the Author

Social Distancing Journal 15: Short Story: Turn of The Card

Posted in ebooks, writing.

This is late again, for which I apol­o­gize. I thought that going back to the store two days a week would once again return a sense of the passage of time to me. This has not been proved true, sadly; I still lose track of what day it is, I just do it in bigger chunks (I thought Monday was Friday because I knew it was a workday and it … didn’t feel like a Monday).

Today’s story, Turn of The Card, was written only twenty-four years ago (and published 23 years ago). I had forgotten a lot of it, and there­fore found it surprising. Also: I cried. This is prob­ably not some­thing to admit about one’s own work — but… it almost doesn’t feel like it is mine, this far from the writing of it. As usual, the .pdf is free, and you can read it here (I think you can down­load by “save as”).


I have been attempting to write novels. Things have been more fraught as more and more of my writer-brain is swal­lowed by the usual stress about the future. Or rather, the unusual stress about the near future. The next Cast novel is now titled Cast in Conflict. I wish I could tell you it was finished. It’s not. I think I can finish it in two weeks. (Where finish means: get it ready to submit).

I have been attempting to write blog posts, but I can’t quite figure out how to unthread them enough that I can approach the various things I want to talk about: Power, Percep­tion of our own power (in general, we don’t perceive that we have much of it), Guilt. Bridges. The latter is, of course, not about archi­tec­tural bridges, because any bridge I could conceive of in that fashion would kill anyone who walked over it unless it was built over a tiny, shallow creek.

So, still thinking about that, which is oddly like thinking about writing, but more focused and there­fore easier.

I hope everyone is staying rela­tively safe. In Toronto it’s masks on, although on empty or near empty streets, I … don’t wear one. I put it on if the streets are busy; I always put one on before I enter a store. I admit the heat makes them hugely unpleasant — but, well. I can’t stand needles, either, but some­times I have to suck it up.


I had to explain to my mother how it was that people in the US believed covid-19 is a hoax. The first ques­tion she asked is: How do they explain all the deaths? I told her: they assume the people died of some­thing else, and there’s a conspiracy to mislabel the deaths as covid-19 deaths. She asked me why anyone could say that this – which has affected us all – is a hoax.

I explained that the politi­ciza­tion of the US is so extreme that there are people who believe the “left” is creating this hoax to shut down the country and the economy so that the “right” will lose the election.

She was… some­what skep­tical about this claim. And I get that. There are people in Canada who believe this is a hoax. And oddly enough, some of those people are citing videos and infor­ma­tion that are from the US. And I have pretty much nothing.

My mother has never consid­ered herself “smart”, but because of that she tries to find experts, she listens to what they say. She’ll listen to us (being her chil­dren and grand­chil­dren). But I know people in the US who have parents that won’t listen, or can’t listen, or can’t believe, and they’re super super stressed because covid is so much more active in large parts of the US, and… I’ve got nothing, but of course, I’m still thinking about ways to approach or things one could say that might, just might, gain traction.


26 Responses to Social Distancing Journal 15: Short Story: Turn of The Card

  1. reneewittman says:

    A lot of Covid infor­ma­tion is anec­dotal. I met the first person I’ve actu­ally talked to who had Covid about a week ago while I was out working. (Prop­erty Assessor — we knock on the door to let people know we’re there so if we walk past a window they don’t call the police.) Gentleman had a hard time of it, 24 weeks in hospital, 10 weeks intu­bated, and he was doing his daily exer­cise of walking 50 feet to the mail box, resting, and walking back. Prior to this I was just taking it on faith that that CDC wouldn’t lie to us about there being a pandemic because it isn’t hitting our area at all. No one knows anyone who has had it. My entire county has 30 cases in one city on the far north edge. I didn’t doubt it was real, but I also couldn’t point and say ‘it’s real because I know this person who had it’, you know? Which makes it hard to argue that it’s real when all of your anec­dotes are ‘so and so said on Facebook/Twitter/the news’ instead of I MYSELF met this person. :/

  2. michelle says:

    Yes. I guess I have rela­tives who work in hospi­tals, and I’ve read a whole bunch about how covid-19 works (as it’s discov­ered since we didn’t know much about covid-19 to begin with). So the rela­tives who work in hospi­tals were on high, high alert because they’d been following what was happening in Italy, and they were petrified.

