Journal of a Pandemic Year: Part Twenty-Six

Dear Readers,

I came to a sudden realization this morning. For the past ten months, I’ve been dealing with crippling writer’s block which is somewhat new to me as it is not anything that I’ve struggled with in the past. Sure, I managed to get all the edits done to Molly’s Song and place it with a publisher, but by my own calendar, I should have had two other books written by now. (One being the sequel to MS and the other being a stand alone) Whereas in other, better, times, I can stand in front of the computer, close my eyes, and visualize the story unfolding in my head, now when I close my eyes, I see nothing but darkness. Today I finally understand why that is, though unfortunately there is not much I can do about it.

For the past ten months, like many of you, I spent most of my time looking at the same four walls. Apart from doctor appointments and my morning walk on the beach, I haven’t been anywhere, not even to campus. It’s the lack of variety and variation in my day to day life in this pandemic world that is causing my brain to lock up. Alas, there is not much that can be done to change things, at least not until I can get my vaccine. I’m in the priority group due to a chronic medical condition that puts me at high risk, so hopefully I can before too much longer. Regardless, I’ll be able to power through the block eventually. It’s bound to happen sooner or later. There will be that eureka moment. I just have to be patient.

Sadly, another issue from my past has decided to intrude upon the present. In Nov. of 2017, I spent a week in the hospital due to a small bowel obstruction. It cleared up, but I was back in January when it reoccurred. I had an emergency surgery and spent three weeks there. Upon release, I was still sick, or at least I still felt sick. In March, another obstruction hit me (on our tenth anniversary, no less). I spent another week there and was told I needed another operation, this time a bigger one. I had that surgery done in mid May. So that’s the backstory.

When I got out of the hospital in May of 18, I had dropped all the way down to 130 pounds…and I’m 6’4. In May of 2020, I finally got back to the weight I was prior to Nov. of 2017 when it all started. Over the course of time, I had gotten to the point that I no longer worried about the condition. The second surgery appeared to have worked. Bowel obstructions (and the horrific pain they cause) stopped crossing my mind at all. Now, the primary cause of small bowel obstructions is abdominal adhesions, but mine is caused by my autoimmune disease attacking my intestines and causing a section to essentially stop working and so nothing would pass through them. The second surgery added a second “drainage” spot from my stomach to my duodenum which, in theory, means that is the primary drain backs up, the secondary drain will handle it. Just like your air conditioning unit!

However, the blockages are returning. In early September, I can’t remember the exact date, I developed an obstruction in the morning. I went to the ER (as it is a medical emergency and can be life threatening). Thankfully they were able to tell me how to get it to clear up at home since they could identify a specific issue on the C/T scan. Everything was fine until Friday, Jan. 8th. That morning it hit me again, hard. I had always said that the obstruction in Nov. of 2017 was the most painful, however, the one on Jan. 8th overtook that one. I waited to go to the hospital though. After some violent vomiting episodes, I did feel a little better, but I finally went in. They were busy, as well you can imagine, and so by the time I finally got my C/T scan, it was over eight hours from the onset time. The scan came back clear, as apparently the vomiting forced the blockage to release.

Unfortunately, until they see it on a scan, they won’t really be able to figure out the exact cause and decide what the course of action is. Typically, that is a surgery, but more surgeries increases the risk of more obstructions. It is a never ending cycle. Even now, while I type this, I can feel that all too familiar twinge in my stomach that usually signifies an incoming obstruction. Sometimes it passes on its own, but other times in doesn’t. The last thing I wanted to worry about right now is a recurrence of an issue from two years ago that might very well lead to extended hospital stays and surgeries, but it is what it is.

Everyone has their own crosses to bear, I just happen to have a couple of them. Heavy ones, at that.

Until next time, Dear Readers, take care of yourselves. And each other.

L.H.

Molly’s Song Update

Dear Readers,

My forthcoming novel, Molly’s Song (Fireship Press, Release Date: TBD), is the first in a projected series. And Molly O’ is a character that commands a separate place. I have made a new website that is about her and the world in which she inhabits. Please consider click here and giving her site a follow. As the website grows, it’ll include more information about her, the book(s), the writing process, and her various adventures. She will be making some of the posts herself too. But take care. She’s got a sharp tongue and can be a bit cheeky.

Until next time, friends, take care of yourselves, and each other.

L.H.

