Recently I was contacted by Jordaline Reads, a "booktuber," about participating in a special episode on her YouTube channel. Jordaline regularly posts about spooky and creepy books, but this time she asked some of her favorite authors to recommend one of their favorite horror novels. I've never made a video like this - talking in depth about a book - and I had a LOT of thoughts! I chose THE LONG WALK by Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman), and one thing I didn't have time to include is that the protagonist in GETAWAY (my new novel, coming out August 17) also has an affinity for THE LONG WALK, so that book makes an appearance in my book...and I guess you'll have to read GETAWAY to see how. If you like horror, please consider subscribing to Jordaline Reads on YouTube - and if you want to see/hear my dissertation on THE LONG WALK - or see what the other authors chose - check out the video here.
Tuesday, April 20, 2021
Tuesday, April 6, 2021
(I wrote this a few weeks ago - an effort to reflect on some of what's happened over the last year. It may seem political to some, but the reality is this is how I feel - and this is the world we live in. I'd attempted to get this published somewhere more interesting than my blog, but... There's a lot of competition in the "pandemic diary" field, as everyone has a story.)
I had a vision when I bought my first house. After decades of living in cramped apartments I would finally have enough space to have people over. We'd be able to eat holiday meals in my sunny, spacious kitchen. I envisioned small parties on my back deck. For the first time ever, I'd have a guestroom—a place where my friends could stay when they came into town. In the two months between making an offer on the house and taking possession of it, I drew up room plans and measured my furniture and made prioritized lists of the new things I wanted to buy. I had a vision.
In mid-March 2020, three weeks before I was scheduled to move, I canceled a rare trip (I'm not a traveler): two days of author events in Rochester, NY. The novel coronavirus was spreading, and I'm immunocompromised, and there were reports of international travelers being stranded far from home. Everything felt uncertain; we didn't know what was happening. Within days Pennsylvania started talking about a stay-at-home order and I frantically tried to reschedule my move, no longer needing to wait until I got home from Rochester. Scary words were everywhere: pandemic; quarantine; lockdown. I couldn't foresee what that would mean—would everything close? Would the moving truck not come? Would I be stuck in my apartment, even though my house was waiting for me?
I caught a break and the movers had a cancellation; I moved the weekend Pennsylvania announced its plan for shutting down.
Eleven months later, I'm still alone in my house with my cat. I didn't want to leave my guestroom empty, so I turned it into a tap dance studio. Tap dancing started as a pandemic hobby and has become an obsession. Word-free, loud, and kinetic, it's the opposite of who I otherwise am. Now I take two virtual classes a week. The only people who have relaxed on my deck or eaten in my kitchen are my mom and my sister. We became a quarantine "bubble," as we all lived alone, and my sister brought my mom over once a week. That ended in mid-November when my mom went into the hospital. She died from complications of Covid-19 on December 3.
Last summer I drafted an essay about moving into my first house at the start of a national crisis. By that point it had become apparent that the pandemic—happening when it did, when we were a country without a functioning federal government—was unearthing every structural flaw and weak point in our society. Yet, I ended that essay on a hopeful note, allowing my imagination to conjure the possibility that we—we—would set to work righting the wrongs of racial and economic injustice. It was so obvious that healthcare was an urgent right. It was so obvious that our planet was fragile. While my hope hasn't fully eroded it has waned; now I know the degree to which I'd underestimated the entrenched animus and skepticism of Americans on the far right.
There may be a time in the future when we—we—can finally deal with our trauma. With a new administration in office the sense of endless freefall is finally gone, but we're still fully engaged in war—a war with a highly-contagious virus, and a war with the collapse of reality and civility. As much as I want to be the more optimistic me from last summer, it's exponentially harder now to envision the shape of victory. A half million innocent people have died, and I'm no longer sure I want to share citizenship with a large portion of our redder states.
It might be wrong of me to blame my mother's death on "them"—and their maniacal, reckless leader—but I do. We—not all of us, just Democrats—were asked for years to open our hearts, to empathize with the circumstances of our supposedly misunderstood brethren who supported an agenda they called Christian and patriotic that seemed more like bigotry and fear. And meanwhile, their propaganda machines relentlessly demonized the rest of us. "They" were never asked to ponder why we thought it so important that people had enough food to eat. They were never asked to understand that the universal healthcare we wanted was for their children too—as was the affordable housing and education, and an investment in a green and sustainable future. Some of us had a vision of renewable energy as a dynamic source of good jobs; some wanted the return of steel mills, and to stuff the genie of diversity back into its bottle.
We wasted a lot of time trying to accommodate a group of people who were incapable of compassion or common sense—and millions of Americans are suffering the consequences. My mother's death—and hundreds of thousands more—could have been avoided. Equally as heartbreaking as her death was watching her decline in a state of confusion and despair. The last months of my mother's life were filled with anxiety as the world around her changed in incomprehensible ways.
Pennsylvania is one of many states that have adopted Age-in-Place programs as an alternative to nursing homes. But those programs failed when, for months, the agencies running them stayed home like everyone else. Under the best of circumstances it was almost impossible to find out what seniorcare services were available, or how to get them. My sister started referring to our mother's Services Coordinator as the Services Gatekeeper. We frequently debated putting our increasingly depressed mom in a nursing home. But we knew a nursing home would mean not being able to visit with her anymore. It was a terrible choice to make, a terrible calculation over which was the less deleterious option.
When all was said and done, my sister and I considered ourselves lucky: we both got to be in the ICU during the final hours of our mom's life. It says a lot about how horrible the last year has been that this is what now counts as lucky.
