It isn’t that writers get sick more than other people. It’s that when they do, there are more people getting sick.
For instance, your humble blogger has been ill for about a month, which is not such a tragedy in itself, but the illness has its own ripples. The nonfiction writer is sick, so this blog lies fallow. The romance writer is sick, so heroines and heroes are rattling about, each alone in his own castle, not seeing or even thinking about each other. The mystery writer is sick, so the saxophone player and the gang banger have been left alone on an abandoned street corner for several weeks, which wouldn’t be quite so bad, had not the hapless gang banger been shot in the leg. For all this time, the poor kid has been fertilizing the pavement with his blood, while the wannabe-jazz musician looks on in paralyzed confusion. The horror writer is sick, leaving a kidnapped infant in the labyrinth beside the lake, and his distraught mother staring wordlessly at the empty crib without a thought in her head for how to rescue her baby.
Only I, the researcher, have been able to do a spot of work now and then, and by “spot of work,” I mean tiny spot of work. I took some time last week to begin investigating the historical era in which the romance takes place. What historical era, you might ask. Edwardian, Elizabethan, Victorian?
Nixonian. The romance takes place in 1972. No, 1972 didn’t take place all by itself. It followed 1971. 1971 followed 1965. 1965 followed 1959. Not every song my 1972 characters know came from 1972. They know songs from 1954 – some of the older characters may know songs from 1934. They wear clothes they bought in 1963, and some of them have hairdos that are much older than that. They drive cars that are 10 years old. So you see, it isn’t enough to research 1972. One must research, to a greater or lesser extent, the entire lifespans of the characters. Did cars have fins? How long were skirts? Did men wear shirts with puffy sleeves?
The research itself wasn’t too painful. It was surprising, though. I remember 1972, sort of. I didn’t remember all the music – all the popular music – sounding so melancholy. To get happy, upbeat tunes for my characters, I had to go back to early Beatles music. The cars were nice, though. Roomy, by today’s standards, and very powerful. I had quite a lot of fun looking at cars from those days, and giving my characters convertibles, pickup trucks, and limousines. The personal style difference between 1965 and 1972 was pronounced, at least as far as hairstyles and dresses went. In 1965, high school girls had giant bouffant hairdos, stuck in place by means of aerosol fixatives. By 1972, the girls had long straight hair, parted in the middle, hanging onto their shoulders, and shiny shiny shiny. Many of the girls also sported clusters of ringlets in front of their ears. The clusters of ringlets went with the velvet Juliet dresses and the tight white knee boots. I don’t approve of it; I only report it.
Most of the female faculty still had permanent beehives on their heads. Ditto for the males, actually.
I found an unexpected thing, which is the point of research, I guess, in a high school yearbook from the year 1964. I wasn’t in this yearbook. In fact I never thought about that year, 1964. I had gone to that school in 1963, but not in 1964. I knew a lot of the people who were in the yearbook, or so I thought. What was funny to me was that nobody looked the way I remembered them. I saw names – names I recognized – connected to faces that I would never have suspected belonged to people I knew. They all looked so normal. By normal, I guess I mean they looked strange, unfamiliar. They just look like any old body, and not like people I remember.
Who could guess that drifting down memory lane could be so disorienting? I saw one thing that made me happy, though. It was a picture of a friend of mine, a boy I had known since sixth grade. He was a good boy with a bad reputation, probably brought on by the fact that his father was a well-known abusive drunk. When I knew him, this boy was guarded and a little bit cynical. But here he was, in 1964, when I no longer knew him, and he was smiling! Furthermore, he was one of the class officers. Apparently the rest of the school had recognized what I always knew: despite the bad circumstances, in the face of all the gossip and the abuse, there was a decent young man, worthy of trust and popularity. Well, that made me happy.
So, today I’m still sick, although as you can see, the blogger has peeked her head out of her misery hole long enough to mutter about illness and research and small, happy surprises found in the faded pages of an old high school yearbook online.
For the sake of all the abandoned heroines and heroes in their lonely, silent castles, I hope the romance writer can soon swim her way up from the depths of this horrible flu and turn all the hi-fi stereos so they’re playing “I Want to Hold your Hand” at maximum volume. Can romance fail to ensue?
The mystery writer and the horror writer will have to wait their turn. For now the blogger is tired, and gasping a bit for air, and means to take a nap. When she wakes, she hopes to be a romance writer again.