    And then it hit NYC — and I do know a lot of people in NYC, because that’s the seat of publishing. And there it was very, very real. 

    I do not know anyone person­ally who has tested posi­tive for covid-19. But I do know people who worked with people who’d been severely affected, and also people who lost rela­tives and friends in NYC.

  3. Carrie Hamilton says:

    Shame on you for being late! LOL. Who isn’t confused these days, even when we have profes­sional oblig­a­tions? I have set up multiple alerts so I don’t miss any of a seem­ingly endless parade of Zoom meet­ings. I know I would be confused otherwise. 

    Sorry to hear about the conver­sa­tion with your mother. I doubt it’s any conso­la­tion, but even we Amer­i­cans are having such discus­sions. My mom lives in FL and regu­larly gets into argu­ments with people who refuse to wear masks or socially distance.

    Many thanks as always for working as hard as you do. I’m impressed you are writing as much as you are, despite the diffi­cul­ties of the moment. I find I can’t focus on anything but the above-mentioned Zoom meetings.I soooooo wish that were funny.

  4. michelle says:

    @Carrie: the real problem with writing at the moment is too much of my brain is cata­stro­phizing. And I feel on some visceral level, that writing made-up fantasy worlds while the real word is prac­ti­cally on fire is … irre­spon­sible, almost. It’s point­less. It’s not fixing the problems.

    And actu­ally, I know this isn’t true. I know that reading, for me, provides some comfort, and the emotional energy allows me to get on with getting on. It allows me some escape; it fills my brain with other words and other worlds and other thoughts. 

    So, there’s a lot of Michelle arguing with Michelle. 

    My mother is taking it seri­ously. Masks, gloves, every­thing. But… she’s not doing it to protect herself; as more infor­ma­tion has filtered out over the last few months, she’s doing it because she couldn’t live with getting anyone else sick. And by anyone else, I mean: her grand­chil­dren *wry g*.

  5. Joey says:

    I know a few people who have died due to COVID-19 compli­ca­tions, including one person in NYC. Another was a promi­nent fan in the Michigan area. And I know over a dozen others who had tested posi­tive. Though they have recov­ered, I’m scared for them as we don’t yet know what subse­quent prob­lems could develop.

    Part of what I’ve been enjoying about your recent story sharing is being able to go to the book that orig­i­nally included it. Would this week’s story been written had Mr. Schimel not asked for one from you? And is it likely Mr. Green­berg never read it?

  6. DeDe says:

    Colorado had a super-early wave here, and all my friends are health care or CDC folks, so it’s been very real. First quar­an­tine was scarier than I’d like to admit. Scared people ‑who normally lean toward kind­ness — but… I think it’s hard — espe­cially when they have chil­dren or older parents they are providing for. Shelves were empty and jobs were on hold (at best.)
    Things are defi­nitely better now — although we’ll prob­ably be reverting back to addi­tional precau­tions when schools go back.
    I am deaf in one ear and severely hearing impaired in the other. I did not realize how much I rely on facial commu­ni­ca­tion until everyone had their mouth covered. Tech­ni­cally I can request an excep­tion and thank­fully (now that most busi­nesses have plastic barriers) — staff will take a step back, slide their mask down and repeat what­ever instruc­tions, ques­tions I haven’t been able to under­stand. Most folks have been super-accom­mo­dating! I think even people who aren’t hearing impaired are having a tough time — so maybe in the long run it’ll help folks empathize even more.
    Michelle — I know I say it every time, but your books, your stories and even the blog posts — they’ve really helped. Thank you.

  7. michelle says:

    @Joey: No, it would not have been written had I not been asked for a story. And it’s highly unlikely that Marty read the stories. He was the person who did all of the selling-to-publishers and the handling of payments; the other editor did the finding of the stories and the requests for revi­sions, etc. 

    The only story I’ve written without an invi­ta­tion or solic­i­ta­tion was the third Augus­tine story, and tech­ni­cally, I did have an ask for that, as well. My natural incli­na­tion makes stories into novels =/. (And even when I said Severn Short Story, it was a novel. Or two. And the short story I really want to write will prob­ably not be short enough, either (that’s the magic school one).

