Journal of a Pandemic Year: Part Forty-Five

Dear Readers,

My name is Hutch, Lee Hutch, and I’m having a James Bond marathon this week. I’m on my summer break, so it gives me something to watch in the afternoons/evenings. (Mornings are for working). James Bond is always good for mindless distraction. Oddly enough, I’ve only read a couple of the novels, probably because I was raised on the movies and just never really got all that interested in reading the books. Maybe I should.

As I reflect back over what all has transpired since I first heard the word COVID in February of 2020, I sometimes wonder what the world has learned. What lessons will we take away from all of this? A pandemic should not have come as a surprise since that is something that both doctors, scientists, and historians have been warning of for a long, long time. I remember the bird flu scare in (I think) 2004, the swine flu scare in 08 (or was it 07?). We can’t say we didn’t know it was possible.

I think sometimes we find ourselves guilty of something that I saw time and time again during my time in public safety. We only want to plan for best case scenarios, not worst case scenarios. Sure, we’ll drill for a response to a Category Five hurricane, but when one is bearing down on us, local governments prefer to assume that it will turn away at the last minute. Sure, sometimes it does, but what if it doesn’t? Granted, the world is fortunate that COVID-19 doesn’t have the mortality rate of something like Ebola, but that is of precious little consolation to those who have lost a family member or friend.

During the early days of the pandemic, I would hear people say over and over again that it “only” kills the elderly or people with pre-existing conditions. At that time, the statement certainly appeared to be true. You can imagine the looks on their faces when I pointed out that I was one of the “only” ones. Looking at me from the outside, you cannot tell that I have chronic health issues that put me at high risk. I’m glad to know that so many people felt, and still feel, that people like me are disposable.

Even though I’ve called this whole series “Journal of a Pandemic Year” (even though we are well beyond a year now), I haven’t talked much about the pandemic itself as I wrote these missives. The virus was always in the background, occasionally popping up when I had to get tested or something. Maybe that was a mistake. Maybe I should have been talking about it all along. I just figured that there was so much of it on the news, especially a year ago, that people would prefer to read anything but my repetitions of what I was seeing on the news, especially since I am not a doctor, nor do I pretend to be one in bars. (I pretend to be an attorney). I’m kidding, of course, I didn’t go to bars before the Rona and now that they are all open again, I have no desire to.

I worry about what is going to happen this fall as it relates to schools. Children under 12 cannot be vaccinated. The majority of 16-25 years old’s are not vaccinated. Classrooms are overcrowded on a good day. And we are forbidden from requiring masks. As a college professor, I cannot even ask a student to wear a mask when they come into my office, even if they are visibly sick. Add to this, a more contagious strain that is able, in some case, to defeat the vaccine, and it is a recipe for disaster. (We are seeing increasing breakthrough cases in my area. Not a large percentage, but enough to raise questions, at least for me). Even though I am fully vaccinated and have been for quite some time, the vaccine was never tested in people with auto-immune diseases, and so it is unknown how much protection I actually have. For this, and an abundance of caution anyway, I have not altered my pre-vaccine activities at all. I rarely go out and I always wear a double mask. However, I am going to be forced into what is essentially a COVID breeding ground in exactly four weeks.

Maybe we’ll be lucky. Maybe it won’t get that bad. Maybe they’ll be booster shots. That’s a lot of maybes. And, if we are going down that road, with so many unvaccinated people and rampant spread of a new strain, maybe we’ll see the evolution of a variant that can elude all vaccine protection, thus putting us back at square one.

I don’t mean to sound alarmist or pessimistic. I just wanted to get some of my thoughts on what we’ve seen and what might be to come written down. Hopefully one day, I can look back at this post and say that I was scared for no reason.

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

L.H.

Journal of a Pandemic Year: Part Forty-Four

Dear Readers,

My summer courses ended with a whimper rather than a bang. I’m officially a free man for the next five weeks. Towards the middle of this week, I’ll be getting the audiobook files for Molly’s Song to proof, so I am definitely looking forward to that. The book also got a good review from the US Review of Books which you can read here. Stay tuned for more information about in person and virtual events connected with the book’s release.

