Hello, folks. How are you? You getting through these very strange days with ease or with struggle? Likely both, I imagine.

Have you been connecting more, reaching out to those you haven’t talked to in awhile, just to ask them the simple question you okay?

Me too.

Over the past month I spent some time contacting friends and colleagues in the writing community, wanting to know how their lives have been upended by this goddamned virus. How has their work been affected? What are both good and bad things that have resulted? Are they changing their current works-in-progress to reflect COVID? 

I heard back from many, and they’ve all given me permission to reprint their answers. I’m thankful for their honesty, vulnerability, humor, resiliency, and their encouragement. I hope you will be as well.


ALEX MARWOOD

International bestselling author and Edgar Award winner
on the challenges of writing in these times:
“Focus, no question. I have to focus so hard just to focus that I’ve very little focus left for writing. I’m very lucky in that I’m deep in adapting The Darkest Secret into a TV script with a co-conspirator, so don’t have to spend too much time trying to drag original stuff from my brain, but when I do get to a scene that has to be written from the top, it’s like wading through treacle. It’s got better since I passed the two-week mark (I’m five weeks in, with seven or so to go, as my stupid immune system puts me in the “Vulnerable” category), as after that I could at least discard the nagging worry as to whether I’d brought the plague in with me. But I certainly used to think that boredom was my most productive state – and now I’m finding that it’s actually a little more complex than that…”

STEPHEN GRAHAM-JONES

Horror author extraordinaire
on how the pandemic has affected a planned book launch:
“My The Only Good Indians novel, originally set for May 19th, has now been moved to July 14th, and, talking events, the plan was to launch it at San Diego Comic Con, which has now been cancelled. But I’m sure we’ll find ways to do events and publicity and get it where it needs to be. Book-drop dates and events are a small thing, compared to all the other havoc the virus is wreaking. And, people are still reading. The virus hasn’t stopped that. Kind of hope there’s not anything that can.”


MARY KUBICA

New York Times bestselling author of The Good Girl
on the most significant change to her writing routine:
“As a writer I’m used to self-isolation. What I’m not used to is having my husband and kids home with me while I write, or having to help with algebra homework while simultaneously making sure my son isn’t practicing his trombone during my husband’s Zoom calls. Instead of writing making up the majority of my day, it’s getting pushed into a tiny space in the early morning hours before everyone else is awake.”

STEVEN JAMES

National bestselling and award-winning thriller novelist
on what advice he would give himself if he could travel back in time to January:

“Dear Steve, stop worrying so much about tomorrow and learn to give thanks for today. Sure, you’re going to have twenty speaking engagements in six states cancel, but you’ll still be able to write. So hang in there. You’ll also be able to hike more, spend more time with your wife and daughter, and reconnect with what really matters in life. So, count your blessings, share some love with those who are suffering, drink your coffee, and write on. (Oh, and don’t horde the toilet paper. They’ll make more. Trust me.)”


MEGAN MIRANDA

New York Times bestselling author
on adjusting routines:

“I feel fortunate that I was already working from home, but the most significant change to my routine is that, now, everyone else is also at home with me. I used to keep pretty structured work hours when my kids were at school, so we’re all adjusting to new routines and a different balance now—I’m finding that I work in smaller chunks of time, but spread out more throughout the day.”


JULIA HEABERLIN

Internationally bestselling author of Black-Eyed Susans
on the general chaos in life right now :

“I have been unsuccessfully working on the ending to a 500 word short story for a magazine for four weeks. I have a new book coming in August but worry every day that not enough people will know it exists. The galleys sit locked in a New York warehouse. And, yet, these all seem like very, very small problems when I scroll the internet, turn on TV news, or get updates on a family friend who has been on a ventilator for three weeks. I figure the words will return, but I have no idea if this will cause a seismic shift in what I write about. In the meantime, I spend a lot of time searching online for my 89-year-old father’s “unicorn” grocery list items … Pecan Sandies harder to find than TP! Who knew?! Is there a short story ending in this?”


JOE CLIFFORD

ITW Thriller-Award-finalist author of Rag and Bone
on if the pandemic has changed the content of his writing:

“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. ”

Note from Carter:

Joe can’t follow directions. I gave him a list of questions to answer and told him to answer one. He answered them all. But his answers were so great I wanted to keep them, so I printed his full (and totally uncensored) interview here.


