the Author

Social Distancing Journal 09: Covid thoughts, writing thoughts.

Posted in writing.

There was no post on Saturday, because on Friday, for the first time in over two months, I went into the book­store. I there­fore did not write on Friday, which meant I wrote on Saturday instead.

I was asked to come in because “the shelves are a disaster”, and as there’s only been two people in the store — the owner and the full-timer — for the two weeks, I consid­ered it rela­tively safe, and on Fridays, there’s only one person in the store otherwise.

Two of our distrib­u­tors are sending only full cartons of books, which works for some new releases, but means we’re not getting back­list for those two distrib­u­tors. They are doing this to cut down on actual handling of books; in order to send us two of a title, they have to open boxes, handle every­thing, pack every­thing. So: I won’t complain, because I under­stand the reasons. I will say I’m grateful for those who are taking the more risky option of simply fulfilling the orders they receive.

But we’ve been doing mail orders and curb-side pick-up during the interim, and our customers have been fabu­lous – they’ve been ordering on-line, or phoning in orders, and paying remotely; we only have to open the door and hand them their books, or alter­nately, package their books and send them off in the mail.

And as it’s pretty much one person respon­sible for doing all of that, shelving — when there’s no customers to actu­ally see the shelves — is not a high priority.

In Ontario, a tenta­tive phase one for reopening the province is sched­uled to start Tuesday (today being Victoria day, which is a national holiday). Some discus­sion has been taking place about what our store will do. Bakka is not yet equipped with the large plex­i­glass shields that many retail stores have adopted in order to sepa­rate customers from staff, and to be frank, nothing with regards to covid-19 has changed. While testing in Ontario has gone up, the testing/tracking para­digm can’t really be followed as it has been in South Korea. Whole grocery stores have been shut down as the front­line staff there catch covid-19; in one store, I believe 20 people tested posi­tive after the first case was noted. Grocery stores are one of the few places in which lots of people are allowed to gather — and with good reason, because we all need to eat. But it’s clear that the staff are exposed, constantly, to people who simply come in to the store and shop, and that some of those shop­pers will be contagious.

Ontario hospi­tals were never over­whelmed in the way Italian or NY hospi­tals were. The point of staying home was to make sure that didn’t happen. Doctors in war zones are accus­tomed to a brutal triage system. Doctors in city hospi­tals are not. There’s a reason that suicide among doctors is much higher than other profes­sions, and having people trained to save lives forced to choose which people live or die would be soul destroying. So: this did not happen in Ontario.

But… reopening now isn’t about whether or not covid-19 is gone. It is obvi­ously not gone. It’s about keeping the numbers low enough that the hospi­tals can treat everyone, attempt to save every life. It’s about opening the hospi­tals up so that people with other medical condi­tions – cancer, heart prob­lems, things that will also kill – can be treated once again. And it’s about opening up so that the engine of our economy can start to sputter fitfully to life. Because our govern­ment has been good about finan­cial aid — to workers, to busi­nesses — but that money is going to run out, and if there’s no money coming in…

I’ve been thinking a lot about this (prob­ably too much, but, well, Writer Brain). The only observ­able para­digm that seems to have worked or seems to be working is the broad, instant testing, contact tracing, and quar­an­ti­ning those who are posi­tive. And as we simply aren’t in that posi­tion in Ontario (I can’t speak for the rest of Canada), I have mixed feel­ings. Ontar­io’s new case numbers have never dropped to anything approaching zero on a daily basis; they’ve gone down but slowly and steadily. And while testing has gone up, contract tracing has remained low.

Some of the eastern provinces have insti­tuted a policy to enlarge shelter “bubbles”; to link, say, two house­holds together, so that while they follow social distancing and telecom­muting, they are allowed to spend actual social time with each other. I would…dearly like that for Ontario, but that’s not part of the phase 1 reopening schedule.


I am contin­uing to write, of course. I had a tricky week in which I finally accepted that my clever reveal plan was … just not going to happen. The events will happen, but — there will be no clev­er­ness or surprise surrounding them because I cannot stage things to save my life.

I have always loved the big surprises, the ones in which you look at a book in a different way because of the reveal. Some­times they don’t work; some­times the clues or the hints are so obvious it falls flat. But some authors can do it so well it’s hugely emotion­ally moving.

However… in order to struc­ture an arc this way (it’s a specific arc, not an entire book), I have to… stay outside of the char­ac­ter’s head, remain mostly remote from the char­ac­ter’s history. And I can’t. I had hopes, I had plans, but… I can’t. So, that was a bit disap­pointing. (Writers out there under­stand that a “bit disap­pointing” is code for weeping and wailing and doubting one’s own compe­tence and also threat­ening to throw the computer off the back porch.) But once I accepted that, the book opened up almost instantly and writing became less of a struggle.

So: I want to talk a bit about that mystical thing called writer’s block. I will not say it doesn’t exist; I’ve had periods where I sit in front of the computer and write the same para­graph over and over again while bouncing off the wall the book has become. (And panicking because OMG DEADLINES. Ahem.)

But because I’ve written almost forty novels now, I’ve come to recog­nize a certain pattern. When I’m hitting a wall it’s almost always because I’ve done some­thing wrong earlier in the book. Some­thing that my subcon­scious under­stands is not good for the book; some­thing that lets me know the book I’m consciously trying to write is not the actual book I’m writing.

If I could do this instantly, I would have far, far fewer “restart this from page 1” events in my writing life.

For me, periods of blockage are almost always repre­sen­ta­tive of that subconscious/conscious struggle — and once I under­stand, I can once again start to write normally.

This was only a week of me rewriting the same several pages, rather than a “burn this down” — but I’m kicking myself because the constant attempt to write chapter one should have made clear what the problem was once I finally had a chapter one =/.

The Cast book, on the other hand, did not try to murder me, just slip a banana peel under my feet. So, at least there’s that.


And in house­hold news, we are all still alive. None of my family has caught covid-19. No one has attempted to murder anyone else in frus­tra­tion because we can’t escape each other. If the store remains mostly closed to walk-in traffic, I’ll prob­ably continue to go into work on Friday because I only managed to get through a third of the store. And also, can I just say that the five hours spent on my feet and shelving caused my legs to ache for two days after, because appar­ently I haven’t been doing any squats and shelving (under stock is the bottom shelf) requires a lot of it?

How is everyone else? Are you in a state or province that is phasing in reopening?

22 Responses to Social Distancing Journal 09: Covid thoughts, writing thoughts.

  1. Daniel Catudal says:

    I am a support tech for my company, and yes in Quebec the reopening has started. I am old, so my director has stalled my come back and I am grateful for his thought­ful­ness. I buy all my books online and read one every day. I just started rereading yours a few weeks ago, so thks for all your hard work. I wish I could also read all your false starts also, wishful of me I guess. Stay healthy, we all love you for it.

  2. Tchula says:

    Virginia will begin phase 1 reopening on Friday, May 29th, but that won’t apply to northern VA where I live, because we have more cases of covid19 here and have not yet met the metrics on which the governor and health depart­ment have decided.

    My family is still all well, thank­fully. I am not back to work yet, and frankly, Dave does not want me to go back, although my office has currently reopened on a very reduced and restricted schedule. I am not needed at this time (I’m part-time), but that could change over the summer, and then we’ll have to discuss it.

    Dave and I had to take a quick overnight trip up to the apart­ment in NYC to clear the mailbox and pick up a package (that turned out to be an entry error and was nonex­is­tent, which is annoying). But we brought back the extra Costco TP I had stored up there, so it wasn’t a total bust. Talia took care of the cats while we were gone, then her grand­par­ents picked her up before we got home on Sunday. She can stay with them while we go through the 2 week self-quar­an­tine now that we’re back in VA.

