This week, I have traveled to Ancient Greece, Mississippi in 1933, Grand Central Station in 1939, Houston Texas in 1969, small town Alabama in 1977, Paris in an undefined now, and somewhere in space at the end of the 24th century. And then there’s the unintentionally alternate 2020 of network television, which showed me what St. Patrick’s Day might have looked like in Washington, D.C. if the damn virus hadn’t arisen, how calm Hawaii looks even though I’m becoming convinced it’s the Murder Capitol of the U.S., and how Los Angeles is still holding concerts for The Voice contestants with large crowds even though (in reality) everyone (including the judges) are in some form of lockdown.
Each one of those trips has been necessary and in several of those cases, too damn short. Picard (the end of the 24th century) provided the best escape, but I’m a Trek fan anyway. I want Season Two and I want it now.
Sometimes I don’t have the bandwidth for an entire novel, but a short story will do. And the short stories set in my past but the author’s contemporary time are doing the best for me right now. Rich and thick and filled with unforgettable characters, those stories are taking me away from Las Vegas in the middle of this pandemic.
Not that Las Vegas is a bad place to be sheltering in place, mind you. We have restaurants for delivery and food I can eat in the grocery stores (unlike Lincoln City). I see people every day. Looking out my windows right now, I can see ten moving vehicles without turning my head and two of those vehicles are buses. Up close, as I was on my morning run, I saw that the buses had one driver wrapped in mask and gloves and protective gear and usually two or three passengers sitting in different sections of the bus.
I can also see a man walking to Starbucks (which is open for take-out), three people (properly spaced) heading to the bus station, and two more getting out of a car at the Justice Center.
The world goes on. It’s just not as crowded as before. Unlike some of my friends, I don’t have to go days and days without seeing another human face. (Except on a screen.) I appreciate that. Although it’s not what some of my friends and neighbors want. I have personally talked to two thirtyish single people who are fleeing the city because “it’s not Las Vegas anymore.” Their Las Vegas was filled with casinos and nightclubs and concerts. And they’re right, it’s no longer that city. One guy said—quite seriously— that his closet is finally in order, and another, on the elevator with his girlfriend, told me he’d never been so bored in his life.
I suppose that’s possible, I guess. Kinda. Let’s not even count the work I’ve had to do figuring out how to keep my business alive in this pandemic. I’ve had a small ton of other work dropped on me from outside, and I’m trying to finish a large series of novels. I am so busy that I had a long (loud) talk with Dean about scheduling in which I actually considered (however briefly) cutting back on the hours of sleep I’m getting each night.
I didn’t cut back. I rescheduled. It’s my superpower. And I talked about that in a previous post.
But what I realized in the middle of the freak out over the schedule was this: The two things that are the stalwarts of my schedule are usually writing and exercise.
The exercise keeps me sane (and it really is right now). It also keeps me healthy.
The writing is my escape and my work and my love. I go without writing for just a few days, and I’m a wreck. So in its own way, the writing keeps me sane too.
But, for the first time ever, there was a third thing. I needed an escape. TV shows, movies, and reading. I couldn’t consider any of them luxuries, to be put off until later. I needed—I need—them right now.
The escape that fictional settings are providing for me are a mental rest. In a previous post, I mentioned that we can’t travel away from this virus. It has infected the planet, and not just with a disease. But with fear, loneliness, grief, economic hardship, hunger, and an almost universal feeling of being trapped.
We can’t go to another city in the hopes that it will be better—even though some of my neighbors are trying that, and the news is full of stories about rich idiots who are leaving their cities and descending on resort towns expecting the same level of services. We all have the same root problem at the moment, and it’s a problem not even visible to the naked eye.
We have to wait it—and the scientists—out. I’m heartened by the worldwide cooperative scientific effort that’s going on. Scientists everywhere are trying to figure out how to kill or stop or mitigate this virus, and trying to do it at warp speed.
Yes, our worldwide economy has essentially stopped at the moment, but our worldwide commitment to science has never been stronger. Our scientists are working together, in every country, in every language, to find a solution as fast as possible.
