We’ve all been at war with the COVID-19 virus this past year, and the fear, uncertainty, and isolation we’ve experienced have been depressing at times. Like many authors, I began to wonder if I had anything worthwhile to say, and if I did, would anyone be interested in reading it. Then I recalled another time when world events had a similar, destructive effect on my writing, and I remembered the lessons I’d learned back then. The event was the 9/11 terror attacks. At the time, I was writing a historical novel about the Civil War, and my first thought was “Who will want to read about that when the world is in such turmoil? With news headlines commanding our attention, will people even read novels anymore?”
In the hours and days after the shocking attacks, we all wondered what would happen next. Would life as we knew it halt like all the air traffic? My daughter was in high school at the time, and one evening she poured out her fear and grief due to her disrupted life and unknown future. Would she ever have the things she’d dreamed of? Would she ever feel safe again? As I listened and wept with her, I realized that her feelings were probably the same as the young main character in my novel. Her country was also at war. An enemy threatened her city, and she feared for her life and her loved ones’ lives. I quickly wrote down everything my daughter had shared (with her permission) and returned to my novel with new insights.
That memory from 9/11 has kept me writing, and has even energized my writing, during this pandemic. What we’ve all experienced this past year—the fear, the isolation, the shortages, the canceling of our travel plans and weddings and graduations, and most of all, the specter of death hovering over us and our loved ones—has been experienced by the generations who have come before us. Their stories and their examples of courage and sacrifice can motivate and inspire us in our current times. I’ve had my dark moments this past year, but I’ve continued to write, pouring my own feelings of grief and worry and helplessness into my characters’ stories with firsthand insight.
When the pandemic struck, I had been researching and writing two novels that take place during World War II. The first book, If I Were You, released four months after the lockdown and tells the story of two young women who endure life in war-torn London, including the terrifying Nazi bombing blitz. The second book, Chasing Shadows, which releases June 8, tells the stories of three women who are trying to survive in the Netherlands after the surprise Nazi invasion and occupation of their country. The events in these novels share many similarities with the current pandemic.
Foremost are our fears: Will I survive? Will my loved ones survive? Also, our sense of helplessness, which can lead to despair, anger, and even hatred. Our many losses are the same, including our dreams and various measures of freedom. We all ride the never-ending emotional ups and downs of hope and disappointment. And we share the uncertainty about tomorrow, the inability to plan for an unknown future, and the anxiety of wondering when our situation will finally end. Of course, we know that World War II did end with the defeat of the Nazis. Life gradually returned to normal. But the men and women who lived through that war, day by day for five long years, had no idea how it would end or how much longer they would be forced to suffer.
In challenging times, we each must choose how we will respond. While some people succumbed to despair and emotional breakdown during WWII, many, many more found sources of great courage and faith that led them to accomplish selfless, courageous acts. In both novels, I chose to write about characters who responded with faith and courage. Yes, they sometimes felt fear and self-pity, but it was love for the people they cared about that helped them rise above their circumstances. I saw many examples of such selfless courage during this pandemic, especially from our medical workers.
“When will life get back to normal?” I hear that longing voiced nearly every day. I want to reply, “Probably never.” Things will never go back to the way they were. For the men and women in WWII, the war finally ended, but their lives were very different—and in some ways, better. They had learned things about themselves and had gained new strengths and new levels of faith in God that transformed them into different people. Better people. Hardship will change us, one way or another. It can destroy us or strengthen us if we allow it to. It’s my hope that the two novels I published during this pandemic will energize readers’ faith and offer this message of hope from author C. S. Lewis, who endured WWII in Great Britain: “There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.”
Lynn Austin has sold more than one and a half million copies of her books worldwide. A former teacher who now writes and speaks full-time, she has won eight Christy Awards for her historical fiction and was one of the first inductees into the Christy Award Hall of Fame. One of her novels, Hidden Places, was made into a Hallmark Channel Original Movie. Lynn and her husband have three grown children and make their home in western Michigan. Visit her online at lynnaustin.org