    It looks like Dave will be working from home in Virginia for the rest of the year, which is cool. What sucks is we have to pay rent on a NYC apart­ment that we aren’t using. I loved spending time in the city, but the popu­la­tion density there makes it just too risky right now, imo. We still don’t know if Google will make work from home optional beyond 2020, but we have the apart­ment until mid-January either way.

    There’s still so much uncer­tainty right now, but I am very thankful we are healthy and our loved ones are safe. I’m glad to hear y’all are safe as well. Books are easy to mail, so I’d think if the busi­ness is doing okay, Bakka could continue to do curb­side and mailing indef­i­nitely until health outcomes/information is clearer. Good luck!

  3. Sharon Corbet says:

    I’m in Hessen in Germany — we’ve been slowly reopening for a couple of weeks now, and never had the full lock­down that some other coun­tries in Europe had. Shops and churches have been able to open for 2 weeks (?) and restau­rants were allowed to reopen at the weekend. All with social distancing rules in place, and face cover­ings required.

    So far we haven’t seen a big uptick in cases, though I think there was a small one in Germany as a whole. One thing that is useful is that they’ve given us a metric that they’re using to gauge if it’s neces­sary to close up again. The number of new cases per 100 000 people in the preceding week has to remain under 50 for things to keep opening up. Any area approaching that will be closed down again. (Frank­furt, where I am, is today at 8 cases per 100 000 in the last week).

  4. @Michelle: Last I heard there is one current case here on Vancouver Island. There are still ferries to/from the main­land, but only on an essen­tial basis and the border with Wash­ington is still closed. Stores are starting to open tomorrow, slowly and care­fully. One of our sons works in the movie industry and there are a lot of ques­tions there because social distancing simply isn’t possible — not only for the actors but hair/­make-up, camera work, lighting, direction… 

    FWIW (and you’re certainly welcome to disagree), one defi­n­i­tion of writer’s block that I’ve heard is that writer’s block is not when you’re sitting, staring at a blank screen (or paper). Writer’s block is when you’re doing anything BUT staring at a blank screen. 🙂

    Be well.


  5. Nevada Martinez says:

    @Michelle: Speaking of “reveals”, may I ask when you knew Meralon­ne’s back­story, his origins? I was totally surprised by his reveal. I knew he was some­thing, but not that. I loved it, well done. After I accepted this new facet, my first thought was “When did she know that? How does she constantly weave these pieces together so intri­cately and accurately?”

  6. Tyronne Lorne Hodgins says:

    I’m here in Missis­sauga so we’re basi­cally on the same page Michelle. I must admit, I have the same concerns you’ve mentioned espe­cially when it comes to grocery stores. I’ve been working from home and been self-isolated since late February on doctor’s orders. I, as you know from previous posts, am fighting cancer so my risk level is ‘stupid’. I get the fear and the concern you expressed. My doctors are telling me that I likely won’t be able to return to work or resume a ‘normal’ life what­ever the new normal turns out to be until there is a vaccine or ‘herd immu­nity’ is reached. I can’t complain (exactly) since I have no control over this and it’s waste of energy better spent on learning to live with my cancer which is metastatic. If you’ve figured out how your writer’s block works, GOOD FOR YOU! Knowing the cause makes the solu­tion that much easier — not easy — just easier! I look forward to your next release and to hope­fully meeting you in person one day! Take care and may you and your family remain safe!

  7. Patrick Gates says:

    Just finished “Cast in Wisdom “… loved it! Thank you for another great read👍

  8. michelle says:

    @Daniel: Some­times the false starts are just rewriting the para­graph constantly. Other times, they’re Sigurne. 

    @Tchula: I totally under­stand Dave not wanting you to work, given your job. Thomas was fine with me going in to work, but he drove me in because taking the subway was a bridge too far. For him. I mean, I had a mask and gloves I’d wear until I got off the subway, but. Well.

