A year ago, if bestselling suspense author Mary Kubica ’00 had turned in a novel that even vaguely resembled 2020, her editor would have rejected it as too far-fetched
By Mary Kubica ’00
I sit at the kitchen table with my laptop, trying to eke out a few words on my third attempt at a new book as the late morning sun pours in through the sliding glass door. Upstairs, in my 13-year-old son’s room, it’s time for PE class. Today’s lesson is high-intensity interval training. The floors in our home are wood; they do nothing to lessen the sounds coming from his bedroom. My son’s PE teacher insists on gym shoes during class, which are better for his feet, but not for my ears or my concentration as I’m forced to listen to his heavy footfalls above me, for 50 minutes a day, doing burpees and tuck jumps.
Downstairs, in the basement, my husband finishes his umpteenth Zoom call before zipping upstairs for another virtual meeting, swapping places with my 15-year-old daughter who is about to begin choir in the basement. Choir and band take place in the basement because from there, the sounds of vocal warmups and the trombone don’t make it to the second floor, where virtual classes such as algebra and biology take place. When choir is done, my daughter will return upstairs and my husband to the basement, each hurtling past me with a laptop in their hands.
I sit in the middle of all this, on duty. When the internet goes out, I hurry to fix it. When lunchtime draws near, I make something for my family to eat, not because I overindulge them but because lunch is quick; there is no time for them to both make it and eat. I summon the sluggish left side of my brain to help with math; I oversee that all tests and assignments are turned in because remote learning is new and there is a steep learning curve; I thank my lucky stars for mostly independent kids and extremely understanding and lenient teachers. Meanwhile, I make nearly no progress on my manuscript, lying to myself and saying that tomorrow I’ll do better.
My family is healthy. My husband and I are both still employed. When the pandemic first hit, I made a promise to myself that I would not complain about things like remote learning or having to abstain from writing in coffee shops because people are dying and they’re losing their livelihoods every single day. Any complaints I could make would be trivial in comparison.
I miss a quiet house to write in. I miss the ability to lose myself in the lives of my characters without constant interruption from the outside. I miss having the time and the freedom to create. At the end of almost every day, my laptop sits abandoned wherever I last left it, my forgotten manuscript open, and I know that whatever few, abominable words I managed to type today will likely be deleted tomorrow. I’m on deadline, and that date that once seemed so far away draws nearer each day.
I struggle to make peace with this. We’re living in unprecedented times. The news grows more dire by the day and saps the creativity from me. It’s hard to be clever and imaginative when the world is both literally and figuratively on fire. One would think that all that’s going on right now would be excellent fodder for a psychological suspense author. A year ago, if I had turned in a novel that even vaguely resembled 2020, my editor would have sent it back, saying it’s too unrealistic.
I try to focus on the silver linings. I have more time to spend with my family these days, who would otherwise be jetting off to work, school and practice. Most nights, we have dinner together because there are no longer a million places we need to be. I see this as a gift, even if it is forced family time and my teens would probably prefer to be anywhere else than at home with their dad and mom. I’ve learned to appreciate things I once took for granted like time with family, technology to stay in touch with extended family and friends and our health.
I cut myself some slack. I’ve heard that Shakespeare wrote “King Lear” during the plague. I don’t expect the same from myself, and that’s OK. Like all of us, I wear many hats these days and am juggling many things. Little by little, somehow, in some way, my novel will get done as the seven before it have. Maybe the first draft will be a disaster, but that’s OK because even a terrible first draft gives me something to revise.
I cut others slack. I’m not alone because, in our own way, we’re all struggling. There is comfort in this. As they say, misery loves company. Kindness and empathy mean everything these days, far more than a daily word count.
I try to stay optimistic. Though this tunnel is long, there will be a light at the end of it. We have to keep believing that.
A New York Times bestselling author of suspense thrillers, Mary Kubica ’00 will discuss her work and share insights with Renate Crawford, professor of physics, University Ambassador and a devoted fan, during “A Thrilling Conversation with Mary Kubica” 7-8:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 5. To register for the Miami University Alumni Association webinar, go to https://alumlc.org/miamioh/3830.