Is Your Covid-19 Novel Going to Be THE One?
By G. Miki Hayden
Instructor at Writer's Digest University online and private writing coach
firstwriter.com – Sunday March 29, 2020
“I have no idea what's awaiting me, or what will happen when this all ends. For the moment I know this: there are sick people and they need curing.”― Albert Camus, The Plague
One of the best-known and most well-respected written works in the world is Camus’ novel The Plague. Although the story reads as if Camus personally went through a pestilence, he actually had “only” researched the many plagues that had come before to write his book.
I’ve been laboring away per usual, editing this and that and giving student feedback—and one impression struck me hard: We’re all quite immersed in the pandemic of our times, too engrossed perhaps to pay attention to anything else in the literary arena.
But that’s not true entirely, because we become so overwhelmed by all the statistics of the sick and the dead and the rumors about what’s coming next that we turn to old movies and old novels.
I’m watching Downsizing (based on a novel) about a community of people transformed into five-inch humans to save space and resources and for the citizens to live luxuriously on quite small budgets. I think Camus would like the film. I’m also reading an old Margaret Truman mystery that starts with a murder at one of the Smithsonian museums.
So what’s the truth? What can we look forward to in publishing once this deadly outbreak runs its course—presuming (and I do presume), it comes to an end at some not-too-too-distant point in the future?
Will authors be selling what they’re working on now, books about terror in Omaha, stories of ghosts encountered in Thailand, tales of excursions into out-of-body zones? Or will the novels or autobiographies of tomorrow recount the writers’ imagined or real experiences in the covid-19 urban ER hells.
Should I convince you to shift from the destination you’ve (for the last 20 years) imagined would one day wind up in print, to arrive at a landscape of pathogens, tragic lack of medical miracles, and human tear-jerk sacrifice amid much suffering?
I have no intention of doing that, my friends, because like Camus’ protagonist, Dr. Rieux, I don’t know where anything is going to end, including, in this case, in publishing.
You will find a lot of plague books out there—a lot: https://www.goodreads.com/list/tag/plague —and certainly movies: https://www.thewrap.com/virus-outbreak-movies-coronavirus-hackers-seventh-seal-contagion/ . (My very, very favorite pandemic movie is 12 Monkeys.)
So, will more books and movies focusing on the coronavirus need to now emerge?
Well, perhaps. Maybe the work that will grab the reviews has to be about the virus of our own times—such a shocker and unique to us. Definitely sooner or later those books will be published.
Or something else. I just a few months ago edited a science fiction novel in which people from another world destroyed our own with a virulent disease; and I’ve just this week been coaching a writer inspired by her own immune-system dysfunction who’s producing a novel about a future US. In her brave new world, people can’t touch one another because of a circulating virus (imagine that).
Do we want to read any of this fiction featuring pathogens or will we return to depicting the more placid times we yearn for—or the always popular evil of the Nazis rounding up the designated enemies of their day?
I do know that after the end of the Vietnam War, agents and editors shunned novels of that painful conflict, quite unlike the sought-after spate of battle fiction produced immediately after the Second World War. Will a decade or more need to go by following the current destruction of our way of life to write about it? Or will we seek to understand by reading various true as well as fictionalized accounts?
I can’t say. But I will say that we have to consider the question. And probably think about the timing of submissions while agents, editors, and the rest of us are so single-mindedly preoccupied.
I live now in a somewhat eerie Manhattan, home to the publishing industry of the US, and I wonder if authors’ reps are able to read anyone’s novel right this moment or predict (as I cannot) what will sell after this (in our contemporary human view) earthshaking storm.
“Stay safe” as we say for “farewell” nowadays.
About the Author
G. Miki Hayden is author of The Naked Writer, a comprehensive, easy-to-read style and composition guide for all levels of writers. (Her other writers' instructional is her award-nominated Writing the Mystery.) Miki also has a new class starting on November 30, 2023, at Writers Online Workshops (Writer's Digest): "The Novel Opening." The class will offer plenty of feedback for your novel opening. Miki's two new traditionally published novels, Rescued and Re-Live, books 1 and 2 of the Rebirth series, can be found at Amazon or in ebook format nearly everywhere.