    @Mike: That’s really good news about Vancouver. BC seems to have weath­ered things better than Ontario and Quebec, but Quebec’s March break was earlier, before any lock­down, so people trav­eled a lot =/

    @Tyrone: Your doctors are being both straight forward and honest, which I feel is a large bonus. 

    @Nevada: I always knew about Meralonne. In Hunter’s Death, there’s the scene where he stops in front of the 3 ceno­taphs, for one. But also some of his view­points; there’s one where it seems very much like it’s Kallan­dras at the start, and… is obvi­ously Meralonne at the end.

    Meralonne, however, is being a bit of a pain atm. T_T

    @Sharon: Germany was a few weeks ahead of Ontario – and also, much better with testing than we were at the start. 

    The thing I keep telling my mother is: it’s not gone. EVEN IF we somehow had zero daily new cases, it’s not *gone*. The curve flat­tening was to make the case­load manage­able, and sure, if it were somehow zero we’d be cheering, but — the only thing that’s really changed is our aware­ness of the threat and the way the virus works.

    But… it makes me a back­seat hypochon­driac. I mean for weeks we were told: respi­ra­tory illness, only go to testing centers if you have respi­ra­tory symp­toms. And now, with more infor­ma­tion, it seems like anything (diges­tive, loss of taste/smell, dizziness/fainting) can be a covid symptom. So when anyone I know gets sick it’s me going through all the currently known symp­toms and trying not to panic for them.

    @Patrick: thank you!

  9. Carrie Hamilton says:

    I live in northern NJ, just outside of NYC. It’s been alter­nately scary and boring, although we feel lucky that we have one of the “saner” gover­nors in the U.S.

    The first few weeks were terri­fying. And I say this as someone who lived in Manhattan during 9/11 and the blackout. My husband works in the city and rides public trans­porta­tion. We anxiously waited the first few weeks after quar­an­tine began to see if he would become ill. I’m sure your friends in the publishing world went through the same cycle. On top of this, I had text exchanges with a neighbor, who is a nurse at a nearby hospital, in which she would inform me that people were “dying all over” and most of her colleagues were working while ill with COVID. She often comes home and sits in a stupor in her back­yard after work. She rarely sees COVID patients in her hospital, so I can only imagine how much worse it is for those on the front line.

    A few rela­tives prob­ably contracted the virus, but we’ll never know since testing was so hard to come by. I live near NJ’s first testing facility, and in mid March, hundreds of people lined up in their cars in the middle of the night in the hopes of being tested in the AM, only to be turned away soon after the facility opened because it quickly ran out of supplies. We have more testing sites now, so the car lines have decreased, but it remains diffi­cult to get tested.

    If you didn’t want to go to the grocery store (where you had to wait in huge lines only to face workers who were becoming ill in large numbers), you had to find a creative way to purchase food. I managed to acquire some basics from a local bakery, but other­wise spent hours (not an exag­ger­a­tion) every night hitting refresh while on Amazon’s site, trying to acquire a delivery window on the limited number of desir­able items it had avail­able. Once I figured out 2:04 am was the “golden moment”, I either stayed awake until then or just auto­mat­i­cally hit purchase if I woke up in the middle of the night and found an open delivery window. I recently discov­ered a different neighbor of mine was doing the same thing, and we found it “funny” we were awake in the middle of the night trying to achieve the same goal. We both have auto immune condi­tions, which prob­ably contributed to our shop­ping anxiety.

    I work at a local univer­sity, and many of my students are the afore­men­tioned grocery store employees. Some have become ill and informed me, but several have “disap­peared”: they do not respond to emails from me or calls from the univer­sity. I do not know if they are sick, over­whelmed by the situ­a­tion, or lazy. I see a certain percentage of the last cate­gory each semester, but this is an unusu­ally high propor­tion, partic­u­larly amongst the freshman.

    The increasing stabi­liza­tion of the situ­a­tion, end of the semester, and need to mow the lawn have contributed to the general sense of boredom, but I find we are facing unex­pected chal­lenges. For instance, everyone seems to have forgotten how to drive. People usually drive like maniacs in NJ, but I have repeat­edly been in near acci­dents while out on short errands in my town because folks seem to think no one else is on the road.

