Fooboo leapt into the window seat and set up a clamor.
It was too early in the day for our neighbor dog to drag his master past our window, and Fooboo long ago became bored with the mailman’s daily sallies.
I stood up from our dining table—which we use in the living room, as a breakfast/lunch/dinner nook.
I ambled to the window, and lo!, there stood Milo Bung, my old schoolmate. Milo was about to ring the bell at our side door—which we use instead of the front door.
Milo’s melodious bing-bong triggered another spasm of barking, so I couldn’t hear any thoughts in my brain. I shooed the dog off the window seat and bade him be still.
Then I cranked open the casement window.
Which wore me out.
“Over here, Milo,” I croaked.
He took his finger off the button and turned towards my casement window.
“Oh, there you are!” He sidled over, scratching his elbows.
“Don’t come any closer,” I squeaked.
“Yeah, I heard you were under the weather,” Milo said.
“Under the weather?” I said. “Under the weather? I have COVID!”
Milo rolled his eyes.
“I do. I have it. We both tested positive,” I wheezed. “So it’s more than just under the weather, old pal. We’re victims of a major global pandemic.”
“Yesterday’s news,” Milo said. He favored me with what I suppose he meant as a cheerful smile. “What you’ve got, at most, is a well-entrenched endemic.”
“Thanks for your support.”
“Well, you’ve got medicine, haven’t you?”
“And you’re getting better?”
“And also, be sure to thank all those doctors and nurses, and the robber barons in Big Pharma, too,” said Milo, “working day and night on the taxpayer’s dime to develop vaccines. Had you not been immunized, you might have gotten sicker.”
My wife and I had just returned from a long trip. Somewhere along the Danube, we had been occupied by the virus that made our return home a miserable one.
A Bullet Dodged
But Milo was right. It could have been worse.
I sighed. “When we were young, I never heard of such a thing as a global pandemic.”
“Nor I,” said Milo, using his shirt tail to polish his bifocals. “Guess the first we heard the term was when Michael Crichton and Robin Cook started writing all those lurid medical thrillers. Death from Ebola and all them.”
Death from Ebola? It was not a title I recalled.
“Be that as it may. My point, Milo, is that once I learned a global pandemic was possible I assumed it would be cataclysmic—we’d all die.”
“Well, amigo, a lot of us did die. Not you and me personally, of course, but a lot of—well, you know. People. Millions of people, all around the world.”
It was a sobering thought.
“So what are you going to do?” Milo asked.
“What do you mean, what am I going to do?”
“When you get out of quarantine?”
“First thing, I’m going to the hardware store and buy a new set of hex keys.”
“An astounding act of celebration,” he declared.
“The bathroom faucet handle came loose, and I seem to be missing the Allen wrench the right size for that set screw. Must have lost it somewhere along the way.”
“How could you?”
I gave him a stony glare. “I’ve only had that set of wrenches for forty-five or fifty years.”
“Well, go ahead, then. Splurge.”
My hapless friend, a direct descendant of King Æthelred the Unready, stood pondering, head bowed.
“And after I get the hex keys, I’ll say a little prayer for all those souls who caught covid before the world piled up four years of clinical experience.”
Milo Bung peered up at me through my window screen. “Guess we could all say that one.”
Dear Readers—The following, though almost comic in its brevity, is a concise snapshot of the thrills, glamour, and enjoyment that are part of an up-and-coming author’s daily life.
Sunday, June 4
Church as usual in the morning, and daughter Katie expected for dinner in the evening. That should leave me four or five after-lunch hours for literary work and my Mandatory Nap.
I spend two hours revising the blog post for Tuesday, June 6. It’s about Hamilton’s Federalists and Jefferson’s Republicans, and how that nasty fight of yesteryear echoes down to our day. What if this post draws fire from Hamilton’s or Jefferson’s 21st-century followers? I must get this right, as near bullet-proof as I can make it. Don’t want to get drawn into politics.
At three o’clock, I took the dog, Fooboo, for a walk. It’s a beautiful day, but quite hazy, due to wildfires in Canada.
Then back to work. I read and digest a new chapter written by a colleague in Tuesdays With Story, one of two writers’ critique groups I belong to. This chapter is a vivid excursion into a dystopian society of the near future. I mark a few passages of tangled syntax or confusing concepts, but it’s a great read. This kind of work is time-consuming, but you’ve got to give feedback so you can get feedback. Otherwise you’re just shouting into a vacuum.
