Tag Archives: David B. Coe

Monday Musings: How I’m Coping

I’ve written about politics and social issues a lot in recent weeks, and I want desperately to avoid doing so again this week. It’s not that I don’t have more to say. I do. But I feel as though I’d be going over familiar ground, raising the same objections to this Administration, calling attention to new outrages and failings that are simply echoes of the older ones I’ve already criticized. I am weary of outrage, sick to death of this campaign, ready to reclaim the emotional energy and brain space I’ve ceded to it for so many months.

There is more to life than this. I know there is, and recently, as I have pulled back from political websites and social media, I have been taking pleasure in the small things that I enjoy most. Here’s how I’m coping:

Music: Making music and listening to it. The former has been particularly rewarding because for a time earlier this year, a shoulder issue — terribly painful, basically untreatable except for physical therapy, but not truly serious — kept me from being able to play my guitars. I am happy to report that my shoulder, while not 100%, is much better. I’m playing again, learning new songs, building up strength in my arm and hand. Again, I’m not all the way there, but I’m playing again, and that gives me such pleasure.

I’m also listening a lot, mostly to old rock, even when I’m working. In the past, some of you know, I have strictly limited my work-time listening to instrumental music — jazz and bluegrass mostly. But somehow, right now, with all that’s going on in my head, I am able to work and listen to rock at the same time. I honestly don’t know why, but I’m not complaining.

Work: I’m getting work done on several projects, which is gratifying. I have been working on a pair of trunk novels, one that needed editing, and its sequel, which needed editing and an ending. I’m making good progress on those, but I am not pushing myself too hard, and that seems to be a good thing. I’m the first to admit that I am not at my best right now. So rather than beat myself up for not being efficient, I am accepting the limitations imposed by my current emotional state. I work when I can, and when the work doesn’t flow, I take care of other things, be they work-related or house-related or whatever.

I also have a novel that my agent and I are trying to sell and a set of Thieftaker novellas that are in production. And I have other projects at various stages of completion and readiness. On the one hand, I’m impatient for forward motion on all of them. At the same time, I understand that I can only do so much, and that the publishing world is moving even more slowly than usual. I am doing my best to be patient, something that doesn’t come naturally to me.

Getting outside: Fall has been brilliant this year here on the Cumberland Plateau. Shimmering, clear days, cool nights, stunning mornings. I have been birdwatching, savoring my morning walks, taking extra hikes later in the day, taking photos, and generally forcing myself to get away from my computer. Idle moments at my desk lead me to bad habits — social media, political sites, etc. In short, all the stuff I’m trying to avoid. To the extent possible, when the siren call of the web grows too strong, I escape it by going outside and doing something else.

Comfort food for the brain: Throughout the pandemic, I have found it hard to read. Except for political journalism, which, of course, I want no part of right now. The exception is old favorite novels by authors I love. So I’ve been re-reading the works of Guy Gavriel Kay, and have it in mind to read some other old works after that. They are comforting and comfortable, which I really need right now.

Along the same lines, I have been enjoying the television shows of Aaron Sorkin. Most of you probably know about The West Wing and The Newsroom, and I’ve been watching plenty of West Wing, happily retreating to a world in which Jed Bartlet is President. I have also been watching Sports Night, a short-lived half-hour comedy/drama that aired for two years before being cancelled. It was a terrific show about a sports show along the lines of ESPN’s Sportscenter. It was funny and poignant and smart, like all of Sorkin’s work. The network never knew what to do with the show. They tried a laugh track with it for a while, but that didn’t work. And by the time they figured out that they just needed to leave it alone, the show had been mired in a ratings slump for too long to be saved. If you can find the disks, I recommend it highly, particularly season 1.

Nancy: The one constant for me during this pandemic is that Nancy and I have enjoyed our time together. We have been cooking a lot, taking walks together, sipping whisky on the front porch as the sun goes down, and generally counting ourselves so very fortunate to have each other. There’s really not much more to say about this, but as I struggle to maintain my emotional health, I have to acknowledged that I would have broken a long time ago if not for her.