I sat with my cat for a long time today, gazing out the window. It was a windy day, but the sky was clear and the snow was starting to melt. The promise of spring was out there somewhere, its scent almost tangible. We've had a hard winter, but life will return. I felt the eagerness in my cat's posture as she stood on my lap, eyes on the outside world. This cat is the only living body I have touched for the better part of a year. At my mother's deathbed I wore surgical gloves and gown, two masks and a face shield. I wanted my presence to be a comfort, but I'll always wonder if it frightened her, the apocalyptic gear, my blue-gloved hand against her skin.
Sunday, March 14, 2021
From the New York Times: "We asked 75 artists to open up about their creative travails and triumphs a year into the pandemic." My invitation to participate in the 7 Questions, 75 Artists, 1 Very Bad Year Q&A must have gotten lost in the deteriorating U.S. postal system (or perhaps I just wasn't invited – what?!?) so I decided to tackle the seven questions on my own.
1. What's one thing you made this year?
I completed a major rewrite of GETAWAY, which will be my third published novel. I wrote a few poems, a short story, a few essays. My inclination has been to want to work on small pieces, but I feel a professional pressure to work on a new novel—and I have been writing a new novel, off and on, in an erratic process for many months.
It's been frustrating to not be able to just sit down and write every day like I used to, but mentally I'm just not there. After really pondering it I've concluded that there's something psychologically disturbing about even thinking about working on a novel, as I know it means doing the "same thing" every day for months—at a time when doing the "same thing" has little appeal after a year of isolation.
2. What art have you turned to in this time?
Tap dancing!!!! It has been my life saver! I was fortunate to move into a larger living space—my first house—just as Pennsylvania was shutting down. I'd never had so much space to myself before, and I found myself with a small extra room—once intended to be a guest room. I toyed with various hobby possibilities (I'd been searching for a new hobby for a while), and thought it would be ideal if I could find a "physical" hobby. I considered karate, yoga, and other kinds of dance (ballet, hip-hop, ballroom) but tap seemed like something I could realistically do alone with a middle-aged body.
I dabbled in dance in my youth: a semester or two of "running and jumping over puddles" in elementary school; a year of Saturday classes in middle school; a three-week summer dance camp as a teenager, taking ballet, jazz, and modern. I hadn't been exposed to dance and I wasn't "built" like a dancer (and thus wasn't encouraged to do it), but I had an internal drive and love for it. At seventeen I did one very intensive year of ballet—six days a week, two to four hours a day: it was my last chance before "aging out" of my parents' financial support of such pastimes.
In my mid-thirties I found a ballet class geared specifically to adults of all ages and body types, but it was disappointing to discover I'd lost the ability to do nearly everything I'd been able to do at eighteen. A couple years later I took a salsa dance class with some friends. It was super fun, but I ultimately decided it was a cult (long story).
So there I was two months into the pandemic, fifty-one, and with a spare room. Tap dancing had never been on my radar, but I ordered a pair of cheap shoes. I found some YouTube tutorials, and quickly got obsessed. And apparently a bunch of other people did too: after realizing her videos were becoming more popular, Carrie Mitchell started a virtual tap class for those of us who were discovering (or returning to) tap. It soon became two classes a week, and those two classes have often been the only meaningful thing on my weekly schedule. The days still blur together, but on Tuesdays and Thursdays I have tap dancing to anchor me in the real world. It's incredibly fun, and I am stronger than I've been in years.
3. Did you have any particularly bad ideas?
Well, there was that time in late spring 2020 when I decided that, as a first-time homeowner, I should try my hand at gardening. I had no access to a nursery or garden supply store, so mostly I committed to tackling the invasive Japanese Knotweed plants on the slope behind my deck. This resulted in clearing a path for the deer, who then created a permanently barren strip of dirt and made themselves at home. I admitted defeat—the hillside was too steep, the deer too well established—and hired a gardener in late summer.
4. What's a moment from this year you'll always remember?
Many horrible moments watching my mother's mental and physical health deteriorate, culminating in sitting vigil at her ICU bedside in the hours before she died of complications from Covid 19.
In happier memories: my cat's blossoming joy with our new house and all the windows, and sitting together to watch the deer, squirrels, and birds.
5. Did you find a friendship that sustained you artistically?
It's probably a sad statement that I give my cat credit for sustaining me artistically, and in every other way. She is truly my constant companion. I shudder to think of the empty, giggling, talks-to-herself shell that I would have become without my Merpy* (*a pseudonym; name protected for privacy).
6. If you'd known that you'd be so isolated for so long, what would you have done differently?
I do not entertain hypothetical scenarios, on the grounds of utter pointlessness.
7. What do you want to achieve before things return to normal?
I simply hope to not lose my ability to string two coherent sentences together.
There you have it. This is what the New York Times missed out on! (Notice how I gave the most space to tap dancing—truly an accurate reflection of the year's mental health priorities.)
Friday, January 29, 2021
I've been thinking about the potential demise of the "isolation trope" for years - like, every time I see a film or read a book where the protagonist's main need is to find a telephone! What will we lose in fiction (and the real world) if being "disconnected" isn't an option anymore?
I shared some of my thoughts about this with CrimeReads, in a piece called How Do You Write An Isolation Thriller When Everyone Is Connected All Of The Time?
Thursday, January 21, 2021
We are so grateful to EW.com for sharing the first excerpt from my upcoming novel GETAWAY, and revealing the cover to the world! Be sure to add GETAWAY to your Goodreads "To-Read" list - and consider pre-ordering from your local bookstore.
Click here to go to EW.com to read the excerpt.
Wednesday, January 13, 2021
As other authors know, it's always a little nerve-wracking sending a new book out into the world, wondering how people will react to it. Though GETAWAY may yet be another book of mine that people will either love or hate, this first blurb gives me some hope that at least a few people may love it. I'm incredibly grateful to Rachel Harrison (THE RETURN) for getting GETAWAY off to such a good start!