Saturday, February 6, 2021

Writing in the Time of Covid-19

9/11 Memorial Site NYC
I’ve read one novel centered around the 9/11 tragedy. I’ve watched one movie about it as well. Both stories had other plot threads, but the Twin Towers attack filled the background, enough to be the painful reminder I suppose it was meant to be. I remember that day so clearly, sitting with my little girl, watching in disbelief as the disaster unfolded on a television screen. It was traumatic, and when I visited Ground Zero in 2019, all those emotions I felt so many years ago bubbled to my surface, raw and fresh.

I’d expected to be affected, but as tears welled behind my sunglasses, I felt sick and lightheaded. Hollowed out. So many young people roamed around the memorial laughing and smiling because they didn’t live through that day. The significance seemed lost on them. While part of me felt saddened that they may never grasp the horrors of 9/11 and how that day changed much of how we all went about life, another part of me felt relief that they didn’t own such a grim memory. The changes we watched happen have always been their norm. Standing there, I realized I was watching the effects of time on our world’s awareness and reality.

Covid is a different beast, an ongoing tragedy not pinned to one specific day in our past, and for most, this is certainly a time we will never forget. But, there are children who are too young to understand how much the world they could have known has transformed. One day, people will look at a memorial to those we’ve lost in this pandemic, and it won’t hold the same significance that it does for the rest of us. This, again, is the nature of time as our present becomes history.

So how do we make certain that people of the future know what we went through? How do we make sure they understand the impact on our lives, so that they might do or know better? Old newspaper articles and internet chronicles will float around, of course, and the events will be documented in history books. Other non-fiction texts will become references for research papers and book reports.

But what about fiction?

Fiction has always mimicked real life, and it has always endured and educated. Storytelling is the language of our ancestors, after all. It’s the vehicle for passing down legends, myths, folklore—and real-life lessons and experiences. Even though I can’t say I want to read Covid-19 fiction any time soon, I can say that telling writers they shouldn’t write about this awful point in time would be a mistake. However, my advice to anyone tackling that mountain is: Be wise and tread lightly.

As an editor, I would be quicker to lend an eye to an emotional story about how the pandemic has altered our connection to the world rather than a story focused on the virus and the horrors brought about in its wake. I’m still living through all of this, still thinking about old friends who lost their lives, still worried about my loved ones contracting a virus that could take them from me. Reading is my escape. It isn’t an escape if I pick up a book that carries me back to the fears I’m trying to avoid. But a book that resonates because it provides a lesson about humanity? That, I might be able to do, and so might others.

This is why I enjoy dystopian novels. Granted, I prefer witches and magicians, romance and happy endings, but dystopian is one of the genres outside of those realms that I love to venture into. Dystopian fiction teaches us about ourselves and reveals deeper truths about the (often faulty) constructs of our society, as well as becoming literary think-pieces on the future. Experiencing the last year has been a lot like walking inside a dystopian dream, from quarantines and lockdowns to corrupt government failures to an ever-changing landscape of life. I remember thinking that I never imagined living through times like these, and yet I have and I am. That gives me, as a storyteller, a unique perspective, as it does every writer alive right now. Whether we choose to infuse this experience into our fiction is up to us.

My hope is that writers handle any Covid-19 story inspiration with a delicate touch and much respect for their readers. I also hope that—even in this time of difficulty and change—writers are able to nurture their creativity and write about something, because the world needs stories. It needs feel-good tales and scary science fiction, colorful Regency romance and gritty vampire fantasy.

If a writer so desires, any of these stories can resonate with the times we’re living through. Over the last year, we’ve endured personal, emotional, and physical struggles, witnessed more bizarre events than I can count, and watched while our government let people die. We’ve also witnessed acts of heroism, kindness, perseverance, ingenuity, and triumph. All of the above can manifest through our fiction in ways that don’t perfectly mirror our current reality, allowing us to reach readers on planes they feel safe to explore.

This is literary alchemy, the writer’s gift of transmuting life into fiction. We are one-day ancestors, leaving behind stories for those who come after us.

We just have to write.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Put It In

What do you know about cholera? Or what came to be called the Spanish flu? How about yellow fever? Or Bubonic Plague (outside of your world history class)? Let's go with what these all have in common. 

What they all have in common is that they show up in the fiction of and representing their times. If you know much about yellow fever, it's likely you gleaned at least some of that knowledge from Civil War narratives and/or stories centered around New Orleans during the outbreaks. Cholera is a bit player in Victor Hugo's work. If you saw Les Miserable, the latter portion of the story takes place during a cholera outbreak. Valjean and Cozette are taking charity to cholera victims when the barricades go up. Spanish flu haunts WWI stories to a lesser degree than the trenches and miserable conditions, but it killed more people worldwide than the war did. If you're of a certain age, maybe you saw some of the orphan train movies that followed the aftermath of that pandemic. Bubonic Plague features in Chaucer's tales and most of us know that Shakespeare got a couple of plays out a plague quarantine. We have windows into those pasts because stories told around these sicknesses endure. 

Does anyone imagine that those literary mentions of popular (at the time) culture date the stories in which they occur? They do, after a fashion, but it's not a bad thing. The pandemics and outbreaks documented in popular literature anchors the stories in a historical and cultural context. It's a fancy way of saying these stories that included the hard realities of everyday life offered modern readers a glimpse of what we had no way of knowing we'd end up facing - yet another pandemic. Looking back, we can see the repeating patterns of illness sweeping the world. Maybe we should have taken the warning. Maybe we thought we were too modern, too clever, too scientific to think that 'bad air' caused malaria, but we're clearly not so smart as all that because here we are. Living what our ancestors set down for us to read about in their fiction. Only now, we're living it. Same as they did.

So write about the time of Covid. I haven't. At least not on purpose - even though a weaponized pandemic is a part of my SFR series that was started several years ago. It wasn't this pandemic. If I were writing contemporary fiction, though, I would include the reality. It's a rich and textured landscape filled with loneliness and the longing for human interaction that's loaded with unseen danger. This is a place and a time where a single regrettable decision puts your heart in more than one kind of danger. Sure. We're all looking forward to looking back on our stories written at this time and laughing over how irrelevant and dated they seem. But our children's children might not laugh. They might read our stories and frown at one another over the lives we had to alter so suddenly and completely, or over the vast numbers of needless dead. 

Our reality has so much grim horror to it, so much pain; but it also has moments of shattering humanity and heartbreaking beauty in it. I can say this, and maybe you nod in comprehension, but it will take a fiction writer with a painterly hand to brush those images into a story so that it haunts the souls of readers who will look back at this pandemic and wonder what it must have been like. If you're writing, put your reality on the page. It means more than a writer trying to appear daring.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Is the pandemic infecting your writing?


view of Notre Dame Cathedral from a park across the street. Green trees frame the broken structure and scaffolding of the famous site.
Notre Dame Cathedral reconstruction August 2019

Do you pull real life into your writing? More specifically, is our current pandemic showing up in your books? Like the Notre Dame Cathedral above, our world is rebuilding, but do we want to see it in our books?

My fellow SFF Seveners have answered rather well this week, but it’s still a tough question to face as a writer. Which makes me wonder if it’s different from a reader standpoint?  

I’ve said it before and my stance hasn’t changed, I read for fun and to escape. Stress running high? Read. Exhausted from work or house projects? Read. Heartache that you’d rather not think about any more? Read. 

Reading clearly works for me and if I look back at the books I’ve read so far this year it’s pretty heavy in the fantasy category. I want to escape into fantastical worlds where the magic or creatures are what you fear. In fantasy I’m not looking for a book filled with characters in masks, unless we’re talking DUNE. 

I also read some contemporary romances. They were lovely stories where the characters got close, figuratively and literally. When I picked those up I wanted to escape into a heartwarming love story and hopefully have some good laughs along the way. I wasn’t looking for a real-time meet cute half hidden behind masks. 

