Writing in the Time of Pestilence

Apr 8, 2020 | 2020 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze

by Betty Webb

Sounds like a Gabriel Garcia Marquez title, doesn’t it? Well, I’m certainly no Marquez, and I’ve always been more logical than romantic, but these last couple of weeks have already taught me a few things.

About myself. About writing.

For instance, when the scientists advised us to shelter in place, I originally thought that would be a snap. Like most writers, I’m basically an introvert (with a dash of extroversion every now and then), and the idea of spending several weeks in the house didn’t scare me like it did some people. Being forced to stay inside would just give me more incentive to write.

Betty Webb

Fortunately, my husband is a man who likes a lot of “me time,” too, and like me, he’s also writing a book. So, for the first week, he worked on his book and I worked on mine, and we were both happy. Our manuscripts were trucking along – his, a sci-fi book with elements of time travel, mine a historical mystery set in Paris– and we were both ahead of our self-imposed schedules.

Then came the second week.

I noticed that my characters were getting nastier, and that the body count in Lost in Paris was growing to the point where it seemed like I was intent on wiping out half the artists in Montparnasse. And Emma, my heroine/sleuth, had morphed from an angel into a bitch.

Now, a lot of this could have been caused by the fact that I’d had to cancel Every. Single. Book. Signing. On. My. Book. Tour. The fifteen store-and-library events for The Panda of Death, were also to include four days at Left Coast Crime, a mystery writing conference I’d been looking forward to for a year.

So, of course, my disappointment was coming out in my writing. It wasn’t helped by the fact that my Quaker husband had turned grumpy. He was having trouble with his book, too.

This morning, after writing several pages where my formerly sweet Emma told her friends what she really thought of them, I realized it might be a good idea to get out of the house and, possibly, see some new faces – even if only at a six-foot distance. I hadn’t been tempted to do that during my first week of sheltering in place because it had rained. And rained. And rained. But at the start of the second week of sheltering in place, the skies cleared. For six days, I watched squirrels scamper up and down trees, and birds flit back and forth – mockingbirds, hummingbirds, ravens, blue herons, and egrets.

I yearned to get out of the house.

Now, I live in Scottsdale, Arizona, which is every bit as pretty as the Chamber of Commerce says it is. Palm trees, swimming pools, orange and purple mesas, and a seventeen-mile green belt with a pedestrian path from one end to the other. Perfect for a walk of whatever duration I wanted it to be. Not being crazy, though, I geared up (hat, scarf, latex gloves, Purell), opened the front door, and…

Went outside for the first time in two full weeks.

But I’d hardly gone a mile before realizing there can be nothing lonelier than a city. Out past the city limits, in the true desert, you don’t expect to see anyone – maybe a coyote or two – but in the city, even one as semi-bucolic as Scottsdale, you expect to see and hear human chatter. Yes, I saw a few people, but they were all strangely quiet. And like me, most wore masks and latex gloves. Several waved at me from a distance, but were all careful to avoid me.

And I, them.

So I walked home, hugged Mr. Grumpy, and went back to work.

Check out KRL’s recent review of The Panda of Death and interview with Betty.

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Betty Webb is the author of the nationally best-selling Lena Jones mystery series (Desert Redemption, Desert Wives, Desert Wind, etc.) and the humorous Gunn Zoo mysteries (The Panda of Death, The Otter of Death, etc.). Each of her books was published by Poisoned Pen Press, the second largest mystery publisher in the U.S. Follow-up editions have been published by World Wide Mysteries, an imprint of Harlequin. Her books have been translated into several languages.
Before beginning to write mystery novels, Betty spent fifteen years as a full-time journalist, interviewing everyone from U.S. presidents, astronauts who walked on the moon, Nobel Prize-winners, and polygamy runaways. A two-time Writer in Residence in various Arizona libraries, she has also taught creative writing at Phoenix College and Arizona State University, among other places. A nationally-syndicated literary critic for 30 years, she is a member of the National Federation of Press Women, Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters
in Crime. Betty’s web sites are www.bettywebb-mystery.com and www.bettywebb-zoomystery.com.

Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.


  1. I felt the same way. Still trying to accomplish my writing goals, but my mood is darker and it is difficult not to transfer that into my content.

    • It’s tough, but we’re all still truckin’ along.


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