An unedited and uncensored interview with Joe Clifford, ITW Thriller-Award-finalist author of Rag and Bone, on life as a writer during the pandemic.
1) What’s the most significant change to your writing routine you’ve experienced?
The first few weeks? Like everyone else, I was too anxious and worried to write much. I mean, it looked like the Mayans were right, just a few years off. Since then? I’ve settled into a routine. I thrive on routine. The hardest part? The wife and kids are home, and when you work from home, they see you and think you are available. I’m not! I’ve got a couple deadlines for different books, interviews, reviews, etc.; I’m about as busy as I’ve been in ages.
2) How has the pandemic changed the content of what you’re writing, if at all?
The content? I don’t think it’s been impacted. I’m not (spoiler alert) a very sunny guy. All these people running around without health insurance or laid off or now having to deal with the ineptitude of government-fueled safeguards and systems? I’m been in that clusterfuck’s web since the mid90s. I didn’t leave my house or wear pants before COVID. My life in a lot of ways is the same. Although I do miss golfing, which was the one thing that I did not revolving around writing. But I have a home gym, I’m getting my word count in, and when I do go out in public, people don’t touch me. Which I like.
3) Have you been more productive or less productive since your local stay-at-home order was enacted?
Outside of the first few weeks, I’d say my productivity has remained constant, consistent. I’ll tell you this: I’ve had more success on lockdown. Probably a coincidence but … professionally? These past couple weeks hold up along my best.
4) What’s been your biggest struggle during all this, writing-related or otherwise?
I’m not a people person. I love my wife and kids. I also need time away from ANYone, no matter how much I love them. Which is as much for their benefit as it is mine! I’m not easy to be around. I hate my own company half the time. And when it’s normal, and they leave for the day, I can walk around, talking to myself, talking to my dead brother, taking musical breaks, and just enjoying general writerly weirdness. Now? I have to hold it together so my 5-year-old doesn’t know his father is a lunatic, someone who has a LOT of breakdowns and panic attacks and all that. Which is hard.
5) What’s been a surprising benefit you’ve experienced, writing-related or otherwise?
The toilet paper shortage finally got us to bite the bullet and buy a bidet, which is probably the greatest fucking decision I’ve ever made. Although it’s made it tough because when this is over, I now see the world as two kinds of people. The bidet people and those … others … who use their hands and paper, like savages, and then they’re going to serve me … food or drinks with those hands? I don’t think so. Not to be a snob. But to quote Seinfeld’s Newman? From now on, the rest of my years have to be paper free! Paper free, Carter!
6) Has the pandemic had a significant impact to any planned book launch or tour?
Well, sure. I can’t do any. I got my first ITW nomination this year. Best Hardcover Novel! Which is FUCKING AWESOME. And … they cancelled this year’s conference. I had a bunch of cool events—Beat Museum with Alan Kaufman and Josh Mohr; a “We Used To Be Hobos: a Night with Joe and Tom Pitts.” Cancelled. No Left Coast Crime, No Bouchercon, all cons cancelled. 2020 is done. If I live 75 years, that’s kind of a blow, no? A whole year, gone.
7) If you could go back to January and give yourself any advice on how to deal with the upcoming pandemic, what would it be?
In January I already knew. I have a buddy who works at the forefront of this stuff. One of them smart fellers splitting genes and shit. He warned us it was going to be bad. What could we have done differently? Order the bidet sooner, sure. Start telling Trump supporters they were dumb mutherfuckers because that asshole was going to encourage us to shoot up bleach? Not like they’d have listened. This thing is going to play out like it’s going to play out. And it sucks. So hold onto your loved ones, give your kids and extra bedtime story and goodnight kiss. This is scary stuff. And it is not going to be over anytime soon.
8) Is there anything else you would want to tell readers about your personal experiences over the past two months?
I suppose I’d quote Camus and the Plague, how “human decency” is what’s going to get us through this. We’re all in this together. (Even the dumb Trump supporting mutherfuckers, to whom I will say: don’t shoot bleach. I did that by mistake in ’97. Not cool, bro. Makes you … sicker.)