SB appraiser and author writes fiction during quarantine
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart helps people see the worth in their antiques in her appraisal business.
But now, the Santa Barbara resident wants readers to see the positive in a pandemic in her latest book, “My Darlin’ Quarantine: Intimate Connections Created in Chaos” (Flandricka House Press, $19.99).
And no, she’s not naive to the harsh realities of COVID-19. She wrote the novel as an escape from the chaos and aimed to inject humor and creativity into 2020’s problems.
Her father contracted COVID-19 and died. Her mom’s nursing home had many cases. Her son and his wife caught COVID-19 as well.
And Dr. Stewart was overwhelmed.
“I had to think of something fun, funny and humorous to get my mind off it,” Dr. Stewart told the News-Press.
So she rewrote COVID-19 in a comedic novel with a science-fiction twist.
Her idea was to hypothesize what would happen if strangers had to quarantine together. In the novel, a health tracker alerts someone with the virus, and everyone in the building has to stay put.
She wanted to have fun with the locations. The five settings are: a dive bar, a beauty parlor, an attorney’s office, a BMW dealership and a rural Missouri dentist’s office.
As an appraiser, she sees many clients’ homes and learns from the way they’ve decorated and adapted the space.
“I pick up a lot of clues from an environment because I study that environment,” said Dr. Stewart, whose “Ask the Gold Digger” appraisal column appears Mondays in the News-Press. “So the environment itself takes on a character in my book.”
Each group has its own story, but they all respond to their situations with innovation.
“I wanted to show that by constriction, that something creative and new can come out of something you were dreading,” she said.
The characters develop a team-like mentality with the strangers they quarantine alongside. She wrote this to show today’s focus on equality.
“What occurred is because the idea of we should be pulling through this disease together … It’s brought into the spotlight that we have not in the past felt that we were equal,” she said.
“That’s what I tried to show in the book that the people that are being locked in together, have no previous knowledge of each other. And they come from really different walks of life,” she said. “What unites them is creativity. In the midst of it, a creative spark lights a fire.”
Her character development earned her high praise in a Kirkus review.
“The cross-section of locales sets the scene for a diverse assortment of characters varying in age, race, and gender — and from all walks of life — who personify differing political persuasions, faiths, and perspectives on life and love,” Kirkus Reviews said.
Dr. Stewart was surprised at the positive response. It was her first try at fiction writing, and she’s planning on doing more of it.
Lately, she has had to adapt her appraisal business to avoid being exposed to germs. Her partner, John, takes photos of the items. She can also go on Zoom or FaceTime with clients.
She said a lot of people have been interested in her appraisal services as they sit at home longer. Some are stressed by the possibility of death and need her to appraise furniture for their will.
Even though her business was still active, she wanted to write.
“I did nothing but write for about four or five weeks, I slept maybe four or five hours,” Dr. Stewart said. “When I was worried, I got up and instead of watching a movie and eating popcorn, I just wrote.”
She warns her friends that characters may resemble their personalities. She even wrote about a dentist because her dad was a dentist.
“The book is pulled from many people in my life, meaning people I know and love in Santa Barbara as well as my family and friends elsewhere,” Dr. Stewart said.
She’s thinking about writing another novel soon, inspired by her son. But first, she hopes readers enjoy “My Darling Quarantine.”
“I would be honored if people picked up the book and had a long laugh with me,” she said.
It’s been a rough season for Dr. Stewart, but just like the characters in her novel, she tried something new and tapped into creativity.