All posts by David B. Coe

David B. Coe/D.B. Jackson is the award winning author of sixteen novels and many short stories. As David B. Coe (http://www.DavidBCoe.com) he has written the Crawford award-winning LonTobyn Chronicle, the Winds of the Forelands quintet, the Blood of the Southlands trilogy, and will soon release, SPELL BLIND, the first volume of the Case Files of Justis Fearsson. The second book, HIS FATHER’S EYES, will be out in the summer of 2015. Writing as D.B. Jackson (http://www.dbjackson-author.com), he is the author of the Thieftaker Chronicles -- THIEFTAKER, THIEVES’ QUARRY, A PLUNDER OF SOULS, and DEAD MAN’S REACH, which is also due out in summer 2015. David is part of the Magical Words group blog (http://magicalwords.net), and co-author of How To Write Magical Words: A Writer’s Companion. His books have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

Professional Wednesday: Hampton Roads Writers Conference, and the Hardest Writing Topic to Teach (For Me)

This week I head to the Hampton Roads Writers Conference in Virginia Beach. I’ll be teaching several workshops over the three days I’m there — a two-hour master class on “Point of View and Voice,” a ninety-minute class on “Character and Character Arc,” and two one-hour classes, one on “World Building” and one on “Pacing and Narrative Arc.” I always look forward to conferences like this one, in large part because I love to teach, and I love to talk about the craft of story telling.

Recently, some of you may recall, I wrote about the difficulties inherent in encouraging aspiring writers given the state of today’s literary market. I don’t believe teaching at the workshop contradicts or undermines what I wrote in that post. If students ask me about the business side of writing, I will be brutally honest with them. And even if they don’t ask the questions, I will not misrepresent the publishing industry or in any way downplay the difficulties currently faced by new writers.

Teaching writing, though, is always a service, always a worthwhile thing to do. Whether someone wishes to write professionally (despite the odds) or write as a hobby — or something in between — it can never hurt to hone those skills. I don’t ever intend to be a professional photographer or musician, but I am always looking to improve at both and would gladly attend photography workshops to learn new techniques. (Provided I can find the time and the money to do so — those workshops are spendy!) Put another way, if I can help any writer improve their skills and get more enjoyment out of their literary projects, I believe I have done a good thing.

I have taught on previous occasions all the topics I’ll be covering this weekend, and I can safely say that pacing and narrative arc are far and away the toughest to teach. Why? Because, they are somewhat amorphous topics. Point of view has definite categories and approaches. It has “rules” most writers tend to follow and most editors tend to look for. I have developed techniques and mechanisms for character development that I am more than happy share. And world building is a process with which I am very familiar and which can be broken down into component parts as a way of rationalizing a complex, sprawling endeavor.

Pacing, though, is all about feel, about instinct. I can talk about things I try to do myself, in my own work, but even those discussions tend to stray into the realm of analogies and metaphors, ways of describing something that defies description. A lot of what I have learned over the years about pacing and shaping narrative arc, has come out of trial and error, mistakes I made in one book or series and corrected in the next, or the one after that.

So why try to teach it? Because, quite honestly, despite the difficulties inherent in talking about a subject that is so hard to pin down — or perhaps because of those challenges — some of the best teaching sessions I’ve ever had focused on this subject. As the topic grows harder to discuss, I find, the classes on the topic grow increasingly interactive, until all in the room are working on ways to conceptualize and contextualize the conversation. In other words, it becomes a team effort, and that helps everyone in the room.

I plan to approach the class in three ways — one is conceptual, relying on those analogies I mentioned earlier; one is visual, using drawings to show how narrative arc ought to progress in a book and in a series; and one is pragmatic, focusing on those narrative mechanics that help us with pacing and that are easiest to discuss in concrete terms.

As I say, my past experiences with teaching pacing and narrative arc have generally been pretty good (and I just jinxed myself) so I am hoping this one will be, too.

The other thing I love about teaching at conferences like Hampton Roads is the opportunity to hang out with other industry professionals, and I believe the coming weekend will be especially fun, since two of my favorite people in the world, Edmund Schubert and John Hartness, will be there as well. In fact, Edmund is one of the conference’s keynote speakers.

So that’s what I have on tap for my end-of-week/weekend. I hope yours is great.

Keep writing!

Monday Musings: Celebrating Nancy

David and Nancy
Us in Dublin, Ireland for WorldCon 2019. (Photo by Cat Sparks)

I mention Nancy on this blog quite often, yet, I rarely write about her. Well, she has a big birthday coming up this week (tomorrow) — a BIG birthday — and so this seems as good a time as any to sing her praises.

For those who have somehow missed the references, Nancy is my wife of thirty-plus years. She and I met at Stanford, when we were both getting our Ph.D.s. She was a first-year grad student in biology; I was in my second year in the history program. We met because one of her suite-mates in grad school housing, another history candidate, brought her to the department’s weekly grad student card game at the on-campus pub.

Yes, we met over a game of hearts, and we were both smitten that very day. Nancy later confessed that she saw me and thought, “Oh, this is the guy I’m going to marry.” Poor thing . . . . For my part, being a guy, I saw her and thought, “Wow!”

Wedding Day Photo 1
Our wedding day, 1991.

We were married in the Rodin Sculpture Garden beside Stanford’s art museum, and a year later moved to Tennessee so that Nancy could take an assistant professorship at Sewanee: The University of the South. Our plan was to stay for a couple of years, and if nothing worked out for me in the history department, we’d leave for wherever and start again with me taking the offered job and her trying to work something out. Rinse, repeat until both of us were employed. That was the idea. But at her urging I started to pursue my lifelong dream of writing fantasy professionally, and before we had to leave, I got my first publishing contract. Thirty years later, we’re still here.

Nancy provost installation
Our family, the day Nancy was officially made provost of the university. Erin is on the left, Alex is on the right.

In that time, Nancy has been assistant professor, associate professor, full professor, and chairperson of her department. She has been appointed to a named chair in the biology department (for those unfamiliar with academia, this is big deal). She has received research grants to support her scholarship from a host of organizations and agencies, including the National Science Foundation. She has been an associate dean, associate provost, university provost, and, for the past nine months, acting president of the university. She is the first woman ever to serve as Sewanee’s president.

I am a pretty confident person. I believe in my creative abilities, and I believe in my own intelligence. I like to think that I’m usually one of the smartest people in whatever room I’m in. And yet, when both of us are home, I’m not even the smartest person in my own kitchen.

Erin, Nancy, Alex
Erin, Nancy, and Alex.

Nancy is a creative thinker, too, though in an entirely different way. Her creativity, her brilliance, is rooted in her ability to approach any problem, any issue, at any given time, from multiple perspectives. This is what has made her such a successful scientist, and it is what informs her strategic thinking as an institutional leader. She is also a person of remarkable yet quiet strength. She is serving as president, coping with issues large and small, interacting with people in various university constituencies who, let us say, sometimes forget how to be their best selves. She is also, like me, dealing with the illness of her child. She recently lost her mother and, with her brothers, had to help get her father situated in an assisted living community. She is spouse, mother, daughter, sister, friend, colleague, community leader. She does all of this with composure, with grace, with her sparkling and mischievous wit, with an equanimity that humbles and dazzles me on a daily basis.

Nancy and Samantha
Back when we first started dating. Nancy is the one on the left . . .

Yes, I adore her. I would never claim to be a neutral observer where Nancy is concerned. But you don’t have to trust me on any of what I’ve written here. Others will say it as well, including many who don’t always see eye-to-eye with her. That is part of her charm. She can disarm with a smile. She can discuss without bringing ego to the conversation, and — something truly rare in today’s world — she can agree cordially to disagree.

And still I haven’t begun to scratch the surface when it comes to telling you about her. She is far more than her professional activities. She knits and gardens, she brews beer and makes AMAZING Indian, Thai, Moroccan, and Southwestern cuisine, not to mention gorgeous fresh bread and the best chocolate chip cookies anywhere. She has run triathlons and used to be an active rock climber. She loves to travel and to hike (and she tolerates my birdwatching interruptions when we’re hiking together). She plays cards and board games and is somehow really good at all of them.

I’ll stop now. Except to say she’s the love of my life, my partner in silliness, my best friend. And yeah, tomorrow’s her birthday.

Happy birthday, Sweetie. Love you.