KJ HOWE

Author of The Freedom Broker, winner of the 2018 ITW Thriller Award for Best First Novel
on something positive that’s come from all this mess:

“In a typical year, we dash from commitment to commitment, jamming in as many things as we can. The pandemic is scary, unprecedented, and challenging, but it does offer the big red STOP button that so many of us feel we can never push. Now the world has pushed it for us. We are able to slow down, reconsider our priorities, spend extra time with our loved ones, delve into new or forgotten hobbies, and just live in the moment. I wonder how many people will make a career change after this is all over? Will they also make different decision on how they spend their time? For me, this crystallizing of time has solidified how much I enjoy penning fiction. Writing is a cathartic way of working through emotions, it offers a wonderful escape when the world feels too harsh and unforgiving, and it is the best gift when readers reach out to say that your story touched their lives. Through writing there is connection, and even in the midst of a pandemic, we never lose that connection. I’m more grateful than ever to have chosen writing novels as my passion.”


LIV CONSTANTINE

Bestselling author of The Last Mrs. Parrish
on adjusting an upcoming book launch:

“We had planned a multi-state tour for THE WIFE STALKER with some wonderful bookstores and library events in May which have all been cancelled. We will be doing as many virtual tours as possible which seems to be the way of the foreseeable future. We will really miss seeing everyone in person and hope that this is all behind us soon!”


JENNY MILCHMAN

USA Today bestselling author
on more book-launch changes:

“My publisher is in the midst of laying out a two week tour for my forthcoming psychological thriller (THE SECOND MOTHER). While past tours have included multiple cross-country flights, this one was always to be more tightly targeted–you could say it’s tailor made for a pandemic. (Oy). Yet I can’t stop thinking about where we all were back in March, wondering if they could possibly postpone the start of baseball season or, gasp, cancel the St. Patrick’s Day parade. I am beyond grateful for my publicist’s optimism, and hope to spread some of the same–in-person–this summer!”


SEAN EADS

Prolific fiction writer, Shirley Jackson Award-finalist, and member of my critique group
on ACTUALLY HAVING COVID-FUCKING-19:

“It was the night of April 6th, during a Facetime meeting with my composer friend, when I realized I was falling sick. I’d felt hot the entire day, and monitored my temperature from about 2PM. It made a steady climb. By 9PM, when I told my friend I had to end the meeting, it was at 101. And that began a descent into the worst sustained illness of my life. My symptoms were in no way varied: each hour was filled with the most powerful and unremitting headache I’ve ever had, and a fever that began to grind me down. Day after day this continued until day 10 (I’m on day 13 as I write this). I began to experience some breathing issues on nights 3-5. The disease was by far worse at night. On the 4th night, I’d taken 2000 mgs of Tylenol and my fever was still at 103. I was too scared and delirious to take my temperature on the 5th night, which didn’t even feel like it took place on Earth. It will take me a long time to gather all the impressions I felt during that time period. The overriding feeling was a sense of having been kidnapped and tortured. I was on the verge of calling for an ambulance a few times, but the breathing problems never quite rose to panic button level. As bad as the condition got, I was lucky.

There was no writing during this time period beyond text messages from people checking in to make sure I was alive. These words are the first I’ve written in any creative capacity in almost 2 weeks. I don’t think I’ll do any more writing for another week. I’ve still not recovered all the way, and I have a lot of emotions to think through. But I’ll be back at the novel soon enough, and I’ll be curious to see if the illness in any way influences my take on the characters.

It’s funny, because in many ways over the last few months I’d vowed to quit writing so much genre fiction and focus on human-interest stories. To be interrupted midway in that endeavor by a virus–a villain straddling the fences of science fiction and horror–must be some sort of message.”


BARBARA NICKLESS

#1 Amazon Charts and Wall Street Journal bestselling author
on profound grief and the importance of getting the word out about a tragic syndrome:

“My family went into isolation weeks before COVID-19 was labeled a pandemic and Colorado’s governor enacted stay-at-home orders. In mid-February, my husband and I lost our only son to epilepsy. More specifically, to something known as SUDEP—Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy. One day Kyle was with us in a world filled with promise. The next day he was gone.

Now I watch as the world suffers its own shock and grief and isolation. Writers and other artists struggle to find the courage to create. How do we find our words again?