  8. michelle says:

    @DeDe: I am not hearing impaired, but still find it diffi­cult, which I hadn’t expected. I can only imagine how much worse it is for people who rely more on visual cues.

    And yes — you’ve mentioned it before, but thank you so much for the reminder :)

  9. Carrie Hamilton says:

    I under­stand the internal argu­ment about the “need” to be doing some­thing more impor­tant. I teach Art History, which seems spec­tac­u­larly irrel­e­vant at the moment. However, not all of us are meant to be epidemi­ol­o­gists, so we provide a contri­bu­tion to life that gives the epidemi­ol­o­gists and others a reason to pursue their work. I also believe we need to main­tain our sanity and stan­dards of civi­liza­tion even under duress, other­wise we’ll be left with a husk of life when we hopefully/finally receive a vaccine. My job is to remind college students and anyone willing to listen that art provides a language of imagery we can all appre­ciate, whether through the direct object, its history, or its appro­pri­a­tion in ads, videos, book covers, etc. Your books remind the rest of us that creative literary minds always enrich the world through inven­tion and language. There­fore, please carry on as best you can! And sorry for the harangue. I need to go make dinner with food I bought at an actual grocery store for the first time in almost 5 months, and then spend the rest of the week in Zoom meetings. ;)

  10. Dawn says:

    I very much appre­ciate your commen­tary about how life in Canada now. Here in the USA unfor­tu­nately you are right in stating many think Covid is a hoax. It’s a very sad state of affairs. Those of us with an open mind & the ability/want to pay atten­tion to cred­ible sources know better. I can only hope that things will start getting better here.
    I believe all of us stuck in the quar­an­tine “Twilight Zone” lose track of time & days of week. We had to put a calendar up with daily reminders to check off. This has helped us somewhat. 🤓
    Looking forward to your next book!!

  11. Joey says:

    I do like your short fiction! And Augustine!

  12. Tchula says:

    Turn of the Card” was a powerful story. It was my favorite one of that anthology you put out. I wasn’t even a parent then, but I remember it really moved me. I think it’s great that it made you cry when you reread it. It means you wrote it well enough to trigger those emotions, and honestly, it’s one of the things I like best about your novels, too.

    As for covid cases, here in Virginia, we were doing okay in 4 of the 5 regions, but people went to the beach over the summer holi­days and now cases in the Hampton area are climbing. The governor stepped up restric­tions again there yesterday. We’ll have to wait and see if the people who got sick while vaca­tioning take it back to their home areas and spread it.

    My neighbor is a nurse who works in a covid recovery unit. She contracted it about 2 months ago and was hospi­tal­ized a few days, then on supple­mental oxygen at home for awhile. Fortu­nately, she was able to recover and is back at work now, and none of her family members got sick, thank good­ness. I think people in my area (Loudoun) are fairly compliant with mask wearing and distancing. But this is a high income/education area, so I kind of expect that. Although there are always outliers, unfortunately.

    People are people, and some are hard-headed.

    I think it’s still even odds whether colleges will make it through the fall semester without going completely online. Talia has 3 out of 5 classes online, and it wouldn’t shock me at all if the last two courses convert at some point from in-person to virtual. Our move-in date for her is coming up fast, so we’ll see what happens. Cases are low in that part of the state right now (lower popu­la­tion density helps), but I don’t expect it will stay that way for long.

    @DeDe I totally get what you’re saying about not being able to read people’s lips. I’ve become hard of hearing myself as I’ve gotten older, and the mask (on other people) does really hamper me under­standing them at times. Although my hearing aids do help, thank good­ness. But it is defi­nitely trying, I agree.

  13. Stephen Engel says:

    Fear and guilt are being spread constantly by the voice of Sauron (borrowing a char­acter from the last gener­a­tion). We are being told to follow the rules or we will die (fear), and sicken a loved one whose death will be on our shoul­ders (guilt). Be at peace, I know you do not wish anyone ill, and I do not believe we have the power of life and death. An attempt is being made to control us​.It is not right to coerce a society through fear and guilt. As in all good stories, and yours are the best, the attempt will fail if we are brave and stand for what is right. Your Jewel has stood against all odds. I am attempting to stand, but some­times the situ­a­tion is very depressing. It gets hard to keep hope alive, and courage waxes thin. My mom always said, “never give up”.