Katie arrives at five, bringing her dog Lucy to dinner with her. Time to put off the literary lion and put on the dad.
Never got my nap. Hmpf.
Monday, June 5
A late breakfast, accompanied by all we could stand to watch of a disappointing 2014 biopic on the late Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond. Then it’s time to get to work.
This is one of two or three mornings a week I manage to carve out a few hours for writing new material. I bang away at the first draft of my new World War II novel, tentatively titled Brother’s Blood. This seems to me the most brutal and exciting part of writing. A story does not exist yet, except some fuzzy notion in your head. You make it come to life by writing words, sentences, and paragraphs. How does one do that? I don’t know, but one must do it. Two and a half hours later, out of breath, I emerge with another chapter and a half snug in my laptop.
Time to wash breakfast dishes and clean up the kitchen. Over lunch I read the penultimate chapter of Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, the book that prompted my upcoming blog post.
Almost forgot to record that somewhere in the middle of the morning’s writing, I took a few minutes to email my fellow writers in Tuesdays With Story, to make sure everybody understands which chapters we’rre reviewing tomorrow night. I’m the group’s gatekeeper for stories to be critiqued, and I host the Tuesday night meetings, which are a hybrid of in-person and Zoom encounters.
After lunch Fooboo takes me for another walk. His real, official name is Midnight, so I’m walking Midnight at noon. Midnight at Noon. Great title for a book! What would it be about? Alaskans and Norwegians, especially Spitzbergers, are proud of their midnight sun, but this is Midnight at Noon. Arthur Koestler wrote Darkness at Noon, a political thriller about the Bolshevik experience in Russia. But no. This would be Midnight at Noon. I ought to keep it under wraps lest someone steal my title and write the book before I even know what it’s about.
After walking Fooboo I take my nap. Now it’s three p.m. I’d better look at the blog post again, and then read another story for tomorrow night’s meeting. But revising the blog post takes the whole time. I call it quits for now—can’t miss Jeopardy!
After supper and our nightly Scrabble game, I’m back at the laptop, seeking out royalty-free images to decorate the Hamilton blog post. Then I spend an hour entering the text and images in WordPress, adjusting their positions, highlighting and coloring text, etc. I finish around 9:30.
Tuesday, June 6
I’m behind on my reading for tonight’s Tuesdays with Story meeting, so most of today will be consumed with reading the work of my fellow writers and registering comments on same. I enjoy this process, even though some of my colleagues write in genres or subject matter I have no interest in. The fact that I am not the author’s intended audience has notthing to do with my responsibility to read the piece and give intelligent feedback. Sometimes it’s a kind of drudgery, but it’s drudgery that might prove useful to a friend who hopes to break into publication. By suppertime, I’ve finished all six items and have printed out my comments so they’ll be close at hand when we begin our discussion.
So the nightly ritual of Jeopardy!, supper, and Scrabble occurs just as scheduled.
At seven, Mike and Jack show up at the door. Ensconced with wine in the sunroom, we three are joined via Zoom by Amber, Amit, Judy, Suzanne, Bob, Kashmira, and Jaime. Two hours fly by as we comment on one another’s work with comments that swing frequently between praising and challenging. Critiquing is an art. To receive critique with an open and discerning mind is a discipline.
Wednesday, June 7
The morning’s first business: follow up on last night’s meeting. There is a Tuesdays With Story newsletter, with rotating editorship, that summarizes the feedback each author received. After first updating my own list of future dates and presenters, I send reminders to all who presented material last night to send their concise summary of feedback received to this month’s editor. And I send the editor list of who presented last night and who is on the docket next time.
This week’s Blood Pressure Challenge is a letter from the Kia car company advising me that I’d better apply for a free steering wheel lock to protect my apparently all-too-stealable 2016 Kia Soul. I navigate their website and fill out their form. The software does not accept it and advises me to call their 800 number instead.
While waiting for Kia to answer the phone, I peruse other websites in my self-assigned quest to determine whether I am a fool for not switching my weekly blog from WordPress to Substack. I learn that there are different forms of WordPress, and I’ve chosen the wrong one. It appears, by the way, that I should also be considering Medium and Ghost. In addition, I learn that actual reasons to choose any one of these platforms over the others exist only in web marketing techspeak—no matter which forum one reads. None of these programs would stay in business if they had to explain themselves in English. We would all figure out that we don’t need any of the things they claim to do. But as it is, we will never know that, because we’ll never find out what it is they claim to do.