Professional Wednesday: Once More Unto The Breach — To Outline or Not, Redux

After attending DragonCon and speaking on panels about various aspects of writing, I have found myself thinking—yet again—about the age-old debate between those who outline their books and those who don’t. Or, between planners and pantsers, in the parlance of the discussion. And yes, I know those who write without an outline object to the term “pantsing.” (For those unfamiliar with the term, it comes from the phrase “Flying [or in this case ‘writing’] by the seat of one’s pants.”)

I actually understand and sympathize with these objections to the term. As one who sometimes writes with an outline and sometimes without, I can say with confidence that I am no less a writer when in the midst of those projects that defy my efforts to outline ahead of time.

As I have said before, my creative process reinvents itself with each project I take on, often with each book. Some projects lend themselves to outlining and are better suited to a systematic approach to plotting. The Thieftaker books in particular are easy to outline. Indeed, when writing in the Thieftaker universe I feel outlining is absolutely essential. With each book and story, I seek to blend historical events with fictional ones, and keeping the two timelines—the imagined and the real—in sync, demands that I have plan things out with care.

Time’s Children, by D.B. Jackson © Angry Robot. Art by Jan Weßbecher.TIME'S DEMON, by D.B. Jackson (Art by Jan Weßbecher)Time's Assassin, book III of The Islevale Cycle, by D.B. Jackson (jacket art by Robyne Pomroy)

On the other hand, I have written books that I could not outline at all, despite making every attempt to do so. Most notably, the three volumes of my Islevale Cycle (Time’s Children, Time’s Demon, and Time’s Assassin) simply would not submit themselves to any sort of advanced planning. They were like children, refusing to sit still long enough to be photographed.

I have also said before that to me the outlining thing is not so much a binary choice—outline in detail or write the books without any planning at all—as it is a continuum. Even the most dedicated “pantsers” I know have a good idea of where their books are headed. They just don’t like to be tied to a formal outline. In the same way, the most diligent outliners I know leave a great many details out of their outlines, allowing themselves to create in the moment, to preserve the energy that comes from writing organically. Each of us is a little bit planner, a little bit pantser, a little bit country, a little bit rock ‘n roll . . . .

(That is my first, and will be my only, Osmond reference EVER in this blog . . . .)

So why am I revisiting the outlining question this week? Because I am in the process of finishing the third volume in my upcoming Celtic urban fantasy series (which STILL needs a series name!!) and in the final weeks of writing the book, I have been outlining—perhaps it’s more accurate to say RE-outlining—the last ten chapters or so of the story.

And I’ve realized this is something I do a lot. Yes, I try to outline most books, but I almost never outline all the way to the end of the novel. Why? Because things change along the way. I can set out plot points for the first fifteen or twenty chapters of a book before I begin writing Chapter 1, but I know my story is going to shift along the way. Characters will do things that surprise me, that upset my best-laid plans. It’s inevitable. And, in fact, I welcome those kinds of narrative disruptions. When my characters start surprising me, it means they have become fully realized personalities in my head, which is always a good thing.

So, I might outline twenty chapters initially, but I almost always need to adjust my outlines starting at around chapter ten. And then I need to do it again at around chapter seventeen or eighteen. And then I need to do it yet again for the final five or ten chapters of the book.

Put another way, outlining is not simply a task I complete early on, before I start to write my book, and I never think of my outline as a static document. Rather outlining is a process, something I have to revisit several times along the way in order to keep up with the constant creative evolution of my narrative vision.

Because, like so many writers, I am a hybrid. I plan my stories and I also write organically. I adhere to an overarching concept and I adapt to an ever-changing plot line. I take comfort in having a roadmap for my novel and I draw energy from all the story ideas I discover along the way. As I say, my process changes with each project, but these things remain the same.

I like to say there is no single right way to do any of this. Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to plot or you have to write organically. Find the balance that fits best with your creative style.

And, of course, keep writing.

Monday Musings: Some Hard Truths About Me

I don’t do well with change. You know how little kids have trouble with transitions, how you need to warn them about impending shifts in circumstance? “Sweetie, I know it’s been fun visiting Grandma and Grandpa, but in a few minutes we’re going to have to say goodbye, okay?” Sometimes even fair warning can’t stave off a complete meltdown, but it’s the only tool we have, right?

Well, I’m not much different from a toddler in this respect. I don’t like transitions. The way I see it, I’m close to sixty years old and at this point I have set up my life pretty much the way I want it to be. So, change equals bad.

In the last two months, my dentist and my general practitioner have both announced that they are leaving their practices, and my therapist has told me that due to the fact she’s about to have her first child (truthfully, I am very, very happy for her and her partner), she will be stepping back from her practice for the next half year or so.

It’s me, isn’t it? This is not mere coincidence. I don’t know what I did, but clearly I did something. I shower. I brush my teeth. And even if I didn’t do these things, my therapist and I do tele-therapy sessions, so she wouldn’t know.

All kidding aside, I have been with my GP for close to twenty years, my dentist for more than ten. Relationships like those are not easily replaced. And I really don’t do well with change . . . .

This is one of those Monday posts that’s going to bounce around a lot. It’s not that I have nothing on my mind, nothing to write about. It’s that I have too many things, and some of them are best left unsaid, at least in a public forum. I’m not very good at keeping my mouth shut, figuratively or literally. When I’m pissed off, I tend to say so, and I don’t hesitate to call people out for bad behavior. This sounds admirable in some ways. Really it’s not. It gets me in trouble far more often than not. It rarely makes any situation better.

And so this week, I am looking for things to write and I have lots of ideas. But each one bumps up against my (admittedly underdeveloped) sense of discretion.

In order to avoid creating problems closer to home, I have considered writing about the Yankees and the Mets, my two beloved baseball teams, who are both in the process of blowing massive leads they enjoyed in their respective divisions not so very long ago. But I complain about such things just about every year. If I’m not complaining about them blowing a lead, I’m complaining about them not having a lead. If I’m not complaining about the Yankees, I’m complaining about the Mets. It’s actually a rare season in which I can complain legitimately about both, so I suppose I should be grateful. But let’s be honest: no one wants to read my complaints about two privileged but poorly run New York teams who can’t get their shit together. So, moving on . . . .

I have also considered writing about the upcoming midterm elections, which are looking far better for the progressive-minded today than they were a few months ago. But let’s be honest, midterms usually hurt the party in power, and with inflation high, gas prices still above normal, and the country polarized, things don’t look great. I won’t get into who is to blame for what, except to say that inflation and gas prices are high everywhere, all over the world. The U.S. is hardly an outlier in this regard. In fact, things are better here than in most places.

The problem is, though, politics these days is one of the things that sets off my anxiety in a big way. And since my therapist will soon be unavailable (please refer back to paragraph 3), well, focusing on the midterms is probably not the best idea from a mental health perspective. I used to be able to manage my political anxiety. But the perils faced by our system of government have grown so frightening, so violent, so persistent, that whenever I dive into the topic and confront the existential threat to what I once believed was a stable republic, I kind of freak out. So, I think I’ll move on again.

I am not alone in any of this, I know. Anticipating the many kind comments this post is likely to prompt, I will say that I really am okay. The doctors thing? I’ll find new practitioners, and they will be fine. Better than fine, most likely. The Yankees and Mets? Many of us grow a bit irrational about our sports loyalties. For some it’s soccer, for some it’s basketball, for some it’s American football at either the pro or college level. For me it’s baseball. I’ll get over it. I do every season. And the politics? We are all under threat. We are all invested in the stability of our republic, regardless of ideology or party affiliation. And at some point, I believe, both sides will recognize the threat and turn down the temperature a bit. We will get through this.

But now you know a bit more about me. Not the prettiest of pictures. At least I’m honest, though, right?

Have a great week.

Professional Wednesday: What To Tell Aspiring Writers About The Current Literary Market

If we have to write — and I’ve always felt that writing is an imperative, something I do to tame the voices in my head, the stories burning in my heart — then we should do it to satisfy that passion.

This past weekend, while at DragonCon, I spent a lot of time on writing panels, talking with other literary professionals in front of audiences made up largely of aspiring writers. We mostly discussed ways to improve various elements of our storytelling, but we spoke as well about the state of the current writing market, and the challenges of embarking on a literary career.

Reflecting on those conversations, it occurs to me that much of what we discussed warrants repetition and amplification in this venue.