  14. michelle says:

    @Tchula: I’m not sure which outcome to hope for. Real­is­ti­cally, get a bunch of young people together and social distancing is going to sink to the bottom of rele­vant imper­a­tives. Same with school, imho. Most of the younger people survive it — but not all, and I really don’t like the studies that are coming out now about perma­nent heart damage, even to those who didn’t require hospitalization. 

    But… it’s such an impor­tant part of just growing up and becoming ourselves and taking a first step out into a world that isn’t, for better or worse, decided by our parents =/. 

    My son’s college is on-line only for the first term; I fully expect it will be on-line only for him, period, because I don’t see a lot changing before end of second term (April of 2021).

    In my moth­er’s gener­a­tion (well, one above, but she was the youngest of nine), people in her cohort who survived Scar­lett Fever had heart issues that persisted for the rest of their lives.

    But… she also says that she thinks the anti-vax move­ments come out of a confi­dence in daily life that she didn’t have as a child. She went away for the summer, came back to empty desks as people died of polio. She got very sick, and came back to school to find … empty desks (Scar­lett Fever). 

    Those who weren’t killed by polio were often crip­pled by it — and of course she saw those people; everyone in school did. She thinks that because we, as a society, are so far removed from the *effects* of certain illnesses, that we can forget they exist.

    For her gener­a­tion, vacci­na­tions were consid­ered almost mirac­u­lous. As were antibiotics.

    And because we grew up never seeing this — or very very rarely — there’s not sense of threat, of certainty that the viruses can, and will, kill.

  15. Tchula says:

    @Michelle. Your mother makes excel­lent points. Most people nowa­days don’t know what measles or polio or scarlet fever look like, or the damage/deaths they can cause. That could be a very small silver lining in this, once we have a work­able vaccine for covid19. If we are able to “get back to normal” it will be largely due to having a vaccine, imo.

    But I’m not that opti­mistic that everyone will choose to get the vaccine even if it’s avail­able. Herd immu­nity relies on 95% of the popu­la­tion being vacci­nated, and in certain parts of the U.S. we haven’t even been reaching that for the MMR vaccine. Sigh…

  16. michelle says:

    @Stephen: I discov­ered, when I was thir­teen, that it was far easier to gather people together based on mutual fear and resent­ment than to keep them together on any other form of simi­larity. So the approach, to me, is full on puberty fear and unkind­ness — and I assume that the people at the top are not inse­cure 13 year olds with hormonal compulsions.

    But: I don’t consider fear of the virus spread to be ‘control through fear’; I consider it to be caution. We all have to leave the house — to buy groceries, medica­tion, medical aid in emer­gency. We all know it, and we all do it.

    What I don’t under­stand is the resent­ment of — some­times the violent resent­ment of — things that have been shown to slow the spread of covid. We didn’t know as much in February as we do now; what we’ve learned is in part because many, many other coun­tries got hammered by covid-19 before it reached us. Scien­tists science; they’ve learned a lot. Hospi­tals have learned a lot since NY, as well — which leads to better outcomes. Those better outcomes are entirely lost when the hospi­tals are over­whelmed — as they are now in several states; people die who might have lived.

    The orig­inal “flatten the curve” was meant to stop *hospi­tals* from being so over­whelmed that people in them who might have survived couldn’t be saved. No one thought the virus would be *defeated* by the measures taken, but the spread could be greatly less­ened, which meant that anyone who required hospital aid to survive could get it.

    But it was under­stood, by that point, that we’d be living with the virus for a while.

    What we believed in the begin­ning — it’s a flu — was not the full picture. I don’t think we *have* the full picture now. 

    I don’t want to live a life entirely informed by just guilt — but if I was the one to give covid to my father (it will kill him, no ques­tion) or my mother-in-law (same) it would kill ME. I don’t consider that control-by-guilt, though. I consider that acknowl­edge­ment of facts as they stand now and an under­standing of myself. (I have exam­ples of control-by-guilt, but they’re less rele­vant here). 

    IF I give covid-19 to a loved one AND they die, it will kill ME.