A Long December: My 2020 Year in Review

Dear Readers,

It’s that time of year again! Time for me to write my personal year in review. Obviously, I’ve had an ongoing series on here called “Journal of a Pandemic Year” which stretches back to March. I think there are twenty-four or twenty-five entries in that series, some of which will make its way here. 2020 has been one for the books, that’s for sure. And soon, the year will be history and we can move onto 2021. In last year’s post, I mentioned my first novel came out in 2019 and on New Year’s Eve, the audiobook version hit the shelves, so that year definitely ended on a major upswing. How quickly everything came crashing back to earth.

In January, I spent the first week of classes in the hospital due to a complication with the disease that I suffer from. In fact, when I went to the ER near my house, they had to transfer me to the Medical Center in Houston to a larger teaching hospital so that I could get better care, as the disease is somewhat rare as a whole and virtually unheard of in a male patient. They treated me pretty well at the hospital and the bed was the most comfortable hospital bed I’ve ever been in, and I’ve spent a lot of time in hospitals! Still, missing the first week of classes at the start of a semester (for the second time in two years) makes it hard to find your footing. Once I was back in the classroom, I never quite managed to hit my stride. It felt like I was swimming upstream.

Attending the Independent Audiobook Awards, virtually, of course

I started paying attention to reports about the virus right around the end of January. I figured it was a matter of time before it found its way to this country. The week before we left for Spring Break, the first case popped up in the county where my campus is. I was really looking forward to the break as I needed a chance to recharge my batteries and reevaluate what I was doing and where I was going. Ironically enough, the last thing I lectured about was the Spanish Influenza pandemic. About midway through the break, things started to accelerate. The NBA postponed the season. I had been excited about Spring Training starting, but the MLB decided to postpone things as well. And then we got the notice that the college would be switching online for the balance of the semester.

Pandemic haircut

The move to the online format wasn’t as traumatic for me as it might have been for others because I’ve taught at least a couple of online classes every semester going back to the fall of 2013. It took a little bit of work to switch the face to face classes over to the new format, but it wasn’t too terrible. The more time consuming part was recording lectures. I spent countless hours doing this until I checked the states and realized the students weren’t watching them. But then April arrived.

The new look

I won’t belabor the point here, because if you’ve followed the blog for while, you already know the story. I’ll try to be brief. Basically, our roof got damaged in a storm which necessitated a new roof and an entirely new electrical system. (We also went ahead and had the house painted while we were at it). Since they had to open up some walls to do the electrical work, we also had to do a small kitchen renovation too. All told, it came to around 35K. Trust me, you do not want a basketball sized hole in your roof. Ever. The house is 88 years old and so she needed a bit of a facelift. We are happy with the results.

 Since I had finished the first draft of Molly’s Song back on Thanksgiving of 2019, I had spent time doing my own edits. I sent her off to my editor Kristen in March. My plan was to tackle the content edits before the semester was over and send the book back for a copyedit in June. But I’m sure you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men. Likewise, in June I also planned on starting to write my third novel; the massive novel set in the Russian Revolution that I have dreamed of writing for years. I had it all plotted out and outlined, but the repairs interfered. Since I missed the window of time that I had wanted to start, along with everything else going on in the world, I never quite got my mind right to write. (ha ha)

My son turned 18 at the end of May and graduated from high school a few days later in early June. (He also graduated with an AA degree from the community college two weeks before that). They had an in-person graduation since at that time, case counts were still relatively low. That would change, of course. Oddly enough, I don’t really remember much from the summer which is kind of funny since it wasn’t that long ago. I wasn’t teaching, at least not for the first part, and I wasn’t doing any writing. Maybe that’s why it was so unremarkable. I did teach the second half of the summer virtually, of course.

Elizabeth and I in the pre-Rona days

Given the rapid rise in case in July and early August, my wife and I made the difficult decision to live apart once school started back for her. The district where she works was falling all over themselves trying to rush to be the first district in the state to open for the new school year. Given that we knew she would be exposed, it was inevitable, and the fact that with my health, I am all but certain to not have a positive outcome should I contract the virus, it was for the best. We stayed apart for the first six weeks of the school year before we decided that it just wasn’t worth it. Whatever happens, it happens to both of us. (Other districts have shut down when they had a few positive cases…my wife’s district had 45 new positive cases in the two weeks after Thanksgiving alone and they have said repeatedly they will not switch to virtual instruction for any reason).

Hurricane preparations aren’t complete until the pirate flag goes up

As if 2020 wasn’t bad enough, we had to dodge a few hurricanes in late August/early September. The worst of it was to our east, but it’s one of those things. Every time one is looming out there and on track for your area, you have to prepare for it to make landfall right on top of you. The one time you don’t is the one time it will. It can be stressful, but for those like myself who have spent a lifetime on the Gulf Coast, you kind of get used to it over time. The one positive thing is that at least if we had taken a direct hit, we’d have had a new roof to protect us. Then again, I’d prefer that its strength not get tested. Since we’ve shelled out all the money on repairs/renovations, we have decided to add storm shutters before next hurricane season starts.

