by Brandon Yu, April 10, 2020

Heidi R. Kling, author of the serial romance novel “Love in the Time of Quarantine.”

When Heidi R. Kling first heard about the Diamond Princess, the idea for her next novel struck.

In early February, the 2,600-capacity cruise ship was quarantined off the coast of Tokyo as passengers faced a COVID-19 outbreak onboard. Back then, the new coronavirus was considered a relatively distant threat in the U.S. But when a sister cruise, the Grand Princess, quarantined at the Port of Oakland in March, fear of the pandemic escalated.

By the time Kling approached her editor about the novel, the idea for the book — a group of people quarantined on a ship amid a viral outbreak — felt newly sensitive.

“She was like, ‘It’s too soon! I love the idea, but people are too busy stocking up on toilet paper to read a book about the virus,’” Kling says over the phone from Half Moon Bay, where she lives and is self-isolating with her family. “And I was like, ‘But I want to write it now!’”

Prone to more disaster-minded thinking and in need of distraction, Kling, the author of young adult books such as “Sea,” a finalist for the Northern California Book Award, found a way to adapt her work to the self-isolating era.

“One morning after the shelter-in-place (order), I couldn’t sleep, and suddenly I had what we call in the creative world an aha moment,” Kling says. “I’ll turn my novel idea into a serial book, and I’ll make it free.”

Kling has since begun distributing her serial novel, “Love in the Time of Quarantine,” in weekly installments at no charge to her newsletter subscribers. This week, she’ll send out the fourth chapter of the book, which follows an unlikely romance between two passengers — Maggie, a shy teenage girl, and Walker, a seemingly entitled prep school kid. After introducing her protagonists in the first two chapters, the most recent installment, “When Maggie Met Walker,” flashes back to the two teens’ first encounter days earlier, before the virus’ spread.

The distribution method is one of many newfound ways in which local artists, including those in theater, music and the visual arts, are sharing their work and connecting with audiences in isolation. Expectedly, it hasn’t been an entirely smooth process for Kling.

Where I Found You (Sea Book 1)

Heidi R. Kling is a Bay Area author of young adult fiction. Her novel “Where I Found You,” originally released in 2010, is the first book in her “Sea” Series. In the story, a girl follows her father’s relief team to help tsunami orphans in Indonesia.

“I’m new to Mailchimp, so my biggest learning curve is trying to figure out how to automate this story,” Kling says. For instance, the opening chapter failed to send via Mailchimp’s mass email delivery service and needed to be troubleshot. “That’s been really funny, because I’ve just been publishing the traditional way, where I have editors look at everything and then I have a copy editor. Now it’s just kind of me and my contacts.”

The process has eased pressures for Kling: She’s writing “Love in the Time of Quarantine” more loosely, without the stress of producing the cleanest copy or enduring endless rewrites.

“That’s kind of been keeping me afloat creatively because I can’t focus on any of my other stories at all,” Kling says. “I can’t even think about writing about something else, but since this is so fresh, and we keep getting new information every day, I’m able to leave it in the book.”

Ideally, the story will do the same for readers — opening a door to a world that mirrors our current global crisis, while also comforting the reader with an escapist romance that has a controllable ending.

Particularly for her younger audience, Kling says she hopes the weekly installments will provide a sense of relief in frightening times when they can’t go to school and hang out with friends.

“It kind of gives them something hopeful, something to occupy their time, (to) take a pause from social media,” Kling says. “That’s why I wanted to make it free. I didn’t want to charge anybody during this time. I’m a writer, and this is what I can do — share my stories.”

Kling says the novel serves as her virtual contribution toward widespread efforts to build community while social distancing. She estimates the book will reach some 20 chapters released throughout what she suspects will be a long quarantine process for the Bay Area and the country.

Heidi R. Kling’s second book in her “Sea” series, “Where the Sea Takes Me” depicts an international relief mission — and young romance — in Cambodia. The novel released in 2018.

“We’re learning how much we need each other,” Kling says. “We’re learning how much we want to touch our friends. We’re learning how much that barista means to us, how much we like to say hi to the gas station clerk. We don’t want to socially distance. We’re mammals.”

As a fictional virus spreads through the quarantined ship, total strangers in “Love in the Time of Quarantine,” including its young protagonists, will need to band together. The central romance, Kling says, will face its ultimate test when the ship eventually docks and the passengers return to the normal world, an allusion to our own looming question of what the pandemic’s aftermath will look like.

“What’s going to happen to us?” Kling says. “It’ll be really interesting sociologically what we end up doing.”

Still, Kling doesn’t categorize her serial as a sobering reflection of the COVID-19 crisis. Even with its real-world parallels, “Love in the Time of Quarantine” is ultimately meant to be a source of light and comfort.

“All of my books are extremely hopeful,” Kling says. “There might be bad things that happen, but they all end very hopeful. It just shows teens and adults that we’re a lot more resilient than we think we are. When we work together, we can get through anything.”

“Love in the Time of Quarantine”: Readers can access the serial romance novel by following her website,