For a good year and a half I’ve had the editorial review of one of my manuscripts sitting on my desk. The editorial letter, which is pictured in the title image, is 9 pages long. (Hint: the manuscript has lots of problems.) The Developmental Edit of the manuscript itself is full of commentary in the margins. Ugh, even more problems. But in this New Year I’m now ready to deal with them…. And immediately confront very different and unforeseen problems that pertain to what I’ll call post-pandemic fiction.
But, first, a bit about the story. The title is Usher and refers to a high-end male escort agency in New York City. The hero, Nicholas, is one of Usher’s top male escorts. The heroine, Dona, is a post-doc in linguistics at New York University. I thought it would be fun to see if I could pull off such a romantic pairing. From the editorial response, the answer is: Uh, not yet.
I’m committed to the story because – woohoo! – the editor thinks I got the chemistry between Dona and Nicholas right. So, it’s back to the drawing board.
Post-Pandemic Fiction: Challenge #1
When am I going to set this story?
I wrote it in 2019. It doesn’t seem right to take up this story in 2021 and keep in place all the assumptions about the pre-pandemic world. So I’ve decided to set it in the post-pandemic future.
Because Dona is an academic, I want the story to open at the beginning of the semester. But which semester? Fall 2021 when hybrid classes may still be in place? Or Spring 2022 when – presumably! – campus life and teaching are back to normal?
And very much to the point: What will ‘back to normal’ mean and look like?
I’m hopeful. I’m choosing to start the story in Late Summer. And I’ll adjust my fictional world as the real world develops.
Post-Pandemic Fiction: Challenge #2
Where am I going to set this story?
I’ve decided on Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. That is, the Research Triangle Park.
Me, personally, I’m not betting against New York, the #1 city that might struggle. Rather, me, the writer, made the decision to move location. On the grounds of ‘write what you know.’ I have a good sense of pre-pandemic NYC. Over these next months of revising, I won’t have access to life on the street that I had when I lived there.
I do live in Durham, NC. And Dona, being an academic, has plenty of career possibilities here. In fact, the number of universities in the area is the second reason why Raleigh is #1 for cities that will thrive. The first reason being that it’s a low-population-density tech hub.
I’m not traveling anywhere anytime soon. So, I’ll stick with portraying how things are “on the ground” where I live.
And, anyway, what? Raleigh-Durham doesn’t have escorts?
Post-Pandemic Fiction: Challenge #3
How did my characters live and/or survive during the pandemic?
If I’m setting this story in the near future, it’s impossible to think that the characters wouldn’t reveal in one way or another some of their experiences during quarantine. Even if the topic is in the background, I need to know how my characters spent their time in 2020 and the first half of 2021.
Dona has a post-doc, and thus her source of income has remained steady. In the original story she was working on endangered languages. It turns out NYC has one of highest linguistic diversity per square mile on the planet. And Dona was devoting her post-doc to mapping this urban diversity. I will now have to give her career goals a twist.
Nicholas is an escort. In pre-pandemic times sex was not always on the table, but sometimes it was. During the pandemic I have no difficulty seeing him survive on savings. Or on zoom dates with a wealthy client or two who need him in their lives in whatever way. But going forward in the post-pandemic world? My imagination boggles.
Clearly, lots of research is in order.
Post-Pandemic Fiction: Challenge #4
What will be the general emotional tenor in Durham at the end of this coming summer?
I project euphoria. But it’s only that: a projection.
The more realistic answer will be: mixed emotions. Happiness, relief, weariness, continuing grief over lost loved ones, fear of the next virus, bursts of new-found energy. Who knows?
In the original story Dona and Nicholas first met at the lavish Manhattan wedding of one of Dona’s good friends. Rehearsal dinner at the Plaza. Wedding at Central Synagogue on Lexington. Reception at the New York Public Library. And a guest list in the hundreds.
Tons of fun to write. And perhaps scenes of the past.
The scenes in the revised Usher will be those of an imagined future.
This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen