We've now passed into the second year of the global COVID-19 pandemic. As of the March 12th, over two and half million people have died worldwide of COVID-19. It has been a long year of hardship, isolation, and fear. The pandemic has made a lasting impact on the lives of billions. As vaccines are rolling out across the world, there is hope for a better future, and excitement at the prospect of returning to some level of normalcy.
As I write this final post in my three-part series about writing during the COVID-19 pandemic, the inevitable question emerges related to what fiction will look like in the future. Will elements of the pandemic appear in books going forward? Can we expect to see social distancing and mask wearing in the new novels of our favorite authors? Will characters no longer shake hands or hug? To get some answers, I spoke to my usual panel of suspects.
New York Times bestselling author Tosca Lee doesn't have to be concerned about making this decision, her two latest project are historical novels. ". . . so I am off the hook," she said. However, like me, this is something that she's "wondered about a lot and am really curious to know how other authors are handling it."
August Norman, author of SINS OF THE MOTHER, points out that "the path to traditional publishing can range from one to two years from edit to actual printing" which makes any decision about incorporating COVID-19 into a novel a tricky one. ". . . my existing series has followed the character through the current decade two years at a time, meaning the manuscript I’m working on now will have to address the pandemic," Norman explained.
Lucy Banks, author of the Dr. Ribero's Agency of the Supernatural book series, plans to "approach it quite organically." Banks plans to only incorporate COVID-19 into her writing if it feels right. However, she feels the lockdown and isolation related to the pandemic might be influences her writing regardless of her intentions. Banks has "noticed recently, is that in my new projects, I've inadvertently focused on lots of enclosed, claustrophobic spaces."
For myself, I've decided to not incorporate any elements of pandemic into my writing. If you have read any of my books, you will have noticed that I try to include as many real-life references as possible. I enjoy using the real locations, such as cities, streets and landmarks, to give the reader a familiar basis in realty for my stories. However, the beauty of writing fiction means that I don't necessarily have to stick with realty the whole time.
Glen Erik Hamilton has taken a different approach in terms of addressing the pandemic in his writing. During the pandemic, Hamilton wrote a short story about how his series protagonist, Van Shaw, was handling the quarantine that came early in the pandemic. His publisher liked the short story enough to include it as bonus material in the mass market release of his book, A DANGEROUS BREAD. In the novel he is working on now, Hamilton explained that he "ignored the pandemic entirely, not referring to it as either a current or past concern. That's my usual way; I tend to avoid references to current events which might yank a future reader." However, the more he thought about the new normal, "the more I wanted the book to reflect, optimistically, a post-vaccine world where gatherings are not only allowed but something of a celebration."
David Albertyn, author of UNDERCARD, prefers "to focus my work on issues or dynamics I feel are not getting enough attention, and that’s definitely not the case with COVID." He believes that there will be readers that want to read books that include elements of the "new normal", as well as readers that don't. Albertyn said, "I think there’s room for both, and I imagine a desire for both."
Thriller writers Matty Dalrymple and J. L. Delozier are both adamant that they will not be incorporating the pandemic into their future writings. Delozier points out that "in times of turmoil, readers have turned to fiction, particularly sci-fi and fantasy, as an escape . . . I intend to provide that escape in my fiction." Dalrymple agrees. "I believe people read my genres--suspense and thrillers--more for escapism than for gritty realism, so I don't think they would enjoy experiencing Ann Kinnear or Lizzy Ballard struggling with the challenges of the pandemic," she said, referring to the characters of her two book series.
No matter how you look at it, the pandemic has made an impact on the lives of every living person in the world. August Norman points out that "society has changed and will continue to evolve because of this." I expect that writers around the globe will take different approaches to addressing the pandemic in their work. Some will ignore it. Some will make a passing reference. And some will incorporate it into their next novel. And even if a writer choices not to address the pandemic in their work, the influence of the COVID-19 outbreak, I'm sure, will be evident nonetheless, albeit perhaps in subtle ways within their prose.
This wraps up my three-part series about writing in the age of COVID-19. I would like to sincerely thank all of the writers who participated. Their input was valuable and appreciated.
To read the first two parts of the series, please click the two links below.
To learn more about the authors featured in this blog post, please visit their websites.
Lucy Banks - lucy-banks.co.uk
J. L. Delozier - jldelozier.com
August Norman - augustnorman.com
Tosca Lee - toscalee.com
Matty Dalrymple - mattydalrymple.com
David Albertyn - davidalbertyn.com
Glen Erik Hamilton - glenerikhamilton.com