I had my visit with the surgeon last week and I am now booked for an operation on September 14th. I’ll have to miss a couple of weeks of class, but since I have all my lectures recorded now thanks to the Rona, my students will not actually miss any content. I’ll just post the videos for them to watch on their own. There are a variety of factors that could interfere and cause either a postponement or cancellation of the surgery, but assuming all goes as planned, I’ll head down to Galveston for the operation on the 14th.

Aksinia and Olga are recovering from getting fixed. They didn’t like the cones of shame, which were really too large for them, so we dressed them in onesies instead. While not exactly enthusiastic about wearing them, they do tolerate it. They will be able to take them off on Tuesday. So far, both appear to be happy here. There’s windows for them to look out of, toys to play with, and plenty of mischief to get into.

My grades were due on Friday morning. I took the rest of that day and the weekend to relax before jumping into my writing schedule tomorrow morning. Molly’s War needs to be finished in five weeks. Or rather, the first draft has to be finished in five weeks. Editing takes me a whole lot longer than writing the initial draft. Books aren’t written so much as they are re-written, but completing the first draft is the first step.

Recently I have gotten a bit hooked on watching Murdoch Mysteries on Amazon. With 14 seasons and over 200 episodes, that’s plenty of watching. Truthfully, I have a very short attention span when it comes to watching a series and it is unusual for me to finish one on the first attempt. Ordinarily it takes me a few years to work my way through an entire run. With this series being so long, I doubt I’ll ever finish it. The series is good though. The time period in which it is set (late Victorian period) is truly a fascinating one with lots of technological innovations, which make their way into the series.

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

L.H.   

Journal of a Pandemic Year: Part Forty-Three

Maria and Anastasia both had birthdays in June.

Dear Readers,

Another week of feeling like I’ve been beaten with baseball bats every second of the day has come and gone. This morning we dropped Aksinia and Olga off at the vet to get spayed. They will no doubt be rather upset with us for the next few days, but I’m sure they will get over it. I have to say, they are a bit of a handful and seem to think that humans are a combination of a play toy and a jungle gym, particularly around 0300. I am glad we got both of them though, as they do play together quite a bit. They enjoy watching The Price is Right and Family Feud with me every day.

The baseball season has reached the halfway point. The Red Sox are the first team in the American League to hit the fifty wins mark, I do not hold out much hope of them reaching the World Series, or even the ALCS, due to their lack of quality starting pitchers, though Sale is projected to return later in the season. Having solid hitters is great, but you also kind of have to keep the other team from scoring runs to win. They also lead the league in come from behind wins, which, on the one hand, is good, but on the other hand, it makes you wonder why they keep having to come from behind in the first place.

My Summer 1 semester is almost over with. It will end next week. Then I have five or six weeks before I have to start back in person. I’m not looking forward to being crammed into poorly ventilated, crowded classrooms with no masks, unvaccinated people, and the Delta strain which spreads particularly easily among the college age demographic. Also, next week I have an appointment with the surgeon to go over the details of the surgery so I can make a final decision, though to be honest, I’ve already made my decision. Unfortunately, I don’t see any way that I can avoid having the surgery in the middle of the fall semester which will be a gigantic pain in the ass, not to mention a pain in the parts I’m having operated on.

By August I will have spent basically 18 months isolated from the world, apart from doctor appointments during which I always have a mask on. I figure that being back in crowded conditions in the fall will mean that I will suffer from a variety of colds and my usual fall bout with bronchitis which, oddly enough, I did not have in the Fall of 2020. Having to determine if said symptoms are benign or the Rona will be interesting to say the least. I daresay I will not be the only one playing the “Is it a cold or is it Rona” game.

I am hoping that once Summer 1 is over, I can turn my full attention to Molly’s sequel. I also have a semi-creative way to celebrate the July 29th release date of Molly’s Song. I am going to get a new tattoo (it’ll be my fourth). This one will go on my right forearm. Then I’ll be balanced out with one on my left bicep, left forearm, right bicep, and right forearm. I abstain from alcohol, so there will be no celebratory champagne or the like, though I probably will enjoy a Maduro cigar.