I don’t touch alcohol and the last vice I really had was smoking. I gave that up in August. I mean, what better time than the middle of a pandemic? I do still enjoy a fine maduro cigar on occasion, but only rare occasions. After twenty-years in the arms of Nick O’Tine, I had not realized how much time I spent on the porch with my smokes. I needed something to do to fill the void. Once upon a time, I loved singing, so I purchased myself a karaoke machine! It serves a very useful purpose on two fronts. Not only could it distract me until the cravings passed, but it also served as an excellent way to start rehabbing my lungs. Slowly but surely, my voice is coming back.

I’ve dealt with some medical issues later in the year, including a cancer scare. As a retired fireman, I walk around with cancer hanging over my head like the Sword of Damocles. In late August, I started having some deep pains in my lungs. I already have fibrosis in both of them due to occupational exposure. I went to the doctor and he packed me off to have a CT scan. Long story short, the autoimmune disease that I developed after I got hurt and retired has caused me to develop a few benign lung nodules. They aren’t serious and are not life threatening. I’ve had a couple of Rona scares too. I’ve talked about them in my other posts and so I’m not going to dive into it here. I’ll just say that I tested negative in both cases, though the second still left me pretty sick of a week. And then we had the spinal injection from hell…

My new friend, a feral cat that I named Alexander Nevsky

I sent Molly’s Song off for copyediting in mid-September. I got it back in early October. I spent a week or so putting the finishing touches on it and then it went out on submission. I think I was up to 50 rejections before I got an offer for publication, which I accepted. The book should be out in 2021. It’s the first in a projected series, so there will be at least two more to follow. So stay tuned to my website for updates as to the release date, etc. Going from initial idea to offer of publication was long, tough slog through hours alone in front of my computer battling self-doubt and frustration. It was worth it to see it all pay off in the end. Molly is a wonderful character who took over the book on her own. I have to say that I’ve developed a bit of a crush on her. And since she was inspired by an old photograph, I know what she looks like.  

It was a subdued Christmas this year. We traditionally do gifts on Christmas Eve. Honestly, there was much that my wife and I needed or wanted this year, so we didn’t exchange any. The family event that we usually hold that night was cancelled due to The Rona. My mother and I are both in the high risk category, so that was for the best. However, on Christmas Day, my parents did stop by for a little bit. We stayed outside and wore masks and socially distanced ourselves. My typical Christmas Day tradition (post retirement from the FD) is to watch the 1951 adaptation of A Christmas Carol. It’s the best of all of them, in my opinion, and you can watch it on YouTube here.

One of my photoedits
And here’s another

I’ve learned a couple of new skills during quarantine. I have learned photoshop and also how to colorize black and white photos. My photoshop skills mean that I can add myself to photos with my Maska. Or I can add her to photos of me. I’ll post a couple of examples above. As far as colorizing photos is concerned, I was able to give my little girl, Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Anastasia Colleen Hutchison, a special Christmas present. I touched up and colorized a photo of the Grand Duchess Anastasia she is named after and had it printed out and framed to give her as a Christmas present. Above, you see a photo of her posing with her picture. I hung it over the spot where she sleeps at night (and during the day).

Anastasia with her Christmas Present
One of my colorizations of Grand Dutchess Anastasia
And here’s one of my Mashka

It took about four days to recover from the spinal injections from hell, though my pain only went down to pre-procedure levels, not pre-flare up levels. However, I managed a good week or so. The day after Christmas, things went south again. My entire spine locked up from ears to ass and I had to spend a large part of the day in bed on ice packs. Though I am always in pain of varying degrees every second of the day, I can still function okay. The problem is that my usual day to day pain level was a four. Over the past year, it has crept up to a 6. And where in the past, I had flare ups that lasted three or four days happen every four months or so and kicked my pain level up to an 8, it always soon went back down to a 4. What scares me is that over the past year, not only has my day to day pain level gone up to a 6, but I’m getting one flare up lasting 7-10 days every month. Honestly, it makes me dread going back to work in person in August. I don’t know how I’m going to manage a two hour round trip commute. It’s not like I’ll have much of choice though, so I’ll learn to cope. I’ve always known that my injuries will continue to cause my spine to deteriorate over time, but this last year has really seen it accelerate. The frustrating thing is that there is nothing that can be done. There’s no surgery that can fix it because, in the words of my surgeon, “it looks like World War 2 was fought in your lumbar spine and World War 1 in your cervical spine.” Medications can take the edge of a little, but doctors are prevented by the government from prescribing heavier meds now due to all the restrictions. So people like me are left to suffer in silence. It does seem as though suffering is essential to the human experience.

