the Author

Social Distancing Journal 14: Short Story: Choice & Sundry

Posted in download, self-publishing, Short Stories.

So, this is late.

And people who are looking at the covers will realize that I have jumped from 17 to 19. Story 18 was an alter­nate history, written over a quarter of a century ago (yes, I’m old), and I am just not comfort­able with it. It was alter­nate future, not alter­nate past, and the key char­acter is… someone who is alive now, adult, and not in any way but name asso­ci­ated with the char­acter in the story.

Don’t write stories with fiction­al­ized real people T_T.

Because I was angsting about this — and about the face that I know nothing about photo­shop and cannot there­fore change the numbers on the covers of the stories — I may have fallen off the stability wagon a bit and there­fore did not get a new story up on the right Monday.

Today’s story is a story that I reprint with permis­sion; it was written for the first Valdemar anthology, a collec­tion of shorts set in the Valdemar universe. I was a bit stressed about this because I wasn’t certain that I could write a story that would tonally fit Valdemar – so that became the over-riding guide in my attempt: Does this have the right tone? Will this work for Valdemar readers? (Hint: if you hate the world, do not say yes.)

The story is here, for free down­load. It is, or will be, avail­able at the usual places, which are or will be linked from the story page, here.


For those of you who visit the site on a phone or tablet, you might have noticed a bit of a change. In June, I hired Jeremy Tolbert at Clock­Punk Studios to do a partial redesign of my site. I asked him to: leave the backend alone, and to leave the web-site on the computer end looking pretty much the same, but to make asset and code changes so that the site looked reason­able on mobile devices, as so many people now use them. The asset change was an updating of graphics so the site would look more reason­able on retina screens.

I am very, very happy with the work he did.


I have been finding it increas­ingly diffi­cult to avoid news and to avoid news about poli­tics — which seems to be what covid-19 is consid­ered across a large swathe of the US at the moment.

I have returned to a partially opened book­store — where most of our busi­ness remains curb-side pick-up or mail order. I feel safe in the store, or as safe as I can feel, but I’m aware that it’s still a small risk. In Toronto we have mask require­ments in place, and we have hand sani­tizer at the door (and it’s really weird; it’s got a lot of Aloe in it, so… you need a very small amount, and if you use the normal amount it takes ages for it to dry).

But other than that, we are home­bodies. When­ever I get frus­trated — and increas­ingly, I admit I do — about being at home, I go online and look for doctors and nurses currently working in the US and … listen to them. The only thing I can do is… stay home. Here, that’s what we did, and in Toronto hospi­tals are increas­ingly free of covid patients – as in, have discharged their last covid-19 patient. I’m sure there’s a huge sense of relief – but also, in some part, some when is the other shoe going to drop.

And that’s the thing: it’s not over yet. The virus is still here. If we rush to go back to pre-covid life, the virus will roar back, because we’re not at zero cases.

We are in phase two of opening; phase three is coming. Discus­sions about schools opening have been ongoing… but I’ve had small kids. I cannot imagine that you can put 25+ four and five year olds into a class­room and somehow get them all to socially distance or wear masks.

I can’t imagine you can sepa­rate the desks enough — I think you’d have to have plex­i­glass shields at height around each sepa­rate desk — if you even have the space for that.

And here, that’s an actual discus­sion, because to make the changes for school to be safe for teachers & students, it’s going to cost a fair amount of money. For one: way way way more cleaning, and possibly cleaning staff — and the Toronto Board had kind of budge cut most of the jani­to­rial staff into non-existence.

Anyone who has young kids knows that they pick up germs at school and bring them home to share. There’s no way around that. If your kids are older, but not yet in puberty, maybe this can be managed. But I know I couldn’t have.

I just… without some delib­erate plan­ning and actual money, I can’t see how school can in any way be safely handled.

My younger son is looking at entirely on-line course work for his final year of college. Would I like the college to be open? Yes, of course. But… I want it open as safely as possible — and in this universe that means money for all of the changes.

