Living in Carterville and Time Traveling

2020 has been a difficult and unusual year. You all are living through it too, so you know what I’m talking about. The COVID-19 pandemic alone would make it a very unusual year much less the racial tensions, political madness, unprecedented wildfires, hurricanes, flooding, and economic disaster (and a bunch more has happened since I started writing this post a couple of weeks ago).

This new reality changes things. The obvious huge things (illness, death, people loosing their homes, economic hardship) to small things (like what and how I am writing and what I am doing when I’m not working the day job).

I know, my approach to writing in the midst of all this madness is not that significant. But I do wonder how a year like this changes what kind of art is created or other ways that we express ourselves.

I’ve been fairly cognizant of this since the pandemic hit and everyone was locked down in spring and keeping an eye on my own process. And it’s been different.

Since May I’ve been writing two novels back to back in my Carterville mystery series. That’s a long time to be writing from the same character’s point of view in the same small town but it’s been nice. The mystery part of it is comforting too, because in stories like this the mystery gets solved in the end. The problems we are facing feel so big right now it’s hard to imagine them ever getting resolved in a way that works for even a majority of us.

So, lingering with a small town cop solving mysteries and trying to be a decent human being while he’s at it. Yeah. That does feel like 2020 has had an effect. It’s been a joy to figure out lots of details about this quirky little town and the people living there—I’ve even got a map drawn.

The first novel, which is tentatively titled Out of a Christmas Sky, is due out in November. While I was writing it, George Floyd was killed, the whole country was focused on policing, and #BlackLivesMatter was in the news every day. This had an impact. If you’ve read my books most of them are filled with very human people trying to be decent in a world that is often not. Trying to get by. Trying to contribute something. But writing a fictional cop these days took some thought and care.

Henry Carter, the protagonist of these novels, is a middle-aged white guy, which I also happen to be. It’s been nice to write closer to my age. I am, by no means, Henry, but I get to reflect on the aging process through him and that has felt good.

Henry lives in a very small town that he’s spent almost his entire life in and that also resonates with this muted 2020. I’m mostly at home, mostly doing the same things and seeing the same few people. Another thing about Henry I can relate to.

There’s comfort food and comfort reading, I guess this has been comfort writing for me.

I’ve also time traveled back to the past with these books. These two novels take place before The Blood of Carterville. When I write a story I almost always start at the beginning and head towards the future. I usually do that with series too. But in this case I was so fascinated with the conflicts that came to a head in The Blood of Carterville, I wanted to go back and explore them.

This has been a soothing set of guiderails as I write. I know what happens in a couple of books so I need to make sure we end up there, although, to be sure, the journey has been fascinating with lots of surprises.

I’m sure it will be quite a while before we understand this unprecedented year we are living through. Some of the ways this year is changing us is obvious, but lots of other things, small and large have changed too.

What’s different for you?

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