After two hours down this rabbit hole, I hang up on Kia and make myself a sandwich. After lunch, I nap and walk the dog.
Then it’s free reading time. I’ve got a tall stack of books. I order them from the public library and then try to cram them into my head before they’re overdue. Right now I’m on Spencer’s Mountain, by Earl Hamner, Jr. It’s the coming-of-age novel that gave birth to the Waltons TV series. It’s what we now call a young adult novel, a quick read but well worth reading for its distinctive voice, its narrative flow, and the skilful plot management. Even though I’ve seen it all on TV, it still draws tears at all the right places.
After Jeopardy! and a quick dinner of microwaved yakisoba, I’m off to Mystery to Me Bookstore, that magical Madison venue where my friend Kristin Oakley is unveiling her new novel The Devil Particle. It’s the first of a four-book series—a different genre, story line, and approach from her previous novels. But if you liked Carpe Diem, Illinois and God on Mayhem Street, you might like this one, too. Kristin’s launch party brings out lots of good friends—writing guru Christine DeSmet, author Peggy Williams (whose new book will be published next spring!), internet marketing maven Celeste Anton, and Milwaukee publisher Kira Henschel. It’s nice to be together in one room, all unmasked. And I get my copy of The Devil Particle SIGNED BY THE AUTHOR!
Thursday, June 8
The long weekend is already beginning. After two sets of geriatric doubles tennis in the morning, I make my usual Thursday rounds: I pick up the church’s mail at the Struck Street post office, drop it off at the church, and stop at the fish store to pick up half a pound of salmon for tonight’s dinner and a pint of seafood gumbo for lunch.
After the gumbo (After the Gumbo—another great book title!), I’m off to Winnequah school in my Literary Lion persona. Attentive Readers may recall that I read my middle-grade manuscript, Izzy Strikes Gold!, aloud to grandson Tristan’s fifth-grade class last winter. Today they get their yearbooks—yes, fifth-graders get yearbooks now—and spend time milling around in the corridor signing one other’s yearbooks. The teacher, Matt Fielder, has invited me back to see the kids and sign their yearbooks. More than fifty years have passed since I last signed a yearbook. It’s very nice to be asked.
Arriving at home, I face an infrequent chore. We take Fooboo out, drench him with water from the hose, soap him up, rinse him down, towel him off, and turn him loose. He does not like it one bit, except for running around the backyard shaking off water and rolling in the grass. Since he’s still too wet to be re-admitted to the house, I spend quality time with him in the yard, so he won’t be lonesome.
I lounge in my zero-gravity chair and start on my next library book. (I finished Spencer’s Mountain.) The new book is Robert Bolt’s play, A Man for All Seasons. I saw the movie with Paul Scofield and Robert Shaw when it came out in the Sixties. I caught the last scenes of it recently on TV and was struck by the dialog between Sir Thomas More and his accusers. So I got the book to read it and perhaps get a few clues how a great playwright does it.
After an hour, the dog’s ready to go in, and Jeopardy! is coming up.
Friday, June 9
The day begins on the East Side of Madison. I join a couple of friends, Norm and Karl, for breakfast at a local cholesterol shop. Our geezers’ triumvirate meets three or four times a year to grouse about how life is getting to be strange.
I rush from breakfast to Winnequah school, where Tristan graduates from fifth grade at 9:30—yes, fifth-graders have graduations now. A good time is had by all.
By the time I get home, it’s noon. Besides lunch, I have an email saying that the June issue of Well Read magazine has dropped, featuring my short story, “Beast of the Moment.” I take a few minutes to announce it on social media, complete with a link so people can read it. I’m proud of this, the first short story I’ve published in a long time. Short stories are about as hard to write as novels. Just shorter.
I accomplish a bit of yard work and house cleanup Then Katie, Elsie, and Tristan descend on us, along with my sister, Cynda, and her husband, Steve. We spend the afternoon and early evening celebrating the kids’ graduations from their respective school grades—fifth and eighth—and my approaching 78th birthday. We can’t celebrate together on my birthday, because Joelle and I will be in Budapest, ready to start our adventure cruising down the Danube.