I know how lucky I am — lucky to play guitar, to have music at my disposal, to have a job I love, to have books to read and old DVDs to watch, to live in a place that is beautiful and that offers easy access to wilderness, to have a happy marriage. Please believe that I take none of this for granted. That wasn’t always the case, but this year has shown me the folly of doing so. I won’t fall prey to that particular mistake again.

I wish you health — emotional and physical — and I hope you have a wonderful week. See you Wednesday.

Photo Friday: Photos and Friendship

Earlier this week, after working for much of the day, I went for a short hike with a dear friend of mine, a fellow photographer. It was late afternoon on a cool, crisp, exquisite day, and we went down off the bluff to a stream and small waterfall we’ve visited together several times before. The trees were starting to show some color, as were the downed leaves in the stream bed. We masked, of course, and we maintained proper social distance.

But after so long without seeing other people, it was a special treat to get out with my camera AND to do so with a close friend.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’ve been struggling lately. I needed this day. I needed to remind myself that there is more to life than polls and Twitter rants, Covid fears and isolation. We all cope in different ways, and the truth is I am fortunate beyond reckoning. I have children I adore, a life partner who loves me and whom I love, a comfortable home, a job I enjoy, and friends near and far. I have little cause for complaint really. That doesn’t mean my struggles aren’t real, but it does mean that they will not defeat me.

Others are dealing with far greater problems. Maybe some of you. Please know that I wish you all the best, that there is still beauty and joy in the world, that we will emerge from this.

For now, I wish you a wonderful weekend. Stay safe, do something nice for yourself and your loved ones, be kind to one another. I’ll see you next week.

Morgan's Steep Cascade, Fall, by David B. Coe Morgan's Steep Stream, Fall, by David B. Coe

Writing-Tip Wednesday: Descriptions and Point of View

Description does not — cannot — take place in an emotional or circumstantial vacuum.

Not that long ago, I offered tips on writing scenes involving sex and violence, and essentially said that dealing with such encounters is almost entirely a matter of understanding and sticking to the point of view of our narrative character. These are the moments in which emotion, experience, and thought process are absolutely critical, and so for the scenes to work, we need to be completely rooted in the observations and feelings of our point of view characters.

I also offered this: “…Point of view is the place where character development meets plot, where emotion is introduced to our narratives, where our readers are given the emotional cues they need to experience our stories as we intend.”

With that in mind, I want to talk today about more general descriptive passages. Describing is something we writers do all the time. Whether we are telling our readers what another character looks like, or what kind of room our point of view characters have entered or what kind of smells or tastes or sensations they are experiencing, we are describing constantly. So getting it right is really important.

I love writing descriptions. Long before I became a professional writer, I knew I was destined for this line of work because I was constantly composing such passages in my head. I would see a sunset and think, “how would I write this?” I’d ask myself the same question upon tasting something exotic and new, or smelling something awful, or… whatever. During my career, I have written descriptions that still evoke pride when I go back to read them.

Always, though, what makes the descriptions work is not just powerful prose and precise word choice. As with those action scenes I’ve written about previously, descriptions of settings and people have to tap into character, into emotion and mind-set and motivation.

Let me put it this way, if we walk into a room we’ve never been in before, we’re going to notice different things about it depending upon our circumstances and how we feel about being there. If we’re relaxed — say, visiting the home of a friend, we might take time to notice the floors, the art on the wall, the framed photos of family arrayed around the room. If, on the other hand, we’ve been brought to a place against our will, we would be more inclined to look for ways out, for details that will tell us more about our “hosts” and their intentions. If we’re trained in such things, we might even look for objects we can turn into weapons or tools of escape.

In the same way, our impressions of someone new will yield very different responses depending on whether this person seems to be an adversary or a friend, a rival or a potential mate, a long lost sibling or a celebrity we’ve been hearing about all our lives.

Now, chances are that we, in the course of our lives, will not be in a position of being taken somewhere against our will. We will likely have few opportunities to meet celebrities and few occasions to encounter mortal enemies. Our characters on the other hand… Well, we do all sorts of shit to them, don’t we?

