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  • Gregory Zeigler

Love (of writing) in the Time of Covid

With apologies to Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

I'm not going to say much about the pandemic. I promise. But as I write this, I'm missing a chance to hang out with Free Range Writer Partner, Pam Beason and many other writer and reader friends atttending the Left Coast Crime Conference in San Diego. That's because of a Doc's orders to avoid travel that I decided would be wise to follow. And I'm bummed.

I'm also worried about the populations around the world who are most susceptible to Covid-19, both in terms of vulnerability due to age and health, and vulnerability because of economic status.

The mayor of our small town of Jackson, Wyoming, Pete Muldoon ended his letter of preparedness and encouragement to residents with these sage words, "Now is the time for us to come together to help and protect everyone in our community."

Our community and our country are sadly in need of a reason to come together right now. That could be the Covid upside. And based on the ineptitude I'm witnessing on a national level, if it's going to happen, it's going to happen at the grassroots.

(Update: I wrote this at 3:00 p.m. MDT on 3/12. The Left Coast Crime Conference was in its first full day. At 6:00 p.m. MDT on 3/12 the conference was cancelled by the San Diego Public Health Department. Things are changing by the hour. Stay healthy my friends.)

Nuff of that. Let's talk about writing.

In the last post, I wrote about research. This time I want to talk about process. I had the good fortune recently of being interviewed by a retired journalist from a big city newspaper. He was a skilled interviewer and his questions made me think about aspects of my writing process that I had never previously examined in any great depth.

He began by asking me how much of my novels are mapped out when I begin. I answered 10-15 percent, causing his considerable eyebrows to flutter in surprise.

But it's true. Particularly in my latest novel (currently at the publisher), my characters led the charge and at times I did not know where we were going. In fact, at times I didn't know if we were going at all. The best explanation I have for that phenomenon is that characters follow "character." We all become somewhat predictable over time. Well wrought fictional characters are no different.

The irony is that many readers suggested, after writing about water in The Straw That Broke and fire in Some Say Fire, that I should write about earth and then air and thus could check off all the elements.

I had no intention of doing that. I was going to write about the fracking boom in Pennsylvania where I grew up. And about all of the attendant deleterious effects of that latter day gold rush.

Inexplicably, in the third in the "thrillogy," my characters led me from Pennsylvania back out west where my first two novels are set (and where I live) and then to southern Utah and the endangered national monuments and ultimately to—drum roll, please—rare earth metals. Earth. Check!

Presenting, Rare as Earth, the third in the "thrillogy."

Pictured above on the Jane Lavino cover for Rare as Earth, Bears Ears National Monument.

I love writing and I enjoy the process of simply letting events in my writing evolve organically. The nice thing about the novel form is there is room and time to do that.

Do I follow any formula, my interviewer asked? Yes and no, I responded. For instance, I will make myself put in an action scene every fifteen pages or so. We are talking thrillers after all. But in Rare as Earth I have one and only one steamy sex scene because I choose to allow sex to evolve organically. I guess I could summarize by saying there is no known formula for sex, in life or in letters.

I was criticized for that by an editor in the process of completing The Straw That Broke. Jake and Susan (My two main protagonists in all three novels.) should have sex, she insisted. Doesn't feel right to me, I said. Their relationship hasn't evolved to that point. Wait for the sequel, I added.

Finally my interviewer asked if I felt constrained by political correctness or other contemporary concerns such as cultural appropriation. That is the beauty of publishing independently, I asserted. I don't have to please agents or editors (see above). My readers are my only judges. And for the most part the feedback from readers I have received has been very positive, including one reader who MADE MY DAY by comparing The Straw That Broke to the novels of Tony Hillerman.

I admitted to the newspaperman that I had made one poor choice early in The Straw That Broke and several readers drew it to my attention. I learned from that mistake and will never make it again.

And if you are wondering what that poor choice was, perhaps I will address it in a future post entitled, Taking the Flack, Part ll.

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