For many, living through the pandemic has triggered feelings of isolation and fear, and it can be difficult to think of an area of our lives and consciousness that hasn’t been shaped by the ongoing influence of Covid-19. As we continue to anticipate the return of a post-pandemic “new normal,” we can only guess at the impact this event will leave on our world and on the art we create. In this 5×5, we interviewed five authors about their experiences writing during the pandemic. Our authors this week include Sheri Cobb South, Linden A. Lewis, Tom Ingrassia, Barbara Newman, and Kris Clink. Keep reading to learn how these authors have been coping with quarantine and how they anticipate modern literature will change.
Meet the Authors
Sheri Cobb South
Sheri Cobb South is the bestselling author of more than twenty-five books. Her John Pickett series of humorous historical mysteries was featured on USA Today’s book blog and is also an award-winning audiobook series, including the 2020 Independent Audiobook Award for Best Mystery as well as four Earphones Awards from AudioFile magazine. She is also the author of several Regency romances, including the critically acclaimed The Weaver Takes a Wife. Her novels have been translated into half a dozen languages and published in large-print editions. A native of Alabama, she has lived in Colorado since 2011.
Linden A. Lewis
Linden A. Lewis is a queer writer and world wanderer currently living in Madrid with a couple of American cats who have little kitty passports. Tall and tattooed, Linden is the author of The First Sister trilogy and exists only because society has stopped burning witches.
Tom Ingrassia, president of The MotivAct Group, is a motivational speaker, author, success coach, and radio personality. In 2001—following a successful 25-year career in higher education—Tom re-invented himself as an entertainment manager, with the formation of Ingrassia Productions & Artist Management. In 2006, Tom formed The MotivAct Group, offering holistic personal and professional development workshops, seminars, and individual coaching for success. An in-demand speaker, Tom travels the country with his motivational programs, “Mental Massage®” and “Making A Difference Begins with YOU…So Live Into Your Dreams!,” and pop culture lectures, “Motown and the Civil Rights Movement” and “Girl Power: The Supremes as Cultural Icons.”
Tom’s award-winning book, One Door Closes: Overcoming Adversity By Following Your Dreams (Wyatt-Mackenzie Publishing) was published in October 2013 and is currently being made into a documentary film.
Barbara always wanted to be a cowgirl. Growing up in New York didn’t stop her. She took that can-do spirit and became an award-winning advertising creative director, leaving an indelible mark on global brand culture. After hearing an NPR story about the American cowgirl, she was so inspired, she left Madison Avenue and found herself in Montana, Wyoming, and Texas filming a documentary about their lives. An advocate for empowering girls, Barbara facilitates girls’ leadership programs and was part of the think tank that inspired the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media. She lives in the Berkshires of Western, MA, with her husband and their English bulldog. The Dreamcatcher Codes is her love letter to Mother Earth and all her daughters.
Kris Clink is the author of Goodbye, Lark Lovejoy and Sissie Klein is Completely Normal, which have received praise from Bustle, Midwest Book Review, Kirkus Reviews, Women.com, Lone Star Literary, Brit + Co, Travel and Leisure Magazine, and Entertainment Weekly, among others.
She’s a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA) and The Author’s Guild. Before becoming a novelist, she oversaw business development in medical environments and managed an office of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Since then, her work has been published in Moms Don’t Have Time to Write on Medium, diyMFA, Authority Magazine, Thrive Global, Women Writers Women’s Books, and Accent West Magazine. She is the host of Kris Clink’s Writing Table, a podcast about books and writing, where she interviews a variety of publishing professionals and authors from Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler) to Camille Pagán.
Calling the Texas Panhandle home for most of her life, Kris now lives in Kansas. She and her husband have filled their empty nest with two spoiled-rotten pups. When not writing, Kris is playing pickleball with friends or searching for an open karaoke mic and an understanding audience.
1). How has your writing routine changed since the pandemic began?