Escaping into the past is fun and I read a couple historical fiction novels too. But no, they didn’t take place during any epidemics or pandemics. Same with the middle grade books I finished reading aloud to my kids. Those were tales as old as time…no, not fairy tales, just the struggles everyone goes through of fitting in and finding yourself. 

That leaves sci-fi. My other love. I can totally get into a good space opera, but my faves are near-future. And mankind vs. a deadly disease isn’t anything new in this department. So yes, I have and I will continue to pick up science fiction based on frightening viruses and alien controlled lifeforms. In fact, bring on more! If you’ve read one recently drop the title in a comment. 

Now that I look back at my reader thoughts I can put my writer hat back on. And whew because THE MARS STRAIN, that was pitched as a cross between THE MARTIAN and OUTBREAK, featuring an infection disease scientist and astronaut who, in a race against time, work to stop the devastating impact of a deadly Martian virus, will be releasing this spring! 

I guess that means I’ll continue to write my fantasy books with the same themes, found family and discovering what you’re truly capable of. And that also means my next sci-fi WIPs, works in progress, won’t change either. They’re near future and it’s easy to imagine our triumphant dominance over coronaviruses and continue to pit my characters against greed, boiling their choices down to a discovery of self and revelation of what, or who, they really value.

Any creatives out there who’ve taken a step back to consider the consumer side? What did you come up with? 

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Deconstructing a world on fire

I don't know if you've taken a peek at the world lately, but it's a mess. I kept a list of wtf moments in 2020 -- including but not limited to: global pandemic, declassified proof of UFOs, murder hornets, ten gazillion hurricanes of ever increasing horribleness, earthquakes, wildfires, fire tornadoes, that scary af explosion in Beirut, and this headline: "Scientists Revive Ancient Microbe That Has Been in a Dormant State for More Than 100 Million Years" (BBC News, 7/27/20) --  but have largely left off doing so in 2021. My mind is just too tired, honestly, and more than a little overwhelmed. It's hard to read, it's hard to sleep, and it's really hard to write.

Because, dude, how do we express the utter freaking swirling chaos that is our real life right now? And more importantly, how do we do that without creating an echo chamber for bad stuff, which is likely to turn off more readers than it lures? When you see this kind of stuff on the news, you don't really click on the TV and watch Contagion. I mean, most folks don't. They watch The Great British Baking Show or TikToks about puppies.

So our challenge as writers is to speak to the zeitgeist of 2021 without bringing our readers down. We have to acknowledge reality without piling on more badness. And those of us who write speculative fiction have been given a huge gift in this effort because we are gods.

Literally, we make and unmake worlds on the regular. It's like our job.

We can endure involuntary isolation and constant existential threats but also show the entire world reaching out with a big sciency hug to end that isolation and bring Mark Watney home. (The Martian)

We can feel the frustrating lack of agency as history washes us along in its tsunami when we read about an immortal girl who's perpetually forgotten. (The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue)

We can address inherited trauma by investing it with magic as a mechanism for justice. (The Deep)

All of the real-life, actual bad stuff hitting us right now can be deconstructed into core themes -- isolation, uncertainty, injustice, fear, who to believe, who to trust, who to admire. And then we can use not our real world but fictionalized speculation (spec fic, right?) to tell readers that we see them, we hear them, and there is hope.

In other words, absolutely we can write about this real world shitstorm. We do it all the time in spec fic. The trick is to bake reality into our made-up worlds so that reading our stories is not only an escape but also a validation of the struggle.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

New #UrbanFantasy: THE SHACKLED SPY by K.A. Krantz

Snow is falling and so must the old cosmic moat surrounding the Mid Worlds in the latest installment of The Immortal Spy series. Yep, that's right, Bix and the Berserkers are back, trudging through the ick of winter on another mission to save the Mids. 

The Immortal Spy: Book 6 

Sometimes the strongest chains are the ones we craft for ourselves.

