Kate Flora: Seems like we’re all asking the same questions of each other these days: How is everyone doing out there? You okay? In some ways, it seems like we are more in touch than usual. Adult children calling their parents. Parents in touch with their children. Neighbors stand six feet apart and catch up. Many Zoom events or Facetime chats going on. Cocktail parties and webinars galore. Yet a lot of us seem to have lost our attention spans. Our focus. Get up. Check the news. No sign of the curve flattening. Fall into lethargy.
On the news, we see people in full armor toting scary guns demanding their right to have the world open up. Beaches jammed with people while we huddle responsibly at home or wear masks whenever we leave the house. We learn that in one Southern state, bowling alleys and tattoo parlors are deemed essential businesses. In New England, we act like misanthropes, taking precautions to not infect each other. Our color grows out, our hair is gray, the men look like they’ve reverted to hippies.
There is a lot of public generosity to appreciate during these trying times. It seems like every vendor in the world wants to send us reassuring advice. The pharmacy wants us to have fun doing family portraits. There is plenty of entertainment available. Opera and Broadway are available for free, if only we can remember which night of the week the shows are on. Musicians–and The Rolling Stones–offer concerts from quarantine. The wonderful Farnsworth Museum in Rockland has an art and poetry presentation for Earth Day that I hope is still available when you read this: https://www.farnsworthmuseum.org/about/fam-blog/in-celebration-of-earth-day-poems-and-images-from-the-farnsworth/?fbclid=IwAR0HoejsXl-bL4I-H4Gn27guNIL9RBfc4XJXrtlga4huMouduGxlqsc7mPw
And yet, for me, and many writers I know, concentration has become difficult. It is hard to create an imaginary world full of danger and misdeed, with morality and goodness ultimately triumphing when the actual world seems so out-of-control and can’t seem to be righted despite our best efforts. As I dither through the day, trying to meet my little daily goal of writing a thousand words, I remind myself that for some of us who write mysteries, it is that righting of the world, the return to order, and the reassurance that good will triumph despite the loss and wrong and death and characters feeling the ripples of the crime, that keeps us writing and you reading.
We write because we believe in good guys and gals. In heroes. In the idea that despite all the bad that happens, in the end we want the world righted again. We want wrongs punished. We want leaders–in our books the heroes and heroines, professional and amateur–who will stand up to wrong-doers and restore some measure of justice.
So if I’m slow these days, if I pace more than I type, if I put my characters in difficult or seemingly impossible situations and the plots seem to be going awry, my writing may be reflecting the state of the world. Things won’t be righted in a day or a week or a month, but in fiction, at least, if I, if we writers, can swat away those distracting gnats, things will get better. The world will return to some semblance of order. And readers will have new books to take them on wild journeys with reassuring endings.
I’ve been lucky. There are days, yesterday was an example, where I get lost for hours in things. I spent hours researching stamp values to decide whether certain ones were worth selling on Ebay.
I’m reading a few of my many-times-reread classic mysteries – e.g., Dorothy Sayers – because the very bleak state of affairs so cleverly comes to right. Now, when so much seems wrong, I need right.