I do plan on keeping the Pandemic Year series of entries going until I start back to work in person in late August. After that, the website will shift back to what it was before the Rona…mainly a place where I talk about writing, history, and writing about history, with occasional forays into Russian Literature and history crushes, of course.

Speaking of history crushes, on July 17th I will be attending a vigil mass for Maria and her family at a nearby Russian Orthodox Church. Nearby is relative as it is about 45 minutes away. It is a beautiful church though. I’ve attended the occasional service there in pre-Rona times. This will be my first time there and only my second in person service at all since the pandemic started. The good news is that I also haven’t had to go to confession this year! Then again, having spent a year and a half in my room, it’s not like I have much to confess in the first place.

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

L.H.  

Journal of a Pandemic Year: Party Forty-Two

Dear Readers,

It’s hard to believe that it has already been a month since the spring semester ended and that we are now halfway through June. I’m teaching during the first summer session, and I had a whole lot of things I needed to get done during the first half of the summer as well, but apart from the teaching, little else has been done. I wonder if I am the only writer who has run into such a stonewall of writing during the pandemic, despite it giving us what we all long for, time at home to write. It’s just so hard to focus, not to mention my own body waging war on me on a constant basis.

Aksinia and Olga are settling in. We still haven’t introduced them to the others yet, as they half to finish their medicine first, but I will probably let Anastasia meet them later today or tomorrow. She knows they are in the bedroom and she has been laying down in front of the door, so I think that she is eager to introduce herself. She loves kittens. They have two very different personalities. Aksinia is a little on the wild side and quite fearless while Olga is a bit more reserved. Aksinia is happy entertaining herself with various and sundry toys while Olga is turning out to be quite the Daddy’s girl. She just wants me to hold her whenever I’m in the room, though she does get up to play several times a day.

It is almost a certainty now that there will be another surgery in my near future. I had a fairly uncomfortable test done on 6/11 that confirmed the need/benefit of the surgery. My wife and I have an appointment with the surgeon on July 7th. However, given that he is a department chair at the Med School and also the Chief Surgeon for his specialty at the large teaching hospital system, his schedule is pretty booked and it is unlikely that I’ll be able to have the operation done prior to the start of the fall semester. I really don’t want to have to potentially miss three to four weeks of class mid semester, but I may not have any other option. Then again, it is also possible that despite the objective medical tests and diagnosis, the insurance might deny the surgery anyway.

There is a possibility that I’ll be doing an in-person book launch event/signing at a local library later this summer. It won’t be on the actual day that that Molly’s Song releases, July 29th, but rather a month or two later in August or September. I guess that is the benefit of coming out with a book in the Summer of 21 instead of the Summer of 20. Things are slowly returning to normal, though it won’t be completely normal for quite some time, I think, if ever. Come to think of it, I’m not sure I even remember what normal is. I never actually did a book signing event with my first novel, so if we can pull this one off, it’ll be a new experience for me.

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

L.H.

The Don May Be Quiet, But My House Isn’t

Aksinia (L) and Olga (R)

Dear Readers,

I figured this deserved a separate post rather than merely including it in the next Journal of a Pandemic Year entry. Anastasia has been very sad since her brother Autie died a few months ago. In the meantime, my wife and I had been talking about adopting another kitten since Anastasia really likes kittens. In fact, she treats me like I’m her kitten.

On Sunday, the local animal shelter mentioned on their social media page that they are overflowing with cats and had an urgent need for adoptions. My wife and I decided to go and see the cats/kittens. Every cat I’ve ever had has been a rescue, but I hate going to shelters because I want to bring them all home with me!

My wife was immediately drawn to a very friendly Russian Blue kitten, around 7 months old. She was in the cage with her sister, but her sister was quiet and very withdrawn. We were afraid that if we took the friendly one, the quiet one would never get noticed. Plus, they had been together for seven months. It was an easy decision. We took both of them.

According to the shelter, they were part of a litter of four that had been picked up a month prior. Oddly enough, they were found about seven blocks from our house. The two males in the litter were polydactyl and were adopted very quickly.