The Mid World defense system is finally ready to launch, but the millennia-old barrier of highly destructive ether must be removed first. Only one very special artifact can hold such a powerful force. To take down the old and make way for the new, Bix and her team race to locate and reassemble the pieces of the containment device scattered across the Mids.

Alas, they’re not the only ones searching for the shards. In the wrong hands, the fragments are weapons of mass destruction. Fearful magical races and fearsome deities alike scramble to claim the pieces, but lurking in the ether are entities who will not go quietly…and who will stop at nothing to keep Bix from interfering in the burgeoning war.

Darkness will fall and armies perish when manacles break from the shackled spy. 

Buy The Shackled Spy Now in eBook or Paperback
Amazon  |  Apple Books  |  B&N  |  Kobo | Google Play

New to The Immortal Spy series? Start here.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Should You Reference the COVID-19 Pandemic in Your Writing?

So exciting! DARK WIZARD, Book #1 in a totally new series - new world, new magic system, new everything! - is coming February 25, 2021. You can preorder now. 

Available at these Retailers


Yes, I know I just released a book last week, but sometimes this is how balancing an Indie career with a Trad one works out. Probably we could do a theme week on that topic. Suffice to say, I'd already planned out and begun the Heirs of Magic series, when this book - finished and very sparkly to my eye - was returned to my aegis. I could have sat on it. Or I could just launch this series, too! 

You all know me (or you should, by now) - I checked my Gantt charts and decided to go for it. 

Our actual topic at the SFF Seven this week is *not* filling the pipeline with projects in order to juggle the demands of a career as a hybrid author. It is, however, not entirely unrelated. We're discussing topicality and making choices about what to write and publish - "In These times of plague: Writing about the real world in fiction."

I recall, lo these many years ago, when I was a newbie author and soaking up All The Advice, a writing professor at my university pronounced (you may add stentorious tones, if you wish) that we should eschew anything of popular culture in our work. Such references only dated the work, and made it less than. I vividly recall everyone nodding along sagely and making erudite remarks about the banality of popular culture. So much so that, for once, I kept my mouth shut.

Though I didn't agree.

People sometimes support this argument by pointing out that Jane Austen doesn't mention Napoleon in her novels, though that was the overshadowing political force at the time. She does, however, include the presence of the regiments. The movements and stationing of The Officers! (feel free to read in Lydia's excited squeal) are omnipresent to the milieu of the stories. They're such a seamless part of the world that we don't really remark on it. Except... why are there parades of uniformed soldiers marching through these idyllic, rural hamlets? 

My point is that, even if we make the conscious choice not to mention Napoleon, the tenor of the war will invade the story regardless.

I've seen a number of authors in various groups asking about whether others are including the COVID-19 pandemic of 2019-2021 in their books. Do we show characters in lockdown? Wearing masks? Avoiding public superspreader events?

Putting those realities of our lives in this extraordinary time into our books feels... fraught. Do we really want that stuff in our escapist fiction? And yet, the alternative - at least for contemporary fiction - is to pretend it never happened, or risk our characters looking foolish, cavorting maskless in a pandemic world, coming within six feet of PEOPLE THEY DON'T KNOW.

I don't know about you guys, but I flinch now watching movies where people attend parties in close spaces, embracing and kissing on others. It didn't take all that long, relatively speaking, for my habits and worldview to change.

The advantage of writing alternate fantasy as I do is that I don't have to worry so much about this kind of thing. On the other hand, this is the world *I* live in, and - like The Officers! - aspects will infiltrate the milieu of my stories.

I've seen a number of interviews now with directors talking about how the pandemic changed their films in profound ways, leaking in where they didn't expect it. I also saw Locked Down (Baby's First COVID-19 Movie™) and enjoyed it very much. However, filmed in London in early 2020, it already felt dated in marked aspects. 

Cue sagely nodding of sycophantic students. "See?" they say. "Dated. Less than."