So when we write these descriptions from THEIR point of view, we need to take into consideration what they might be thinking and feeling, what they’re worried about, if anything, and what their goals are for the encounter that is about to take place. Description does not — cannot — take place in an emotional or circumstantial vacuum.

The other thing to keep in mind when writing description is the simple fact that we have five senses, not just one. We are highly visual creatures, and it’s all too easy to become so caught up in telling our readers how something looks that we neglect to mention how something sounds or feels or smells or tastes. Smells in particular are far too easy to overlook. Our sense of smell is unrefined compared to that of, say, dogs or cats or other hunting mammals. But smells can be among the most evocative of the senses. Aromas and scents can transport us, rekindling memories and emotions long buried. I still grow nostalgic for my childhood in New York and my college years in New England when I smell leaves burning in the fall. My adult daughters often remark upon arriving home for a visit that the scent of our house brings back some of their earliest memories. Taste can have a similar effect.

Again, you want to be true to the point of view of your narrator. All your readers’ sensory experiences should be colored by the emotions and exigencies of your characters. And your descriptions should involve as many of the senses as possible. Within reason, naturally. Your POV character doesn’t need to lick the walls and furniture in order to render a more complete sensory experience. That would just be weird. Unless, of course, you happen to be writing a new take on the Willy Wonka story, in which case have at it!

Keep writing!

Monday Musings: Covid, Grief, and Lies

And yet, his first act upon returning to the White House was to make a Mussolini-esque appearance on his veranda and ostentatiously remove his face mask.

Last week’s Photo Friday post was about my brother’s memorial service, which took place three years ago this past weekend. As I said in the message that accompanied my image, it was an extraordinary event for those of us who knew and loved him. The phrase “celebration of life” is overused in this context, but that really is how my family and I felt about our time together. It was moving, comforting. We grieved, we laughed, we told stories, and we left on Sunday with the sense that we had said a proper goodbye.

At the time, as much as I drew peace and satisfaction from the celebration, I also took it for granted.

Latest estimates put the death toll from Covid-19 in the United States at just over 215,000. Most of the families who are losing loved ones to this menace, don’t have the opportunity to honor the victims of the disease as my family and I honored my brother. They are not granted the catharsis of a proper farewell.

Many of those who have been afflicted with Covid — the number in the United States currently stands at about 7.7 million — were and are denied the comfort of having friends and family with them to help them cope with the fear, the uncertainty, not to mention the symptoms themselves. Recently, one of our daughters was sickened with Covid. She is well now, thank goodness. Hers was a mild case, and, thus far, her recovery has been smooth and uncomplicated. But even so, I can tell you that those days when she was sick were excruciating for her mother and me. We’re hundreds of miles away from her and we couldn’t get to her. True, we couldn’t have done much for her even if we’d been nearby. But that’s almost beside the point. The isolation imposed upon us by the very nature of the virus, made it that much harder for all of us. We wanted to care for her, to offer what support we could. And though she dealt with it bravely — more than I would have — I’m sure she would have drawn comfort from our presence.

This disease is insidious. It’s not only highly contagious, it’s not only serious, damaging to a host of organs, and potentially deadly, it also has isolated us, exacting an emotional cost that is not easily measured, but is real nevertheless.

And that’s why the President’s cavalier attitude toward his own illness and the spread of Covid through the White House and the Administration’s allies is so infuriating. Just a week and half ago, he was airlifted to Walter Reed Hospital. While under treatment there, he was twice (as far as we know) given supplemental oxygen. He received experimental drug treatments, was given an extensive regimen of steroids, and was, no doubt, under the constant care of an army of doctors and nurses. I believe it’s safe to say that had every other Covid patient in the States been given similar attention, all 7.7 million of them, our death toll would be much, much lower than 215,000.

And yet, his first act upon returning to the White House was to make a Mussolini-esque appearance on his veranda and ostentatiously remove his face mask. In his first public statement during his convalescence, he told us not to fear Covid, not to let it “dominate us.” Days earlier, during a moment of honesty captured in a Tweet he posted while still at Walter Reed, he had referred to Covid as a “plague.” Once back at the White House, however, he seemed to forget his discomfort and his own apprehension. Once again, he peddled the fiction that Covid was little more than a glorified flu.