This has been a summer of bad news for those of us who (try to) make our livings writing books. Book sales are down across the board this year. Barnes and Noble is rumored to be cutting back drastically on what books it will carry and market. The trial to determine the future of the proposed merger between Penguin-Random House and Simon & Schuster has revealed that book sales for the vast majority of volumes published each year are shockingly, depressingly low. Those numbers may or may not be accurate, but if they’re not, that would only mean that publishers routinely mislead authors about their sales numbers, which would also be shocking and depressing. Lose lose.

I have neither the data nor the experience to state categorically that it has never been harder to be a professional writer, but I can say that right now the business outlook for our industry pretty much sucks.

Which has left me wondering — as I attend conventions and get ready to teach at the Hampton Roads Writers Conference — how can I mentor young writers when the market is so dauntingly hostile? I struggle with this nearly daily.

I have been in the business for a long time. I have literally dozens of publishing credits — as a novelist, as a short story writer, as an editor. I have awards to my name, a history of strong reviews, a reputation as a professional who hits his deadlines, turns in clean manuscripts, and is reasonably easy to work with. (Mostly.) And yet, I still get lots of rejections when I shop new projects. My advances are lower now than they were early in my career. My sales numbers have declined with those across the industry. Maintaining my career has never been harder — it feels like all my accomplishments and credits mean nothing at all.

Again, I question how I can, in good conscience, tell people, “Yes! Go forth! Write your books! Try to make a career for yourselves in this crazy, cruel, struggling business!”

If I could go back in time, knowing what I know now, and advise young me on the career choice I made back in the mid-1990s, would I tell him/me to embark on this career? Probably. But I have been extraordinarily fortunate in certain ways (and chronically unlucky in others), especially in that I have enjoyed the support of an incredible, generous, accomplished life partner. If I was doing this alone, without Nancy? No way in hell.

If that hypothetical time travel worked differently, and young me was starting now? I would probably advise him/me to find another career, or at the very least to approach this one very, very differently, to look upon writing as a paying hobby, not as a profession, and to keep his/my expectations quite low.

Throughout my career I have spoken often of the importance of loving what we do. And I mean it in several ways. On one level, love what we do means write for the love of it, because the payoffs of this profession, financial and emotional, can be slim and fleeting. On another level, love what we do means we must love the stories we write, and write the stories about which we’re passionate. The market is a moving target. Writing to the market is just about impossible. So we should write the stories that sing in our hearts, because that love will shine through in the final product, and we will enjoy the process more. Finally, love what we do means we must take satisfaction in the stories we produce, because often the artistic creation itself is the lone reward for a job well done.

Strangely, even in this current market — indeed, especially in this current market — “Love what we do” remains good advice. If we have to write — and I’ve always felt that writing is an imperative, something I do to tame the voices in my head, the stories burning in my heart — then we should do it to satisfy that passion. Writing because we think it’s just a good gig, a great way to make a few bucks? If that’s what you’re thinking, I suggest you go back and reread the opening graphs of this post.

As queasy as I might feel about encouraging young writers to go out and try to make a go of literary careers, I feel even worse saying, “No! Don’t do it! That way lies madness, not to mention bruised egos and poverty!” In a sense, there is no good option here.

And so I will continue on this middle course. I will continue to say the following: “Writing is hard. It’s always been hard. It’s even harder now. But it’s also a glorious journey through imagination and emotion and creation, a wondrous alchemy by which we take words and turn them into living, breathing characters and their fully realized lives. And here are some tips for doing that as effectively as possible . . . .”

Enjoy the rest of your week, and keep writing.

Monday Musings (On Tuesday): Back From DragonCon

I have spent this past weekend at DragonCon, catching up with friends, meeting new people, and returning an air of normalcy to my professional calendar. To be honest, I went into the weekend a bit reluctantly. I was excited to catch up with friends, but I was nervous about little things — Covid exposure at a convention attended by tens of thousands, and also just being back among so many people after a difficult year in which I have, to the extent possible, tended to avoid public activities.

As it turned out, being among people was fine. Not always easy, but definitely not as difficult as I feared. My friends know me well enough (and are thoughtful enough) to understand how to be supportive and sympathetic without being intrusive. And others . . . well, there’s no rule that says we have to bare our souls to all we meet, right? It’s okay sometimes to put on a smile and answer “How are you doing?” with the immediate truth rather than the longer-term assessment. “I’m good thanks [at this moment]. How are you?”

