Thursday, December 24, 2020

Status Report December 21, 2020

This has, beyond doubt, been the worst year of my lifetime. I suspect that most everyone I know feels likewise. My goal, achieved, was for my family and me to survive 2020. Looks like we’ve succeeded.

But it was a terrible year for almost everyone still living. The pandemic, accentuated by a chaotic lack of leadership in Washington, led to hundreds of thousands of deaths, many of them avoidable.

Lockdowns, to reduce the number of deaths, lead to the near-collapse of the economy, which continues to stagger along at a death knell pace. There are more people unemployed right now than at any time since the Great Depression.

Yes, I know there is a ray of hope. The vaccines now being rolled out might easily end the pandemic, although this will take many months or possibly even years.

The legacy of 2020 will continue to dominate every aspect of life for years, or possibly decades.

If you write fiction, you have the following consideration: How can I write anything that has more tension than today’s reality? Not enough tension and readers will drop your book and just watch the evening news. Too much tension and readers will think you’ve taken the train to crazytown. Many of my friends who are writers have developed pandemic writer’s block. I’d decided to take 2020 off as a sabbatical back in November of 2019, so I was a bystander when the pandemic robbed so many of their will to write fiction.

Two people important in my life died this past year. My handler from my days as a spy died. I miss him. And the writer who inspired me to attempt to write my stories thinly disguised as fiction – John LeCarre –  also died. He was the model and icon writer for so many thriller writers. Without my living idols, I feel somewhat bereft. And we lost many, many others who were close friends and relatives. Some from Covid. Some from other causes.

During the past twelve months, I had dreams which, when I woke, I recognized as ideas for fictional titles, but I’s just saved them on my notebook computer. Now, as this wretched year concludes its arc, I’ve thought over whether there’s anything I want to write next year, and the answer is the I would like to write something. But what? Right now, creating fiction would be an act of desperation.

I feel that I should tread carefully now. It must be an idea that readers will find compelling and that means it must be character-based, not a plot-based book. My plots can’t compete with people’s ideas of 2020. It can’t take place in the future, since the future is becoming increasingly complex and impossible to forecast. It can’t be historical, since the past can’t compare with reader experiences of 2020.

So what I write next will take place in the here and now and focus on a small set of characters that reflect the worst fears we all have felt and still feel. The deaths of friends and family. The lack of available food and clean water. And no hope for a bright future. Okay, all that. But I’ll need an uplifting ending. And, that, friends, is what I don’t yet have.

I hope your holidays lift you from thoughts of what we’ve survived and help you focus on making the future something you can enjoy. 2021 is still a mystery to be figured out, day by day.