But waiting isn’t easy. We’re human beings. We’re social creatures. We’re also can-do creatures. We all want to contribute in this fight, and often, the contribution is to go to our room—which was, in my childhood anyway, a form of punishment. Step out of society and be alone for a few minutes. Think about what you’ve done.
So, there’s no escape, and our usual refuge from the cares of the world has become (for many) a prison. The only real escape at the moment is courtesy of the imagination.
Which makes books and movies and TV shows and games more important, not less important. They are a salvation. They are the way out of the Now and into Somewhere Else.
My sadness at the end of a show or the end of a novel is a hundred times stronger at the moment than it usually is, because I’ve been enjoying that Not-2020 world. I’ve loved the respite, and I want to continue experiencing it.
Fiction, in all of its forms, has become as essential to my mental health as writing and exercise. And fiction, in all its forms, is probably number 6 on my care list after food and sleep and exercise and writing and contact with others (on the phone or in small moments in person). That’s pretty high up the list, when you consider that most of us—in what used to be normal times—consumed fiction after we finished our “to-do” list or all of our important jobs.
I know I’m not the only person experiencing this. I’ve talked with others about what they’re reading. In addition to talking to the social butterflies in my building, I’m noting a lot of people sitting on their balconies (the weather is nice here) with a book or a tablet in hand, lost in a world that someone else has created.
The little fiction I’m creating on social media about my cats, competing as they “promote” the latest Storybundle that I’m part of has regular followers. And I’ve gotten email from readers of all my various book series, asking for the next book sooner (I’m trying!) or which of my books is “most like” the one they had just finished.
And yet, I’m listening to writer after writer after writer say that they don’t want to publish their next book into this crisis. Excuse me? If there’s demand for your next book, why wouldn’t you publish it now? Books don’t spoil. If the book doesn’t sell at the moment, it will later.
But, in my opinion, it has a better chance of selling now, because your readers want something they’re familiar with, something they can sink into, something that will help them escape the now.
However, when a traditionally published writer that they don’t want their book to come out right now, I get it. Traditional publishing is in a world of hurt at the moment. Bookstores are closed, Amazon tried throttling paper books (didn’t work), and some paper book distribution centers have closed.
Traditional publishing is all about velocity—how many books can be sold in the first week of release? And even though a lot of professionals in the traditional publishing industry are mouthing the right words (“books don’t expire”) they’re not looking at the bigger picture.
For traditional books, the bookstore, the book fair, the book signing and literary festival are all still ways that traditional publishers measure success. Ebook sales are still considered an unworthy measure. And maybe they should be, since so many traditionally published books have ridiculously expensive ebooks attached.
Whenever I do my recommended reading list, I get at least one or two complaints about the prices of the books I recommend. I preorder books, traditional and otherwise, and read in paper. But a lot of my readers pick up ebooks, and refuse to spend more than $10 for an ebook.
Some books are being pushed even later in the year, which will cause another problem. I’ll be blogging about this later.
So traditionally published writers are right to lament a publication in the middle of this contagion.
But indie (self) published writers…? You should continue on your publishing schedule as if nothing has changed. You might feel uncomfortable promoting, but don’t. Just be respectful. Don’t do a buy-buy-buy promotion. Do something fun. Or tell your readers that the book is out, and wish them well, because they’re struggling.
Or, even better, give them a short story or something with your newsletter. If they can’t buy the newest book because they just got laid off and every dollar is precious, they still have something to read.
Have empathy right now. It’s a tough time. But because it’s tough, a lot of us—me included—want more to read, not less. We also want new things, even though we have a large TBR stack.
So please, give us a place to escape to. Help us leave the Coronavirus Planet for a few hours.
Publish your book as scheduled. Write a quick fun book if you’re that kind of writer. Maybe put one of your early books out for free. Or give away a short story for the readers who can’t get to the library right now.
You have enough to worry about right now. Leave your publishing programs alone.
This is the worst time for you indie (self) published writers to delay publishing your books. We need fiction. We need you.
So have fun with your writing—and we will too.
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“Business Musings: My Travel This Week,” copyright © 2020 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © Can Stock Photo / Veneratio.