We got them home and set them up in one of the bedrooms so that they could adjust to life away from the shelter before we introduce them to the others. Plus, we wanted to get them into the vet to get checked out too. They immediately started to play and kept playing through the night before they finally crashed around 9:15am the next morning. As it turns out, the one that seemed withdrawn really isn’t. She’s friendly too, just a little bit more reserved than her sister.

This afternoon, we took them to the vet for a check up and to get their rabies vaccine. They are healthy except for an intestinal parasite common to kittens who have been outdoors/in shelters. We got them treated for that and have some medicine to give them for the next week that will clear it up. And, since our cats are inside only, we don’t have to worry about a recurrence. We also scheduled them to get spayed on July 1st since they are old enough for the surgery.

I have named them Aksinia and Olga. Aksinia is the more adventurous and mischievous of the two, much like her Cossack namesake, Aksinia Astakhova from my favorite novel, Quiet Flows the Don. Olga is bit more reserved, like her namesake Olga Nikolaevna Romanova. She likes to just sit back and watch her sister get into things.

It’ll be a week before we can introduce them to the others because we have to give them the full seven day course of the medication first. but Anastasia knows they are in there and is very eager to see them.

L.H.

Journal of a Pandemic Year: Part Forty-One

Dear Readers,

The unrelenting back spasms have not let up over the past week, though I am able to get up and move around, albeit slowly. Apart from that, it is icepacks, Netflix, and pills. This current flare up started on Thursday the 3rd, so I ended up being unable to attend the fully vaccinated outdoor reunion that was planned for the following day. Truthfully, I’m not much fun at social events anyway, especially when I am in the middle of writing a book, so I’m sure everyone had plenty of fun without me.

Yesterday I had a doctor appointment for an issue unrelated to the spasms. I had to drive an hour for an hour long appointment, and then drive an hour home. And, of course, since I was driving, I couldn’t take any medication. So yesterday evening and this morning are pretty rough to say the least. They did some (painful) testing to see if I would potentially benefit from another surgery. I “passed” the tests, and so it looks like another operation in the future. I’ve had so many now that they all kind of run together, but I’m not really looking forward to another one. This won’t address any of the extreme pain from my spinal injuries, but it will address a quality of life issue with a good chance of improvement. That said, I’m not a hundred percent sure that I will go through with it. Next month, on July 7th, my wife and I are going to meet with the surgeon again to go over all the pros and cons of the operation to make sure that we are making an informed decision.

My two online summer courses started this past week and so that takes up a few hours each day with emails, etc. I’m starting to genuinely worry about going back in person in August. Not because of the Rona, really, since I’m vaccinated and as protected as I can be. It’s because over the course of the past eighteen months, my bad pain spells come more frequently, and when they do come, they stick around for longer than they did in the past. Once upon a time, I had more good days than bad. Now, I rarely have a good day. They range from average to bad. It is possible though that a more active schedule will actually help me feel better, so I’m hoping that turns out to be the case.

I do not have anything exciting on tap for next week. I’m hoping to be more mobile by the time that Monday roles around. The spasms have prevented me from working on Molly’s sequel and I really need to get back to it. If I’m not careful, August will get here, and I won’t be finished with it. And that, Dear Readers, just won’t do. I’m sure I’ll be able to suck it up and get back to work.  

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

L.H.

Molly Goes to the Movies…Well, Not Really…But Maybe…

Dear Readers,

The back spasms that laid me low last week have not let up and I’ve been more or less bedridden for the past several days. And, of course, my knee and ankle decided to join in on the party, so I’ve spent a few days encased in icepacks. Such is life, or rather, such is my life.

Molly’s Song is making its way towards the approaching release date of July 29th! Recently, I listened to a whole bunch of audition samples to select a narrator and, as I hoped, I found the perfect one. She’s a talented actress and has experience playing characters similar to Molly on screen. Specifically, you can see her in a couple of Indie Westerns here and here. As I am a big fan of westerns, specifically indie westerns, I recognized her name when I saw it in my audition box as I had already seen and enjoyed the above mention films. If you don’t do westerns and if audiobooks, particularly thrillers, are more your thing, check out the incredible job she did with this one. When I listened to her audition, Molly’s voice sounded exactly like it did in my head as I was writing the book, so I’m really looking forward to the finished product as I hope you will be as well.