Muted, the 24-hour news channel submerged my inspiration beneath political updates and ongoing death tallies. The virus wasn’t retreating, but my writing had.-Kris Clink
Sheri Cobb South: I learned several years ago that I’m much more productive elsewhere than I am at home, so I was in the habit of taking my laptop to Starbucks and writing 1,000 words a day. After all the restaurants closed, I was forced to write at home, if I was going to write at all. As a result, it took me almost a year to finish my most recent release, when I’d been completing a rough draft in about three months. Sadly, that particular Starbucks didn’t survive the lockdown—it didn’t have a drive-through due to its location—so I’ve had to find a new coffee shop to call my office. Unfortunately, once a routine is lost, it’s hard to re-establish it, particularly in unfamiliar surroundings.
Linden A. Lewis: I live in Madrid, and before the pandemic, I woke up, walked to a cafe for breakfast, and wrote there for 3-4 hours as I drank coffee. Now, writing has become a more solitary activity conducted from my sofa, and I feel cut off from the world outside my windows. Even if I wasn’t “being social” at the cafe, I was surrounded by sounds of life: people chatting in various languages, silverware clinking, coffee brewing, milk frothing, and laughter. Now, I listen to the cars drive by and miss what I used to have.
Tom Ingrassia: Prior to March 2020—when the world went into lockdown—in addition to my writing, I also traveled extensively with my workshop and lecture programs, as well as doing a weekly, four-hour live radio show. Often, my writing was relegated to late-night hours or weekends, when I was at home. For the past 18 months, my travel schedule has been greatly reduced—as have many of my other “regular” activities. I continued to do my radio show live, in the studio throughout the lockdown. However, I found that I had MUCH more time to focus on my writing—it became my priority. This has focused primarily on writing the script for the documentary being made based on my first book—One Door Closes: Overcoming Adversity By Following Your Dreams.
Barbara Newman: The pandemic didn’t change my routine all that much. As a novelist, I work alone, to write a book is a solitary endeavor. I show up at the page every day even when I have no words. I begin with morning pages, a free-write, pen to paper, the stream of conscious scribing that empties my brain and warms me up. It’s sacred time and will never change, pandemic or not. I did miss my weekly in-person writing group. It’s inspiring to have that camaraderie, and the coffee is always good! I wonder what it was like for TV writers, who gather and collaborate in the writing room. I imagine the pandemic had an impact on their creative process.
Kris Clink: Early in the pandemic, not much had changed. My dog snored at my feet while words gushed onto the pages. Then, I turned on the television. Muted, the 24-hour news channel submerged my inspiration beneath political updates and ongoing death tallies. The virus wasn’t retreating, but my writing had. Desperate for solutions, I began working with a combination book/life coach. Her take-no-prisoners-or-excuses style helped me redefine my workflow. Aware of my role in Covid-based procrastination, I turned off the TV and limited weekly podcast interviews to predetermined time blocks so I could prioritize writing. Months later, I have relied upon these tools to maintain momentum. Before each weekend concludes, I jot down my priorities, highlight upcoming events, and create a roadmap to support my goals. It isn’t an exact science. Emergencies can fly in the face of a tightly manufactured
schedule, but most weeks, I manage to balance my personal needs with a writing life I’m fortunate to have restored during a tumultuous season.
2). Has the pandemic impacted the subjects of your work either directly or thematically?
There’s a sense of confinement, an almost claustrophobic tone to certain scenes that isn’t found in any of the other books in the series.-Sheri Cobb South
Sheri Cobb South: I write historical mysteries, and there are a couple of references to smallpox inoculation which I doubt would have come to my mind had it not been for Covid and the long-awaited vaccine. Incidentally, people were just as wary then as many are now: since the inoculation consisted of matter from the much milder cowpox, there were fears that injecting the substance into the human body would give people “bovine features”—in other words, they were afraid it would turn people into cows. There’s a wonderful Gillray cartoon from 1802 showing people with little cows sprouting out of their arms and legs!
It wasn’t until I used the text-to-speech feature on my laptop to listen to the entire manuscript from beginning to end—nothing else is as effective in catching the typos my eye overlooks—that I realized how much of an impact the pandemic, especially the related lockdown, had influenced it. The John Pickett mysteries tend to be light and humorous in tone; this one has John working incognito in an asylum for opium-eaters, and although it has its comic moments, there’s a sense of confinement, an almost claustrophobic tone to certain scenes that isn’t found in any of the other books in the series.
