April 13, 2020

Easter Monday coronavirus blues

Life has a way of surprising you. Now and then it throws a nasty curveball. Obviously, none of us Westerners expected The Curveball From Wuhan that got thrown at the world in the first three months of 2020. As I write these words, the coronavirus pandemic is generating not a spreading ripple, but a looming tsunami of imminent economic and social effects, hitting job markets, shutting down economies and leaving us wondering: what on earth will come next?

Thankfully, the epidemic itself is not (yet?) reaping a tragic harvest in Poland: our government implemented strict lockdown measures quickly. Our health care system is underfunded and shaky, our hospitals have been suffering from personnel shortages for years, everyone is painfully aware that an epidemic of Italian proportions would cost many thousands of lives, so we're sheltering in place and letting the economy basically go into freefall. We will obviously pay a hard price soon in lost jobs and bankrupcies. Although I'm fortunate in many ways (no debt, no kids to support, my husband has a steady job), the situation still has tough implications for me.

I'm an author. Yes, an author, not just a writer. I've penned and published six novels (five have appeared in print, the sixth is awaiting publication) and about a zillion shorter works in magazines, webzines and anthologies. The caveat: I write and publish in Polish, my mother tongue. The Polish book market is not large. It offers limited options, and adult speculative fiction is not a lucrative niche. I had to struggle for years, cooperating with tiny indie presses, before a stroke of luck hit: my Darkgleam then-trilogy got re-released by a large publisher, who soon requested a sequel, and I ended up expanding the series into five books instead of three. 

The fourth book was released in June 2019. I finished writing the fifth one in March, just as the coronavirus catastrophe hit us with full force. The country has gone under lockdown, and right now the Polish book market is reeling HEAVILY, with all stationary bookstores closed and book sales plummeting by 70-80%. The release date of the fifth book in my Darkgleam series, initially planned for late May 2020, has been postponed until the situation clears up. I'm worried that if my publisher has to take drastic measures to cut losses and survive, the book release might ultimately be canceled or, in a slightly better-case scenario, there might only be an ebook and no paper version. But worse still, the prognosis for the Polish book market now appears bleak for years to come. An economic crisis and high unemployment rate = no money to spend on books. Since I finance my writing by doing literary translations into Polish, this is doubly bad news for me. 

I'm already thinking hard about my future and considering all possible options, including a return to medical translations (a few years ago, I switched from medical/scientific translations to literary ones, which left significantly more free time for writing) or even (gasp!) attempting to secure a normal day job after 10 years of happy freelancing. I also have the option of trying to emigrate again (assuming that the pandemic will end sometime in 2021 after a vaccine is found, and borders will reopen). Depending on the situation, I might completely give up writing in Polish for several years.

I'm also wondering whether this might be a good time to revisit some dreams that have been shelved for the past 3 years. Although I'm essentially bilingual and I've been working as a translator for a decade, I don't feel confident enough to write in English (well, to be frank, I don't feel confident writing in Polish either; writer's block has been my constant companion for years). After a brief burst of enthusiasm in 2017, I stopped trying to translate my Polish stories into English (I managed to get four translated stories published in no-pay zines with little effort, but couldn't break into paid ones, and ultimately I had to focus on writing in Polish). Maybe it's time to resume those efforts, and also try my hand at writing in English (even after putting lots of work into the translation, my translated stories always seem slightly clumsier than the original version, and this probably hurts their chances of getting published).

For now, I've decided to come back to this blog. Just to exercise my English writing muscles a little. Expect more posts at irregular intervals. 

And, in spite of everything, best Easter wishes from this optimistic Easter cat!

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