Books face very long odds of ever getting turned into a feature film or series, be it steaming service or television, but you never know if you’ll make it if you don’t try. To that end, here is the pitch page to go along with the book. If you know any Hollywood producers or directors, feel free to pass it along. Though I am working on the sequel, of course, I am also, in my limited spare time, putting together a treatment and a pilot script to go with the pitch.

So, you ask, who should play Molly on screen? Have any of you seen the Bosch series on Amazon? If so, you’ve seen the actress I think would be perfect to play Molly, assuming she doesn’t mind dying her hair red for the role and can also do a decent Irish accent. That would be Madison Lintz. She’s the right age, which is also important, and I think she is talented enough to pull it off.

Honestly, I’d be thrilled if the book even got optioned, much less made into a movie or series. Just being able to say your book was optioned by a producer or studio would be cool. But if you’d like to see it turned into a series or film, there is an easy way to help. Buy. The. Book. And get your friends, and even your enemies, to buy it too. The more copies it sells, the more attention it gets from producers, directors, and studios. Maybe we’ll get lucky and get to see Molly on screen one day!

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

L.H.

Journal of a Pandemic Year: Part Forty

Dear Readers,

This is my 40th entry in the Pandemic Year series. I’ve been writing them since March 2020. Sometimes it seems like I’ve aged ten years during the past sixteen months. It has been an eventual week and a half or so, which I will describe herein.

If you haven’t pre-ordered your copy of Molly’s Song, you may do so here, here, or here. And speaking of the book, last week I took auditions for the audiobook version of the novel. I wasn’t quite sure how many to expect, but I got over thirty! All of them were good, many of them were excellent, and one of them was perfect. So now I am happy to say that I have contracted with a talented actress to record the book. Yesterday evening I got to listen to the extended fifteen minute sample and it was truly stellar work. Even in pre-Rona times, I listened to a lot of audiobooks, usually 6 or 7 a month. As I have barely left the house during the pandemic, that number is closer to 10-12 for the past year. It is probably due to the fact that I am such a devotee of audiobooks that the most exciting part of the writing process for me is when I get to listen to and decide on a narrator for one of my own books. Getting to hear an actress give voice to a character you created, particularly when the character’s voice sounds exactly like it does in your head, is one of the grandest feelings in the world. I already can’t wait for you to be able to read the book and share in Molly’s story, but I am especially eager for you to be able to listen to the book.

And speaking of Molly O’, I have been hard at work on the first draft of the sequel, tentatively titled Molly’s War. Thus far I am eight chapters and 25K words into it. It is going fairly well. The hard thing about being a writer is that you have to create a character that you love and then put them into terrible situations. Nobody would read a book that had no real conflict and only consisted of happy things happening to happy people. In the chapter I just finished, Molly meets the man in the picture that accompanies this post. If you are up for a little detective work, figure out who he is and then you’ll figure out where she is and what she is about to experience. Sometimes I wonder if she thinks, “I wish someone else would’ve created me instead of this demented gobshite!” Ah, but our Molly is a survivor, and she’ll be okay no matter what the world throws her way.

Tomorrow, Friday, I am supposed to go to an outing with some other fully vaccinated people…former co-workers from a college where I used to teach. I hope I can make it, though at this exact moment, I am unsure if I will. After several weeks of feeling as good as I ever feel these days, today the back spasms came calling again. It always starts the same way. There is a brief, almost fleeting twinge of pain. As soon as it dissipates, I have just enough time to grab my three large ice packs from the freezer, throw them onto the bed, and lay down on them before the full on wave of spasms hits about five minutes later. If I am lucky, it only lasts for a day. If I am unlucky, it can last for a week or two. The jury is still out on how long this latest bout will last.

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

L.H.