And here’s one more colorization, just because.

My annual New Year’s Eve tradition is to watch the Twilight Zone marathon on the ScyFy Channel. This means my day started at 0500 when I awoke to catch the first episode which, incidentally, was the pilot episode for the entire series. I’ve seen all the episodes a dozen times each, if not more, but I always get something new out of them with every re-watch. It truly is a television masterpiece and many of the themes are just as relevant today as they were when the episodes aired. Later on tonight, well after the sun goes down, I brave the cold front that has dropped our temperature 35 degrees in a matter of hours and have a cigar with a glass of calvados to usher bid farewell to 2020 (good riddance) and usher in 2021.

In later December 1944, the popular New Year’s Eve toast in Berlin was, “1944 had twelve months. Maybe 1945 won’t bring us quite so many” and rather than wishing people a Happy New Year, residents of Berlin simply said, “Survive.” After 2020, I think we can all relate to those sentiments. All month long I have been thinking of the song “Long December” by Counting Crows, particularly the line that says, “It’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last.” Let’s hope that is true!

Though I do love my office at the college, it’s hard to beat the view from my pandemic office.

I’m going to do something a little different this year. Given the fact that I’ve been more or less housebound for nine months, I’m going to give you a list of some of the TV shows I watched and novels that I read. It’s not all inclusive, of course, but being a writer and all, I thought you might like to see what I’ve enjoyed watching/reading.

The lovely Demelza as portrayed by Eleanor Tomlinson

  TV Shows watched (*=rewatch):

Poldark: Demelza is an absolute goddess!

Тихий Дон* (2015): My favorite television drama. (Adapted from my favorite novel).

Love in Chains: An epic Russian/Ukrainian historical drama. Free on Amazon Prime w/subtitles.

Anastasia (the Broadway musical)

True Detective Season 1*

Admiral: a ten part Russian drama about Admiral Kolchak (free w/Prime and subtitled)

Hell on Wheels

Deadwood*

The Sopranos: Seasons 1 & 2

Peaky Blinders: Seasons 1 & 2

Ripper Street*

Copper*

Designated Survivor

The Stand: (the new version that came out in Dec.)

Lights Out* (A cool drama season about a down and out boxer who runs a gym. On Amazon)

The Last Czars (I wish I hadn’t. It is very inaccurate).

House of Cards: The original British version

Ancestral Lands: An epic newish Russian series. Free on Prime w/subtitles

Romanovs: An Imperial Family: About the last 18 months in the lives of the Romanovs. I have it on DVD, but it is also available free on YouTube w/ English subtitles.

The Road to Calvary: (Excellent recent Russian TV drama. Was on Netflix but is no longer)

Cold Case (entire series)   

Some of the Books I Read (Fiction):

*= books I read for the second (or more) time and += read them in the original Russian

Journal of a Pandemic Year

Moll Flanders

Vanity Fair

Tess of the d’Urbervilles

Quiet Flows the Don*+

Doctor Zhivago*+

The Revolution of Marina M.

Chimes of a Lost Cathedral

Anna Karenina*+

The Stand

Lonesome Dove*

Shoeless Joe

Russka

The Butcher’s Daughter

December Girl

Palmetto

An Instrument of War

Make Me No Grave

Our War

Russian Treasures

Ribbons of Scarlet

Paris

Million Dollar Baby*

Beau Geste

Caribbean

Crime and Punishment*+

War and Peace*+

Fat City*

The Professional

The Berlin Boxing Club

The King of Warsaw

The Last Daughter

(Note that these lists are not all inclusive. I watched a lot more than this and I also read a ton of non-fiction books not listed above, mostly about Russian History/Literature).

You’ll notice on both lists that I revisited shows and books that I have seen/read before. That is because in times of trouble, like 2020 has been, I take comfort in familiar things. For example, I’ve seen the 2015 14 part adaptation of Quiet Flows the Don probably a dozen times. Part of that because Aksinia Astakhova, one of the characters, is my literary crush, and the actress that plays her in this series is out of this world! (And a great actress too!) Taking comfort in familiar things is why I also rock out to 90s music all the time. It reminds me of when my life was simpler, and perhaps most importantly, how I felt pre-injuries.

