People think that all you need to do to be a writer is put pen to paper. Fifteen years ago, I didn’t question that idea, though I should have. As a former software developer, I knew you needed more than just a keyboard to write code. Looking back at 15 years of writing, I see how far I’ve come in my understanding of what makes a writer.
In the beginning, I was a bright-eyed apprentice taking any and all advice and learning what worked for me in the process. I started with Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style and The AP Stylebook, titles recommended by the faculty at The University of Washington Extension’s Certificate in Nonfiction Writing, which I completed in 2006. I thought, if I can get my English to sparkle, then I’m a writer.
“If you like writing, why can’t you just write? Why do you need to publish it too?”
This pointed question comes up in my conversations once in a while. It usually follows my description of the hard road to publication. It’s a well-meaning question, but it still hurts. It seems that wanting to have a career as a writer puts me in a different category than many other professionals.
I live in Trump’s America, and lies are the air we breathe here. I mean, the literal air in Seattle is literally not good for breathing because of wildfire smoke, but this is not what my post is about. This is about the last six months—no, it’s not about COVID-19 either—but about the novel I researched and outlined, and I was ready to start writing this week (because I still need to do something while the world crumbles around me and the kids are in remote schooling).
I found Dan Carlin’s The End Is Always Near: Apocalyptic Moments from the Bronze Age Collapse to Nuclear Near Misses in December 2019 at the book fair at my kids’ school, and I picked it up because of the great title and also because in my speculative historical novel characters live under constant fear of “the end of time.” What an opportunity, I thought, to revisit this aspect of history and make sure my world building was realistic, so I bought the book but didn’t get to it right away.
Before the times of COVID-19, all the way back to the beginning of January 2020, I finished my new novel, an immigration thriller called Extreme Vetting. The title comes from a catchword coined by our own salesman president, and it refers to the treatment of immigrants in the United States—undocumented and documented—under the current administration. “Extreme vetting” describes a rough and cruel time in the lives of millions, beginning with asylum seekers at the southern border and ending with Americans whose citizenship could be revoked on technicalities. As an example, if an immigrant now leaves a blank space on a visa application, such as a middle name they don’t have or an apartment number when they live in a house, their application will be rejected.
The other day, I wrote a post here on my website about getting ready for the coronavirus tsunami to hit. It’s much closer now but the world still resembles the one I always knew, except that today the toy store in our neighborhood is closed, as are the interior decoration boutique, the hair salon, and the kitchen store. The restaurants are only permitted delivery and takeout, but the wonderful people at the grocery store and the pharmacy are still somehow getting to work each morning so that our neighborhood doesn’t collapse under generalized panic. We’ve already embraced smaller panics: the Tylenol panic, the hand-sanitizer and the toilet paper ones, among others. But this is the way it must be for now, because every time we get too close to another human being, we create a bridge that the virus can cross, in one direction or another.
Here in Seattle, we’re embarking on a journey that not
all of us might survive. A journey with no fixed timeframe and a destination
that could only be called “back to normal,” before the times of COVID-19. Ten
days ago, our local officials told us to prepare for the disruption of everyday
life. I thought a lot about those words. The advice was to stock up on food,
medicine, and other supplies. So my husband and I went to the grocery store,
the pharmacy, the hardware store and bought stuff. Not too much, as not to look
ridiculous to our neighbors (though who cares today how ridiculous we looked
ten days ago?), then we went by our normal routines.
Karen Hugg writes literary mysteries inspired by plants, and she blogs about her passion for gardening, traveling, and books at http://www.karenhugg.com. She’s a fellow MFA graduate of Goddard College and she lives in the Seattle area, where we sometimes meet for tea and a spirited conversation about books, published or not. Karen’s latest novel is The Forgetting Flower, a thriller with a unique premise: What if a flower’s scent could erase someone’s memory? Who would grow such a plant, who would harvest its flowers, who would buy them? And for what purpose? Karen’s stories usually feature plants that affect people in strange ways, but they always explore so much more about human nature.
A few weeks ago, I got into an email back-and-forth about racism with a male acquaintance who lives in Romania—I’ll call him Alex. We were in the middle of an otherwise pleasant conversation when he quoted the following saying, “You give a Gypsy a finger, and he takes the whole hand.”
It was one of those moments when you see something and you
think, should I say something?
This is my story of sexual assault. It happened in my fourth year of college, in Bucharest, Romania. I remember some important details about that evening but not others. Such as the exact date. It could’ve been anywhere between October 1998 and March 1999. After it happened, I didn’t think to memorize that certain date so that each year on the day I could revisit this story. Continue reading