Solivitur ambulando—it is solved by walking. This is my method. Lengthy walks down empty streets and past abandoned institutions, up and down hills and stairways, moments of utter solitude in vast parking lots. These walks are the only way I can interact with the world right now. Not just because of the strictures of social distancing, but because of my grief. Talking with others is beyond me. My own mind is a trap, a dark wood that does not bear a full entering into. These walks allow me to focus on the physical. And when the thoughts come, I can steer them in more helpful directions: stories, plots, characters. Things that dwell outside my grief and apart from the pandemic and live deep inside the fantastical landscape every writer carries. After these walks, I sometimes have a voice again, if only briefly.

I never expected to be faced with the death of one of my children. No one does. No more do we expect to be caught in the grip of a pandemic. But grief, when mixed with clear-sightedness and perhaps hope, can create astonishing and wondrous stories—stories about these most human of times when ordinary people face extraordinary circumstances. And rise.”


I’m so appreciative of all the notes from these other authors. Their words underscore how the pandemic affects us all in one way or another, and how struggle continues outside of the headlines as well.

As for me? We’re doing okay in our little spot of Colorado. On the writing front, my next book doesn’t come out until May 2021, so I don’t have any book-launch disruption. However, that story is very clearly set in mid-2020, so I did go back through and change the time period to 2017. I think readers are going to expect any story taking place in 2020 to at least have some mention of the pandemic, and many writers are furiously revising drafts to either add that in (a lot of work) or change the date (easier).

Changing my story back to 2017 felt a little like setting it in simpler times. And then I thought, who the hell would have ever considered 2017 simpler times?

What I’m Reading 

The Splendid and the Vile, Erik Larson (2020, Crown). I’m a sucker for anything Larson writes and this one did not disappoint. No detail is left to the imagination in this account of Churchill during the Blitz of 1940 and 1941. So many great subplots (Lend-Lease drama, nightly air raids, Goring’s hubris, creative weaponization), but what really stands out reading this book–now–is how quickly the British population became accustomed to the daily possibility of death-from-above. And, for the most part, how they went on with their lives the best they could, still finding reasons to love, to celebrate, and to find joy. Makes you think twice when you’re feeling a little frustrated that your favorite restaurant isn’t open right now or that you have to wear a mask to get inside Home Depot.


What I’m Watching 

Vanilla Sky  (2001, Cameron Crowe, Director) So I’m kinda obsessed with this movie, though it’s hard to articulate exactly why. I just watched it with the kids, but I’ve seen it twice before. It’s part thriller, part drama, part sci-fi, part romance, and total head-trip. It’s a recreation of a Spanish movie made a few years before this one. There’s this…yearning in this flick that appeals to me. The feeling of being trapped in a nightmare and needing to emerge from it, in one piece, and having someone tell you everything’s okay. Absolute desperation both in love and in fear. A hope for something as beautiful as you can imagine, and a tragic dashing of that hope time and again. I don’t know. It just clicks with me.

Plus, it’s directed by Cameron Crowe, so the music is amazing.

Last Few Words I’ve Written

Apropos of nothing, I’m sharing a passage from my work-in-progress.

Update From My Kids

When prom gets canceled, what do you do? Virtual prom! My daughter and her friends all got dressed up on prom night and Zoomed in from their respective homes. There was even dancing! (and maybe even drinking…who knows).

Update From My Cat

Since I’ve been home A LOT more, Guff’s new thing is to kick me out of whatever chair I’m using so he can sleep in it. He’ll poke and poke and poke, and usually I’ll shoo him away (sometimes needing the spray bottle). But the damn thing wears me down, and the second I get up to do anything, he makes his move.

What’s In My Backyard?

Spotted this great horned owl sitting on top of my backyard shed. I read about them and found out their wingspan is four-and-a-half feet. When he flew away his massive wings made a transfixing  woom woom woom sound.

Reader Questions

Did the REAL Girl in 2A ever contact you again?

She did! You might remember my story about sitting next to the real “dead” girl in seat 2A. I hadn’t heard from her since that day until about a year later when she reached out to me through Instagram. She was taking the same flight we’d been on together and remembered the weird seatmate with the crazy book title, and decided to look me up. I shared my newsletter story with her and sent her a signed book. Not that she necessarily wanted those things, but I was just happy she was alive.

Since you brought it up, I’d be interested to know which of your kids you love best.

My son, for sure. My daughter is more evil than my cat.


 

Have a question for me? Ask me something interesting and I might just answer in my next newsletter. Email me HERE.