Should COVID be a part of your next novel?

The answer to the question: Should COVID be part of your novel? is: it depends.

Several publishers thought my book The Flu Is Coming (republished in 2018) should sell like hot cakes during the COVID crisis. The pandemic and resulting public health measures did lead to a feature article in the Easter Sunday edition of the Albuquerque Journal. Sale of my mystery/thriller increased slightly. On the other hand, when I advertised the book on Facebook and in blogs, several readers said, ”The last thing I want to do is to read about a pandemic and a quarantine.”

Generally, I think that facts are the best way to make novels realistic and appealing to readers. However, in the PBS series on Toni Morrison, she said that young writers should create their “own world” and not worry about facts in their novels. I guess in response to Morrison’s comment, I would say: Most of us aren’t young or potentially Nobel Prize-winning authors. I still think good mysteries and thrillers depend on facts. Of course, I should admit I was biological scientist and have always like medical mysteries and thrillers.

So, should you include information on COVID in your next novel? It depends on you. Do you have a special story to tell about surprising friendships developing during a period of social isolation or about courageous behavior during a medical emergency? Do you know a bit of biology and want to write a medical mystery or thriller? Then definitely include COVID in your next novel. If you want to write a cozy mystery with a cooking theme, then maybe you should think twice before adding a subplot on COVID. However, it could even be funny if you had a cooking diva going wild in stocking up her freezer during a quarantine.

I didn’t include COVID in my most recent novel A Pound of Flesh, Sorta, but it is a medical mystery set in Western thriller. Did you know that almost every year in the Southwest, thousands of prairie dogs “die off” because of the plague? It’s caused by the same bacteria that caused the bubonic plague, and often a several humans die, too. Scientists don’t understand the entire etiology of prairie die offs, but the consequences for ranchers is huge. This novel may give you a new perspective on the Southwest.

Blurb of latest novel: A Pound of Flesh, Sorta: Leaders of drug gangs in New Mexico don’t want scientist Sara Almquist to testify at their upcoming trials for murder and racketeering. After Sara gets a package of sheep guts contaminated with the bacteria that causes the plague, FBI agents rush to protect her. But is the package a threat from the gangs to stop her from testifying or a public health alert by a whistleblower?

A Pound of Flesh, Sorta is available at:
The Flu Is Coming is available at:

Bio: J. L. Greger is a scientist turned novelist. She’s published nine mysteries and thrillers and two books of short stories. She lives in the Southwest with her dog Bug, a character in all her novels.


I've decided that yes I will have it a part of my next novel. Since I think it is going to change how we do things for many years to come, it's foolish not to include it in modern novels.
J. L. Greger said…
Marilyn, thanks for hosting me. I wonder how your readers will respond to my rather frank blog.
I already wrote a story about it--a romance.
Thonie Hevron said…
I'm in the planning/outline stages of my next novel and haven't yet decided. I agree with Marilyn that COVID will change the way we all do things. It would be easier to pre-date the pandemic in the story. I don't know at this stage. Keeping an eye on your responses today!
J. L. Greger said…
I'm not surprised Lorna that you were quick to act. I'm sure the story is great.

Thonie, I agree with your approach. A novel that is set during the pandemic will tend to be a medical mystery (I know exceptions are possible). However, I think novels (post the pandemic) could reflect changes in restaurant experiences - more carry out and patio dining and more cooking shows on TV and changes in shopping - more online but a new department chain to replace Pennys and others than go bankrupt during the next year. I think schools and universities will see major and lasting changes, but predicting how is tricky. It would be nice to think that we would learn something from the experience and invest more in development of all types of vaccines, but I doubt it.

Of course, when you try to write futuristic novels there are risks. I think most authors will try to avoid making predictions.
Just finished a novel and did not include COVID in it. My reasoning was that I'd written most of the book prior to the virus being known in the USA. It also didn't seem to fit in with what my plot is this time. Maybe in the next one.
J. L. Greger said…
I'd seen a similar comment by you earlier - I guess before you finished the novel. I think most writers will act as you did.
magical ! Your book can be in the best seller list with a little push. Try for reviews and marketing.

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