The lovely Aksinia Astakhova as portrayed by Polina Chernyshova

In case you are wondering why so much Russian stuff appears on both lists, I could easily, and truthfully, say that Russian History is my “thing.” It is a bit deeper than that, though. From childhood (during the latter part of the Cold War), I was fascinated with Russian history, which is kind of odd being that we were fed a steady diet of anti-Russian propaganda in school. Many years later when, as an adult, I started to learn the language, my tutor (who was Russian) was amazed that I picked it up as quickly as I did. She said she had never seen someone whose native tongue was English acquire a working knowledge of Russian so quickly, and without an obvious American accent when speaking. Keep in mind, I do not have a natural gift for languages. I struggle with English on a daily basis and I grew up speaking it. She once told me, “You have the blood of an Irishman, but you have the soul of a Russian.” I took that to be a great compliment, which is how it was intended. Sometimes I wonder if our interests in life don’t come from something buried deep in our psyche or our soul from a part of us that we cannot readily access. But even if that is true, I’m not from Russia and have no Russian ancestry, and this goes back to my childhood when I would have been hard pressed to find the country on a map.  

And there you have it, friends, my 2020 year in review.

Here’s wishing all of you, my dear readers, a 2021 filled with much joy and happiness.  

L.H.

Journal of a Pandemic Year: Part Twenty-Five

Dear Readers,

I just wanted to give you a quick update rather than a full blown post. As I referenced at the end of the last post, I had gotten sick on Friday. Saturday morning, I had a COVID test but they said that it would be five days or so until I had the results back. On Sunday, I woke up with chest pain and tightness in my lungs. I went ahead and went into the ER. They ran a whole bunch of tests, including another COVID test. Everything came back normal and the COVID test was negative. I didn’t have the Rona, but rather a raging upper respiratory infection. They gave me a bunch of prescriptions and sent me home. Getting over the URI has been tough, but it isn’t the Rona, so I’m grateful for that. My Mashka was definitely watching over me.

It is Thursday as I write this. The fever and chills are gone. I still have a lot of gunk in my chest, but I think it is getting better, albeit slowly. Today, I entered grades and finished all the end of the semester paperwork for the college and one more semester is in the books. We have a shorter than usual turnaround this time, three weeks off instead of four, but I plan to take full advantage of it. Normally, my end of the semester tradition is to have a Sharpe’s Rifles marathon. However, I’m probably not going to do that to mark the end of this one.

On Monday, Dec. 21st, I’m going to launch myself wholeheartedly into knocking out the first draft of the sequel to Molly’s Song which I am tentatively calling Molly’s Journey. As soons as I have a release date for Molly’s Song, I’ll be sure to let you know, so stay tuned for updates. Also, my next post will not be part of the “Journal” series. It will be my annual “Year In Review” post which I will make on Dec. 31st.

Until then, Dear Readers, take care of yourselves. And each other.

L.H.

Journal of a Pandemic Year: Part Twenty-Four

Dear Readers,

I have not posted an update in a month because I wanted to wait until I had something worthwhile to say. Today, I do. However, it is of the good news and bad news variety. I guess I will start with the good news.

Yesterday I signed a contract to publish Molly’s Song. It has been a long and winding road, and I am grateful for all of you for walking it with me. Of course, you’ll have to stay tuned for more info (cover reveal, release date, etc) and I will keep you posted as I get the updates. That’s about it for the good news. Let’s go on to the bad.

The week prior to Thanksgiving, I had another major flare up of spinal pain. I called my doctor and she recommended that I go ahead and get a procedure done that might help alleviate some of it. The procedure was scheduled for Monday, December 7th. However, by Thanksgiving Day, I felt relatively normal again. I watched the somewhat subdued Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade which is my annual tradition. (My favorite part is the seeing the Rockettes). However, my doctor and I made the decision to go ahead with the injections because my flare ups are getting worse, lasting longer, and coming closer together. That, Dear Readers, was a colossal mistake.

The procedure itself went fine. However, by the time I got home, I was in some serious pain. I’ve had this procedure done a few times over the past several years and, while it didn’t always help me, it never left me worse off. Until now. The next few days were miserable and I spent most of them in bed on ice packs. Finally, by Thursday evening, I felt like I was back to my pre-procedure pain levels. (That’s still higher than normal, but not nearly as bad as earlier in the week).

Then Friday came around. The day started off like every other pandemic day. I handled work stuff on the computer for a good chunk of the day. I stopped around 3pm and laid down to rest my back. By 3:30, I had a fever, chills, and later night sweats. I got up this morning with a slight headache and an aching chest. I was able to go get tested for the Rona today, but they said it will be three to five days before I get the results. I could be totally fine by then. Or totally dead. I guess we’ll see.

