Q: Do you miss being on tour?
A: What I miss the most is when I would leave Belgium or England or Australia, my tour would be over, and now it’s just all the time because of Zoom. Which in a way is good, but also, weirdly, there’s no finality to it. In the scheme of things, there are far worse things that could be happening. At least I have a job and can put food on the table and feed my cats.
Q: What’s the worst part of social distancing for you?
A: The worst part is that this is my 20th book. I was looking forward to celebrating with my editor, who’s been with me for 20 years and who’s in England. Obviously, I’m not going to England right now; they’re not letting us in. I also miss going out to breakfast with friends. I used to go to Highland Bakery and meet friends there. I’d go to First Watch in Decatur. I still go to Duck’s Kitchen in Decatur to get takeout.
Q: Have you taken advantage of this downtime? Do you have anything to show for it like learning to speak Mandarin?
A: I would like to say I have not put on my COVID-19 pounds. I would like that made clear. It’s been a real struggle. The first month I think everybody was just sort of self-medicating with whatever they had handy, like pita chips. But then I thought, OK, you gotta get your (expletive) together and figure out a routine.
Q: You clearly mastered Zoom.
A: I did early on, back before I hated Zoom. I decided I was gonna talk to my author friends all over the country and all over the world and see what it’s like for them. That was really fun. It’s fascinating talking to different people because this is something that is affecting everybody in the world at the same time. In our lifetimes, we’ve never had that happen. Even in World War I and II, it wasn’t the entire world that was affected by it. Here, even Amazonian tribes in Brazil are affected by it. Every person on the planet has had an experience with it or will have an experience with it. It was just a way to reach out and talk to people.
Credit: Alison Cohen Rosa
Credit: Alison Cohen Rosa
Q: Now you hate Zoom.
A: Pretty much. Well, I hate it, and I love it. I feel like we all have Zoom hairstyles. The front of my hair looks really great. If you saw me from behind, it looks like a duck’s (back end). I think we’re all going through that thing.
Q: Will the pandemic find its way into one of your books?
A: It already has for the next book. The book I’m writing for next year, it’s not about the pandemic, but it incorporates the changes to our lives that the pandemic has caused. I’m having to be a bit of a futurist and think about, well, is everybody going to still be wearing masks? Will there be rolling quarantines? Will we have little home tests we can spit on, and they’ll tell you if you’re positive or not?
Q: What’s your best tip for not going crazy during quarantine?
A: I’ve been reading a lot of history because it feels weirdly comforting because I know how it’s going to turn out. I really love Eric Larson’s “The Splendid and the Vile” about Churchill trying to get the U.S. engaged in World War II and about how crazy that time period was in London. And I’ve got Katherine Anne Porter’s “Pale Horse, Pale Rider.” You know she had the Spanish flu and her fever was so high it turned her hair white. She was, like, in her early 30s. The eponymous short story is about the Spanish flu.
Q: What have you been watching?
A: I blew through “Ozark.” Oh my God, that was so fantastic. And “The Morning Show” on Apple TV. I thought I knew what it was about, and then I watched it, and it was so amazing. I loved “Greyhound,” the Tom Hanks movie. I love WWII movies where Americans are heroes, and they do the right thing.
Q: What are you looking forward to most when things return to normal?
A: Mostly having this anxiety lifted. What I’m looking forward to is knowing what to expect.
Suzanne Van Atten is a book critic and contributing editor to the AJC. firstname.lastname@example.org
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