    I am glad you and your family remain well, that you have gotten out of the house (even if only to shelve books at the store), and figured out the obstacle to the new book (though I was a bit heart broken by your dismay at what didn’t work). I also want to give a shout out to you and your other readers. I was immersed in online instruc­tion when you first began posting during the quar­an­tine, but I took note of several book recom­men­da­tions in the threads. I have begun to dive into some of them (thank you fans of Anne Bishop’s The Others series), and they are proving the perfect distraction!

    Be safe and be well!

  10. Thomas Wiegand says:

    Doing well. And YES, my legs ached after getting back to work. Like you said, those bottom shelves are a killer on the legs.

  11. Tanja says:

    I’m glad to hear you’re doing well…and still writing. :)

    Although I’m new to writing, I’m a profes­sional artist, so working on my own and in isola­tion is not entirely new. However, I suffered my own creative block at the start of our quar­an­tine in my state, but managed to get working again. And even created some things I like. Mostly.

    We’re in Phase 1 of reopening as of last week, but my state was never completely shut down. It’s sad to still see so many people , mostly customers but not entirely, at my local grocery and other essen­tial stores not wearing masks (“you’re over-reacting” and “I can’t breathe”), and calling it a hoax or that it’s “just the flu”. I’m waiting to see if cases keep rising here, or if they start going down now that the casinos were opened again today.

    I’ve been watching over some of my elderly rela­tives, doing their shop­ping, etc.. They aren’t complaining yet. :) But my father, who lives in a different state in a care facility because of dementia, etc., was admitted into ICU last week with Covid-19. After our younger brother died unex­pect­edly last year, my sister is his legal guardian. She told me today he’s still in ICU but hanging on somehow.

    Life is weird.

  12. Joey says:

    In my country (Cali­fornia) we are appar­ently moving to “Stage 2” of the “statewide resiliency roadmap.” This includes gradual reopening of lower-risk work­places, including curb­side pick-up for non-enssen­tial retail, which I guess is like your book­store (which I miss! While my area has a wonderful genre book­store, I haven’t been to BAKKA in a couple of years! Yes, that means not getting my Greg’s Ice Cream fix, either). 

    I’ve been okay, health-wise, and have been helping three house­holds with immuno-compro­mised members. On the plus side I had spare face masks from a year and a half ago when the Sonoma wild­fires sent smoke down to the bay. It is oddly similar and yet scarily different. On the minus side, I’m appar­ently “elderly” by the guide­line stan­dards. On the plus side, that means going to the grocery store during “senior hour” …

  13. Julianne Single says:

    I’m not dead either. Nor have I murdered anyone. (Intent doesn’t count espe­cially since my 72 year old father makes 2 or 3 “essen­tial” trips to various stores each week. Even though I’ve offered and my brother still lives at home. He’s just grrrrrrr. That’s what. But sunlight kills it he says and trump says we will have 3 million vaccines by new year and did I notice how many of the dead came from nursing homes?. I mean… grrr. It doesn’t matter what I tell him he is like oh and forgets and tells me the same wonderful thing trump is doing next week.
    Mean­while the hospital tells us how well placed they are for PPE please conserve it wisely and reuse you single use masks. And also no raises. And kids die too so it sucks all around. I just hate how months in it seems like we still know so little. But politi­cians are in charge and the stay home stay safe group is getting drowned out by the govern­ment is tyranny group (espe­cially if they won’t let us go to bars and base­ball) Mary­land allowed phase 1 to start but then said the coun­ties could decide and half said nope stay closed but that isn’t keeping them away from parks and beaches in big group. I think a lot of coun­tries got caught with their pants down and had made little to no prepa­ra­tions though no one could prepare for this. I agree that the whole point was to flatten the curve while getting impor­tant infra­struc­ture in place like contact tracing and domestic suppliers of PPE and agree that while some start has been made it isn’t enough yet. But I’ve also seen it said that you can’t have the type of contact tracing needed to isolate the few when there is still wide­spread commu­nity transmission.
    You know who else did pretty good with their plan­ning? Taiwan. They had their butt handed to them by China the last 2 SARS outbreaks and learned from them. JH Bloomberg school of public health did an inter­view with the vice pres­i­dent. They had a lot of neat initiatives.
    Anyway as an aside, Harriet Lane left a bunch of money to the hospital a long ago and it was stip­u­lated that the admin­is­tra­tion had to visit her grave and leave flowers and send pictures to the lawyer on her birthday. Seems they nearly forgot this year. I’m wondering if any of you had say a boat­load of money and you left it to someone charity, family what­ever would you put a stip­u­la­tion on it and what would it be? I think for me if it were charity I would say it had to be used as intended but anything else well I can’t think I have a right to dictate though there is always that one rela­tion dumb with money.