Linden A. Lewis: The pandemic has absolutely affected the subjects of my work, even if just tangentially. One of the central themes in my trilogy is bodily autonomy and the lack thereof, and I used the fear of contagion and the rigidity of the lockdown as inspiration for certain scenes in my book. Seeing how people react to national states of emergency — both the selfless good and the selfish bad — has also been inspirational. While the situations in my novels are obviously fictional, incorporating the very real reactions of people across the world during the pandemic has lent credibility to the reactions of characters in the novel.
Tom Ingrassia: The pandemic has most definitely impacted the subjects of my work. We lost Mary Wilson earlier this year. Her role was critical to the success of the documentary. Although her death was not Covid-related, the pandemic-induced shutdown caused us to delay production, and it threw me into a tailspin. Not only did I have to reimagine the documentary narration, at the same time I had to mourn the loss of someone very important to me personally. Since 1972, Mary Wilson had been my mentor, my teacher, my friend. She was the one who told me that I had the power to make my dreams come true—that I could be a successful writer and radio host. She wrote the Epilogue for One Door Closes. And she was involved in the writing of my second book, Reflections Of A Love Supreme: Motown Through The Eyes Of Fans.
One Door Closes: Overcoming Adversity By Following Your Dreams features the stories of 16 people from all walks of life who overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles to achieve their dreams and their goals. As you can see, we have faced more than our share of adversity during the production of the documentary based on the book. However, we have persevered. We did not give up. We regrouped—and the result is so much better than originally conceived. The adversity we experienced—and our triumph over it—will now play a central role in the documentary (as well as in the second volume of One Door Closes…which also is currently in the works!).
Barbara Newman: The book I just launched, The Dreamcatcher Codes, is a young adult eco-fantasy, some might call it cli-fi. I wrote most of it in 2019. I had traveled extensively to know and feel the land I was writing about—lots of solo hikes in the high desert, sleeping under the stars without a tent. That could not have happened had I started the book during the pandemic. Thematically, my story reflects what was/is happening in the world. The plant and animal kingdoms are suffering, so is humanity. Fires rage. Mother Earth is crying.
It’s particularly relevant and timely. I’m not a psychic, I can’t see into the future, but I’m an observer of the natural world and know that our bio-diverse planet has tipped. As the earth gasps for breath, (trees are the lungs) breathing was front and center in the news, from George Floyd whispering, “I can’t breathe,” to ICU patients struggling for their last breath. After the book was finished, I added a poem, by Sophia Rose, the mentor in the story. I called it “The Crowning.” It was about how the virus was shaped like the world, with little red flags as warnings. It had a life of its own, sweeping through countries and past borders. There was/is no separation between place or people. We are all related, all connected, walking through the fire path together. I ended up taking it out of the book, it felt heavy. My book is about hope, and the calling of four diverse girls coming together to repair the world.
Kris Clink: Readers look to novels to escape, so until recently, I had decided to avoid Covid-related topics until an opportunity presented itself. Without getting too far into the weeds of Covid and the lockdown, I situated my present-day heroine in a position to frame her experiences against the woman who once lived in her home following the dust bowl and Great Depression. Time will tell if my readers appreciate the comparison.
3). How do you make the mental and emotional space to write in such a tumultuous and divisive time?
I have to write in order to cope with what’s happening in the world.-Linden A. Lewis
Sheri Cobb South: Actually, I think fiction writers are perhaps better equipped to deal with this than the general population, simply because we’re accustomed to living in our own heads. If real-life becomes too overwhelming, we can always take out our imaginary friends and play with them! The biggest challenge, especially to those of us who write light, escapist fiction, is that real-world events can make what we do seem incredibly pointless. I know of many writers, myself included, who experienced this in the days and weeks following 9/11. The world as we knew it had just changed irrevocably; who could summon up much enthusiasm for the trials and tribulations of wholly fictional people?
