Soaring and Sinking in the Pandemic

Has it been easier or more difficult for very creative people to cope with the forced isolation brought on by the pandemic? I asked several Twisted Road authors about their experiences of writing during COVID. The response below is from Elizabeth McCulloch, author of Dreaming The Marsh.

I have an easy life, even during the terrible thirteen-months-and-counting of the pandemic. I don’t live alone, but with my husband and granddaughter, and we get along well. I have a garden, a swimming pool, the writing work I love, and no money worries. I don’t have a job that demands I spend most of my time virtually, nor small children whom I must help with virtual school. The only direct impacts I’ve suffered from Covid 19 are a minor one, being unable to dine out, and a major one, missing the annual gathering of family in Maine.

Even so, adjusting to the new world, with my own small troubles and the daily news of horrors, took some time. WHO declared a pandemic early in March. In my diary from March 2020, I see how the virus filled my thoughts.

March 16: I sat down outside with my book printed out with a wide left margin for revision, and many notes as to the direction I want to go. But Covid 19 overtook my mind. Over and over: deaths are high among those over 60 and those with an underlying medical condition. That’s me.

Like my mind, my life is cluttered, and my diaries are sprinkled with lists, as well as writing ideas, drafts of essays, and notes from encounters with businesses and bureaucracies. I found a list from that first week, a mixture of immediate tasks and more general pursuits to keep me contented though shut in at home: Sort recipes, Garden, Call plumber, Crochet, Tidy deck, Order backpack and underpants, Find Kindle, Find shoe, Minestrone

After a few weeks of floundering, I found a certain tranquility within my boundaried world. I couldn’t travel or run around with friends. Mostly confined to my house, I almost achieved the productivity of a writers’ retreat. I had submitted my third novel, Seeing the Edge, to Twisted Road in January, and Joan Leggett had recently suggested substantial revisions.

Here is a cheerful email I sent to Joan in spring 2020:
We are all three doing ok. A’s idea of bliss is never leaving the house (though even she is getting bored). Joe is Zoom teaching and meeting – pretty comical, as he sits with his laptop out on the deck wearing a blazer, oxford shirt and tie above, and a blue bathing suit with huge red lobsters below.

And I am beginning the day with writing, no miserable newspaper for me, followed usually by a walk in our wetlands reserve, where huge male gators are bellowing, 23 babies were crawling just outside a nest, and birds birds birds greet the day. I block the internet most of the day, and only look at the Times in late afternoon. I’VE MASTERED PIECRUST!! and thus far have made an apple pie, pecan pie, chicken pot pie, and Argentine empanadas. I won’t get fat, since the two family gluttons dispatch them within 24 hours.

But my big news is the revisions are coming along very well. I have it pretty much figured out and have written two and a half chapters. As usual, I am stimulated and embarrassed writing sex scenes, though I am anything but graphic. And I assure you it’s not 2 1/2 chapters of erotica!

Well into the summer I worked and achieved with desperate energy, but then it flagged. After that, manic periods alternated with gloom. I grieved the loss of three friends. Writing was like slogging through mud. My couch cushion and I both developed depressions. I drifted from chore to chore, gazed into space, read too little, watched Netflix too much. Still, during the good times, the writing flourished.

I published three personal essays and a book review on my website. I sent a query to an agent for novel #2, which Twisted Road doesn’t want. I wrote seven chapters of novel #4, an apparently endless saga of a 20th century marriage. I developed a tentative plan for poetry, stories and essays left in my charge by a friend who died shortly before the pandemic. And I revised and resubmitted Seeing the Edge three times. These were not minor tweaks, but a response to such Joan comments as We have to see your character’s dark side. The two major characters should have an effect on each other. It lacks a narrative arc. I (almost) always follow Joan’s guidance, because she knows what’s what; I knew nothing about narrative arcs.

The peaks and valleys continue. I’ve given up pie crust but taken up high protein bread. My garden is greening and blooming. And the two highest peaks: my granddaughter has been accepted at a college that looks like a perfect fit, and Seeing the Edge has been accepted by Twisted Road; it will be published in Spring 2022.

To learn more about Elizabeth McCulloch, click here.
To buy her book, click here:

Surviving COVID with Imaginary Friends

I have been wondering this for a while: Has it been easier or more difficult for really creative people to cope with the forced isolation brought on by the pandemic? I asked several Twisted Road authors about their experiences of writing during COVID. The response below is from S. W. Leicher, Author of Acts of Assumption.

Why do children invent imaginary friends? To have the companionship they don’t enjoy elsewhere. To provide themselves with reassurance. To stretch their minds.

Why do adults invent imaginary friends? To survive a pandemic.

I have been one of the fortunate ones and I thank my lucky stars for it, every single day.  When COVID knocked New York City on its back last spring, I was able to keep myself safe and sane.  I was already semi-retired.  I was neither alone in my apartment nor living with a group of people whose comings and goings were beyond my control.

And I had an idea for the sequel to my novel.

I couldn’t go downtown to meet with clients.  Couldn’t sing with my chorus.  Couldn’t go to the gym.  Couldn’t have friends and family over for dinner. Couldn’t even have those marvelous serendipitous conversations that New Yorkers have with the person sharing a subway pole with them as the Q train lurches across the Manhattan Bridge.