  14. michelle says:

    @Carrie: Yes, publishing friends (editor in one case) living in apart­ments in NYC were at the heart of the epicenter of covid-19. For us, it’s been quiet but in some ways, covid-19 has been distant. It’s certainly changed all of our daily lives — but we don’t person­ally know anyone who’s caught it.

    One of my editors did. And her father. And friends, neigh­bors, acquain­tances — not all of whom survived. Her aunt in London (UK) passed away. The NY sense of covid-19 as an imme­diate threat was very high, and the conse­quences, very visible.

    My DAW editors have been telecom­muting since early, and they’re taking social distancing and work-at-home very seriously.

    For us, we’ve found it’s the older gener­a­tion (which in this case means my parents’ gener­a­tion) who’ve been slower to take things seri­ously – but at this point, they are. But I think, as more becomes known, the sense that “it’s only us who are at risk” has vanished.

  15. michelle says:

    @Thomas: I’ve done it for years and it hasn’t caused pain; it’s amazing what two months away will do =/. But it’s also a clear indi­ca­tion that I really need to be pursuing things like Yoga at home. 

    @Tanja: I wear a mask when I’m out, in part because 1. it’s a bit less politi­cized here and 2. it makes *other people* more comfort­able. Otoh, my glasses — because I have no nose bridge — are pretty point­less after about 5 minutes, they fog up so badly.

    Long term care homes here have been hit hard. I get the sense that this is true of North America. Australia didn’t have this problem — but they appear to have much stricter laws/regulations with regards to long term care homes.

  16. michelle says:

    @Joey: here, senior hour is Way Too Early in the morning. And also, we are consid­ered in the at-risk age bracket, but we’re not yet consid­ered seniors so even if we happened to be awake at that hour we wouldn’t qualify yet. I’m kind of surprised they let you in, tbh; I’d card you at the door if I didn’t actu­ally know you.

    @Julianne: The one thing I’ve been grateful for — at least in Ontario — is the lack of poli­ticking and parti­san­ship. We’ve all been shocked at Doug Ford — he’s been so unex­pect­edly good at dealing with covid-19 deci­sions. But kudos as well to the liberals who have not — yet — attempted to score polit­ical points for anything.

    He made one public gaffe just before the March Break, and the liberal party leader said she thought it was totally under­stand­able — he was giving bad news, and he was trying to be encour­aging, without parsing all the words he was saying at the time. This is NOT what would have happened before, of course.

    The federal conser­v­a­tives have been … almost offen­sively terrible in the past couple of weeks; they were good for the first four.

    Canada moved to get covid-19 relief cheques out the door as quickly as possible. So I have friends who had zero hours of work and they applied and received the bene­fits in two days. For which they were very surprised and also: grateful.

    The PCs are now raising a storm about how safe­guards weren’t put into the system to stop cheaters. And yes. They weren’t. Because those safe­guards would mean delays of weeks — prob­ably 6 – 8 weeks.