His motivations here, as in so much else, are completely transparent. If the disease is bad, then his failed response to it is inexcusable. If, on the other hand, Covid is not worthy of our alarm, the inadequacy of his actions over the past nine months is nothing serious. It is the most cynical sort of zero-sum political calculus.

Of course, he is as poor at math as he is at everything else. Which may be why he doesn’t understand what his foolish actions and pronouncements are doing to his poll numbers. The problem for him is that the American people know better. We have been living with fear of Covid for much of the year. We have seen neighbors and colleagues, friends and family taken ill. We have worried about them, cursed our inability to help them or offer the sort of solace and aid we wish we could. We have, many of us, been vigilant about social distancing, about washing our hands and sanitizing surfaces, and, yes, about wearing face masks when appropriate. In short, we have sacrificed too much and worked too hard to be taken in by his denials and lies.

Last week, during the Vice Presidential debate, Mike Pence, the President’s favorite cheerleader — or, if the image of him in sweater and skirt, his pallid hands gripping pompoms, is too much for you, his beloved lap-dog — tried to twist Kamala Harris’ criticism of the Administration’s Covid response into some sort of attack on the courage and fortitude of the American people. His attempt fell flat, as well it should. Harris understands, as does a solid majority of the country, that the Trump Administration and the public are not allies in this fight. The White House, led by Patient-Zero-in-Chief, is interested only in saving itself. It cut the rest of us loose long ago.

Photo Friday: Three Years Ago This Weekend

Three years ago this weekend, we were in Massachusetts at Wachusett Meadow, a Massachusetts Audubon Society wildlife sanctuary, for a memorial service honoring my brother, Bill. This glorious site was one of his favorites in the world, and we dedicated a bench with a brass plaque commemorating him. He died earlier in 2017, but this weekend coincided with his birthday, and seemed the perfect time to say goodbye.

As you can see, it was a gorgeous fall day — cool, breezy, brilliantly sunny. This was at the height of autumn hawk migration, which Bill loved. He and his love, Sandy, used to come out to the sanctuary to watch for Broad-winged Hawks, Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks, American Kestrels, and other raptors. I had a sense all that morning as we prepared for the service, that Bill would find some way to make his presence felt during the day. I’m not usually prone to such thoughts. It was pretty uncharacteristic for me to believe such a thing.

But sure enough, as we concluded the service, a Cooper’s Hawk swooped over a nearby ridge and down to this lake where it began to circle and climb, its wings still, sun angling off its tail. I had held my emotions pretty much in check throughout the day, but seeing that hawk, feeling my brother’s… I don’t know, spirit, I guess, in its arrival, I fell to pieces. It was good for me, really. Cathartic.

It was a hard day, but a special one — a day I’ll never forget.

Have a good weekend all. Be kind to one another, hug those you love, and stay safe.

Wachusett Meadow Fall, by David B. Coe

Writing-Tip Wednesday: Anatomy of a Rewrite

As I described in a recent Writing-tip Wednesday post, I have been working recently on a trunk series — a pair of books, the first two in a projected trilogy, that I initially wrote nearly ten years ago. I have returned to working on these books for a couple of reasons. First, I’ve always loved the storylines, the characters, the relationships — these stories spoke to me when I wrote them, and have stayed with me in the years since. And second, in the midst of this emotionally challenging year, I have found it hard to create new worlds and projects. I’m not sure why, but there it is. On the other hand, polishing older work, or returning to old worlds for new stories, as I’ve done with Thieftaker, has been productive, rewarding, and even comforting.

In the previous post about trunk novels, I mentioned that while the first book in this series needed close line editing and little more, the second book was “a hot mess.” I’m now neck-deep in my edits of the second book and that impression still holds. The novel has tons of potential, but when I left off with it years ago, it had a number of significant flaws. Which, I suppose, is why it wound up in the proverbial trunk.