The thing I do not under­stand is how covid-19 can be a polit­ical issue to so many people. It’s a pandemic. It doesn’t care how we vote. In Canada, the poli­ticking stopped the minute the full, looming disaster became clear (it has since resumed, of course — but for two whole months, with a single idiot federal excep­tion, none of our parties were taking shots at the leader). Did we move quickly enough? Prob­ably not. And some provinces did better than others (mine was not the best). But people pulled up their socks and accepted that … we were all in this together.

It’s much easier in Canada because the CERB payments came within days of appli­ca­tion; there were small busi­ness loans (in part to cover employee salaries when the shops were legally closed), and health­care is essen­tially free to us.

I realize this is not the case in a lot of the US.

But… NYC was terrible for everyone; it made absolutely clear what could happen if things weren’t shut down and serious effort put into keeping things closed until cases went down. So many people died. They won’t be coming back.

And — it seems to me, from the outside, that a lot of places in the US are now going to become NYC, instead of learning about how serious it was. And people will die.

Do I like masks? In the middle of a humid, hot summer? Well, no. Of course not. But I don’t like cleaning my bath­room, either — and it has to be done. It is a way of protecting other people on the off chance that I have covid and I have no symp­toms. And it’s a way of protecting myself, and by exten­sion, my family.

13 Responses to Social Distancing Journal 14: Short Story: Choice & Sundry

  1. emile666 says:

    Glad to hear from you again — I heard a rumor, appar­ently unfounded, that Toronto had had a virus upsurge, so I was a little worried. A Valdemar story — long, long ago I read one, decided I disliked it, and never read another. This will give me a chance to see if an author I really like can open my closed mind. Stay healthy!

  2. Tchula says:

    Yes, it is scary and sad about the rising cases of covid19 here. I think at the heart of it is that many people just lack imag­i­na­tion. They can’t under­stand how terrible the disease can be until it happens to them, or someone they know. They cannot extrap­o­late from the suffering of others.

    I worry about sending our daughter off to college in August. Her school is mandating masks and social distancing in the class­room and in public spaces, but even if 75% of the students follow the guide­lines, 25% will do stupid things like go to parties, play beer pong, and drink out of trash­cans. Which will get people sick and prob­ably kill some profes­sors and admin staff, even if young people tend to survive the virus better.

    The lack of any decent social safety net and spotty medical care in the U.S. makes the pandemic so much worse for so many. There is just so much uncer­tainty, and with the case numbers and hospi­tal­iza­tions rising in the south and midwest, I think we are all bracing for what might happen when schools reopen. Every state (and every county within each state) is coming up with its own way of handling pre‑K through 12th grade and it’s sure to be a chaotic mess. I don’t envy the people who have to make those deci­sions, because there are no good deci­sions to be made in this situ­a­tion, only “least bad” ones.

    I hope we can all stay well and use common sense over the next several months into next year, but I am very afraid that common sense isn’t all that common in a not-insignif­i­cant percentage of the population. :-/

  3. br60103 says:

    For a while, I kept looking for new M.S. stories in the Valdemar anthologies.
    It’s been a long time.

  4. Joey says:

    Valdemar. Well, I’m still willing to buy the antholo­gies if you or Ms. Huff or Ms. Patton (or a couple of other authors) have stories in them.

    I live in a college town. The less-than-amazing contact tracing following a sharp uptick in COVID-19 cases pointed to one weekend where multiple frat parties occurred. Ugh.

    Continue to stay safe in the bookstore!

  5. KatyM says:

    Staying home sucks but not as much as the alter­na­tive, Cali­fornia started releasing restric­tions too early and the (predicted by me to all and sundry; okay, others too) resul­tant huge upsurge in new cases is… disheart­ening. Stay home, wear masks, wash hands.
    BTW, I just can’t watch the news, I get so angry and frus­trated when watching those who are supposed to be working “for the people, by the people” actively working for them­selves or whoever bought them and against “the people.”
    Yes, there are “good” ones but they seem to be over­shad­owed by the “bad” ones. Not to mention a prez who runs his mouth and our country through Twitter.
    Thank you for your books.

