On Dec. 1st, 2019, I began posting to a new series I’d developed that I called Authors-Readers International (you can read all about that idea here and here), and over several months I posted about and promoted Authors whom I either knew personally or had worked with in the past. These Authors were based in countries all around the world and the hope was that we would attract Readers from all around the world, as well. And we did! There were clicks on my blog during that time from almost 100 countries – Readers in more than half the countries in the world had discovered these great Authors I’ve had the pleasure to know! I plan to keep this series going and will be contacting more than 30 other Authors about joining in on this promotion. I will begin posting new promotions to this series once again beginning in early June.
But in the meantime, I realized that many of the Authors I had already promoted have kept themselves very busy during these months of self-isolation, so I asked them all to send me an update of what they’ve been doing. This is the first in a multi-part series that I will now post to my blog so Readers have a chance to catch up with their favourite A-RI Authors! (The link on each Author’s name will take you to their original promotion on this blog.)
Part 1 is all about Gail Bowen, because she was the very first to reply to my request and she had A LOT to tell, so I promised she would get to go first!
A Writer’s Life in the Time of Corona – Gail Bowen – May 14, 2020
What I still can’t believe is how radically and how rapidly the world changed. We are a family that celebrates everything, and on March 14th we had a family dinner at our house to celebrate our son-in-law Brett’s birthday. There are seventeen of us, and we had a great time as we always do – well almost always. When the kids and grandkids were leaving, my husband and I stood in the chill and waved them off, also as we always do. We did not know that Brett’s birthday dinner would be our last family gathering for a very long time, and I’m grateful for that.
In April, I had a number of projects to finish up. I was teaching a ten week on-line class in Mystery Writing for the University of Toronto, and the class had begun on February 2nd, Groundhog Day. I had seven students, all but one of whom was affected in some way by COVID-19. A retired nurse in Toronto was called back to fill her former position in Forensic Psychiatry. Another student was ill with the virus herself. A third had a mother suffering from Alzheimer’s who was in a Toronto Facility where a patient had tested positive for the virus. A fourth owned a small café that had to be shuttered, and employees who had to be let go. A fifth student had a grand-daughter in hospital with surgery for spina bifida whom she could not visit. Another was teaching a class for U of Toronto that suddenly had to be converted to on-line. The seventh student, mercifully was spared. All of the students finished the course, and all did well. A triumph of the human spirit.
My own writing routine was relatively unaffected. I’m a retired university professor, and since my retirement, I’ve been treating my writing as a job. I get up, shower, eat, get dressed, spend three minutes putting on makeup and begin work. I work from 8 -12 and then again from 1:30 to 4:30. The Unlocking Season, the 19th novel in my Joanne Kilbourn Shreve mystery series will be published on September 1st. Advanced Reading Copies were sent out to reviewers and a copy was sent to me, so I could check for errors. My manuscript had already been proofread by three professionals, but my husband, a friend from the English Department, and I found 15 additional errors. As my publisher said, “Yikes”!
I’m finishing up A Reflection in the Stream, the 20th JKS novel, and I’ve written three columns on aspects of fiction for Freelance, the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild magazine. One of my sons made a video of me discussing the role the arts play in a time of disruption and reading a fifteen minute segment from The Unlocking Season. The video will be part of on-line programming by Lyric Theatre, here in Saskatchewan, to remind audiences that although there will be no live performances because of the pandemic, The Lyric Theatre will always be there for them.
Along with three other writers, I participated in Isolation Conversation, a ZOOM meeting presented by our Writers’ Guild. I learned from all the other writers, but I was particularly struck by Harold Johnson’s wise and humane perspective on how the pandemic will change our lives. Harold is a member of the Cree nation; he has a Masters’ degree in Law from Harvard; he has been a Crown Prosecutor; he’s written novels set in Northern Saskatchewan against a background of traditional Cree mythology, and he still works his family’s trapline near Montreal Lake.
Recently I read an article in the New Yorker about how critics have been rating the ZOOM background settings of we hapless ZOOM participants. The critics’ criteria are stringent. Is our ZOOM background as blatantly cheerful as the living room in a ‘50’s sitcom or as bleak as a hostage’s basement living space? Do we have enough books? Too many books? Do we humanize ourselves by having plants in the ZOOM? What about family photos? When I read the article, I wondered how those discerning critics would rate Harold Johnson’s choice?
In mid-March, Harold and his wife, Joan, were on a book tour — as Harold wryly noted, ‘twenty hotels in twenty nights’. When that world abruptly shut down, Harold and Joan retreated to a world that never shuts down — his family’s trapline in Northern Saskatchewan On the day of our Isolation Conversation, Harold was outside with a mug of hot water and sugar. The sky above him was cerulean; the trees behind him were as sturdy and beautiful as they had been for generations, and the air was filled with birdsong. Harold was by the lake waiting for the ice to break up, so he get in some fishing.
As the Isolation Conversation wound to an end, we discussed how we felt the world would be changed when the pandemic was over. I said that Coronavirus had laid bare inequities in our world that we had been papering over, and that I hoped we would acknowledge J.S. Woodsworth’s belief that we are all sisters and brothers and that what we desire for ourselves we wish for others. My hope was that we would see the pandemic as a corrective, a signal that we had been hurtling along the wrong path – a path driven by the belief that fulfillment was only a click away on our smartphones..
When our moderator asked Harold what he believed the future held, he did not answer quickly. He looked around at the endless northern sky; at the lake, still frozen, but as always filled with fish that the patient and skilled could catch to feed their families. Finally, Harold said “I am pessimistic about the future but I try not to think about it.” He made a sweeping gesture that enclosed the land and the water around him. “We have all of this, and we have today,” he said. “That is enough.”