Tuesday, August 4, 2020

This #@%&#!! YEAR: Guest Post by Lise McClendon

Lise McClendon: 
This #@%&#!! YEAR 

This year, 2020, has been called many names, none of them complimentary. Yet the world still spins and we try to live our lives as best we can. This spring, as the severity of the pandemic was becoming clear, like many I struggled to make sense of it all. How to wring something positive out of such a huge negative? Although I had plenty of “free time” I couldn’t write very much— I was too worried about everything. America, and the world, had shut down, locked down, was sheltering in place like victims of a mass shooting. But this enemy was invisible. The coronavirus, COVID-19, had arrived.

Feeling helpless, unable to do anything to stop the spread of the virus, I did the only thing I could think of— gather writers to talk about their experiences, to channel stories about the pandemic, to release their anger and isolation through fiction, essays, and poetry. I reached out to three mystery writer colleagues, Kate Flora, Taffy Cannon, and Gary Phillips. They agreed to help, casting a wide net to their author friends. I called the anthology STOP THE WORLD because it felt that way: everything had just stopped.

I wondered if anyone would respond honestly. The pandemic was stifling creativity and plainly freaking everyone out. Some wrote back that they had nothing to say, or that their little corner of the world was unchanged. After a week or two I told my co-editors we would probably have to start cold-calling strangers, begging them to contribute. But then, as things happen, the pieces began to roll in. Through April, into May, gut-wrenching personal essays, dystopian fiction, and elegant poetry were submitted. By June we had 40 pieces from 10 countries.

The subtitle, Snapshots from a Pandemic, was Taffy Cannon’s idea, to reflect the short takes we requested. We wanted slices of life, nothing too heavy because our hearts were already plenty heavy. We asked for honesty, and we got it. We asked for emotion, and it’s there in spades. It’s the sort of anthology you can dip into, read a poem, read an essay, and set down. Another day you can read a wild tale of imagination from Romania, or listen to two farmers chatting in Ireland. You can see how others coped by walking, by trying to work, by focusing on the things you can actually deal with like an invasion of ants.

The three co-editors and I all contributed our own pieces. Gary Phillips wrote a tale of a fictional epidemic where everyone is required to have six people around them at all times, the flip-side of isolation. Taffy Cannon chronicled her victory garden that helped her cope. Kate Flora and I both lamented being stuck at home and our lack of writing productivity, in our own different ways.

It was fascinating to see the variety of responses, and inspiring as well. This moment in time will pass but we will remember it, honor our sacrifices and those of others, and, if we’re lucky, talk about it for the rest of our lives.

The contributors are: George Arion, Meredith Blevins, Sarah M. Chen, Robin Burcell, Tim Cahill, Richard Cass, Eoghan Egan, John Shepphird, Gary Phillips, Adriana Licio, Lise McClendon, Mike Monson, Merrilee Robson, John Clark, Piet Tiegeler, Travis Richardson, Caitlin Rother, Naomi Hirahara, Kate Flora, Donna Moore, Tatjana Kruse, Dan Fesperman, Tami Haaland, Taffy Cannon, Matt Coyle, Marian Stanley, John Rember, J. Madison Davis, Wendy Hornsby, Sharan Newman, Jacqui Brown, Craig Lancaster, Z.J. Czupor, Gerald So, Allen Morris Jones, Wendy Salinger, Jim Nisbet, Paul Jeffcutt, and Keith Snyder. STOP THE WORLD: Snapshots from a Pandemic is available everywhere August 4. All profits go to charity. Find it in bookstores and online.

Lise McClendon is the author of 23 novels including the comic mystery, Beat Slay Love, written with Gary Phillips, Kate Flora, Taffy Cannon, and Katy Munger. Her long-running series, the Bennett Sisters Mysteries, is now 13 books strong. The most recent release is Dead Flat, featuring her French wine fraud detective. Coming in October is Lost in Lavender.

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