by Miko Johnston
I’m taking a break from BACK TO BASICS: WRITERS BOOT CAMP, which I’ll complete in my next posting.
Goodbye 2020, and good riddance. The year began horribly when last January, a bizarre mishap led to a friend of mine getting shot while having dinner at an upscale restaurant. An 80 year old woman, healthy, mentally alert and physically active, who golfed, gardened, rescued animals and took piano lessons; if you saw her back then you’d never guess her age. She survived, but complications led to amputation of both her legs. If you told me back then that anything worse could top what happened to my friend, I would not have believed you.
Back in May I wrote, How will YOU tell the story?, referring to “…an experience unprecedented in our lifetime*”. That asterisk referred to the few exceptions, including my then almost 105 year old aunt who’d lived through the Spanish Flu pandemic. She celebrated her birthday last July, but passed away on Veteran’s Day. Thanks to the ‘unprecedented’ times, I could neither celebrate her milestone birthday with her, nor attend her funeral.
When I originally wrote that post, we had little to guide us other than grave concern and dire predictions, most of which came true. Being married to a scientist who spent his career analyzing data, I took those predictions seriously, unlike too many. As we close in on a year of living dangerously, I have to change my question: it’s no longer a matter of how will we write about this, but how can we not?
I can see endless possibilities for mystery writers, from deliberately using COVID-19 as a murder weapon to inadvertently causing a beloved family member’s death. All writers may focus on how the virus instills fear, closes down communities, has us scurrying furtively between home and car, car and essential travel. Many people who live alone have had cognitive issues worsened by quarantine; those who suffer from depression have declined, whether secluded or not.
How will we react when we finally crawl out of our caves of isolation into the light? When will we feel safe? When will we feel normal? Will it ever happen in our lifetime, or will this haunt us as the Great Depression haunted a generation almost a century ago?
I also can see COVID used as a symbol for the dark fears held within us, and the hopes for a brighter future. Exploring the idea of can we versus should we. Or writing about it as part of a cleansing ritual, to wash away the disappointments, pain and sorrow of 2020.
January always brings the promise of better things to come and we’re all rooting for that. The man who shot my friend goes on trial that month. Ironically, that’s when I’m scheduled for jury duty – what are the odds?
As we head into the holiday season, may 2020 end on a more harmonious note for all of us, and may the new year shine like a beacon, beckoning us toward a safer, calmer and healthier future. At last, something we can all agree upon.
Miko Johnston, a founding member of The Writers In Residence, is the author of three novels in the historical saga A Petal In The Wind, as well as several short stories in anthologies including LAst Exit to Murder. She is currently completing the fourth book in the Petal series. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington (the big one). Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org