Linden A. Lewis: Writing has always been my way of dealing with chaos in life. It’s been an outlet for my depression, anxiety, and PTSD. It’s been a way for me to grapple with debates of morality and play with scientific theories that interest me. The pandemic is no different; I have to write in order to cope with what’s happening in the world. The trouble comes more from burnout. To counteract that, I’ve been trying to take in more inspirational content, reading widely, playing video games, even watching TV . . . and not judging myself for doing so.
Tom Ingrassia: In addition to my writing, I also teach mindfulness and meditation workshops (called Mental Massage: Mindfulness for Goal Achievement, which I developed with my business partner, Jared Chrudimsky—who also is the co-author and co-producer of One Door Closes). During the past 18 months, I have employed the tools I teach others about the power of mindfulness, meditation, and visioning to keep myself focused—and to shut out (as much as possible!) the negative “chatter” of the world. I am a firm believer in the power of dreams to get you through the rough patches. I believe in my dreams—and that they will come true . . . no matter the obstacles (another lesson I learned from Mary Wilson). I take time each day—without fail—in silence, reflecting on what is most important to me. What are MY hopes and dreams? MY goals and aspirations? And what do I need to do today to move closer to achieving these things? THAT is how I create the mental and emotional space to keep my writing flowing, even in this stressful and negative environment.
Barbara Newman: I knew that The Dreamcatcher Codes was an important story for our times. When I was writing the very first draft, it felt urgent. Natural disasters were pounding, the political climate was intense, and Black Lives Matter was in full force. Diversity is a prominent theme; in my story, four girls come together from the four directions—they are so different, but are they? My book builds cultural bridges, unity, and hope. To stay grounded in my work, I spent a lot of time in nature, which is my church. It gives me clarity and takes me out of headspace. To stay sane, I only watched enough news to be informed. In some ways, my mental and emotional space was fueled by our tumultuous world. I used it for good. It affirmed what I already knew—that writing this book was my calling. It’s my love letter to Mother Earth and all of her daughters.
Kris Clink: Turning off the television is mandatory. I hide out in my office or on my sunporch. Apps like Freedom and Brain.fm create virtual isolation booths. My work with a book/life coach refreshed my accountability, forcing me to protect writing time. I walk my dogs at least twice a day to clear my head, and a month ago, I began meditating. I take frequent breaks from social media. When tempted to retweet divisive messages, I pause to consider how the message has already distracted me. Why distract other writers with content that doesn’t support their work? Above all, I remind myself not to wait for the muse to find me. Successful writers cannot afford to wait for creative whims to take over. We must do what we were built to do: to create stories that will inspire, entertain, and inform readers about our world.
4). Historical events tend to influence the art and literature produced during and after the event. How do you anticipate the pandemic will shape our literature, as a whole?
Whether in grief or gratitude, things are forever changed. People grew gardens and grew themselves. They will write about it.-Barbara Newman
Sheri Cobb South: That’s an interesting question! I think we might see an increase in works dealing with isolation and loneliness—the “one man alone” motif that has always been such a part of the American mythos—and perhaps exploring the question of to what extent the individual has a moral obligation to sacrifice for the common good. Or, after living with this for more than a year and a half, we may see the pendulum swing in the opposite direction, toward light, escapist fare, much as the plethora of screwball comedies and splashy musicals during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Linden A. Lewis: Thanks to the pandemic, we’ve seen humanity at its most selfish, but we’ve also seen how many people are willing to sacrifice for others. Even if things do go back to “normal,” something like the pandemic won’t disappear from the human psyche and will influence art for years to come. I anticipate our future literature will confront the scars left behind by the pandemic—the loss, the isolation, and the claustrophobia of the time.
Tom Ingrassia: We are living in a time when many people—especially young people—have lost the ability to dream. The pandemic has contributed to this feeling of uncertainty about the future. People need to hear positive messages about how we HAVE persevered, how we HAVE made it through, how we HAVE continued to strive for excellence. I think these themes will play a major role in the literature—both fiction and non-fiction—for years to come. Our stories have power—the power to change the lives of others, and the power to make a difference in the world. The Covid-19 Pandemic is a historical event of epic proportions . . . and we, as authors, have an obligation to share our stories of tragedy, triumph, hope, and healing.
