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Family finds solace in book projects during pandemic

By Holly McKenna

The virus hit just days after I lost my full-time communication job due to budget cuts and reorganizing efforts. I was also still recovering from major foot surgery months before. It was like the perfect storm of misfortune. Luckily, I still had my part-time teaching job and some small freelance writing gigs to help pay the bills but now I had more time to devote to my book writing. That was always a luxury because it was writing that didn’t pay. I could never justify the hours when I could be scoping out a paid job. Now when I read or listen to books during this pandemic thanks to my library’s robust digital collection, it counts as research for my books and not just as an indulgence. 

So for years, I have been working on three book projects that needed hours of research and storytelling. There were never enough hours in the day to work on them. With the perfect storm, I finally had time. One by one, I pulled them out to see what I could do to bring them back to life. I am fortunate to have grown children who live nearby and have editing, writing, marketing and graphic design talents to help me with my work. My son, who is an aspiring author and had just published his first book which I edited, encouraged me to put my budding books in the Google docs app on my phone so I could write and edit on the go. It was a brilliant idea to keep the creative process going all day long. Since I had my phone on me at all times to get the awaited call about my pending and long, ignored unemployment claim, I could assemble my books when an inspiration hit me. I particularly appreciated the word count feature. To keep connected during these dark times, I share my efforts with my extended family we can’t see on Long Island and Connecticut and local writing colleagues who also tell me about their book projects. We have been amazed at how much creativity is coming out in our community as we stay home week after week.


The first book is a memoir that I have been writing and editing for nearly two decades. I've tried to get it published but it was always missing something. Last year, a good friend resurrected it for me with a host of needed edits she put into a printed document and placed in a large binder. I added her changes and then passed it to my son for a final edit. In exchange, I read her father’s memoir and gave her some editing and publishing advice. The three of us were like our own literary agency. Next, I needed a book jacket and my older daughter has incredible graphic design skills and set out to work on one for me based on a photo taken by her sister. My older daughter also created websites for my son and I to promote our books when they are published. My other daughter has also helped with editing and marketing ideas. Being in quarantine and sheltering in place has certainly stirred up our family’s creativity, and in turn, provided us with some solace and connection and helped fill our hours with something constructive to do. All said and done, my memoir is finally ready to see the light of day this year. 


The second book is a collection of essays and short stories that had been in the works for years, assembled in random notebooks and computer files. It has new stories from this pandemic time and needs a new title and a book jacket but I’m hopeful that it will be ready to release after the memoir has a good run.


The third book is a historical fiction novel based on a family story that ironically takes place during the Spanish flu pandemic, a tuberculosis epidemic and World War I. This book will be written with my son who has a flair for building great characters, dialogue and scenes. Meanwhile, my daughter has already created a book jacket for it. This story requires a massive amount of research but now I have the time to make that happen. I also never realized that my paternal grandparents lived through those tumultuous times while working in a New York City hospital. I hope our book does justice to my immigrant grandparents’ powerful story.


Like them, we have so far survived a pandemic and will have stories to share with future generations and eventually, we will also have books to publish when it is time.

Holly McKenna is a journalism instructor and internship director at the University at Albany and has been a reporter for Reuters, UPI and other major media outlets and a writing professional for a variety of businesses and nonprofits. A Long Island native, she lives in Albany with her family.

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