Authors in Quarantine – Douglas Smith

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

A pic of our backyard from the room where I write. Centred in it hanging from the tree is a bird feeder which keeps my attention throughout the day. At least the birds are free to roam in the world.

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

Douglas Smith: Thank you for inviting me to participate in this discussion on Speculating Canada. What have I been up to? Basically, staying home with my wife and our youngest son. We’ve shopped online more in the past two months than any previous two years. We’re both in a high-risk category for the virus, so we’ve moved to ordering online and doing delivery or curbside pickup at stores for everything.

Spec Can: How are you adapting to social distancing?

Douglas Smith: Lots of video calls with family, friends, and writing friends. I’d worked in global roles for about 15 years, so I was used to lots of video calls and meetings, but for business, not social. Now it’s weekly calls with family, a couple of times a month for virtual game nights with friends, playing bridge online with my wife. And our regular weekend trips to the movies have moved online, too, of course.

Interestingly, the situation has increased some social contacts. I now have a monthly call with a group of friends from around the world from one of the global jobs I held, where we used to get together physically once every couple of years. And I’ve reconnected via Zoom with a writer friend I hadn’t seen for almost a decade. 

I also have a daily “writing sprint” Zoom call with my critique group, where we chat for a bit then do 25-minute Pomodoro writing sessions, then chat some more. Rinse and repeat for a couple of hours every afternoon. We set it up as a standing daily call, but I don’t think any of us expected we’d all show up every day, but that’s generally what’s happened. We’ve moved our critique meetings online, as well.

I was scheduled to give a series of three workshops up at the Newmarket library in April, based on my writer’s guide, Playing the Short Game: How to Market & Sell Short Fiction. The in-person workshops were cancelled, but we managed to move them online to great success. I’ll be giving another in the series online on June 18 to the Writers Community of York Region.

I work out at home. I still get out cycling, but only around our area here in Markham, and I wear a buff as a mask and stick to the streets. We have great ravine and park cycling paths here but sadly they’re too crowded to maintain social distancing. The upside is that there are much fewer cars on the roads these days.

Spec Can: How is the outbreak affecting your writing?

Douglas Smith: The daily writing sprint Zoom calls with my critique group have helped. I wrote a new 10,000-word short story (ok, yeah, not so short at 10k) in April using those meetings. Hopefully, the powers-that-be aren’t monitoring my search history, because my research for that one included “How long does it take to dig a grave?” I had a scary number of writer friends provide detailed answers. I don’t think I want to know how they know, you know?

Now, I’m trying to get back into writing book 3 of an urban fantasy trilogy I’ve been working on. I’d be curious to know what writers are reporting. My productivity varies, I’m finding. A new 10,000-word story in a month is good for me (I’m a slow writer and 10k in a story is harder than 10k in a novel). But there are days when I struggle to make any progress on any creative tasks.

There is a sameness to the days now. Even when you’re talking to different people on video calls, you’re still sitting at the same computer screen at the same desk. I used to shake up my writing routine by switching locations where I wrote—the local library, different coffee shops, as well as at home. These days, my options are limited to what room I sit in.

But it’s also given me time to do some much delayed work on my website, including setting up a new online store. As a thank you for this interview, your readers, if they wish, can use the discount code SPEC-CDA-25 on my store to get a 25% discount on all titles for the next few weeks.


Interviewed by Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD

Authors in Quarantine – Kate Heartfield

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?

Kate Heartfield: The priority has been distance learning for my 10-year-old son, and I’ve also carried on with my regular freelance editing and online teaching jobs, in addition to trying to keep up with writing.

Even though I haven’t really had any extra time, I have been starting all kinds of new creative projects, because it helps my mental health. Projects help to remind me that today is different from yesterday and tomorrow will be different again, that change will happen. And I’ve always used work as a coping mechanism, rightly or wrongly! So in addition to everything else, I’ve been painting and assembling a hurdy-gurdy from a kit, baking a lot, and trying to get my garden in decent shape. I’ve signed up for an online course in Old Norse, because I figure, if not now, when? A lot of my projects (such as baking bread and making masks) also serve to help our household cope with the pandemic.

I’ve also been allowing myself the time to do a fair bit of relaxation activity, such as playing Civilization VI (my comfort game!) and watching TV with my partner and son. We just finished Tales from the Loop and are currently finishing up the last season of Clone Wars together.

Spec Can: How are you adapting to social distancing?

Kate Heartfield: Our household is pretty fortunate, all things considered. My partner, my son and I are all introvert homebodies at the best of times, so on a day to day basis it doesn’t feel that strange. But the uncertainty about the future, the stress of distance learning and the inability to see people I love is wearing, for sure. I feel like my heart is a rubber band that’s been stretched into the same position for two months and is weakening at the edges.

I’ve been using Zoom and other online platforms to keep in touch as much as I can with my writing community, although I miss all my writer pals terribly and nothing can make up for their physical presence. I’m taking part in two virtual conventions this month, including the Nebula awards weekend at the end of May, and that helps to keep me in touch too.

Spec Can: How is the outbreak affecting your writing?

Kate Heartfield: My creative brain is my coping mechanism, so I’m enjoying dreaming and plotting out my current novel. But when it comes time to sit down and write, I frequently struggle these days with a kind of brain freeze — I can’t execute and get the words down very well. An effect of long-term low-level stress, I think, and I’m sure a lot of us are feeling the same way. Also, I’ve lost a lot of the options I used to have to get into a fresh headspace by going to work at the library or my favourite coffee shop, which sounds trivial but was a bigger part of my working life than I realized.

So it’s slower than I’d like, but I’m getting work done. Soon, my editor will send some edits for my next novel, The Embroidered Book, which is coming out next year. When that happens, that will become my writing priority. In the meantime, I’m working on a novel that isn’t sold yet, so I don’t have a deadline, which is a blessing in some ways as it means there’s less stress, but it also makes it hard to keep at it, because writing a novel on spec is an implicit act of faith in the future and that’s hard right now. I really love the book, so that’s helping. I also wrote a story for The New Decameron Project, which was great, because it gave me a reason to take out an old half-finished concept and finish it up. The result was a story called “In a Hansom Cab at the Liberty Street Ferry Terminal” and it gave me great joy to write.


Interviewed by Derek Newman-Stille MA, PhD ABD

Authors in Quarantine – Nathan Frechette

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?

Nathan Frechette: I’ve been fortunate enough to work from home for my day job, so I’ve been doing a lot of that. I have children at home too, so I’ve been spending a lot of time caring for them. I’ve been cooking a little bit more, and I’ve been playing a lot of Dungeons and Dragons.

Spec Can: How are you adapting to social distancing?

Nathan Frechette: As someone who is disabled and introverted, there hasn’t been much of an adaptation. I do feel like I have more physical energy now that I don’t have to commute so much, I’m able to be much more productive in my work. My mental energy has really been all over the place, and I miss my friends and family.

Spec Can: How is the outbreak affecting your writing?

Nathan Frechette: I see a lot of creative folk talking about getting writing done, but I have been too harried to write, really. I have been working on my graphic memoir, since that was scripted and thumbnailed months ago, I just have to draw, which is more mechanical than creative for me. I’m having lots of creative dreams, and even trying to record them has been difficult.


Interviewed by Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD