Authors in Quarantine – Karen Dudley

With this this series, I am hoping to capture how this cultural moment is affecting our speculative fiction authors and how our authors are surviving during the COVID-19 outbreak

Spec Can: What have you been up to during the COVID-19 outbreak?

Karen Dudley: The pandemic really hit at terrible time for me. My dad is quite unwell and I am currently recovering from major surgery (though naturally I tell everyone the 8-inch scar on my abdomen is from a bat’leth fight). Keeping everybody (including me) together has been tough. Combined with anxiety/fear about Covid has meant that I’ve basically been doing my best interpretation of a fruit fly: buzzing around, lighting on something for a picosecond before taking off again. I haven’t cleaned closets or made bread or learned a new language or calculated the distance to Mars in Mars bars. BUT my family is (relatively) sane, the cats are happy, everyone is getting fed, and the house isn’t too gross, so I call it a win.

At first, I spent too much time reading upsetting articles, scrolling through social media, and having an occasional cry. But I am trying to enjoy the beauty of a quieter, less smoggy world. I write messages of love in chalk on the sidewalk and put hearts and stuffies in the windows so kids out for their daily stroll can count them. We’ve also been taking advantage of the various productions that are streaming for free: operas, Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, Shakespeare plays.

The other cool thing that we’re doing—the thing that is helping most to keep my daughter happy and occupied—is having theme dinners. The first (pictured above) was, not surprisingly, an ancient Greek dinner. We researched the foods, the clothing, the makeup, and the dining rooms to recreate an ancient Greek symposion. We brought out the camp cots to make dining couches and piled them with pillows. We dressed in our finest chitons and ate sesame pancakes and shrimps in honey while we listened to lyre music (thanks, Youtube!) and gossiped about how Socrates always looks like an unmade sleeping couch. It was so much fun!!! We went Medieval after that. We were nobles in our dining hall and all my grandmother’s old silver serving dishes looked amazing (though the kitten tried to make off with one of the trenchers). This weekend we’ll be dining in an Elizabethan tavern. My husband and daughter look fantastic as lace-collared dandies about town. I, however, will be a lowly serving wench.

Spec Can: How are you adapting to social distancing?

Karen Dudley: I DESPISE IT!!! I am an unabashed hugger; I HATE not being able to hug people. My husband and daughter are both introverts and it’s getting to the point where they beat a hasty retreat as soon as they see me coming. “No, Mom! Nooooo! Not another hug!!”
Needless to say, the cats are getting a lot more cuddles.
But I go for a walk every morning, and I smile at strangers as I pass by (always from at least 2 metres away). Most people smile back and I love that brief acknowledgement. The unspoken ‘I am only avoiding you because of the virus, not because of the way you look or who you are’. It lifts my heart. But I tell you, when this pandemic is over, I’m going to hug every single person I see. Every. Single. Person.

Spec Can: How is the outbreak affecting your writing?

Karen Dudley: I have to echo Kate Story here and laugh uproariously at the question. Seriously, how could something like this NOT affect one’s writing? Most days I can’t concentrate for more than five minutes at a time. It’s driving me crazy! And then there’s the problem of what to write. Before my surgery, I was working on the second book of a fantasy trilogy, but it’s set in a society on the verge of collapse. Quite frankly, I don’t want to write that right now, I’m LIVING it! And yet, I feel as though I do need to write—if only to lose myself in work for a spell. Fortunately, my daughter, who is a budding animator, had asked me a while ago to write down a story I made up for her when she was young (she wants to animate it for her grade twelve summative project). It’s a goofy tale of how our cat, Monsieur Goobère, got his stripes. When I realized that my fantasy novel wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon, I started working on the Goobère story. Not only have I been able to concentrate on it, the project has actually made me quite happy. It’s gentle and sweet and exactly what I need right now. Obviously, I hope to get back to my novel one of these days, but for now, this is enough.

Interviewed by Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD

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