Molly’s Playlist

Dear Readers,

As you (eagerly, I hope) await the July 29th release of Molly’s Song, I thought I would put something together for you to fill the days between now and then. As I’ve said before, I write with music playing in the background. As I plot a novel, I also consider songs that evoke the feeling of the book. Since I write historical fiction, some of the songs are obviously period songs from the era in which the book is set, but I also include modern songs that fit with the overall tone/theme that I am going for.

I think back in November 2019, around the time that I finished the first draft, I made a post in which I talked about the songs I listened to while writing it. I decided to go one better than that and put together a YouTube playlist with the songs. If you want to “listen like Lee,” just click here. Some of the songs are modern, some are 19th Century period songs, there’s a few shanties, and a Scottish tune. I’d say there’s something there to tickle every fancy.

And don’t forget, if you haven’t pre-ordered your copy of Molly’s Song, you can find the links here!

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

L.H.

Journal of a Pandemic Year: Part Thirty-Nine

Dear Readers,

As promised in my last pandemic journal entry, this latest entry is a bit more exciting. In case you haven’t seen the news yet, Molly’s Song is available for pre-orders now! You can find the eBook here and the paperback here on Amazon. If Barnes and Noble is more your thing, you can find it here. And, if you like to support independent bookstores as I do, you can find it on Indiebound here. The release date is July 29, 2021. At some point, I hope to be able to offer signed copies through my website, but that will be some time after the release date.

I survived all the doctor appointments that I mentioned in the last entry. My lung scans came back fine, with nothing there that we didn’t already know about. (I have fibrosis of the lungs from occupational exposure as a firefighter coupled with the fact that I smoked for twenty years). I’m lucky now because I don’t have another doctor appointment for an entire month! I swear my life now is marked my doctor visits rather than “normal” benchmarks. That’s how I measure time.

Initially, I had planned on getting back to the sequel of Molly’s Song tentatively titled Molly’s War on Monday the 17th. However, after the overly taxing semester that I just finished, I decided to let myself take a week and do whatever I wanted, which involved playing RDR2 and Madden 20 on the PlayStation, going for a daily walk on the beach, and sitting on the porch listening to radio episodes of Gunsmoke and Dragnet. I’m writing this on Saturday the 22nd, and this coming Monday, it’ll be back to the salt mines.

Looking back over my early entries in the Pandemic Year series, I referenced several times that I was having trouble sleeping last spring. I guess that must be a seasonal thing as I am back there now. No matter how tired I am, as soon as I turn out the lights, my brain says, “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Mambo Number Five!” Not even NyQuil can knock me out. I toss and turn all night until around 0430 when I crash out hard and sleep until 0730. This is probably the reason why my back has been giving me more trouble than usual of late.

It has rained every day this past week. Sometimes heavy. Sometimes light. And there is more rain predicted for today. Given that I live in a mosquito infested swamp, the added rain means if we dodge the Rona, we will get West Nile. Hopefully the county will come out and spray soon, but I doubt it. After steady rain, we get swarms of mosquitos. Think a cloud full of the blood sucking vultures. Typically, they don’t bother me too much as having grown up in the bayou country, I think I have a certain immunity to them. My wife, however, is their preferred target. I swear one of these days they are going to pick her up and fly away with her.

I bought Madden 20 for my PS4 right after it first came out, but I hadn’t played it yet until this week. I’m kinda starting to wish I hadn’t though, as now I am anxious for football season to get here. I want to know what is going to happen with my Saints now that we are entering the post-Drew Brees era. Given how putrid the pre-Drew Brees era was, I’m not optimistic. Truthfully though, I’m a bigger fan of high school and college football. And speaking of college football, my alma mater, Sam Houston State University won the FCS National Championship on Sunday, May 16th. Yes…you read that right. We are FREAKING NATIONAL CHAMPIONS! We’ve been close before, but now the trophy is ours. (“We’ll fight and fight with all our might for Sam Houston’s orange and white!”). If you missed the game, you can watch the full replay here. I have ordered my official national champions t-shirt which should be in sometime this week. Sadly, I did not get an alumni discount.

Well, friends, I will leave you now as I have to get back to sending out press releases and doing some other publicity things for Molly’s Song.

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

L.H.