This all should be second nature, I know. People do this stuff all the time. But it’s not always easy to give ourselves room to be private when we’re in public spaces and situations. And as for the Covid exposure . . . Time (and antigen tests) will tell.

My panels — on writing, urban fantasy, high fantasy, alternate history — were fun. Good discussions and excellent work by our moderators. It was, as always, so great to talk shop with fellow pros and answer terrific questions from engaged, informed audiences. My reading was attended by a few fans, and the occasion allowed me the opportunity to try out the opening chapters from my latest project, the Celtic urban fantasy I’ve been writing about recently in this blog and on social media. I read from The Fugitive Stone, book I in the series. The chapters were very well-received.

In fact, I should say that every time I mentioned the Celtic series (which STILL needs a series name) the response from people was very positive. Interest, enthusiasm even, and lots of eager curiosity. I’m excited.

I missed home, of course. I am a homebody when it comes right down to it, and I would always rather be with Nancy than not. And at this point, I’m pretty exhausted. It’ll take me half the week to recover and settle back into work and routine. But it was worth it. DragonCons are ALWAYS worth it.

To my friends who were at the con — you know who you are — thank you for contributing to a great weekend. To those who attended the panels, as well as my reading and signing, thank you so much for taking time out of your con to listen and chat with us. We appreciate it more than you can know. Without you, there is no con. And finally, to the con organizers and track leaders, thank you so much for all you do. Your hard work and selfless efforts make possible everything that the rest of us enjoy so much.

Already looking forward to next year.

Professional Wednesday: Writing For a Themed Anthology . . . And My Story Idea Revealed!

With the Zombies Need Brains Kickstarter well underway, and our pledges slowly creeping up on our ambitious funding goal (four anthologies instead of three this year, to mark ZNB’s 10th anniversary!), it is time for my yearly “Writing For a Themed Anthology” post. This post, though, has a bit of a twist, which I’ll share with you at the end of the essay.

This year, I am hoping (Kickstarter gods allowing) to co-edit Artifice and Craft, with my dear friend, Edmund R. Schubert. Edmund is an experienced editor, a fantastic writer, and one of my very favorite people in the world. He and I have been friends for a long, long time, and have worked together on many projects. He edited and contributed to How To Write Magical Words, the book on writing I co-wrote with A.J. Hartley, Faith Hunter, Stuart Jaffe, Misty Massey, and C.E. Murphy. He also edited a couple of my short stories when he was lead editor of the Intergalactic Medicine Show. And I edited a story of his for Temporally Deactivated. We have, however, never co-edited before this. I’m excited.

GALACTIC STEW, edited by David B. Coe and Joshua PalmatierThis will be the fifth anthology I have edited for ZNB (after Temporally Deactivated, Galactic Stew, Derelict, and Noir). For each of them, we have had literally hundreds of submissions for about seven open slots. Getting a story into these anthologies is really hard. We editors have the luxury of being highly selective, because we have so many stories from which to choose.

I have found that no matter the theme, there are recurring categories of stories my co-editors and I tend to reject. The first category is fairly obvious, and encompasses the vast majority of rejections: Some stories just don’t work for one of several reasons. The writing might be too rough, the prose unclear and inelegant; the plot might be too hard to follow (or even indecipherable); or the character development might be weak. Put another way, some stories simply aren’t ready for publication. This is fairly self-evident. When reading slush, we expect to encounter a lot of stories that need too much work to be up to standard.

But then there are two other categories that are far more important for our discussion today.

A) Some stories we get are beautifully written and have really fine core ideas. But they fail to move beyond their conceptual strengths and delve into the emotional and narrative potential of those ideas. I can’t tell you how often we read stories like these, and it’s deeply frustrating. Yes, a themed anthology demands stories that have strong conceptual underpinnings. But the idea is only as good as the story it inspires. It’s not enough to show us the great idea. Authors need to develop those ideas, to give them meaning by building compelling characters and creating tension and suspense and all the other emotions that come through in effective storytelling. So if you submit a story, make sure you give us more than an idea. Give us a fully realized story.

