Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Pandemic hurdles

Recent posts (including my own) have noted that the pandemic has changed our work as writers in many ways. For many of us, our concentration and focus are shot. We find ourselves easily distracted and sidetracked by Facebook and email alerts, news bulletins hovering just behind our manuscript, and a general feeling of restless malaise that drives us to the fridge or the window several times an hour.

We also wrestle with whether to include the pandemic and its aftermath in our work in progress, which will likely come out in 18 - 24 months. It is difficult to pretend the huge upheaval we are living through did not exist. But it's also difficult to know what the world will look like by then, so we are trying to imagine and write about a world that is still out of sight. In addition, will the concerns and struggles of our characters – indeed the central drama of the book – seem irrelevant and perhaps even trivial in the brave new world our future readers will be living in? Right now, as I write my novel, it certainly feels like that.

Or is it possible that reading a story that contains no reference to the pandemic, that transports us back to that flawed but normal world we used to know, will be a welcome relief? Who knows?

So I am proceeded at a snail's pace through my first draft, writing in fits and starts as I feel my way forward and avoid the mental distractions and sloth we have all been experiencing. As if that isn't difficult enough, I've encountered yet another problem with writing in the pandemic age. I am a realistic writer. I research as thoroughly as I can the locations and details I am writing about. The Internet is an extremely useful tool but it is no substitute for real-life location scouting and interviews with experts, etc. I am used to visiting locations, talking to locals, and walking though all the steps my characters take. I am used to going to the source to verify police, coroner, and scene of the crime procedures.

Researching my Alberta book, THE ANCIENT DEAD

I can't do much of that now. I wanted to visit the Ottawa courthouse not only to get the lay of the land but also to attend a trial and watch how the lawyer and police worked, what they wore, etc. None of that can happen now. I wanted to visit Ontario Provincial Police detachments in nearby rural communities and talk to the local staff on the ground about how they would respond to certain situations, how resources would be deployed, how they would liaise with the specialist teams, etc. I can phone, but a cold call in the middle of a pandemic will likely not garner much cooperation. First responders are probably busy and focussed on other (more important) things.

I wanted to stroll through the small villages, poke around for potential burial sites, and talk to people, but that too is now a challenge. In the old days, my questions would have roused curiosity and a good laugh, but now... Who knows what kind of feelings I might be treading on?

Rural village in my latest book

I managed to do some of the research before the writing began, but more questions always come up as the story evolves. So all I can do not is rely on Mr. Google and my imagination, make the stuff up, and hope I can fact-check before the final manuscript has to be submitted.

My final plan will be to apologize in the acknowledgements and blame the pandemic for all the things I got wrong. This too is an evolving story.

1 comment:

Rick Blechta said...

Have you considered finding someone "local" to answer questions for you if you can't actually be on site? I've done this once or twice with good results. I also find folks very willing to help out an author, and quite patient when you circle back with more questions or ask for photos.