I disagree. Capture the moment, if that's what calls to you. As artists, we observe the world and reflect it through our own lens. That includes *gasp* popular culture. 

Besides, it's going to leak in anyway.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Welcome to our new Saturday blogger~ Charissa Weaks!

 We're incredibly excited to announce

we have a new Saturday blogger:

Charissa Weaks!!!

Charissa Weaks headshot: gorgeous woman sitting in a cafe wearing a black shirt, photo in black and white

Charissa is as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside—and come on, look at that pic! She's also a fantastic writer and her stories will sweep you away and make you never want to leave them. Not only all that, but she's a genuine soul who supports those around her and lifts them up. And she's also an editor at City Owl, so we'll get to hear about that side of the business as well! 

Her official bio is even more impressive than that attempt:

CHARISSA WEAKS is an award-winning author of historical fantasy and speculative fiction. She crafts stories with fantasy, magic, time travel, romance, and history, and the occasional apocalyptic quest. She is a foodie and book-buying coffee addict who loves to travel and visit antique stores. She believes the souls of memories live in shadowy places and inside the things we cast away.
Over the last decade, Charissa has worked with and edited for published and unpublished authors alike, including several NYT and USA Today Bestselling Authors. Her strengths lie in author branding and the development of high-concept plots alongside strong emotional arcs. She has a love for historical tales, women’s fiction, fantasy, and unique sci-fi, and if those stories include a heart-rending romance, all the better. Charissa also longs to see more diverse authors and characters on the shelves. For query information and to see her current wishlist, click HERE
Charissa is active in the Historical Novel Society, was named 2019 President and Pro-Liaison for her local Romance Writers of America chapter, and is a member of the Women’s Fiction Association. She is the founder and editor of Once Upon Anthologies, a series of paranormal and fantasy romance short stories and novelettes.
Charissa resides just south of Nashville with her family, two wrinkly English Bulldogs, and the sweetest German Shepherd in existence. When she’s not writing, you can find Charissa lost in a good book or digging through four-hundred-year-old texts for research. To keep up with her writing endeavors, and to gain access to writing freebies and book giveaways, join her newsletter, The Monthly Courant.

Be on the look out for her upcoming novel: THE WITCH COLLECTOR!

announcement for Charissa Weaks' trilogy The Witch Collector—black background with a golden crown above and the titles listed in gold below: The Witch Collector, City of Ruin, and A God's War

You can find and follow Charissa—seriously, she's all over!

Friday, January 29, 2021

What Dreams May Come

Corvid, the Void Boi, wants you to know that his human mom doesn't need to cultivate purposeful day dreams. She has him and he's a weirdo. 

Day dreaming. It's therapeutic and completely necessary for artists of all kinds. Yet we live in a culture that flings all kinds of accusations about laziness, worthlessness, and 'wasted' time. Add modern technology into the mix and most people over twelve have precious little time for the 'silliness' of day dreaming. 

In an attempt to reclaim some brain space, time, and day dreaming, I'm working my way through a book called Bored and Brilliant by Manoush Zomorodi. It's a treatise on how our devices have stolen away the free time our brains once filled with day dreams and with synthesizing our experiences. 

It's also a useful walk through the brain science that explains why we need wandering minds and 'useless' day dreaming. 

So yes. Day dreaming - the fun, the terrible, the startling. Bring it all on. It's necessary. It's enlivening. Certainly, creativity and stories are built on the foundation of day dreaming.

The interesting piece is that with migraine, you get hallucinations. Not every time. But it seems to be a feature. Hallucinations are the feral cousins of day dreaming. Day dreams can be directed. Hallucinations can't. Yet they're useful, too. Some of the grimmest of my scenes came straight out of migraine hallucination. To be clear, tho, I'd flat give them up if I could exorcise the migraines. There are other ways to get into the altered states required to bring up vision, if not hallucination. I'd take it if I could get it. Until then, day dreams are welcome companions. Hallucinations, well. They show up, welcome or not, and stay until they're good and ready to leave.