B) Some stories we get are brilliantly written AND developed beyond the conceptual to dive into emotion and character arc and all the rest. But they’re not on theme. This year’s theme for our anthology, Artifice and Craft, is pretty simple. The story needs to have at its core some piece of art that has magical or supernatural qualities. It can be any kind of art, from a painting or sculpture, to a theatrical production or musical composition, to a piece of fine furniture or a piece of short fiction. It’s not enough to have the work of art in the story. It needs to be central to the plot, so that if the work of art were taken out, the entire story would collapse. We will make this clear in the call for submissions. And yet, I can guarantee you that we will receive dozens of stories that aren’t at all on theme, or that, for instance, feature a magical artist who creates great art (which is NOT on theme) or that mention a magical novel, but focus on a scheme to steal the book, rather than on the book itself. (Again, that is NOT on theme, because you could replace the book with, say, a diamond, and you’d have the same basic story.)

So make certain you are following the theme as it is described in the guidelines. Make sure you are doing more than just jotting down an idea, that you’re developing that idea with character work and emotion and tension and conflict and all the other good stuff we writers like to do. And then go to town! Because writing for anthologies is really fun.

Finally, allow me to share with you my own story idea. I am editing Artifice and Craft, but I am also an anchor author for Dragonesque, which will be edited by Joshua Palmatier and S.C. Butler. The theme of Dragonesque is dragon stories written from the point of view of the dragon. Fun, right?

So, the dragon in my story is going to a re-enactor, a dragon who does Renaissance Faires and such. Each weekend she allows herself to be “slain” by a knight, and in return she is paid in gold. Except, she’s getting tired of losing all the time, of letting herself be humiliated by these pretend knights. And during the weekend on which my story focuses, she decides to take matters into her own talons, as it were . . . .

Our Kickstarter is going well. We’re about 2/3 of the way to our funding goal. But if I’m going to write my dragon story, and if Edmund and I are going to find the best magical-work-of-art stories available, we first have to fund the anthologies. So if you want to read great short fiction, and/or if you want to have four new anthologies to which to submit your work, please consider supporting the project! Thanks so much!

My Schedule for DragonCon 2022!

The last time I was at DragonCon was Labor Day Weekend, 2018. For years, Dragon was the centerpiece of my annual professional schedule, the convention to which I most looked forward each year. In 2019, though, with WorldCon in Dublin, Nancy and I decided to take the opportunity to travel to Ireland. “What could be the harm?” I thought at the time. “It’s just one year. I’ll go back in 2020 . . . .”

Obviously, that didn’t work out. And then last year I had to miss the convention again, also because of Covid worries, and my fear of becoming infected just before a visit with our immuno-compromised daughter.

But finally this year I am headed back to Atlanta for DragonCon. Below find my scheduled appearances for the weekend. When I’m not at one of these venues, chances are I’ll be in the Westin Bar. Just sayin’.

D.B. Jackson/David B. Coe Schedule for DragonCon, September 2-5, 2022

 

Title: That Scene Won’t Work! What Do I Do Now?

Time: Fri 11:30 am Location: Embassy EF Hyatt (Length:1 Hour)

Description: Writers sometimes write themselves into a corner. How do they get out? Can this book be saved?

Panelists: Cecilia Dominic, Hank Schwaeble, D.B. Jackson, Vanessa Guinta(M), JM Paquette, Claudia Gray, Andrew Givler


Title: Virtual: From a Comfy Couch to a Cliff

Time: Fri 01:00 pm Location: STRM_FanTrk Streaming (Length:1 Hour)

Description: Plotting your novel is never easy. Sometimes you just have to get off that comfy couch (your comfort zone) and take a leap off the cliff into the unknown.

Panelists: Nancy Knight(M), Tamsin L. Silver, John G. Hartness, D.B. Jackson, Jody Lynn Nye


Title: Same Places, Different Times: Historical Urban Fantasy

Time: Fri 02:30 pm Location: Chastain 1-2 Westin (Length:1 Hour)

Description: Our panelists explore supernatural beings & magic occurring in historical real-world settings.