Many of us have novels that need work, projects that we’ve set aside, or even works-in-progress that we know have problems. I thought it might be helpful to give you a sense of how I am tackling this rewrite.

1) The Initial Read-through: I started by re-reading the two books in quick succession. I didn’t try to edit as I worked. I just wanted to remind myself of the current state of the novels — the content and the style. I made a few notes as I read, but mostly I approached them as a reader might.

2) The Line Edits: Yes, usually line edits are the last thing we do, after what is known in the business as a “developmental edit.” I chose to do the line edits first, even on the second book, which needs so much structural work. Why? Well, first because some of the prose was so rough that I couldn’t imagine revising the book and ignoring the problems. Those problems included passive constructions, overuse of “that” and past perfect constructions (using “had”), over-explaining, general wordiness, and “humorous” passages that fell flat. Second, I started with the line edits because doing these close revisions allowed me to study the narrative elements more closely and become more familiar with the structural problems I wished to address.

3) The Ruthless Cuts: This is a different editing task, but I actually did it while going through the line edits. There were elements of the story that just didn’t work as written. Unfortunately, at least one of them included some of the best written passages in the draft. Nevertheless, they had to go. I shortened one section of the book by 6,000 words, and cut a thousand from another scene as well. Overall, including scene cuts and general tightening of the prose, I have cut well over 12,000 words from the book. And what a difference this has made. The prose is concise and punchy, and the story flows far better than it did.

4) The Brainstorming: This is where I am now. The book currently stands at about 72,000 words. I can probably delete another thousand, but I’ve cut most of the fat from the manuscript. The story is better than it was, but it needs certain elements inserted along the way and it needs an ending. A good ending. Not the train wreck I was in the midst of writing when I gave up on it a decade ago. By now, though, having read it front-to-back twice, and having done my close edit of the writing, I am steeped in the story and ready to tackle the problems.

When I brainstorm, I tend to open a file in my word processor and type stream-of-consciousness, asking myself questions and answering them on the keyboard. That’s just my approach — your mileage may vary. The point is, I am considering how to work in key elements currently missing from the story. I am figuring out how to work in a new idea for a plot twist that occurred to me during the line edits. And I am keeping better track of all my plot threads, making certain that this ending ties everything up as it should.

5) The Implementation: When I start writing the new scenes, including my concluding chapters, I will create them in separate files. I do this because I find it freeing. It’s totally a mind-game. When I am writing a new book, I work in a single document from start to finish. But when revising, rather than mess with that original file, I not only make a working duplicate, I also create new files for big inserts and additions. That way even if the new scene turns out to be a disaster, the original manuscript is no worse off. Again, it’s something I do out of consideration for my own obsessiveness. And it works.

6) The Final Edit: When I have written and polished these new scenes and pasted them into the manuscript, I’ll then set the novel aside for a while. I’ll work on other projects — I have stories to read for the anthology I’m co-editing; I want to outline the third book in this series; and other stuff… After maybe five weeks, I’ll come back to this book and read it through again. I’ll do a final polish on the prose, but more important I’ll make certain the plot works and that the new narrative elements blend seamlessly with the old. When I’m satisfied, I’ll send both books, volumes one and two, to Beta readers. By then, I hope, I’ll be ready to write the concluding volume of this trilogy. I’ve been thinking about the characters and story for nearly ten years. It’s time I finished it.

I hope you’ve found this deep dive into my process helpful.

Keep writing!

Monday Musings: Through the Looking Glass

[Let me begin by saying this: I know the President is ill. I hope he recovers; I understand it’s possible that he’ll take a turn for the worse. I hope the First Lady and the growing number of public officials who have tested positive for coronavirus recover as well. None of what follows is meant to be insensitive to the President’s condition. But neither will I give him more consideration than he has given to the millions of Americans who have fallen ill, or to the more than two hundred thousand who have died from Covid-19.]

We are, at this point, through the looking glass.

2020 has become so ridiculous, so laden with crisis, so fraught with fear and anger and confusion, that it risks turning into a caricature of itself. The Presidential campaign alone has morphed into a farce — a farce with far-reaching implications for economic stability; for racial, social, and sexual justice; for the health and safety of all Americans; and for the very survival of the planet. But a farce, nevertheless.

