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We are Living in Strange Times: A Writer’s Life

We are living in strange times.

Thursday was the first day of Left Coast Crime. A popular crime writers conference that signals the beginning of conference season for a lot of us.

The weeks leading up to the conference were filled with anxiety. A lot of writers cancelled due to the rising concerns of the corona virus. Some due to personal health concerns (crime writers come in all ages and with underlying issues) and some with concerns of bringing something home to family and friends with compromised immunities.

We all wondered if the conference would get cancelled.

But the week of the con arrived and a lot of us showed up for the first day, wondering if any readers would be there.

Lo and behold, despite the constantly changing line up of panels and presenters, the readers were there en masse to chat with favorite authors and meet new ones.

Author Speed Dating

Author Speed Dating
Catherine Bruns and Luigi with Elena

My first event was Author Speed Dating. I teamed up with Catherine Bruns, someone I adore and have done events like this with before.

We started at Table 11 and worked our way through to Table 20, where we got a quick break, then back to tables 1-9. (Table 10 was another rest table.)

Each table was filled with up to ten readers. Each author got 2 minutes to give a spiel about their writing.

I focused on All We Buried, as it launches April 7. Catherine – an amazing and prolific author – talked about her four different series.

At the end of 2 minutes a bell rung and the other author spoke.

Great readers in the midst of these strange times.

We had a blast. Kind, attentive readers made the two hours fly by.

Then I scoped out the Milano Coffee Company, which had generously let me reserve a table for an author/reader connection. I confirmed there would be nine of us meeting the next day. Then I stayed and had an excellent latte.

Author Panel
Merrilee, Naomi, Elena, John, Claire

Back to the con in time to moderate a panel with four fantastic authors, Claire Booth, Naomi Hirahara, John McMahon, and Merrilee Robson.

Murder in a Small Town: Adding small community flavor to crime fiction.

Again, the audience was full of engaged, upbeat folks, who asked smart questions and appeared to enjoy our dynamic panel. (I had the BEST fellow authors onstage to wrangle — I’d do a panel with those four again any day.)

The conference was off to a great start.

There were bumps, complications with book sales, a lot of scrambling for the organizers to keep up with author availability, but nonetheless, people were in good spirits, embracing the new elbow rub greetings and able to make jokes about the anxious times.

 San Diego County Deals with these Strange Times. 

Then the San Diego County Agency of Health and Human Services locked us down. The conference could not continue, as it was a group larger than 250 people.

Everyone scrambled to adjust their schedules and their expectations. Authors tracked down unsold books. Attendees rebooked flight plans. We hurried to say our goodbyes.

It was heartening to see how kind everyone was to each other in these strange times. Regret for lost chances to connect. Kudos to the organizers for their hard work in a constantly shifting situation. And a reflection on how impacted the people who work at the hotel will be – the loss of wages, and potentially even jobs, over the economic aspects of the situation.

Returning home, I sat with a pilot heading to SeaTac to fly a plane back to San Francisco. He was ex-military and had already weathered two pandemics in the past in that capacity. His perspective was fascinating. He had a lot of information as someone with experience and he was also thoughtful about human behavior.

Managing Expectations in Strange Times

Over and over he used the term “managing expectations.”

To simplify, a lot of how a community reacts to a scary situation is the management of expectations. If we expect to recover in a week and it takes a month, people are going to struggle even more than if they expect to recover in two months and recover in one.

Same time frame, but the expectations are different.

My thought for the day is manage your expectations. You don’t have to panic and hoard toilet paper, but you should plan for a serious disruption to your plans and activities.

Don’t sell all your stocks and hide cash under your mattress, but assume there will be economic hardships for a lot of people in the short term.

Be Kind to Each Other in These Strange Times

Tip the hardworking people in the places that remain open.

Be kind to the folks stocking those empty shelves in the grocery store. They are putting themselves out there to help you get through these strange times. It’s not their fault some people are thinking only of themselves and not their neighbors.

Recognize fear, and let yourself feel that emotion, then find ways to move yourself out of fear and into a proactive state. That might mean staying home and not interacting with other people, or it might mean visiting the elderly or disadvantaged individuals in your community. Find the balance between living your life and making smart choices to protect yourself and your community.

Take care of yourself and others and wash your hands.

We get through this by acting in the best ways that humans can. By a focus on community, compassion, and kindness.

And if you find yourself with nothing to do . . . support an author and buy a book, then post that good review on Amazon.

We’re all in this together.


Elena Hartwell

Author and developmental editor.

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