Barbara Newman: I think the genre of science fiction will explode. Alternative historical novels will flourish. I think there will be more books on health, more books that take a political stance, more creative non-fiction, more memoirs that focus on what happened to peoples’ lives during this time. Whether in grief or gratitude, things are forever changed. People grew gardens and grew themselves. They will write about it. There will be more stories about how this pandemic has shifted the way we view the natural world. As creators reflect upon this time, literature, music, dance, fashion, and even food will mirror our human condition.
Kris Clink: Authors have been working remotely throughout history. Banished from our coffee shops, prohibited from public spaces, and quarantined from our colleagues, we shared our workspaces with home-schooled children and partners working from home. We created books regardless of the disruptions we experienced. History will remind us of the challenges we faced and the losses we suffered. We will treasure the books we read and the characters who held space for the friends and family we missed. And we will celebrate the resilience and tenacity of the writing community, supporting one another and delivering hope during some of our darkest and loneliest days.
5). Many people have found the pandemic to be such an isolating event. How have you found inspiration during a time when many of us must stay home?
Having an outlet as an author and seeing that I’m not alone in this feeling of isolation has certainly helped me to keep writing.-Linden A. Lewis
Sheri Cobb South: I’m fortunate enough to live near a walking/bike path that leads into a park and around a lake. Every day the weather allowed it, my husband and I would get out and walk. Soon we noticed that all the walkers along the path greeted each other like old friends; I suspect that for many of us, it was our only human contact outside the people living under our own roof. Last spring, my husband and I saw a mother duck with a dozen or more tiny ducklings, and one day we noticed someone had placed a rock along the edge of the path with the words “I am thankful for. . .” painted on it. Soon there was quite a pile of rocks around it, all painted by residents and bearing reminders of the many good things the pandemic could not take away.
Linden A. Lewis: The pandemic has been incredibly isolating, especially for an author who debuted during 2020. I had high hopes for my debut and dreamed of book signings and meeting other authors at literary conventions, but none of that got to happen. I didn’t get to see my book on shelves until a year after it came out. But I did find a welcoming online community, and I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from others going through the same thing as me. Having an outlet as an author and seeing that I’m not alone in this feeling of isolation has certainly helped me to keep writing.
Tom Ingrassia: After spending 25 years working in higher education, 20 years ago, I made the choice to pursue my dreams and my true self, forming my own business. I have worked from home ever since 2001. From that perspective, the lockdown was not that much different for me—although I did have to cut back on my travel schedule. However, I learned to use “new” technology to offer my programs virtually. I continued to do my radio show (The Motown Jukebox, on WCUW 91.3FM in Worcester, MA) live each week during the pandemic—at a time when many other DJs chose to record their shows from home, or offer archived shows. It was important—and inspirational—for me to offer even just a small slice of “live” entertainment for people who had no other outlet. This, in turn, has inspired me to move forward with my writing, to initiate new projects . . . to dream BIG dreams.
Barbara Newman: I was grateful to be able to step off the wheel that is usually in perpetual motion, I was grateful to have more time to read the good work of other writers, to walk in nature, to revel in the quiet and just be. There is so much “doing,” in the not doing. The pandemic inspired deep gratitude. People were kinder. There was more empathy. I appreciated having access to food from local farmers, access to online education—virtual museum visits, a trip to Venice, and one to Israel. I was inspired by climate optimists, poets, and painters. Mostly, I appreciated my husband. When you are with someone 24/7 and they still make you laugh, well, that’s a pretty good silver lining.
Kris Clink: On lockdown, each day was a repeat of the last. The conferences that brought me face-to-face with colleagues had been canceled. No author events. Publishers had delayed releases of highly anticipated books. The notion of a podcast began to take shape. If I couldn’t add valuable content, perhaps I might interview other authors and creatives who might spark inspiration for readers and writers alike. I recalled author Kristan Higgins saying, “There is always room at the table,” advising writers not to fall prey to the distraction of a crowded publishing market and encouraging us not just to welcome each other to the table, but to support one another. With that in mind, I created Kris Clink’s Writing Table, a podcast for writers and readers. Zoom broke down walls. I made new friendships and gleaned valuable advice that I hope will help other writers find their own writing tables.