    They wanted the money to reach people quickly. Will some people cheat? Yes. But the people who don’t and who will be in dire and imme­diate need will get what they need. It wasn’t a polit­ical choice, imho. It was an emer­gency choice. But: I’d rather the many who need that relief get it when they need it, rather than wading through red tape while they can’t, oh, buy phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals and food.

  17. Joyce Ronquillo says:

    It’s all like war stories, isn’t it? I live near New Orleans and my son and his girl­friend went to Mardi Gras so that caused some concern at the begin­ning for us. I read all the hind­sight critics about “New Orleans should have cancelled Mardi Gras” (which sounded a lot like how the city should have expected to be flooded by Katrina); but, at the time, COVID-19 was like distant light­ening over the horizon with no real evidence of a storm heading our way. Also, while the first case was almost certainly related to Mardi Gras, there were a million people there, liter­ally not figu­ra­tively. We in Louisiana, like many other places, had under­paid, over­worked, under­trained staff in nursing homes. It is a formula for disaster that many could see coming but none wanted to address and it caught up here, too.
    My local area has been more lightly hit than the city but we are not nearly at a place where I feel like taking my nearly 74 year old self out. I am quite deter­mined not to be a statistic. Our phase one began last Friday but my son, thank all the gods, is sensible and able to do our needed supply runs so we will wait a bit longer. My birthday is mid-June and I hope to be able to venture forth by then though I doubt I’ll feel safe in a restau­rant yet.
    Everyone stay safe and be sensible. No one really wants to be a statistic.

  18. Joyce Ronquillo says:

    Michelle, when all this started I found a pattern online and made face masks for my son and his girl­friend, who works an essen­tial retail job. The pattern I found on Joann from a Japanese lady is one of the shaped sort. To avoid fogging eyeglasses, which both wear, I stitched a piece of bias tape inside over the nose into which is put a twist tie or pipe cleaner to be molded to the nose. I works pretty well. My son still has some trouble but his girl­friend hasn’t.

  19. Peter Moore says:

    First about reveals. Person­ally I think your hide/reveals are very very good. I knew Meralonne was Arianni (sp?) rela­tively early, I was fairly certain by the end of “The Shining Court”. However I didn’t figure out that he was the 4th prince until just before you revealed that, so I’ll give you a solid B+ for that one. The one that took me completely by surprise was Auralis/Devlin. I was completely blind­sided. One of the things I do on rereads, is look for clues/foreshadowing of reveals and while there are a few they were well disguised until I was looking specif­i­cally for them. BTW I am very much looking forward to reading about Kiriel, Auralis & Co in the upcoming series. 

    I live in the Bronx. In late March thru most of April we were hit very hard by Covid-19. My land­lord’s wife is a nursing super­visor at the local munic­ipal hospital, and her descrip­tion of condi­tions there was “night­marish”. Her advice to me was “DO NOT go out unless you absolutely have to.” Fortu­nately, I had a well stocked freezer and larder so my only forays outside (besides hiking in the more remote areas of local parks) was to the local phar­macy. By late April things had improved enough that I felt comfort­able going out for groceries, hard­ware and other necessities.

    We are in the begin­ning stages of a phase 1 reopening. Everyone is required to wear a mask in any open store, the stores them­selves monitor traffic closely, most stores have lines outside. Restau­rants are still take-out only, and many people are still telecom­muting, but I have noticed a slight increase in vehic­ular traffic in the past few days so I assume that more people are going to work. I live in the Pelham Bay section of the Bronx, which is mostly blue collar and has a large city uniform services contin­gent. There are lots of cops, fire­fighters, sani­ta­tion, and transit workers who live here, so much of the imme­diate local popu­lace has been working straight on thru the whole shut­down. Everyone is either wearing a mask, or at the very least has one down around their necks, and pulls it up entering stores or talking on the street. As you would surmise consid­ering how hard the area was hit, there are very few people who don’t prac­tice social distancing auto­mat­i­cally. Unlike others reporting here, there is no one here who thinks it is anything but deadly serious. Everyone I know is only one or two degrees of sepa­ra­tion from someone who has been hospi­tal­ized or has died from this plague. I person­ally don’t know anyone who has died, but several friends were touch and go for a while. Be careful and stay safe everyone, Convid-19 doesn’t mess around.

