Monday, May 8, 2023

Writing Can Be Hard: Guest Post by Katherine Hall Page

Katherine Hall Page: 

I recently passed a sign outside a bookstore in Salem, Massachusetts that said, “Read Fiction Because Real Life Is Hard”. Of course, I took a photo, and the thought has been popping up often these days, but so has an accompanying one— “Writing Fiction When Real Life Is Hard”. I may have to needlepoint it on a cushion, although I won’t need the reminder of the two times I was faced with the task: 9/11 with its aftermath and the Pandemic. 

My late dear friend Barbara Neely once told me she had never been as productive as she had been during the months following 9/11. She shut the world away and wrote her heart out. I had the opposite experience, unable to continue working on The Body in the Lighthouse for monthsMore recently a number of readers told me that they had read or reread that book during the Pandemic, citing what I said in the Author’s Note about writing it at such a time. Here’s part of my Note in the new book, The Body in the Web:

Rereading the Lighthouse note, I’ve been struck by how I could simply have copied it, changed the date, several descriptive sentences and it would apply—saying what I want to say to you now. 

“There were no degrees of separation on September 11” I wrote and that was true at the start of the pandemic. “We are all in this together.” I am not naïve and there are deep divisions in our country, but throughout the pandemic, and continuing as each new variant like the Hydra’s head raises fears and causes a spike in cases, people helped each other. Acts of kindness were enumerable. The heroic work of healthcare workers of all kinds, putting their lives on hold and on the line will be remembered when the history of all this is written in the future.

The future. At the close of the Lighthouse note, I write “Just as many of us date things from before the Cuban missile crisis and before the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, Jr., we now have another ‘before’.” Now we have an even greater “before”. “Pre-pandemic” has entered our daily conversations. “I saw someone…” “That was…” and so forth. After September 11th, I mourned a world lost to our children that had seemed a place safe from such an attack. Those children are adults now, many with children of their own, and I mourn the loss of the pre-pandemic world for them. The toll that remote learning, isolation, and loss has taken in multiple forms can never be remedied.

As we enter in what is being termed, “Living with Covid”, my wish for you, dear readers, is the same as I expressed all those years ago. That we hold on to hope—and in every way possible, each other. Altogether.
There is a whole lot more in The Body in the Web (the title refers to both a spider and the worldwide one) before getting to the Author’s Note. Faith Fairchild and family form a Pod with son Ben home from college, daughter Amy a senior in high school and husband Tom, all dealing with their lives remotely. Faith’s catering business is suspended. When a close friend’s death is deemed a suicide, Faith must solve what she knows is a murder remotely as well. She can’t go knock on doors, face suspects eye-to-eye. The book begins on January 14, 2021. Here are the first few sentences:
“Faith Fairchild set her phone down with the first sigh of relief she had felt for almost eight months…Such was the effect of the call from her husband Tom, the Reverend Thomas Fairchild, with the stunning news that as one of the local VA hospital’s chaplains he was eligible for vaccination and was on his way to get the shot. A simple sentence, a series of words turned the room from the everyday to a rare setting she would always remember as the beginning flicker of hope.”
I thought the book needed to begin with this emotion since it will also look back at those worst weeks and months we experienced beginning in late February 2020.  

It would have been very difficult to sit down and write, just as it had been during 9/11. In this case, not only was my mind elsewhere, but I was very busy, as was Faith, keeping my family on track in body and spirit. However, I did keep a daily journal, jotting a few sentences about things happening in our lives and outside the Pod (three—our son under the same roof happily) ‚ what we ate and how I “foraged” for essentials. Once it was safe to be with people and I started the book, everyone had stories to tell—some tragic, but also many about their ways of coping, ingenious, even humorous. Similar to one of the subplots in the book, I learned about a postponed very elaborate wedding, and plan for a honeymoon baby prompting thorny discussions since no one could pick a new date, for either. Biological clock ticking, baby first? I detailed other issues. Unlike paper goods, there were many shortages, that could not have been predicted— thread since we were all stitching up masks, cream cheese! and the search for yeast alternatives. I’m still making Beer Bread, with all sorts of variations—adding cheese, spices.

Yes, Writing, the act, can be hard. Not for the usual reasons—procrastination, tempting diversions, plain old blocks—but because Life is Hard. Thank goodness for books!
Katherine Hall Page
is the award-winning writer of the Faith Fairchild series (Wm Morrow/Avon), a recipient of the Agatha for Best First, Best Short Story, and Best Mystery Novel as well as other Agatha, Edgar, Mary Higgins Clark, and Maine Literary Awards nominees. She received Malice Domestic’s Lifetime Achievement Award and another—Crime Master—from the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. The Body in the Web is the 26th in the series. She has also published a cookbook, Have Faith in your Kitchen, and books for YAs and Middle Grade readers. A New Jersey native, she lives in Massachusetts and Maine.




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