Social Distancing for a Novelist by (1 Story)

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You could say that I’ve been preparing for this for 40 years. That’s how long I’ve been a novelist, and social distancing is part of the job description. Every day I come up the stairs to my office and sit down at a computer, try to shut out the world, and descend into the universe of character and plot. Sometimes I have a good day, sometimes not. But I always put in the time. So I have it easier than a lot of people right now, in a pretty nice environment. And I write historical novels, so I have a lot of perspective on this current plague. It’s bad, but we’ve faced bad before.

Actually, we’ve faced worse. Consider the 1918 pandemic. 50 million dead, including my paternal grandmother, who lived in an old South End row house with her seven kids. She went upstairs to care for a sick neighbor, came downstairs, lay down, and died. And that was happening while the final horrors of the WWI trenches were playing out. And they had NONE of the epidemiological knowledge we have. But they got through it.

Of course, when I’m done working, I like to go out to dinner or into Boston for a lecture or event of some sort. All those are canceled. If I’m home, we have a nice dinner here, and if the Celtics are on, I watch the game, which I can’t do either. But I don’t want to sit and watch cable news all night, so my refuge is either a good book or Turner Classic Movies. Yesterday we were watching the Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, with Bette Davis and Errol Flynn, and about halfway through it, I said to my wife, “You know, everyone who’s in this movie or worked on it also got through the 1918 pandemic and went on to make great contributions to all of us.”

So, be optimistic. That’s my theme of the day. And respect the advice of the docs and epidemiologists. Stay home. This is ugly but it will get better. We will get back to normal. Now, back to my next novel.

Profile photo of William Martin martinbooks

Tags: Social Distancing, Historical Novels, Pandemic of 1918
Characterizations: moving, right on!, well written


  1. Suzy says:

    Thank you for this, Bill, it’s really inspirational! We WILL get back to normal! If you say it, it must be true. Now I’ll go back to reading one of your novels! (I love the framed posters you have of several of them on your walls!)

  2. Marian says:

    Welcome to Retrospect, Martin. As an independent writer myself, doing marcom and tech writing for the medical/biotech industry, I can identify with your description of being in your office and shutting out the world. Writers tend to be focused this way, so we might have an easier time with the isolation than others. So sorry to learn about your grandmother’s death during the 1918 epidemic. I thought back to my grandparents, all of whom survived, and realized I never heard any stories from them about the epidemic. No idea why not. Maybe World War I overshadowed it. I heard some stories about that war from my paternal grandfather. Thanks for your optimism and perspective on getting through this.

  3. Beautiful, Martin! You hit on it! Thanks.

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    Thank you for sharing this, William, and welcome to Retrospect. I admire your ability to carry on with your writing. In the past week, the only writing I have been able to do is for Retrospect. And I’m finding it hard to concentrate on reading as well. Most of my anxiety has been transferred into preparing for a May 15 move that may not even happen then. You are so right about the news. I’m trying to stay away from MSNBC more.

  5. John Zussman says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Martin. My wife and I have also written historical fiction, and we can confirm how much respite it provides to spend part of the day with your characters in a different time and place. They always have their own problems and obstacles, but at least they’re not yours! Your story reminds us to get back to that. Welcome to Retrospect.

  6. Pretty nice environment indeed! Welcome to Retrospect, William. As an introvert, and an aspiring writer, I envy your day job. About two years ago I attended a week-long writing workshop in Maine which was capped off with a lobster boil during which we students got to mingle with some published authors. A real treat! And with that, I’m off to look for your books!

  7. Nice to meet you Martin, sorry it couldn’t have been during a happier prompt-week . . . although Close Calls is coming up and then you can read my story entitled 9/11.

    But seriously I’m grateful for the historical perspective on our current plight.

    Stay safe everyone!

  8. Betsy Pfau says:

    Well said, Martin. Nice to get your perspective on things. And Elizabeth and Essex (recorded from TCM; my husband’s favorite source of entertain for some time now) is in my queue. I just noticed it last night. I think it will be watched later this week. Be well.

  9. John Shutkin says:

    Brilliant insights, Bill. Which, having read several of your novels, I am not the least bit surprised about. Being a social animal and someone who has always worked in a large office environment, I’ve always wondered about the necessary solitude of a writer. But you do put this all in wonderful perspective.

    And I can at least identify with you to the extent that I, too, am currently a Bostonian slogging through it all pretty well but wishing I were able to get out a whole lot more. And, besides no Mookie and no Brady, no Marathon? Oh, the humanity!

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