I had not left the house for around three weeks prior to my procedure and had not left the house since the procedure either. The surgical center is the only possible place I could have gotten it, despite wearing an N-95 mask the entire time I was there, and latex gloves up until I had to take them off for them to start the IV. But I sanitized my hands as soon as I got into the car to leave. The frustrating thing is, if what I suspect is true, and I contracted the Rona while there, I didn’t really need the procedure in the first place. Or rather, I did need it, but then improved ahead of time and should have cancelled.

I am typing this on Saturday afternoon. So far today, my temperature has stayed below 99, but I still have chills, chest tightness, and a mild headache. So if you don’t hear an update from me for a while, just know that it is probably because I have finally caught the virus, after being so incredibly careful for eight months. And to get it now that a vaccine is on the horizon and we are about to reach the beginning of the end is the same sort of cruel irony that has plagued me my entire life.

Until next time, Dear Readers, take care of yourselves. And each other.

L.H.

Journal of a Pandemic Year: Part Twenty-Three

Dear Readers,

I swear. I’m going to end up catching the Rona and dying all because I have to go to doctor appointments due to my chronic health conditions. I’ve had appointments on back to back Fridays and I have another one on Friday the 20th. When I went to my GPs office on Friday the 6th, as is usually the case, I was met at the door by a nurse who took my temperature and asked me a series of screening questions before I was admitted into the lobby. But once I got inside, the lobby was overflowing with people. There was no way to socially distance. Furthermore, quite a few of the patients had their masks pulled down under their chins. The office keeps the door locked, and so one of the employees will unlock it to let people in and out. While I was sitting there (for about 30 minutes), one of the employees left the door unlocked which meant that four or five people came in, some without masks, and none of them got screened at the door.

At yesterday’s visit, I had to go to a different doctor’s office that is in a medical building, unlike my GP which is in its own building. I had to ride the elevator, though thankfully there were only two other people in there with me. This office doesn’t do any screening (though to be fair, they don’t see people that are “sick” in the traditional sense. It’s a pain management doctor). People were wearing masks, which is good, but the lobby was overflowing within twenty minutes of me getting there. Part of this isn’t entirely the fault of the office, as the DEA isn’t relaxing the rules regarding pain management doctors and so they cannot do telehealth visits like other doctors can do.

Any time I leave the house, I wear a mask (I have some N-95s to wear to doctor visits) and also some EMS gloves. And I sanitize my hands once I take the gloves off too. I have two medical conditions that, singly put me in the high-risk category, but when you add them together, creates a perfect storm for a bad outcome if the Rona comes calling. This is why I have to be so careful and why I have been so careful over the past several months. Despite all that caution though, I still have to go to my doctor appointments and so that is the most likely vector of infection for me, particularly when offices are not taking adequate precautions. It is getting bad in Texas. We’ve topped one million total cases, and our daily case counts are higher than even the surge we had this summer which followed the re-opening of the state.

The historian in me, who has long been fascinated with pandemics and their impact on the course of human history, has found this whole situation to be of great academic interest. I’ve been following the Rona since the middle of January, before our own government was talking about it. This situation is not only an interesting study of the impact of pandemics in the modern age, but it gives very good insight into human behavior in disasters. One hundred years from now, assuming the world and mankind is still here, historians, economists, psychologists, sociologists, and political scientists will be studying this just as the biologists and virologists. When I have the time, I’m going back to read and watch some of the very early coverage of the virus. So much has happened since then that I have a hard time remembering those days of early February.

While waiting on more rejections for Molly’s Song, I am working on my third novel. It has been slow going. Lately, I’ve found myself getting more and more distracted by any number of things from cats to shiny objects. I think this is more due to the fact that I haven’t written anything new in a year as I’ve spent the past eleven months editing Molly’s Song. It is going to take me a while to get back into my rhythm again. I’ll get there eventually and I hope to have the first draft of this book finished before the end of the year.

And on that note, I hope to have some publishing news for you soon as it relates to Molly’s Song.

Until next time, friends, take care of yourselves. And each other.

L.H.

Journal of a Pandemic Year: Part Twenty-Two


“And I look and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.”
Revelations 6:8

Dear Readers,

No, the Biblical quote is not in refence to 2020, the Rona, or the election, but rather to another, more distant time. In a few days, it will be 102 years since the guns fell silent and the Great War drew to its final, bloody close. As I am engaged in writing a novel set during this time, but on the Eastern Front, I paused for a bit today to reflect on what this war meant for the world then as well as now. Here in the States, the First World War often gets very little, if any, attention. There are reasons for that which need not detain us here, but none of those reasons can dismiss the significance of the events themselves.

If you were to ask me who the most important figure in the 20th Century was, I would not say Hitler, or Churchill, or FDR. No, in my humble opinion, the most important figure in the 20th Century was a nineteen year old young man who fired two bullets on a street corner in Sarajevo on June 25, 1914. Gavrilo Princip, with those two shots, altered the course of human history and ushered in a new, more modern, and more terrifying age.

Because of those two shots, young men from Australia and New Zealand traveled halfway around the world to die on the beaches of Gallipoli in the Ottoman Empire. Because of those two shots, empires collapsed. Russia was plunged into the bloody nightmare of revolution and civil war, only to see the rise of a new communist Russia, which along the United States, battled for global supremacy from the end of World War Two until the 1990s. Because of those two shots, over a million men from India would travel to fight on the African Front, in the Middle East, and in France.

Because of those two shots, mankind invented new and creative ways to kill one another with poison gas and tanks and flamethrowers. Because of those two shots, men slaughtered one another wholesale for four years. Because of those two shots, societies, not just armies, turned on one another. Because of those two shots, young men took to the skies in brightly painted aircraft and did their best to incinerate one another.

Because of those two shots, the world had to learn to cope with millions of men who survived the shells, but as Remarque said, “were destroyed by the war.” Because of those two shots, the world would never be the same.

Dear Reader, though many tend to think of World War 2 as being the pivotal event in 20th Century history, one must remember that the second war grew out of lingering issues left over from the first. As much as people sincerely hoped that the great calamity of the early century would be the “war to end all wars,” human nature would not cooperate. So if you live in the States and are used to Nov. 11th being celebrated as “Veterans Day”, remember that it originally marked the end of the First World War and was “Armistice Day.” In the countries of the British Commonwealth, it is celebrated as “Remembrance Day.” If you haven’t already seen it, check out my First World War tribute video here.

Until next time, friends, take care of yourselves. And each other.

L.H.

Journal of a Pandemic Year: Part Twenty-One

Dear Readers,

I hope everyone is well. The upper respiratory infection I had has turned into a raging ear infection. I’ve lost some of my hearing in my right ear. Right now, I am taking heavy anti-biotics to clear up the infection. If it isn’t better (and my hearing back) by Friday, then I have to go in and they will drain the ear. That doesn’t sound too fun. Hopefully the anti-biotics are working, because they are sure doing a number on my stomach.

Today, of course, is Halloween. I’m not a big Halloween person, but I do have one tradition. Every Halloween night, I turn out the lights and listen to the original War of the Worlds radio broadcast, thought it aired on the 30th in 1938 and not the 31st. If you want to join me tonight, you can listen to it here. During the day, SiriusXM Radio Classics, the station at airs the old time radio programs, has nothing but Halloween-ish episodes all day, and so I am listening to those now.

The past week has been taken up with grading and an ever increasing number of student emails. They tend to peak around this time every semester, regardless of whether or not we are online due to the Rona, or in person like normal. I think we have something like six weeks left before Christmas Break, but I’m not one hundred percent sure of that, and my calendar isn’t handy at the moment. I am sure of one thing though, it’ll be here before we know it. And then, the spring semester will be upon us in short order. I’ll be teaching from home again in the spring. Lord knows when we’ll be back to fully face to face again. Hopefully by August. I would like to say that the isolation isn’t getting to me, but I’d be lying.

I have no news for you on the Molly’s Song front. Well, no good news, that is. Lots of rejections so far. It isn’t unexpected, as you would be hard pressed to find a published book that wasn’t rejected multiple times by agents/publishers. I hope to know by the end of the year what direction we will be going, but that might be overly optimistic on my part. By the time the book is on the shelves, it will have been far too long in between my first book and my second, but that fault is entirely mine.

With Molly’s Song still being up in the air as far as publication, I have decided to hold off on writing the sequel for now until I know more about where the series will be going. I’ve plotted out the sequel and could have the first draft done in 45 days, but I don’t want to do that just this yet. Instead, I’ve decided to step back and write the book that I was intending to write in May/June, had it not been for the Rona and the massive home repairs we had to undertake. (You’ll recall those if you’ve been following along for the past several months). That book is my (planned) epic tragedy tentatively entitled Dark Raven. Writing about the Russian Revolution amidst the current pandemic, global uncertainty, social unrest, and a bitterly contested election, at least to me, seems appropriate. That book is likewise entirely plotted out. I’m hoping to have the draft finished by Christmas. The good thing about writing a book set in this time and place is that my Mashka can make a cameo appearance.

Mashka (L) and Nastya (R)

So until next time, Dear Readers, take care of yourselves. And each other.