  20. michelle says:

    @Peter: I remember after Hunter’s Death, my editor pointed out what she felt were incon­stan­cies in Meralon­ne’s char­acter — and I said, No, because he’s this. But… I had thought it was obvious =/. On the other hand, I didn’t have to change anything. I think, for me, it was the moment he stops beside the ceno­taphs that made it clear (to me). 

    Auralis/Devlin wasn’t meant to be a surprise either. So: what I’m *bad at* is delib­er­ately trying to stage things so that they come as a surprise. In my mind, nothing that happens is a reveal, because… I know the char­ac­ters and the story, if that makes sense?

    I stopped — ages ago — reading people’s spec­u­la­tions about where the plot was going because people were *really clever*, and I was absolutely certain they would be disap­pointed, because … I’m not.

    I can’t really surprise myself in that partic­ular way because I know the char­ac­ters. I can, in others: Skir­mish was an exer­cise in Michelle screaming at the computer screen and pulling all her hair out, because the book I thought I was writing when I started is … so not the book that it became. But when things started to turn left, I knew *why*. It was the conse­quence of every­thing that had come before, but I hadn’t seen it clearly until the moment Jewel released the leaves.

    And I could have cut that, and changed it, and tried to write the polit­ical book I’d intended to write — but it would have been the wrong book. So I didn’t. I did whine a lot, though.

    And: I do know people in NYC that were affected by covid-19 (most of publishing is in NYC although many people commute from NJ). I mean, we’ve all had our daily lives altered — some of us becoming far more isolated, while essen­tial workers are run ragged — but not the way NYC was. Not even close.

  21. Peter Moore says:

    Michelle: What made it clear to me who Meralonne was happened in Shining Court when I was able to compare him to Lord Celle­riant. I had noticed the bit in Hunter’s Death, but I didn’t have anything to compare it to at the time and just chalked it up to his curiosity. When I was doing my compar­ison rereads of Hunter’s Death and City of Night I caught it, but by that time I had already figured out he was Arianni. 

    I am so glad you wrote Skir­mish the way it is now. It’s easily my favorite volume of all the Essalieyan books. I’m espe­cially fond of every­thing from the freeing of Celle­riant from the tree and the release of the leaves thru the first part of the first day of the funeral. The whole bit of her in the impos­sible dress, holding court under the trees really got to me, espe­cially the bit with Master Gilafas and Celle­riant. Amongst a myriad of other things, I hope we see what­ever Lord Celle­riant asks Gilafas to make for him. 

    In any event I’m sorry that Skir­mish caused you so much trouble, but I can honestly say that it has provided me with many hours of reading plea­sure, both initially and thru many rereads. So Thank you.

  22. michelle says:

    @Peter: Once I real­ized and accepted that Skir­mish was going to be the book it now us the part that you like best wrote itself. Which – for me – is another indi­ca­tion that this is the story that has grown organ­i­cally from the elements that occurred before. But — when I have those AHA (or, more accu­rately OMFG WHAT) moments I don’t surrender them because they *are* organic. 

    I just… expected that I’d planted a flower, not an oak. I can’t go and uproot the tree – the roots are kind of spread among much earlier books; I just… thought they were headed in a different direc­tion until it hit the page.

    ETA: This is because this is midpoint, not endpoint. The end points don’t change (in terms of events) because those are what I’m writing toward — but the midpoints are always messy and often surprising because my general assump­tion about how I reach the end is quite often not at all how I reach the end. 

    This works for me as a writer; I’ve seen it be far less successful for other writers, because — and I know I say this a lot — processes differ hugely. We all pull our hair out and grind our teeth at different elements. 

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