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Writing About the Pandemic—Too Soon?

By Dawn Ius

One of the most passed-on pieces of advice from seasoned authors to aspiring scribes is to never write to trend—hitching your story to the current bandwagon is one of the fastest ways to leave your career in the dust.

But some rules are meant to be broken.

For international bestselling author Peter May, he didn’t need to write a pandemic thriller for his work to be relevant—he’d already finished one, almost 15 years ago. He just needed to dust off the manuscript and get it in the hands of his editor. Out in e-book from Mobius now, with a print run slated for June, LOCKDOWN is a thriller set in London against the backdrop of a global pandemic.

“At the time, scientists were predicting that bird flu would be the next major pandemic,” he says. “And had it come to pass, the consequences would have been catastrophic.”

The plot May envisions in his new release is based on detailed pandemic planning previously completed by the British and the Americans, and those documents “painted the horrific picture that I used to color in the detail of LOCKDOWN,” he says.

May’s editor, Jon Riley, says LOCKDOWN is “vintage Peter May—ingenious, wonderfully researched on the medicine and science surrounding the transmission of a virus. It’s chilling in describing its social consequences.”

“When I originally wrote LOCKDOWN in 2005, no matter how well researched or accurate the dystopian picture it painted, no one could identify with it,” May says. “Now everyone can. It is our common experience. And isn’t that what writers are supposed to do—describe and explore the human condition, the world we experience as a human race?”

That’s certainly one of the goals behind a new anthology slated for June from Polis Books. This collection of stories—also titled LOCKDOWN—is the collaborative work of 19 suspense, horror, and crime fiction novelists who took the theme of survival during a pandemic and ran with it…figuratively, of course. (They’re staying home!)

Each story explores how humanity reacts to a global crisis such as COVID-19. Rob Hart’s contribution, for instance, is a break-in thriller, while Jen Conley’s story is a heartbreaking tale of domestic drama and murder.

Proceeds from the anthology will go to support BINC, the Book Industry Charitable Foundation, as it seeks to help booksellers recover from the coronavirus crisis.

While May’s LOCKDOWN may have been predictive, and the anthology somewhat reactive, J. T. Brannan’s upcoming thriller, PANDEMIC, lives and breathes in the current moment. In fact, he’s still writing it.

Brannan says PANDEMIC is a novel in response to the current events, but it will also “incorporate ideas that have been bubbling under the surface for several years.”

Indeed, the book cover and backflap copy seem eerily familiar—”Hospitals are near collapse, shelves are empty, economies are failing”—and the story itself conjures up grim possibilities, some of which are coming to fruition daily on the global stage. You can get your hands on Brannan’s “ripped from the headlines” thriller June 1.


Dawn Ius
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