Kenneth L. Levinson contemplates a fictional reality…
In March of 2020, we all learned a new and dreaded word: COVID-19. I, for one, had never even heard of COVID-1 through 18 (just as I was unaware of Preparation A through G). Suddenly, we were being quarantined and ordered to remain at home. Simple pleasures like dining out or going to a movie were suddenly death-defying feats. Attending a concert or sports event were out of the question, and we all started wearing masks like bank robbers.
But like all of you, I began to adapt to our new reality. For a while, I entertained myself with things like writing a parody of the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive":
Whether you're a brother or whether you're a mother
You're stayin' inside, stayin' inside
Feel your knees a-shaking and everybody's baking
You're stayin' inside, stayin' inside
Ah, ah, ah, ah, stayin' inside, stayin' inside
Ah, ah, ah, ah, stayin' ins-i-i-ide
As did nearly everything else in my life, being an author got put on "hold" while I adjusted to the new normal--doing things like braving the zombie apocalypse at the local supermarket in order to scavenge the empty shelves for precious treasures such as toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Eventually, things settled into something of a routine, and we all started learning the Greek alphabet, starting with the letters Delta and Omicron. Buoyed by my new language skills, I was ready to take on the challenge of reading both the Iliad and the Odyssey in the original ancient language, until I realized how hard it is to truly comprehend a book when you only know two of the letters.
Like everyone who works for a living, I couldn't just stop running my law practice. I was able to work out of the basement a while, but eventually the space began to feel oppressively uninhabitable--like the Batcave, but with none of the cool gadgets. Besides, the basement was filling up with dirty dishes. The only positive thing about working from downstairs was the easy commute to the "office".
I'd begun writing my newest Adam Larsen mystery novel, Birds of a Feather, just before the pandemic began. As the work progressed, I reached the same decision-point that probably every other author was also confronting: what to do about COVID? It had become such a hot-button issue that nearly anything a character might say or do, such as simply wearing or not wearing a mask, was likely to offend a considerable segment of the readers. And then the drug companies came up with vaccines and we divided ourselves into four rival gangs: (1) Pfizer; (2) Moderna; (3) Johnson & Johnson; (4) and None Of The Above. Or, as Shakespeare never said, "To vax or not to vax. That is the question."
My books are deliberately apolitical, because my protagonist understands that none of his fans care about his partisan opinions. They just want him to solve mysteries. Pretty much anything he could say about COVID would only disrupt the pace of the story and irritate his readers.
So, what to do? After binge-watching all sorts of streaming shows like The Outlander and Bosch, I noticed that the network television industry had started producing new shows--and they were incorporating COVID into their scripts. Actors (including the bank robbers) were wearing masks and lovingly caressing each other from opposite sides of huge, empty warehouses.
In the end, I concluded that ostriches must know something I don't, and I decided to bury my head in the proverbial sand. In Birds of a Feather, COVID simply never happens. It is a non-event. Nearly a million Americans, more people than the number of soldiers who have died in all of our country's wars, simply don't die. They are still living happily ever after. And their families aren't grieving over their losses. Nobody has to stay inside, baking sourdough bread.
And I no longer need to clean up dirty dishes in my basement.
I'm eagerly awaiting Uncial Press's upcoming releases, to see how my fellow authors are handling the pandemic. Are they avoiding the issue as I did? Or are they using it as a springboard for new plot devices?
Or is the entire subject just something to avoid like, well, COVID-19?