As mentioned, the Covid-19 pandemic has not been as big of a subject here as might have been expected. Future readers might know: how has Covid-19 impacted normal, daily life?

The answer is that we don't have a normal life, but we forgot that we don't have a normal life. A few months ago, I moved to Corvallis, Oregon, at a time when the pandemic was under control. There is a long story behind this. At this point, safety from the virus is tracking closely with both education levels and political affiliation, and as a well-educated, left-leaning town, Corvallis was pretty safe. Through the summer, the main signs of the pandemic were the ubiquity of masks (people took them seriously here, in Corvallis, I only saw one person try to weasel out of in a supermarket) and the fact that most venues for any events are closed. In the past few weeks, as the nation wide trend has continued, things here are getting worse as well. I am starting to curtail my own behavior: perhaps going down to once a week shopping trips, like I did at the beginning of the pandemic. Through the summer, the buses here (which are free), still had signs that said "essential travel only", but I felt comfortable taking them to visit a park.

All of that is changing. It looks like I might be sequestering myself for a while, as the virus hits a winter peak.

I think now that the truce we had in the summer with Covid-19 might have been a bad thing. In the initial phase, we had lockdown and quarantine, which segued into encouraging or requiring mask wearing. Mask wearing does greatly stop the spread of the virus, but I think we all got into the mindstate that we were "safe", because we were wearing a mask, even if we were doing something like, for example, shopping for leisure items in a crowded store. The other week, after ten minutes searching for a deck of playing cards in a Dollar Tree, I thought "Is this really how someone in a lifetime-defining health crisis should act?", and thy answer is, "no". But there is a very real aspect of fatigue. It is hard for people, no matter how good their intentions, to keep themselves in a state of wariness and caution for months at a time. As the pandemic dragged on, we lost track of just what type of situation we were in, and that it could get much worse.

So where are we right now? Where am I right now? I guess for future historians, the stores are still open, we have all forgotten what normal is like, and there is just a thick cloud of doubt over everything. Right now, I can't imagine what fabled "post-pandemic" life is like. I don't even know what next month will be like, just with the impacts of the disease, and not with the impacts of everything else.

Does anyone here remember Thomas B. Costain?

No? Well, we'll come back to him later.

My book received its e-launch last night, one day after its official release. I answered a lot of questions, and probably went on too long, but it's difficult to do much else when you're the one being interviewed. The audience could submit questions, but we had no way of seeing or experiencing them in any sense. I couldn't tell how they collectively might be reacting to the reading. The give and take one might have with a crowd, however small, followed by a social event, simply could not happen in this COVID-mired world.

Earlier that day, COVID-19 rerouted the annual local Santa Claus Parade. It took place at an airfield. Instead of crowds waving as floats floated and entertainers marched by, people loaded their kids into cars and drove around the airfield, around stationary floats and entertainers-- all safely distanced, of course. An odd turn of events, an inversion of the normal way of things, but one that local kids will likely recall, more than any future parade they see. It also meant my wife and I had no downtown traffic snarls as we drove to an historic nineteenth-century church. It has a beautiful interior and incredible acoustics-- both lost to its congregation at the present time. Other places of worship have reopened with COVID restrictions in place. This one serves a significant ageing population and they still meet online. My wife's accompanist and collaborator on a current music project works there as the organist and musical director. I recorded them, an audition performance for an event that they might either attend in person or join online, next year.

Assuming, of course, they pass the audition. It's a little like submitting a book for publication.

TJ, meanwhile, drove to the airfield. Her daughter was dancing in the parade. More on her in a moment, too.

Work will be a little less crazy after Monday, so I want to return to writing. I have the next novel more than half-finished (not SF), but I'm also pitching a collection (SF, Fantasy, Horror, Slipstream), a blend of previously published, unpublished, and new. It will include (hypothetically) a novella that was shortlisted a few years ago for the Ken Klonksy Novella Contest. It didn't win, but was accepted for publication. Then they changed their mind, and then.... Ever try to pitch a novella when you're an unknown writer?

First, however, I want to make headway on a new story that I have in mind to start the collection. I have the basic plot (though not the ending), completed as much world-building as I need to write, and have penned some of the opening. But I need to think more about the protagonist. At present, she's merely a notion for a character.

TJ-- whose daughter danced in the reverse parade-- dropped by. She had assisted me with a part of The Con, and came for her complimentary copy. We sat at a safe distance and talked. She asked about my current writing, and I mentioned this new story idea. Halfway through explaining it, I had a Eureka! moment.

How offended would she be, I asked, if I fused some of her personality and appearance with the existing notion I have for the protagonist? I explained why that would work in this story. The protagonist would have to be someone who invites confidence, which is absolutely true of TJ. Her hair, noteworthy but not out of the ordinary, would get a lot more attention in 1971. A subtle way, in other words, to remind readers we're in an alternate timeline.

"I'd have to back-date your birthday. And by the time I'm done, she probably won't be much like you." She liked the idea, though.

She joined the online launch, and texted me afterwards. A few people did send such feedback, so it made it all seem a little more real.

One response came by email from Graham, an Aussie I met in Europe back in '89. He watched the launch from half a world away. It's been thirty-one years since we met, and more than twenty since I last saw him.

So about Thomas B. Costain. I evoked his ghost at the end of the online event. If you haven't heard of him, that's not terribly surprising. The Canadian-born writer worked as a journalist and editor in the first half of the twentieth century. He had some success with short fiction, but his young-man attempts at novels were rejected. When he was just a little older than I am now, he sold his first novel. Several others followed: bestsellers, generally historical in nature. A number were adapted, with varying degrees of success, into Hollywood movies. Paul Newman made his debut in a Costain adaptation. My mother had one of his novels on the shelf, Below the Salt. I understand it's not his best effort.

I never read it.

George R. R. Martin cites Costain as an influence, but most of the world has moved on. Still, his books were generally well-received, and he lived his dream of writing during the final twenty-three years of his life. Half of a community centre is named for him in his native Brantford. I can also find reference to an elementary school bearing his name, but that either closed at some point or had its name changed.

I see his books on second-hand store shelves now and then. Perhaps I'll buy one.

With mine currently charting on the bestseller list at, uh, #245,712 (so says Amazon's algorithms), Costain's career grants me a little hope.

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