Quarantined? Welcome to the world of a writer. You’re at home. You’ve got to focus. But there are a million distractions.
So how are your favorite writers faring? We reached out to a few to see what they were up to.
Judy Blume ("Blubber," "Forever")
Blume, 82, would like everyone to know that she is doing just fine, quarantined with her husband in Key West. The icon of young adult literature has not written since her 2015 novel, “In The Unlikely Event,” but she opened a bookstore, Books & Books @ The Studios of Key West, four years ago.
The first week of isolation, “I was absolutely paralyzed by anxiety,” she said. “I couldn’t do anything. I was so sad. We’ve lived long lives, George and I, but this isn’t right. This isn’t how it’s supposed to end.”
Her bookstore, though open for online orders, is physically closed, which has been particularly painful.
“George said we can just drive by, but I can’t,” she said. “I miss it so much, and the camaraderie of our little staff. . . . I’ve always been a person who loves to be out and about, and I was locked up inside because I spent 50 years at home writing.”
Although she’s not writing, she is doing a lot of reading (her stack includes Laura Zigman’s “Separation Anxiety” and Lily King’s “Writers & Lovers.”) Meanwhile, she has sold the film rights to some of her books, including “Wifey” and — brace yourself — “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.”
“I know. I didn’t let it go for 50 years. I said never. Margaret was off the table,” she said. But she changed her mind when “The Edge of Seventeen” director Kelly Fremon Craig expressed interest. “The book is there,” she reasoned. “It will always be there.”
According to Blume, the movie was supposed to start filming this summer, but now? “We’ll see,” she said.
Samantha Irby ("We Are Never Meeting in Real Life," "Meaty")
Irby’s new book of essays, “Wow, No Thank You,” will make you glad to be inside. You know when you laugh so hard you wheeze? People don’t need to see that.
Irby is supposed to be on tour right now. Instead, she’s spending her time at home in Kalamazoo, Mich., where she lives with her wife and watches all the “Judge Mathis” for her newsletter.
She has a sunlit, perfectly decorated “writing office” at a friend’s house, but when she goes there, she ends up talking to her friend and listening to podcasts and gets no writing done. Instead, she writes in a chair in the corner of her living room.
“I have zero writing schedule,” she said. “I wish I could be a person who adheres to the rules I set for myself. It needs to feel dire — there can’t be a suggestion of a deadline. I need to know that all of Random House will shut down by June 15 if I do not have that in.”
Because her book tour was canceled, Irby is trying to figure out what to do next, but it probably won’t involve virtual author events — the comments, she says, are deadly.
“Here’s the thing, no one was prepared for this pandemic. No one knows really how to use this technology,” she said. “It’s just so horrible watching everyone trying to figure all this stuff out from our homes. Nothing looks worse than a million people on a Zoom call.”
Jennifer Weiner ("Good in Bed," "In Her Shoes")
Weiner is making challah and matzoh and cleaning the bathrooms and washing the dishes and doing the laundry at her home in Philadelphia, where she lives with her writer husband and daughters, ages 12 and 16. Her book “Big Summer” was supposed to come out May 19, a light, fizzy beach read — though who knows if anyone will be going to the beach.
Like Irby, she planned a book tour, usually with some sort of snacks. (I particularly remember the whoopie pies from a few books ago.) This time, she’s hosting weekly book clubs on Facebook and Instagram, as well as matzoh-making lessons.
“Truth be told, I haven’t been managing to write a lot of fiction,” she said. “When you’re the anxiety counselor and the pet trainer and the hand-washing police, and the house isn’t quite the way it usually is, it’s hard to sit down and get into a made-up world.”
Weiner said it was hard to know how to handle a book release in the middle of a pandemic. She thought about pushing back the launch a few months, or even to next year, but readers were telling her that they needed something to escape the news of the day. “If people need breezy and light, this is that book, so let’s just put it out now.” So her publisher moved the release date up to May 5.
Part of the challenge is getting books in readers’ hands. Bookstores have closed and Amazon isn’t prioritizing book shipments. People can’t go to the library. Plus, many readers have lost their jobs, and spending money on a hardcover isn’t an option right now. So Weiner said she’s mailing out as many free copies as she can, and trying to connect with readers wherever they are — mostly online.
