Tag Archives: urban fantasy

Writing-Tip Wednesday: Writers Read

I’m tempted to leave the post at that and go open a beer. Writers have to be readers. Period. Full stop.

But it’s morning, and I really shouldn’t be drinking beer this early, so allow me to elaborate…

In last week’s Writing-Tip Wednesday post I tried to ease up on the old “truism” that writers have to write every day. This week, I address another truism (Spoiler Alert: notice the lack of quotation marks this time…): Writers have to be readers.

I will admit that I find this one so basic, so integral to all that it means to be a writer, that I’m tempted to leave the post at that and go open a beer. Writers have to be readers. Period. Full stop.

But it’s morning, and I really shouldn’t be drinking beer this early, so allow me to elaborate…

To my mind, trying to be a professional writer without being a serious reader, is like trying to be a professional athlete without exercising. Except golf and NASCAR. Okay, bad analogy… But you get what I mean.

Seriously, though, we make our livings with the written word; we should be consumers of what we produce. And I expect that for most people this is not a burdensome idea. Generally speaking, those of us who care about words and language and storytelling are drawn to reading without need of being prompted.

That said, I have had people ask me what sorts of things I read and, perhaps more to the point, what sorts of things beginning writers ought to be reading.

The answer to the second question, for the most part, is “whatever you want.” Really. If you like epic fantasy and horror, read those. If you like mystery and urban fantasy and space opera, read those. If you like guitar magazines and books about photography (not that there’s anyone here who likes those things…) have at it. Read what you enjoy, what interests you. Just read.

Then again, if you’re serious about being a professional writer, you should be familiar with the genres AND forms in which you write. You should familiarize yourself with some of the classics of whatever sort of story you wish to write, and you should also be reading new work, to see where your chosen genre is headed. At the same time, you don’t have to read EVERYTHING in the field, or even every book or series considered a classic or a current trendsetter. We all have our preferences, we know what we like and what we don’t. There is a HUGE amount of material available to us and life is just too short to read books we don’t enjoy.

So, as a for instance: I have been writing epic fantasy off and on for close to twenty-five years. I started my career writing big fat high fantasies. By that time, I had read extensively in the genre – classics by Tolkien and Lewis and LeGuin, more recent books by Kerr, Donaldson, Kurtz, Brooks, Eddings, McCaffrey (though she considered herself a science fiction writer rather than a fantasist), Mary Stewart, and my favorite, Guy Gavriel Kay. And so I was familiar with the tropes. I knew which I wanted to avoid and which I wanted to build upon. I knew the story structure. I understood what was required in building worlds and magic systems.

When I decided to start working on urban fantasy, I read extensively in THAT genre, learning the tropes and narrative structures and character arcs that one finds in those books.

These are the reasons we read in our genres: because books and stories don’t exist in a vacuum. They are part of a larger conversation. They are, in a sense, contributions to a dialogue that will, we hope, continue long after we are gone. Trying to write without being familiar with the genre is not only an act of supreme arrogance, it is also a great way to wind up inadvertently writing something that is either too similar to someone else’s work or so far outside the realm of what readers expect that the books fall flat.

On the other hand, there are obvious omissions from my list of epic fantasy authors. I didn’t read Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. I didn’t read past the first book of Terry Goodkind’s series. I actually stopped reading A Song of Ice and Fire because the set-up was too similar in certain ways to my Winds of the Forelands books and I didn’t want to be accused of copying from George R.R. Martin. (A few people accused me of this anyway, but what can you do?)

The point is, we can read to learn our craft without having to treat that reading as a mandatory study list. Read. Read a lot. But choose books that you want to read. If you’re interested in writing short fiction, and are not as sure of yourself in short form work, pick up a couple of collections and/or anthologies. (What’s the difference? Collections are books of one author’s short fiction; anthologies have works by several different authors.) You couldn’t possibly read all the anthologies and collections out there, so choose the ones that sound interesting to you. (And yes, I can recommend a couple of titles…)

But if you want to write, you absolutely have to read. Yes, I’m going there. This is not negotiable. This is not one of those questions for which there are lots of different answers.

Writers read.

Period. Full stop.

Keep writing! (And reading!)

The Summer/Fall 2016 Blog Tour

Children of Amarid, by David B. Coe (jacket art by Romas Kukalis)Internet problems and other issues have kept me from updating, and so I have a couple of posts to tell you about today.

I have a post up at the blog of my friend Gail Z. Martin on my return to epic fantasy after so many years of writing urban fantasy. Gail is an epic fantasist who has also done UF as well, so it seemed natural to post about this on her site. I’m grateful to her for hosting me. You can find this post here.

You can also find a synopsis of the first book and information about purchasing the book and/or entering the giveaway for gift cards at Drey’s Library and at Joelle Reizes’s blog Slippery Words. Check them out!

Release Day For HIS FATHER’S EYES!!

His Father's Eyes, by David B. Coe (Jacket art by Alan Pollock)Today is release day for His Father’s Eyes, second book in The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, the contemporary urban fantasy that I write under my own name for Baen Books. To mark the occasion, the 2015 Summer-of-Two-Releases Virtual Tour makes several stops.