In my recent posts and my minimal appearances on other platforms, I have hinted at the emotional struggles in my life. My family has been touched by Covid, which has been scary, but, so far, not nearly as bad as it might have been. I have struggled to write and grappled with industry-wide issues. Again, I’ve been luckier than some, and less fortunate than others. And I have been obsessed to the point of panic and despair with the campaign and with the constant bloviation of our infant-in-chief.

It is this last that has had me in retreat from social media and news over the past couple of weeks. Yet, this is also what I am musing on this morning. Because in stepping back from the febrile headlines that assault us day after day, I find myself lamenting a much deeper issue.

Donald Trump is a menace. We know this. He is a White supremacist. He represents an existential threat to the norms and customs of our republic. He is boorish and crude, unintelligent and incurious, corrupt and dishonest and utterly unconcerned for the well-being of the public he is supposed to serve. But perhaps most damaging is the simple fact that he is a spectacle. Each day we are subjected to some new outrage. This campaign, for better or worse, is about him, about his failures and his failings. The good news is that a hard focus on Trump may well be enough to end this shit-storm of a Presidency.

Unfortunately, such a campaign does a disservice to our country. We face serious problems. We should be searching for solutions to climate change, engaging in a meaningful discussion of systemic racism, cementing gains in the fight for LGBTQ rights, working toward pay equity and an end to systemic sexism, building a fairer, stronger economy, and tackling a host of other issues that will shape not only our lives, but those of our children and generations to follow.

Do I want the world to see Trump’s tax returns and the dark secrets contained within them? Sure. Do I see some Karmic justice in his positive test for Covid-19? Yes, I do, even as I hope that he and his wife recover. Am I disgusted by his nod and wink toward the White nationalist Proud Boys? Damn right.

Mostly, though, I’m pissed that these things are “issues.”

Politics is always messy, and Presidential campaigns always entertain their share of nonsense controversies and titillating distractions. The problem is, with this President those things are all we have. Because that’s what he wants. Sure, he complains of being mistreated by the press and demonized by his political opponents, but really all he cares about is attention. Positive attention, negative attention — he doesn’t differentiate. As long as he is the center of the conversation, he’s happy. He doesn’t want to discuss real issues. That would demand work, preparation, concentration. And then the conversation wouldn’t be about him. It would be about us, about our lives, our families, our futures — things that don’t interest him.

Maybe it was inevitable that we would elect a man like this. In an age of reality television and ubiquitous social media, it’s not surprising that we should have a reality-star President who is utterly self-involved. More, Americans often look for qualities in a new President that were absent in his (and someday, please, her) predecessor. Policy-wonk Bill Clinton was followed by George W. Bush, who was not a detail guy, and who was, in turn, followed by the wonkish, erudite Barack Obama. Trump is the anti-Obama: a white racist, devoid of charm, integrity, compassion, and erudition.

That might be too easy an explanation. Honestly, I am too exhausted to care anymore. This President has worn me down. I would love to be passionate about the prospect of a Joe Biden Administration. I wish I had been more excited about all the candidates who sought the Democratic nomination, but Trump ruined even that for so many of us. Yes, we had our preferences, and Bernie Sanders’ supporters were nearly as fervent this time around as they were in 2016. In the end, though, we cared only about finding someone who could beat Trump. Overcoming this blight on our nation was more important than the aspirations and enthusiasm that ought to animate an election season. Sad.

So, here we are, having been confronted with this clown-show, day after day, month after month, for four long years. And, if we’re smart and lucky, no longer than that.

Photo Friday: The Little Things

Good morning. I am welcoming the end of what has been a difficult week. I am distancing from some news, though certainly not all. I am avoiding some social media, but again, not all. And I am trying to find my own personal equilibrium, an emotional place from which I can function and observe and comment without tipping over into obsessing and panicking. Not easy in today’s world.

Fortunately, I still live in a beautiful place and I still have my morning walks. Recently, on a cool, wet, foggy morning, I found this droplet-covered bloom of what I believe is Grassleaf Golden Aster. Wonders, large and small, are all around us, if only we pause long enough to see and appreciate them. I try each day to remind myself of this.

I wish you all a lovely weekend. Stay safe, be kind, keep the faith. See you next week.

Fall Aster and Dew, by David B. Coe

Writing-Tip Wednesday: “Pitch Inside”

In the mid-1980s, my favorite baseball player on the planet was a young pitcher for the New York Mets named Dwight Gooden. Gooden had a meteoric career that was shortened by injuries and chronic drug abuse. But for the first two and a half years of his career, from the beginning of his rookie season in 1984 to mid-season in 1986, he was one of the best pitchers baseball has ever seen. He was only 20 years old when he entered the league, but already he had outstanding velocity, a monster curveball, pinpoint control, and uncommon poise for a player so young.

Why am I starting a writing-tip post with a discussion of Dwight Gooden? Read on…

At the time of his great success, New York Magazine ran a profile of him and a teammate (an equally young, equally talented, equally troubled outfielder named Darryl Strawberry). In the profile there was a picture of Gooden in uniform and you could see scrawled on the underside of the visor of his baseball cap the words “Pitch inside.”

Pitching inside is, quite often, the best way to get hitters out, particularly if the pitcher in question happens to have great velocity and control. When pitched inside, hitters can’t extend their arms fully and thus can’t generate as much power in their swing. Usually. The problem with pitching inside is that if the pitcher doesn’t have quite enough velocity, or if he misses his intended target by even an inch or two, his offering becomes very hittable, often resulting in massive home runs, or at the very least, crisp base hits.

Pitchers can do okay for a while pitching hitters away, but they become great when they take on that risk and throw the ball inside.

High risk, high reward.

Writers need to take risks as well. We can tell a decent story playing it safe, but we flourish when we take chances, when we explore bold ideas for our stories, or create stunningly original worlds, or develop plots that are destined to surprise and captivate our readers.

The Outlanders, by David B. Coe (jacket art by Romas Kukalis)My first book, Children of Amarid, was a fairly standard epic fantasy, though it had the seeds of more within the nuances of its plot. It was my second novel, though, The Outlanders, that convinced me I could succeed as a writer. The reason was, that second book was different. It introduced a technological, crime-ridden world unlike anything I’d ever tried writing. It created an unusual dynamic among three of my lead characters — two of the characters, who were allies, spoke different languages, and they had to rely on the third for translation. But neither of them trusted that third character.

I struggled with that book far, far more than I had with the first, and I think my struggles were symptomatic of factors that helped the book succeed. It was an ambitious project. It forced me to grow as an artist. Nothing felt familiar or pat, and so the finished product read as something fresh and exciting and innovative. As I say, the first book was fine, but the series won the Crawford Award because of The Outlanders.

It’s easy to advise you to take chances, to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Turning that advice into instruction in the form of concrete steps is more difficult. Every story is different, every project presents its own challenges.

Still, I can say this: It’s easy to grow attached to one particular franchise, one particularly world and set of characters and style of story. Certainly I have written a good deal in the Thieftaker world, and will soon be coming out with new work about Ethan Kaille, Sephira Pryce, et al. The fact is, though, each time I have moved on to a new project, I have tried (admittedly with varying degrees of success) to challenge myself, to force myself to grow.

After the LonTobyn books, I moved to Winds of the Forelands and Blood of the Southlands, which demanded far more sophisticated world building and character work. After those, I turned to Thieftaker, adding historical and mystery elements to my storytelling and limiting my point of view to a single character. I also started working on the Justis Fearsson books, which explored mental health issues and were my first forays into writing in a contemporary setting. Then I took on the Islevale books, time travel/epic fantasies that presented the most difficult plotting issues I’ve ever faced.

We can also challenge ourselves within a particular franchise by shaking up the formula, by changing our approach to plotting, or taking characters and character relationships in new and unexpected directions.

The point is, if we challenge ourselves, if we remind ourselves to “pitch inside,” we will breathe new life into our work, grow as artists, and, likely, have more fun.

Keep writing!

Monday Musings: The Peaceful Transfer of Power

For students of American history, the late eighteenth century is filled with consequential dates and events. The signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the end of the Revolutionary War in 1781, the meeting of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, and the ratification of the Constitution in 1788.

The date that marked the true establishment of our American republic, however, did not come until 1800-1801. At the turn of the nineteenth century, Thomas Jefferson, a Democratic-Republican, narrowly defeated Federalist President John Adams in a national election. The following March, as spelled out in the fledgling Constitution, Adams and his fellow Federalists voluntarily relinquished power so that their partisan rivals could assume control of the government. This acquiescence to the people’s will, this statement of belief in the greater good, turned the ideal of a democratic republic into reality.

Over the past 220 years, our nation has repeated this ritual literally dozens of times. Democratic-Republicans have given way to Whigs, who have given way to Democrats, who have given way to Republicans, who, in turn, have given way once more to Democrats. And so on. The peaceful transfer of power lies at the very heart of our system of government. Declaring and winning independence was important. Creating a foundational document, flawed though it was, that spelled out how our government would work was crucial.

None of it would have meant a thing, however, if in actual practice America’s election losers refused to accept defeat, to acknowledge the legitimate claim to power of America’s election winners. Only twice in our history, has the peaceful transfer of power not gone as the Founders intended. The first time, in 1860, Republican Abraham Lincoln defeated three other candidates, and the nation went to war with itself. The second time, in 1876, America’s leaders barely avoided a second armed conflict by installing Rutherford B. Hayes over the election’s actual winner, Samuel Tilden. The deal struck by party leaders condemned the American South to more than a century of racial tyranny.

Now, nearly a century and a half later, we face the prospect of a third attempt to undermine the peaceful transfer of power. Donald Trump, knowing that he is deep trouble politically, has refused to say that he will honor the results of this year’s election. He is doing all he can to sow doubt about the integrity of our voting system, particularly mail-in ballots. More ominous, he and his campaign are making overtures to Republican-controlled state legislatures in battleground states, hoping they will appoint electors who support him, regardless of the election’s outcome in those states.

This is unheard of. It is anti-democratic. It is utterly corrupt. It is immoral. Most of all, it poses an existential threat to the continued existence of our nation as we know it. Our Constitutional system, for all its strengths, is completely dependent upon the good faith of all actors involved. The moment one party threatens to ignore the will of the people, to seek power regardless of vote count, the entire structure is revealed as brittle, even fragile. So grave is this threat, that the U.S. Senate, whose 100 members cannot agree on the time of day, much less any sort of policy, on Thursday passed by unanimous consent a resolution reaffirming the importance of the peaceful transfer of power to the integrity and viability of our system of government.

Let’s be clear about a few of things.

First, voting by mail has been going on for decades. It is a reliable, safe practice. Instances of voter fraud in this country are incredibly rare, and that holds for vote-by-mail as well as in-person voting.

Second, there is no difference between the mechanisms used for absentee ballot voting and vote-by-mail. It’s all the same.

Third, as residents of Florida, Donald and Melania Trump will both be voting by mail in that state.

Fourth, Donald Trump expects to lose. A candidate who thinks he’s going to win does not cast doubt on the process. He does not refuse to say that he will accept the results of the election. He does not attempt to enlist partisan allies in a conspiracy to steal power.

Fifth, the greater Joe Biden’s vote total, nationally and in each state, the harder it will be for Trump and his allies to steal the election. This is not the year to vote for a third-party candidate. This is not the year to skip voting altogether. The stakes could not be higher.

I am no fan of Mitt Romney, and this past week he didn’t exactly endear himself to me. But he did say something that is worth paraphrasing. In affirming his own commitment to the peaceful transfer of power, he said that the idea, and ideal, of respecting the people’s voice, of surrendering power to a victorious rival, is what separates us from Belarus, from quasi-democracies and nations that use the rhetoric of liberty to mask dictatorship and authoritarianism.

The United States has honored its commitment to this principle for most of its existence. We cannot allow one man’s ego and insatiable appetite for power and profit to undo more than two centuries of history.