  6. michelle says:

    @Tchula: When my oldest was thir­teen or four­teen, he came home and asked me: “Why is it called Common Sense when it seems to be so uncommon?” It was an entirely earnest ques­tion, because in his grade, he thought maybe a couple of people in his entire grade — he gave only one example — had any of this so-called “common” sense.

    And when people ask me why Canada, similar in a lot of ways to the US, isn’t having the same prob­lems as its neighbor, I point out that very social safety net — because if I had to choose between keeping a roof over my fami­ly’s head and food on our table or staying at home and avoiding most social inter­ac­tion, I’d be working. No ques­tion. I know the US govern­ment has offered a gap benefit & busi­ness loans — but it seems to be much spot­tier in terms of reaching the people who need it.

    And our food banks are swamped, regardless.

    I’m not sure what’s going to happen with schools in Ontario; in normal circum­stances, they open after labor day weekend. In Europe, school open­ings seem to have been … as fine as could be expected. But in Israel, they large spike seems to have been caused *by* school openings.

  7. michelle says:

    @emile666: In Toronto, we can look up specific neigh­bor­hoods. Ours had had no covid-19 cases for a while now. But these searches cover only the resi­dences, not the busi­nesses — so if someone in the nearby grocery stores caught covid, they’d be attrib­uted to the neigh­bor­hood in which they live, not the one in which they work. (And having said that, I’ve never looked at the by-neigh­bor­hood counts; my son’s godfa­ther has been looking at every­thing, so this is second-hand information).

    Since, for a few months, outbreaks in non-farming commu­ni­ties have occurred *at* work places (essen­tial services: grocery stores, etc.), I never feel every­thing is completely safe.

  8. Joyce Ronquillo says:

    I agree with you, Michelle, and @Tchula. There is no imag­i­na­tion here, nor common sense, though down here what people call common sense is an excuse for igno­rance. No one thinks about anything anymore. Everyone simply reflects and reacts to what is inside their bubble. My family and my husband’s have deep 300 year old roots in the US and I am seri­ously wondering if it might be time to leave.

    Stay safe, everyone.

  9. michelle says:

    @br60103: I only wrote two. This one, which I think works *as a Valdemar* story, and the novella which… didn’t, in my mind. And I really do believe that if you agree to work in a world, it has to share common­ality of tone.

  10. michelle says:

    @Joey: The thing is: peer pres­sure is hugely impor­tant before real life makes it seem a bit more trivial — so, Frat parties seemed totally predictable. 

    @KatyM: I have been caught in the news loop, on the edge of my seat, praying that *this is finally enough*. It’s… not a good place to be — but husband points out that if I wasn’t compul­sive in partic­ular ways, I would never have been a writer.

  11. Thomas Wiegand says:

    I want, more than anything else with this, for you and your family and the rest of my friends in TO to be safe and healthy when, at last, I can visit once more. Stay safe, be well, miss you.

  12. Karen L. Durst says:

    A lot of people here in the US are only thinking of them­selves. They are outraged in having their free­doms tram­pled on by being required to wear a mask. These so called “Karens” have destroyed mask stands, invaded the personal space of those wearing masks, torn off their masks and even coughed on them! I have been summoned for jury duty, and am trying to get out of it because I am at high risk. So is my 94 year old Dad whom I live with. I can protect myself with a mask, gloves, and a face shield, but will I be protected from these “Karens”. And I object to having my given name asso­ci­ated with these demographic.

    I have always lived Valdemar, and your story fits it very well. Thanks for adding your voice to that world.

  13. br60103 says:

    Well, I’ve now re-read both of them (you auto­graphed the novella for me when you sold it). And now I’m re-reading bits from all the anthologies.

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