Keah Brown ("The Pretty One")
Brown likes a plan. She thrives off a plan. An itinerary of every single activity she’s going to do in a day is a thing of beauty. Now she schedules in time to panic. Seriously.
The creator of the hashtag #DisabledAndCute lives near Niagara Falls with her mother and sister, and breaks up the day into three parts: She works on the stuff she gets paid for in the morning. After lunch, she’ll spend time working on her book, and then something completely new and different.
For example, she finished the first draft of a movie script in February (“a rom-com with a little science fiction in it”). And last week she announced she’s writing a children’s book, “Sam’s Super Seats,” about a girl with cerebral palsy who goes on a back-to-school shopping trip with her friends. Writing a children’s book? It was in her 5-year plan.
Brown is taking quarantine seriously. She has cerebral palsy and worries about news reports that people with disabilities will be the ones chosen to be “made comfortable” during the pandemic instead of getting the ventilators they need to survive. She’s worth saving.
“I’m very anxious about it all the time,” she said, “but it’s also not productive, so I schedule time to be anxious. I push it out until I’m done for the day. I have to get words on the page. But I say to myself, ‘You can feel this way, but only for this amount of time.’ ”
Carmen Maria Machado ("In the Dream House," "Her Body and Other Parties")
Machado is spending her quarantine catching up on the little things: laundry, letters and cooking. She was supposed to be spending this time traveling, but when everything got canceled, she cocooned into her new house in West Philadelphia where she lives with her wife.
She owes people a lot of essays, she says, and those are much more fun to write than her memoir, which was emotionally draining. Right now, she’s working on a piece for an anthology about a “horse girl” (the kind of girl who loves horses), finishing unpacking (“it’s about 90 percent done”) and enjoying doing “around-the-house stuff.”
Being a writer in quarantine during a pandemic has put her in a kind of social purgatory.
“I feel so strange — I’m generally an extrovert and I’m suffering from a lack of company. I miss being able to go to the gym and restaurants and see my friends,” she said. “We have a women’s writing group and we had a digital meeting, and it’s good that we have Zoom, but I wish I was in someone’s living room eating a cheese board.”
What she really misses? Small talk. “I know for introverts it’s this dreaded thing that’s very fake, but in my family small talk is like a fleeting relationship, one that you have with strangers,” she said.
Wally Lamb ("She's Come Undone," "I Know This Much Is True")
A few years ago, Lamb’s wife got him a Fitbit for Christmas. He was not pleased.
“I definitely kept it on the dresser for at least a year. Just sitting there. But now I’ve put it on. My plan was to do 10,000 steps a day. I found my old yoga mat, and I was going to do 100 situps a day,” said Lamb. “I was so good the first week of confinement, but now it’s been 14 days and it’s like snack time every 15 minutes.”
Lamb said he usually keeps to a tight schedule, getting up at 6 a.m. and meeting a friend to work out for an hour, before having breakfast and writing from 9 a.m. to lunchtime. Now, with gyms closed and no one to meet for workouts, he’s been rolling out of bed and getting right to work.
“My creative brain is most active in the early morning, coming out of the dream state,” he said. “I’ve done my fair share of goofing off, but I’ve been a little more productive than usual.”
Lamb has several things in the works. Before lockdown, he was able to visit the set of HBO’s adaptation of his novel “I Know This Much Is True,” and he met Mark Ruffalo, who is playing the twin protagonists.
He’s also working on a new novel about a character who is just coming out of prison, and he finds the writing provides a welcome respite from our current reality.
“I’ve been able to create a boundary — one of the things I’ve felt good about is that writing allows me to escape the whole pandemic for the hours that I’m writing,” he said. “In the story that I’m writing, coronavirus isn’t there, we are still free of it in that world, and I get my head pretty deeply into it because I’m writing in first person. I am this guy while I’m there.”
Dawn Fallik is a Philadelphia-based reporter and an associate professor at the University of Delaware
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