L.H.  

Journal of a Pandemic Year: Part Twenty

Dear Readers,

I hope this finds you healthy and free of the Rona. The past week has kept me busy dealing with giving and grading midterms, a couple of meetings (done remotely), and responding to work emails, usually about said midterm. It looks like my virtual teaching will extend through the Spring semester as well, so it might be August before I am back on campus again. That’s crazy to think about. I’d have never guessed when I left campus on March 6th, right before spring break, that it would be a year and a half before I was back. It’s a good thing I didn’t leave any food in my office! Actually, now that I say that, I’m not sure if I did or not.

I was going through some old boxes today and came across a battered copy of Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne. I bought it the summer before I entered 6th Grade. I think I read the whole thing in one sitting and it was one of my favorite books back then. Being able to pull that book out and go on an adventure was just about the only bright spot of my junior high days.

Finding the book got me to thinking, always a dangerous proposition. I decided that I wanted to revisit some classics over the course of the rest of the fall. I’ll read this one, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World in 80 Days, and then move over to H.G. Wells and tackle The Invisible Man, The War of the Worlds, and The War in the Air, before I spend some time with Thomas Hardy and Tess of the d’Urbervilles and DeFoe’s Moll Flanders. As you’ll recall, it is DeFoe’s Journal of a Plague Year that inspired this series of blog posts. I’ve read all these books before, but it has been a long, long time since then. It’ll be nice to read them again because they are familiar, and yet not.

Halloween is coming up. I’ve never been a big Halloween person, but I do have a Halloween tradition. Every Oct. 31st, in the evening, I listen to the original War of the Worlds radio broadcast (1938) on CD, using my retro style radio/CD player which is a copy of a 1930s cathedral radio. Since my house was built in 1932, it is quite possible that when the radio drama aired originally at 7pm CST, on Sunday, Oct. 30, 1938, the owner of this house was tuning in to listen.

In November, I’ll turn my attention to taking on the sequel to Molly’s Song. I hope to have the first draft done by the end of the year. We’ll see if that is possible, as my writing plans never seem to go the way that I want them to.

Until next time, friends, take care of yourselves, and each other.

L.H.

Journal of a Pandemic Year: Part Nineteen

Dear Readers,

When we last spoke, I referenced having been through a recent cancer scare. Well, now we can add Rona scare to that. On Friday, Oct. 9th, around 10:30am, I got suddenly sick. I felt like I had been run over by a bus. We are talking a low fever, chills, body aches, and chest tightness. You might be tempted to think flu, but I’ve already had my flu shot. Getting tested proved to be difficult. According to the website of, let’s just say a large retail pharmacy, they had a store in my town that was doing testing. I made an appointment for that afternoon and got an email confirmation and everything. So imagine my surprise when I drove over there and they had a big sign that said, “NO TESTING AT THIS LOCATION.” No big deal. I called my GP. His office said they have nothing to do with testing and that I should call the county health department. I have health insurance and I didn’t want to take a free test away from someone who doesn’t have insurance. Thankfully, I was able to make an appointment at a free-standing ER in the next town over for Saturday morning.

Oddly enough, I felt a little better when I got up on Saturday morning, but my wife drove me over to get the test anyway. It wasn’t too bad. I know some people have said that the test is horribly uncomfortable, but that is probably a matter of perspective. Due to my chronic bowel obstructions, I am used to having a large bore NG tube shoved up my nose, down my throat, and into my stomach. So the COVID test was a breeze for me! My eyes didn’t even water. I didn’t get the results right away. They said I’d have them by text and email within an hour. We had a thirty minute drive home, and we were almost there when I got the text. NEGATIVE. As I know there is a risk of a false negative, I am still quarantining at home for two weeks (not that I’ve been leaving the house anyway for the past seven months). My fever was gone by Saturday afternoon, as were the chills and body aches. I’m mostly left with chest congestion which tends to indicate that this is a run of the mill Upper Respiratory Infection.

On the very day that I was stricken ill, I received the copyedits back for Molly’s Song. Saturday, I worked through all of them and made the suggested corrections. Then it was time for the book to go out on submission. That is where is stands now. I’ll keep you posted on future developments here and on my social media accounts. At this time, I have no updates other than to say that it is out on submission. We’ll see what happens next, if anything. As I’ve said before, authors have to be able to handle rejection. You get a lot of it in your writing career. Thankfully, having gone through the fire academy and the police academy, spending months getting berated by instructions for everything imaginable, I can take what the submission process throws my way.

Until next time, Dear Readers, take care of yourselves. And each other.

L.H.