    At the very begin­ning, before our shut­down in Ontario, my mother was very resis­tant to all of the social changes. One of the few joys in her life are her grand­chil­dren — and she wasn’t supposed to visit? She said:

    It only affects OLD PEOPLE and I don’t care if I die. It should be up to me.” She is not the only person to feel that way. BUT as we shut down, as more infor­ma­tion about how the virus was killing people — and who it was killing — hit, she real­ized that it wasn’t *just* about her dying, which should be her choice — it was about *anyone* dying. She might catch covid and … give it to her grand­chil­dren. And that, she couldn’t live with. 

    I under­stand that fear is part of the equa­tion, liter­ally: I am afraid that I will expose the vulner­able to covid *if I have it* and don’t know. It’s pretty clear by now that people who show no symp­toms can pass it on to other people, so it’s a lot harder to avoid passing it on because you don’t know you have it. 

    But that fear, to me, comes from a place of love and educa­tion; reading about the evolving under­standing of how covid-19 oper­ates and affects us. 

    For *me*, then, shoul­dering a respon­si­bility I don’t enjoy — and really, who enjoys masks and social distancing espe­cially in heat like this — is an act of caring, of community. 

    Also, and this will sound odd, part of the reason for the masks when I’m certain I do not have covid-19 (or as certain as I can be): it makes *other people* more comfort­able. It’s almost a sign that yes, I am will­ingly observing the New Normal social rules when it comes to covid; they can see it clearly. I know a number of immune-compro­mised people (some because of cancer) for whom the risks are much higher – but they still have to eat; they still have to go to phar­ma­cies, etc.

    I am not terri­fied that I will get covid-19. I’m aware that it could happen, but it doesn’t terrify me. I could die in a car acci­dent, but I still get into cars. 

    But — we’re not being asked not to get into cars, and we’re not being asked not to go out, and not to enter grocery stores, etc. We’re being asked to *wear masks* and avoid large gath­er­ings until we either have a vaccine or a depend­able treatment. 

    Since we all have to eat, wearing masks *is also* a small sign of appre­ci­a­tion for those who are forced — often for economic reasons — to work when we can work from home; it’s a gesture that means: I don’t want to expose you to even more of the possible virus than your work situ­a­tion already exposes you to. Of the hundreds of people you will see in your shift today, I would like to mini­mize the danger of inter­acting with *me*.

    I guess — I just consider it a social respon­si­bility. It’s not free, no. It takes its toll because it *is* isolating. But so many people who are working at the essen­tial services places aren’t there as an act of kind­ness; they don’t have a choice. And since they don’t have a choice, anything I can do to show a bit of respect for what I do consider their sacri­fice is to accept the restric­tions, live with them, and try *really really* hard not to add to their burden.

    It’s a holding pattern until we have either a vaccine or a useful, reli­able treat­ment. It’s a way of not over­whelming our doctors and nurses and hospital staff — the people who are exposed so very consis­tently to viral loads that in spite of best precau­tions, they die in far greater numbers.

    Not fear or guilt, then — but responsibility.

  17. michelle says:

    @Tchula: in Toronto — I can’t speak for the rest of the country — kids aren’t allowed to go to school unless they’ve had all their shots. There *are* excep­tions, but they’re medical exceptions.

    When my youngest was 3, he was in the hospital for 9 days. He had ADEM — Accute Dissem­i­nated Encephalomyeltis. It was… not fine. It was, in fact, hugely stressful. He didn’t get the 4 year old shots until he was 6, almost 7, because ADEM is an auto-immune response; the damage is caused by… your own immune system. But the damage is done to the central nervous system.

    It is, in fact, what they’ve found in adults who’ve survived covid-19 in neuro­log­ical tests. But I knew that the minute they talked about the cytokine stores. (My mother was… much more worried when this study came out.)

  18. Stephen P Engel says:

    Thanks for your kind response. :)

  19. Tchula says:

    @Michelle All 50 states do have vacci­na­tion require­ments for school, but in many states exemp­tions for reli­gious or philo­soph­ical reasons are allowed, not just for medical reasons such as allergy or immuno-compro­mised persons. Some states have tight­ened their rules on this due to recent hotspots of measles outbreaks, but in my view, the excep­tions are still far too easy to obtain.

  20. Michelle, you might not be writing what you think you should be writing  — but (as ever) I love your insights and detailed musings about what people post here. I wish I had a lot more of your patience and also eloquence, honestly.

  21. michelle says:

    @Estara: thank you <3. I’m not sure I’m all that patient or all that eloquent, though.

  22. E.Évelyne says:

    I will trans­late this text as “google trans­late” so please excuse me if the trans­la­tion is imperfect.
    You touched on the subject of covid-19 here, a very broad subject and opin­ions, which I would not touch on for personal reasons.
    However, if you have any ques­tions on this subject, you can ask them, and I will try to answer them.
    So I’m going to change your mind by telling you about your books.
    I’m French, and I’m a fan of your column> ” Les chroniques d’Élantra ”, (and I’m not the only one in France, believe me).
    Unfor­tu­nately in France only the first 4 volumes have been translated.
    My request and ques­tion is: would it be possible to have the others trans­lated into French? And if so, when?
    You can sell them through Amazon, because that’s right now, the only place you can find all of the column.
    Your fans will be extremely grateful to you.
    Thank you in advance for your reply.
    Best regards and take care.

  23. michelle says:

    @Évelyne: C’est compliqué. Je devrais engager un traduc­teur français pour les livres qui n’ex­is­tent pas en français et leur faire traduire le reste de la série. Je n’ai pas pu véri­fier la traduc­tion car mon français est très rudi­men­taire. Et il y a des prob­lèmes de droits d’au­teur avec les traduc­tions, ainsi que des coûts.

    Mais je vais exam­iner la partie coût maintenant.

    Merçi <3

  24. E.Évelyne says:

    I will trans­late this text as “google trans­late” so please excuse me if the trans­la­tion is imperfect.
    Hope you and your family are doing well. (?)
    Thank you very much for responding to my request, and for consid­ering the possi­bility of a posi­tive response. I really hope it will be possible.
    If there was trans­la­tion, please be demanding when it comes to this one, in the 1st volumes trans­lated, there are some “bugs”.
    I have liked books before, but I really love The Chron­i­cles of Elantra, I never guess what you are going to write (which happens to me frequently on other books).
    I really have a hard time finding styles that I like, “The Elantra Chron­i­cles” really appeal to me.
    I would just have a little remark about the char­ac­ters, I would like to know more often what they feel, an example: when Night­shade kissed Kaylin the first time, we absolutely do not know what she felt and it is a real lack for history, in my opinion.
    Now maybe in your version you mentioned it, other­wise it’s really missing, and this one is just one example.
    Please let me know what you think of my remark, thank you.
    Thank you again for responding to my comment, I hope to have more news from you, hope­fully posi­tive, but thank you for even consid­ering the possi­bility of the French translation.
    Best regards and take care of yourself.

  25. E.Évelyne says:

    I complete my previous comment. I under­stand your reser­va­tions about the French translation.
    Regarding the VERIFICATION OF THE TRANSLATION, I offer my services (with signa­ture of any docu­ment relating to confi­den­tiality that you deem necessary).
    You send me the trans­la­tion with some recom­men­da­tions if necessary.
    I read it, and if there were any “ bugs ” and or neces­sary clar­i­fi­ca­tion, we discuss them, in order to trans­late your writing as faith­fully as possible.
    My coun­ter­part? > The plea­sure of reading the rest of “Elantra’s chronicles”.
    I have a friend of foreign origin (married to a French).
    She speaks and under­stands French, I would say about 60%.
    When she has a problem, as a rule, she comes to me for help and advice.
    I trans­late writ­ings to her, I serve as an inter­me­diary for her in various situ­a­tions, I formu­late words or thoughts in sentences that she wants to say.
    Even if with you we would have more language barrier, I feel capable of taking up the chal­lenge (I am very consci­en­tious), moti­va­tion is the best thing!
    Regarding the few ” bugs ” in the first volumes, there are two in partic­ular that I would like you to clarify, please.
    Volume 1: The Lord of the Hawks is not aerial and Kaylin only flew over the city with aerials.
    In the following: he is aerial and Kaylin has made several flights over the city with the aerials.
    SO MY QUESTION ARE: is the Lord of the Hawks aerial? How many flights over town did Kaylin make, one or more?
    Thank you in advance for your answers.
    Best regards and take care of yourself.

  26. Tchula says:

    @E.Evelyne, The Hawk­lord, Lord Gram­mayre, is Aerian. His wings are described on page 20 of Cast in Shadow. They are white. I hope that clears up some confusion.

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