But I could sit down at my desk every day to fill my head with conversations and adventures and questions that clearly related to but also definitely preceded the grim and consuming crises of 2020.  I could chat once again with the old friends who peopled my first novel.  I could share a subway pole—or a garage in the South Bronx or an office in a Jerusalem yeshiva—with a slew of new and intriguing characters.

At one point, when I was excitedly testing out a potential plot sequence over dinner with my poor captive-audience husband, he looked up at me over his plate of rice and beans and said: “Susan—you know these characters aren’t real, don’t you?”

“What?” I replied. “They aren’t?”

Being a writer can be a lonely pursuit.  When the muse strikes, it can mean six and seven hours a day in front of a keyboard, all alone, seven days a week.  In a time of pandemic, however, it provides an incomparable oasis, an escape, a wonderland of marvelous companions to tide a person through hard times.

Find out more about the author and her writing at her website,
Or you can order her book HERE

Do you have a story about surviving the pandemic? Send us your (very short – 500 words or less) story to and we’ll post our favorites.

From Political Refugee to Essential Worker

As we announced in December, we have partnered with Refugee Stories, Inc. to collect stories via face-to-face interviews with refugees who want to tell their stories. From there, we plan to transcribe, edit, and compile these stories to give readers a first-hand look at the refugee experience. Obviously, face-to-face interviews are not a possibility for the moment, and may not be possible for some time to come. Refugee Stories, Inc. has been proceeding cautiously with plans to continue using electronic media, although this comes with challenges, not the least of which is asking people to share personal stories without direct contact with a human listener. This may yet prove to be a viable alternative but will require sensitivity and patience.

For now, we are transcribing, editing and compiling ten stories that were collected before social distancing became a necessary part of our lives. It is a good start. Below, you will find an excerpt of a story that struck me as particularly relevant, given the times we are living through. We have heard much well-deserved praise – along with a great deal of well-founded concern – for the men and women who have continued to staff hospitals, nursing homes, and other care facilities. It has been well documented that many of these workers came here as immigrants and refugees, and are now working to care for some of our most vulnerable citizens. The mother of Gambian refugee Jainaba Saara is one of those workers.

Excerpts from Jainaba’s story – in her own words.

My father was into politics, he was big into politics. What happened was, they had a new president and [my father] was working with a different person, and so when they had a new president, Yahya Jammeh, there was a group of them they wanted to assassinate because of the new change in the government and they believed [my father] was strong in the Government. So one day, I was about seven, it was raining real hard, and they came and took my father and kept him in the jailhouse for about two to three days, and I was just a small child then.

Once they released him they came back about two weeks later and told my mother ‘we came to take your husband back to his village because his brother died’. My mother knew that wasn’t the case. We lived in the compound, so my dad realized there were people at the door and who it was, and he was able to get to the neighbor’s house through the back door, by the porch. And he hid in their porch until the government left our home. They raked our home that day, they looked everywhere, and they threatened my mom that next time they come back they will kill all of us. After that, the next day we had to go to the village. We went to my father’s brother and he said he couldn’t help us because there was too many of us. So we ended up going to the village where my mother lived, to my mother’s sister, who we lived with until about two and a half years went by and we didn’t hear anything from my father so to us, we thought he was already dead.

But my mother still didn’t move on. She still had the hope that her husband was still alive. So about two and a half years later, that’s when my father finally wrote us a letter saying that he was alive, and that he was in America. And come to figure out, all this time, he had flown to Senegal, where he had sought protection from their government. So their government protected him and gave him a new identity, where he was able to wait until he got his papers and after that reached out to the American government and that way he came to America. And once he was here, he reached out so many times to the American Government and nobody was able to help him. And so finally he went to World Relief where he was partnered with Michelle Hill and she was one of the volunteers that helped with World Relief. Through their church they were able to help him to reach out to his family back home.

We received a notice saying that we should go to Senegal, hoping that our visas would be ready. So my mother and my siblings, there were five use, we all Left Gambia that day with no time to say goodbye to anyone. We got to Senegal, hoping our visas were ready, but they were not ready. Every few months we would go to the Senegal embassy, and every time there would be one visa but there wouldn’t be visas for everybody. So my father we kept trying and trying until we finally my father got visas for all of us after a year and a half of living in Senegal. They made travel arrangements with my father, the program through World Relief. World Relief helps immigrants from all over. They helped my father get a ticket for all of us, but in return my father had to pay that money back. That way we could all come together. So when we did come to America he was able to make small payments until it was all paid off, so that we could all come to America.

For my mother it was so different because she was never working, she was more like the stay at home mom. She had to look for a job to help my father provide for us. She started working at a hotel as a housekeeper. Then our sponsor took her to a nursing home where they were hiring for a patient care tech. She took that job … She’s been working there for seventeen years now, at the nursing home.

Over the next several weeks, we will be posting excerpts from several refugee stories. And hopefully soon you’ll be able to hear the voices of these courageous new neighbors of ours through a podcast series. Stay tuned.

NOTE: We have made contact with the interviewers and asked them to try to determine if Jainaba’s mother is safe. When we have word regarding her current status, we will post an update.

Twisted Road Publications is partnering with a new non-profit organization, Refugee Stories, Inc. to collect, transcribe and publish some of their stories. Since Twisted Road is a small press with limited resources, we are asking for help.

If you can help, please click here:

For more information about the situation in Gambia at the time Jainaba’s family was forced to flee, you can start here: