Tag Archives: family

Monday Musings: Writing What We Have To

I need to work through the memories and regrets, the guilt and love, the unresolved conflicts and incomplete conversations. Not because I want to, though I do, and not even because I might actually have a home for it when it’s done. I have to write it because NOT writing this story is keeping me from doing my best work on other projects.

As the year began, I found myself in the unusual position of not knowing what to work on. I have one book under contract, but it’s already written and I’m waiting for revision notes. I have the anthology submissions to read and I had to write my own story for Galactic Stew (a new Thieftaker story, for those of you who are fans of the series). After that, though…

I have ideas –projects I intend to take on this year, and I’ll get to those. But there was and is another factor at work.

Some of you know that we lost my oldest brother a couple of years ago. The truth is, I have struggled with everything I’ve written since then. I’ve put out some of the best work of my career – the final products have come out well. But my initial drafts have been far rougher than usual, and the actual process of writing, which I usually love, has been painful.

I didn’t make the connection at first. You might think I would have – it seems so obvious to me now. I suppose, though, that sometimes when we’re in the middle of an emotional storm, it’s not as obvious as perhaps it becomes in retrospect. The fact is, I’m still grieving, and I hadn’t processed my brother’s death.

Until now.

I am working on something new, something utterly different from anything I’ve written before. I’m writing essay-length memoir, a family history that touches not just on my complicated, loving relationship with my brother, but also on parallels between our relationship and the relationship between my father and his brother, who died in World War II. As it happens, an editor has expressed interest in working with me on the project, so I might even wind up selling it.

Honestly, though, the possible sale is secondary.

Sometimes we write what we’re supposed to – a book that’s under contract, a story we’ve promised to one market or another, the next book or novella in a series we’re publishing ourselves. Sometimes we write what we want to. We have nothing under contract or required of us and we dive into the idea that has captured our heart, maybe one that has been percolating in our thoughts for months or even years.

And sometimes we write what we have to, as in the case of this non-fiction piece. Even if it doesn’t come out well, even if no one ever wants to publish it, I need to process these emotions creatively. I need to work through the memories and regrets, the guilt and love, the unresolved conflicts and incomplete conversations. Not because I want to, though I do, and not even because I might actually have a home for it when it’s done. I have to write it because NOT writing this story is keeping me from doing my best work on other projects.

My art is my work, and it’s also my livelihood. Creativity is an expression of will and vision. It can be cerebral. It can be whimsical. It can be calculatingly commercial. That my professional work provides as well an emotional outlet is both a blessing and a burden. Often I am able to process personal issues and confront personal demons as I write. This time I couldn’t. This time I actually had to write about me and my life.

It’s been weird writing this piece. At times it’s incredibly hard. I usually try to write to a certain word count each day. I haven’t with the memoir. I don’t want to force it, and I’m not sure I could. Memories have come to me while I write, some painful, some happy. All of them have enriched the essay. More to the point, each evening when I finish work for the day, I feel just a little lighter, a bit more at peace. I don’t miss my brother any less, but I’m certain that writing about him is helping me heal. Finally.

And that’s what I hope you’ll take away from this. We write to be published. We write because it’s what we love to do. We also write because we have to – for peace, for love, for solace, and for the clarity we need to do our best work.

Monday Musings: Music and Memory

Last week, I wrote about the musical biographies and autobiographies I’ve been reading, and I wanted to stay on the theme of music this week.

I am the youngest of four kids, and all of my siblings are (were) much older than I am. The oldest was nearly fifteen years older, the other two twelve and six years respectively. When I was young, all three of them delighted in turning me on to their favorite musicians. This was particularly true of my oldest brother, Bill, who we lost a couple of years ago. I was born in the early 1960s, which meant that my siblings were children of the 60s, and they listened to some pretty amazing music. I was given my first rock/pop record when I was all of seven years old – James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James. By the time I was ten or so, I had a record collection (yes, records. LPs. Kids, ask your parents…) that included four James Taylor albums, three Carole King records (including the remarkable Tapestry), Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s eponymous debut album as well as CSN&Y’s Déjà Vu, a couple of records by Simon and Garfunkel, several by the Beatles, Loggins and Messina’s Sittin’ In – a terrific and underrated album — Don McLean’s American Pie, and other titles that I’m blocking on right now.

I don’t mean this as a humble brag. It wasn’t about MY taste – it was theirs, seeping into my musical consciousness. But the benefit of it was that they served as gatekeepers for me, filtering out the crap and passing along the good stuff. (Mostly. Don McLean really was the prototypical one-hit wonder. “American Pie” is an incredible song, and “Vincent” was pretty good. The rest of the album is forgettable at best. And I also had other albums that I haven’t listened to in years: America’s first album, a couple by Seals and Crofts, and others I’m too ashamed to admit to. [Small voice] I’m pretty sure there was a Helen Reddy album in there…)

My tastes have expanded of course – rock, jazz, bluegrass, classical. But to this day, the music to which they introduced me remains at the core of my listening habits. Which means that when I listen to music, I am often flooded with memories of my childhood and adolescence and reminded of interactions with one sibling or another. As you might guess, this has become bittersweet in the years since Bill died.

Yet, I wouldn’t have it any other way. In fact, I have a mix on my phone that is named for Bill and that is collected from albums he first played for me, artists we talked about and argued about, albums I introduced him to when I grew old enough to make our musical interactions two-way. The list includes literally hundreds of songs.

Music, like a familiar aroma, has the power to transport us, to carry us through time to emotions that feel as fresh as oven-warmed bread. That is the joy of it, and yes, the sorrow as well.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this. This blog feature is called Monday Musings for a reason. I have no agenda. I’m listening to music, missing my brother, thinking of calling my other brother, just to tell him that I love him. And so I leave you with a thought and a question:

The thought: When we gift music, we do more than give a disk or a tape or an LP or an iTunes gift card. We give memory, emotion, a piece of ourselves. Over the years, my brothers and I gave each other music all the time, and even years later, those particular gifts are more dear to me than I can say.

And the question: What was some of the earliest music that found its way into your life, and what sort of memories does it carry?

Feel free to answer me on Facebook or Twitter.

Wishing you a great week.

The South Australia Coast — Photo Friday

Good morning and welcome to the first installment of Photography Fridays, my new 2020 blogging feature. The point of this is to share with you my passion for photography, which is nearly as strong as my passion for writing. I also hope the feature will encourage me to get out and use my camera even more than I already do.

Today, though, I begin with a few photos I took during my family’s recent trip to Australia. We lived Down Under for a full year back in 2005-06, and returned there late this fall to see our younger daughter, who was completing a semester abroad in the Brisbane area. After joining up with her, we traveled to Adelaide in the state of South Australia, and drove out to Innes National Park, at the very end of the Yorke Peninsula (our route altered by fire-related road closures).

Innes is an amazing place. It includes some of the most dramatic coastal terrain I’ve ever seen. It’s a haven for kangaroos as well as emus and scores of other bird species. It has also been, over the past century and a half, the scene of dozens of shipwrecks, the remains of which still lie on beaches and reefs around the park. The surf was stunning while we were there – huge waves crashing down on rocky shores and sending plumes of foam and spray thirty-plus feet into the air. The water was deep blue and amazingly clear, the cliffs a palette of warm earth tones. And yet, I found that my favorite images worked best in black in white – stunning contrasts of light and dark, of patterns and textures and shapes. Here are three. I hope you enjoy them.

"View From Cape Spencer" by David B. Coe "Water and Sky -- Innes Coast" by David B. Coe "Innes Coast Breaker" by David B. Coe

Beyond the Dark Place: A #HoldOnToTheLight Post

#HoldOnToTheLight

We traffic in emotion and internal monologue, in the interpretation of sensation and the vagaries of mood and feeling. Most of the time — at least ideally — we can separate our own emotions and thoughts from those of our characters. But when our own lives are roiled — by grief or loss, by jealousy or resentment, or by the slow, relentless grind of depression — separating ourselves from the turmoil we impose upon our characters grows ever more difficult.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that months have passed since my last blog post. Sharing online, be it to offer writing advice or share news of one sort or another, is an inherently public act. And for some time now, I have been in an intensely private space.

Many of you will know at least some of the reasons for this; others won’t, and really that’s all right. For the purposes of this post, the reasons don’t matter. We all deal with loss and upheaval, frustrations and disappointments, be they personal or professional. Writers are no different.

Except that’s not exactly true. We are different in that more than most people, we live in our own heads. We traffic in emotion and internal monologue, in the interpretation of sensation and the vagaries of mood and feeling. Most of the time — at least ideally — we can separate our own emotions and thoughts from those of our characters. But when our own lives are roiled — by grief or loss, by jealousy or resentment, or by the slow, relentless grind of depression — separating ourselves from the turmoil we impose upon our characters grows ever more difficult.

I found it hard to write this summer. That doesn’t happen to me often.  I was wracked with self-doubt, with a sense of professional and personal helplessness the frightened me. I grappled with an emotional lethargy, the like of which I’d never experienced before, one that felt both utterly alien and dangerously alluring. Don’t fight it, it seemed to say. It’ll be so much easier if you don’t fight it.

I was exhausted, which didn’t help matters. Family and professional obligations had me traveling almost constantly: Over a span of about 16 weeks, I spent a total of more than eight weeks on the road. By the end, I was ready to cancel my final trips, which would have meant giving up a free trip to Calgary for a convention and the workshop I was to teach there, and also skipping DragonCon, which is always one of my favorite events of the year. It’s a sign of how low I was that I would consider giving up even one of those trips, much less both.

I made myself go to Calgary, not because I overcame my dark torpor, but simply because I had made a commitment to the people there. A professional writer honors such obligations and I found that I could do no less. I’m so glad I did. Because that trip to western Canada started me on the path to recovery. For a week, I had no choice but to focus outward, to interact with people — strangers and friends both — and to think about things other than those that had battered and bruised me all summer. By the time I returned home, I had started to recognize myself again, to see in my emotions and my sense of creativity something of the normal me. Since then, I’ve had a bit of good news, and I’ve had a wonderful four days at DragonCon. I’m better, and I’m overwhelmed with relief. That dark place frightened me.

People who deal with mental health issues on a day-to-day basis face far greater challenges than those with which I dealt these past few months. The pit is deeper, the path out is longer, steeper, and it’s strewn with obstacles I can barely imagine. I’m fortunate, and I know it. More to the point, I’m not so glib or ignorant as to suggest that what shook me out of my dark place will work for others. Just the opposite, really. I write today with profound admiration for those who struggle each day with depression, with the insidious lethargy that trapped me briefly this summer. I experienced it for a few harrowing weeks, and nearly succumbed to it. Some live with it daily, for years on end, and yet they soldier on.

The #HoldOnToTheLight campaign is about raising awareness of mental health issues. This summer I lost a brother who was as dear to me as anyone in this world. He struggled much of his life with depression and substance abuse, and though the thread connecting those issues with his death is thin and difficult to trace, I know it’s there. I acknowledged before that I’ve been fortunate throughout my life. He wasn’t. What I glimpsed in myself this summer, particularly after his death, he braved every day. I understand him a little better now — cold comfort to be sure, and yet illuminating. I’ll carry that knowledge with me for the rest of my life, and always it will be braided with my love for him. And all I can hope is that it will make me a better person, a better friend, a better brother to the siblings I have left, a better father and spouse, and yes, even a better writer.

*****
#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.

Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to http://www.HoldOnToTheLight.com and join us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/WeHoldOnToTheLight

*****
David B. Coe/D.B. Jackson is the award-winning author of nineteen fantasy novels. As David B. Coe, he writes The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, a contemporary urban fantasy from Baen Books consisting of Spell Blind, His Father’s Eyes, and Shadow’s Blade. Under the name D.B. Jackson, he writes the Thieftaker Chronicles, a historical urban fantasy from Tor Books that includes Thieftaker, Thieves’ Quarry, A Plunder of Souls, and Dead Man’s Reach.

David is also the author of the Crawford Award-winning LonTobyn Chronicle, which he has recently reissued, as well as the critically acclaimed Winds of the Forelands quintet and Blood of the Southlands trilogy. He wrote the novelization of Ridley Scott’s movie, Robin Hood. David’s books have been translated into a dozen languages.

He lives on the Cumberland Plateau with his wife and two daughters. They’re all smarter and prettier than he is, but they keep him around because he makes a mean vegetarian fajita. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.

http://www.DavidBCoe.com
http://www.davidbcoe.com/blog/
http://www.dbjackson-author.com
http://www.facebook.com/david.b.coe

https://www.amazon.com/author/davidbcoe

The Virtual Tour Goes to the Library

I discovered worlds there. As a kid, I was fascinated by nature and the Apollo moon missions, and so I took out every book I could find on birds and mammals, rockets and space. Thanks to the librarian — I’ve forgotten her name, but I remember that she learned mine right away, and welcomed me every time I walked through the doors to the Children’s Room — I was introduced to the charming stories of Sterling North, and found countless books about baseball (another of my passions).

After a brief break, the 2015 Summer-of-Two-Releases Virtual Tour resumes today with a post over at the Word Nerds Review site. Bethany and Stacie, who run the site, are both strong advocates for public libraries, and they asked me to write about what libraries have meant to me. It was an easy and joyful piece to write. You can find the post here.

My Mom

MomandMeThere was a time when I was in graduate school . . .

I was working on a paper — a big one, the cornerstone project of one of the classes I was taking at the time — and struggling to figure out what story I was trying to tell. I had done most of my research, and I had all of my bullet point arguments set up in a row, but I just couldn’t see what they meant, where it was all pointing.

It was a Sunday afternoon, and as I was sitting there, pulling out my hair, my mom called to see how I was. We usually spoke a couple of times each week, but this particular week I’d been busy and so we hadn’t spoken in a number of days. We started chatting and I told her about the project and my struggles.

And after listening to me for about ten minutes, she asked one question — I remember exactly what it was. I won’t go into the details here, because this about my mom and not about my history project. But her question cut to the very core of the issue in a way I hadn’t yet recognized. She asked this question and everything clicked into place. Suddenly I had a narrative for all that research I’d done.

Mom was delighted to have helped. I was reminded once more of how brilliant she was, how insightful, how willing to listen to her children and guide them. I was in my twenties at the time, and had long since convinced myself that I had outgrown the need for her guidance. Of course I was wrong, and her incisiveness reminded me of that, as well.

Today, my Mom would be ninety-three, which blows my mind. We lost her long ago, at far too tender an age, and there isn’t a day goes by when I don’t miss her.

Happy birthday, Mom. I love you.

Guitar in the Evening

So, I’ve started giving guitar lessons to my younger daughter. She loves music, she sings beautifully, and she’s a talented writer and poet. I think that if she can learn guitar, she’ll start writing songs, which will give her an outlet for dealing with some of the stuff that comes with being 15.

We only started this week, and she’s just learning basic chords, while at the same time nursing sore finger tips on her fret hand. But we work on it a little bit each night before she goes off to sleep, and I have to say that it has been a wonderful way to end these past few days. Looking forward to tonight’s lesson.

Little Things

Sometimes it’s the little things that get us through a rough day — a warm exchange of messages with our teenage kid, time to chat with dear friends at a slow signing, the sound of a guitar with brand new strings on it, a lovely sunset out the office window, plans for a quiet dinner with our sweetie.

Today didn’t go the way I wanted it to. On several levels. But life is good, and really, those little things matter a lot more than the other stuff. I’m thankful today for friends and family, music and books, shining horizons and golden light on bare tree limbs. Have a good evening, all.

New Hobby, Old Liver . . .

I’m 51 years old — nearly 52 — and I have never made a Martini. I’ve drunk a few. More than a few, if I’m going to be honest. But I’ve never made one. I don’t know how. I know what’s involved — gin, vermouth, olives, Aston Martins — but I don’t know the exact recipe. For that matter, I also don’t know how to make a Manhattan, a Mojito, or a Mai Tai.

I think it’s about time I learned. My wife agrees. And so, inspired by a purchase I made over the holidays for my nephew, I have recently purchased a bartender’s recipe book. It’s a nice one — well-illustrated, pretty comprehensive, and cheap, because it was used. It has just arrived.

I have some studying to do.