Find These Books
Death Can Be Habit-Forming by Sheri Cobb South
Having resigned his position at Bow Street and failed to establish himself as a private agent, John Pickett toils away as a clerk in the City. When he is approached by a man wishing to hire him to extract a young lady being wrongfully held at an asylum for opium-eaters, Pickett jumps at the chance and enters the institution as a patient. But while getting in may be easy, getting out may be another matter…
The First Sister by Linden A. Lewis
Combining the social commentary of The Handmaid’s Tale with the white-knuckled thrills of Red Rising, this epic space opera follows a comfort woman as she claims her agency, a soldier questioning his allegiances, and a nonbinary hero out to save the solar system.
First Sister has no name and no voice. As a priestess of the Sisterhood, she travels the stars alongside the soldiers of Earth and Mars—the same ones who own the rights to her body and soul. When her former captain abandons her, First Sister’s hopes for freedom are dashed when she is forced to stay on her ship with no friends, no power, and a new captain—Saito Ren—whom she knows nothing about. She is commanded to spy on Captain Ren by the Sisterhood but soon discovers that working for the war effort is so much harder to do when you’re falling in love.
Lito val Lucius climbed his way out of the slums to become an elite soldier of Venus but was defeated in combat by none other than Saito Ren, resulting in the disappearance of his partner, Hiro. When Lito learns that Hiro is both alive and a traitor to the cause, he now has a shot at redemption: track down and kill his former partner. But when he discovers recordings that Hiro secretly made, Lito’s own allegiances are put to the test. Ultimately, he must decide between following orders and following his heart.
One Door Closes by Tom Ingrassia
One Door Closes: Overcoming Adversity By Following Your Dreams, by Tom Ingrassia & Jared Chrudimsky, presents the inspiring stories of 16 people from all walks of life who overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles in order to live into their dreams. Through their powerful stories, these dreamers share a road map guiding the reader to discover how to live their life with vision, courage, determination, and passion. The book also incorporates holistic self-assessment tools and self-motivational techniques to help the reader develop the skills to clarify, set and achieve their goals.
The Dream Catcher Codes by Barbara Newman
FOUR GIRLS. FOUR DIRECTIONS. ONE PURPOSE.
The earth is gasping for breath, its only hope, the sacred Codes of Nature. But they’ve
been stolen—snatched by a giant raven during a raging storm. SOPHIA ROSE, Guardian of Mother Earth, has summoned MAIA from the North, to lead FALCON, AVA, and YUE, on a quest to find the Codes and save the planet. But the odds are against the young rescuers. Time is running out—the bees are dying, the oceans are filled with plastic, and a dark energy lurks in the shadows, threatening their search.
Powered by the elements earth, air, fire, water, and messages from mystical dreamcatchers, this fierce sisterhood must rely on courage, mythic horses, and each other if they are to succeed. Ultimately, their epic adventure takes them on a daring journey into a deeper understanding of their own unique place in the universe.
Sissie Klein is Completely Normal by Kris Clink
Sissie barely remembers the night that tore her from the carefree life she once knew in her Texas Hill Country home. Not long after the shocked teen is pushed into marriage, she’s rushed to the hospital where a catastrophic delivery seals her destiny.
Sissie’s baby Meg survives, and she’s determined to give her child the opportunities she forfeited. But some fates can’t be avoided. When Meg becomes a young woman, tragedy steals her father, leaving behind a legacy of deceit – and an orphaned toddler.
Weaving together tenderness, humor, and heartbreak, Sissie Klein is Completely Normal (Spark Press, On Sale: Nov. 9, 2021) is the latest novel by author and podcaster Kris Clink. As the follow-up to the acclaimed Goodbye, Lark Lovejoy, the novel examines how one mistake can steal your innocence, one promise can threaten a friendship, and one secret can tear a family apart.
A standalone book within Clink’s The Enchanted Rock Series, Sissie Klein will captivate readers with its deft melding of honesty, love, and snark, as the eponymous heroine confronts the transformative challenges she faces.