First, I am back visiting again with Faith Hunter, and this time Jay Fearsson, the hero of my series is interviewed by Jane Yellowrock, the kickass heroine of Faith’s New York Times bestselling series. Not only that, but fans of her books should know that Beast makes an appearance as interviewer as well. You can find the interview here. I guarantee you’ll enjoy it.

I am also back at the Magical Words blog site, with a post about the new book and all that it means to me. This was a difficult and cathartic book for me to write, and the post touches on why. You can find it here.

And finally, Joelle Reizes has been kind enough to host me for her Five Questions in Five Minutes feature. You can find our Q&A here.

So help me celebrate release day. And if you’re interesting in finding a copy of the novel, you can use the links on this page. Thank you!

Breaking a “How-to-be-an-Author 101” Rule

One of the first rules of writing etiquette — I mean really “How-to-be-an-Author 101” type stuff — is never respond to reviews. We have our say with the books and stories we write. Our readers get to comment on them in reviews, blogs, etc. And at that point we’re really best off keeping our virtual mouths shut. In fact, most of the time we’re better off not even reading our reviews. I know this. I understand the reasoning. I get it.

I just came within a hair’s breadth of violating that “Don’t respond” rule. Why? Because there are now two reviews of SPELL BLIND on Amazon that accuse me of “blatantly ripping off” the Harry Dresden books by Jim Butcher. I have, I assure you, done no such thing.

First of all, Jim Butcher is a friend, and I wouldn’t do that to a friend.

Second, with apologies to Jim, I’ve only read the first two Dresden books, and that was back in 2004.

Third, from what I know of the Dresden books, I have to say that the Justis Fearsson books are not really all that similar. They’re darker, the weremyste element of my series is quite different from Harry’s magic, and the plot lines of all three books in my series (SPELL BLIND is out, HIS FATHER’S EYES will be released in August, and SHADOW’S BLADE is written and in the early stages of production) are, from my perspective, pretty original.

So what has these reviewers so outraged? Well, they don’t like that my character is also a male private detective with magic. I wonder, if I had made my protagonist female, if they would have accused me of ripping off Faith Hunter or Patricia Briggs or Kim Harrison or any number of other incredibly talented and successful female authors, or if they’re just protective of Jim and Harry. I wonder as well if I had left out the magic, whether they would even have picked up the book.

One of them complains that I use “internal monologue.” So does every book with a first or close-third person point of view. ‘Nuff said.

They also don’t like the fact that a higher up in the Phoenix police force (my books are set in Phoenix; Dresden lives in Chicago, I believe) has it in for my main character. That, of course, is a trope that goes back well before the first Dresden book. It is, in fact, something that you find in nearly all great private eye stories. That’s what makes it a trope. Same with the friend on the police force. I don’t apologize for either of those devices — tropes are tropes for a reason. We authors use them, we play with them, we make them our own.

While we’re talking about tropes — the spirit guide who helps the magic wielder with his spell-work is one readers will find in almost any urban fantasy. Yes, Namid’skemu in my books falls into the category. He is really nothing like the talking skull I remember from the Dresden books, but his mere presence seems to be enough to tick these guys off. Again, I refer them to other authors who write in the genre. We all use this. I’m allowed to as well.

Magical serial murders? Jim was not the first to do this, and I am certainly neither the second nor the last. Another trope.

One of the reviewers objects to the fact that my hero’s mother died a mysterious death and that this is similar to Harry Dresden’s personal history. To be perfectly honest, if I was in his position, I might object to this, too. It is a striking similarity, one of which I was not aware until I read his review. If this is mentioned in one of those first two Dresden novels, it had not registered with me in a meaningful way. I swear it was not something I “copied” from Jim’s work. It’s probably too specific to call it a trope, but I will say that in fantasy novels of all stripes, it’s not at all uncommon for the protagonists to lose one parent or the other under mysterious circumstances. It’s a useful plot seed for later volumes. And I think that Jay’s relationship with his father, which is one of the strongest themes of the Fearsson books, sets it apart from Butcher’s work and that of others in the genre.

Look, I’ve been writing fantasy professionally, under two names, for nearly twenty years, publishing 16 novels — 18 by the end of this summer — earning a Crawford Award, excellent reviews, good enough sales to survive in a tough business, and the respect of my peers, which I value above all else. I would not rip off the work of a friend or a colleague. I don’t need to. I have  plenty of good ideas on my own, thanks very much. Are there superficial similarities between my urban fantasy and other urban fantasies out there, including the Dresden Files? Perhaps. But read the books. Really read them. Jay Fearsson is very much my own creation. So are the characters surrounding him.  So is my magic system.

If you don’t like the books, fine. I can live with that. If you like Jim’s more, also fine.

But don’t accuse me of plagiarism. Don’t impugn my professionalism and my integrity based upon your reading of one book. It’s not true and it’s not fair.

 

A New Interview is Up!

My friend Joshua Palmatier (aka Benjamin Tate) has interviewed me about the release of Spell Blind, the first book in the Case Files of Justis Fearsson. We talk about pseudonyms, urban fantasy, and character development, and, of course, we do so with panache. So check it out. You can find the interview here.