to evoke a visceral reaction in the people who’ve read bits of it as well. (My one friend took it with him to India and downloaded what he could between wi-fi deserts…he said he even brought it to meals with him. Thanks, R!) Even so, getting it down was a tremendous struggle, not only physically, but emotionally, which is probably a subject for another blog. 

Now that it’s out…I read it for fun. This is not typical of me. Sometimes I go back and read stories I’ve written, laugh at amusing parts, make notes for potential future stories, etc. This is different. This, I read because I want to experience it as a reader. All 800ish pages of it. (Note for the wary: It’s not dense reading. Most of that high page-count is me using a sentence like “Did you?” as, effectively, a paragraph. Lots of short dialogue a quick read doth make. I’d estimate the effort is around the 400-to-450-page mark if comparing it to most novels I’ve read.) Again – I read because I sink into it. When I’m reading my book, I’m not mentally in a pink-carpeted bedroom somewhere in Massachusetts. I’m not thinking about the pandemic or toilet-paper memes (the sheer number of them! Just why?) or whether I am running out of food or if I remembered to wipe down counters properly. My mind is elsewhere, under the burning sun or making my way slowly through tunnels deep in the earth with insufficient water and a terrifying clawed creature somewhere behind me. I can almost physically feel the air of that place (and it is based on a real place!), see the way the sunset paints the rocks a pale pinkish-orange, hear the night-birds, sense one of the main characters sitting next to me watching night fall. All of this in the middle of a freezing March afternoon in the Boston area, with screaming children on the playground. Such is the power of fiction. 

Such an experience is what I hope to impart to others. When my entire online feed is all about coronavirus, it’s nice to be able to think about something else for a while. Probably healthier too. (Especially if it keeps you inside! Social distancing can be fun. I for one would be very happy to spend an afternoon holed up inside with a novel.) Of course, given how quickly coronavirus went from “a few cases” in the U.S. to, well, this, I don’t have much ready to read yet, but I hope to have it ready by early summer at the latest. 

Guess I should get back to editing. In the meantime, please stay inside and wash your hands. 

1 Comment

  1. Derk told me to read your book & I am glad I did. Very good story for a first timer. LOVED it very much.

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