Panelists: Leanna Renee Hieber, Clay Griffith, Delilah S Dawson, Walter Hunt, D.B. Jackson, Carol Malcolm(M)


Title: Forgotten Classics of High Fantasy

Time: Fri 08:30 pm Location: L401-L403 Marriott (Length:1 Hour)

Description: We all know the heavy hitters like Tolkien, Jordan and Martin. And we love our new kids like Sanderson, Lynch and Jemisin. But what about the forgotten, the underappreciated and the just plain weird books that it seems like only you read?

Panelists: Van Allen Plexico(M), D.B. Jackson, Marie Whittaker, Mel Todd


Title: On the Case: Supernatural Detectives

Time: Sat 01:00 pm Location: Chastain 1-2 Westin (Length:1 Hour)

Description: Tracking down errant characters within the paranormal world involves special skills, whether the detectives themselves are part of that community or not. Our panel of authors will discuss the challenges faced by their protagonists.

Panelists: R.R. Virdi, Rachel Rawlings, Declan Finn, Jennifer Morris(M), D.B. Jackson, J. B. Garner


Title: 15-Minute Mentor Session

Time: Sat 04:00 pm Location: Embassy G Hyatt (Length:1 Hour)

Description: A chance for budding authors to talk one-on-one with a successful industry professional about business, promotion, the writing process, & career advice. Sign up in the Writer’s Track. (Embassy E/F)

Panelists: D.B. Jackson, Jean Marie Ward, J.D. Blackrose, Patrick Dugan


Title: Reading Session: D.B.Jackson/David B. Coe

Time: Sat 05:30 pm Location: Vinings Hyatt (Length:1 Hour)

Panelists: D.B. Jackson


Title: DB Jackson booth Appearance!

Time: Sun 01:00 pm Location: Vendor Hall Floor 1 Mart2 (Length:1 Hour)

Description: Meet DB Jackson at The Missing Volume for a special signing

Panelists: D.B. Jackson


Title: Weird Wild Coincidences

Time: Sun 04:00 pm Location: Macon Sheraton (Length:1 Hour)

Description: What if Abraham Lincoln had received a telegram from a ninja? What of the tale of Violet Jessup, Miss Unsinkable? These coincidences, and many more, are the striking match of inspiration for authors of historical fiction. Come watch their brains ignite as we give them an idea and they spin a tale.

Panelists: Darin M. Bush(M), A. J. Hartley, David Boop, D.B. Jackson, Tamsin L. Silver, Steve Ruskin, Kevin Ikenberry


Title: Just Getting Started? Here’s a Boost for You

Time: Sun 08:30 pm Location: Embassy EF Hyatt (Length:1 Hour)

Description: Beginning writers make all kinds of mistakes. These panelists have been there. Let them explain the pitfalls that will hold you back.

Panelists: Vanessa Guinta(M), D.B. Jackson, Tamsin L. Silver, Stephanie Mirro, William Joseph Roberts, Michael R. Miller


Title: Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Time: Mon 01:00 pm Location: Embassy EF Hyatt (Length:1 Hour)

Description: This is a question that every writer gets asked by everyone they know. What is the answer to that question?

Panelists: Steve Saffel, Anthony Francis(M), D.B. Jackson, Cecilia Dominic, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Kimbra Swain


Title: Predicting the Future

Time: Mon 02:30 pm Location: Embassy EF Hyatt (Length:1 Hour)

Description: Where in the world is fiction headed? Do the old tropes still work? What’s fresh and new for the future?

Panelists: Nancy Knight(M), D.B. Jackson, Anthony Francis, Valerie Hampton, S. M. Stirling, Gregory Benford

Monday Musings: Taming My Inner Eeyore

The hard part of getting back into posting isn’t the first post. It’s the second, and the ones after that. In part, I retreated from social media six or seven weeks back because I couldn’t imagine carrying the emotional load I had shouldered while simultaneously producing essays about things that mattered less to me, which was pretty much everything else. At the same time, I also knew that I didn’t want to post every Monday about our family problems or my mental health issues. Nobody wants to read that guy week after week after week.

I touched on this a bit back in May, at a time when I was also struggling to come up with essay ideas for these Monday Musing entries.

So, what to do this time around . . . .

In truth, right now there is lots to write about. And the world is a far more promising place today than it was in May. Which makes this blogging thing a little easier. Consider:

Our former Felon-In-Chief is twisting slowly, slowly in the wind (that’s a Watergate reference, for those of you too young to remember), and I will admit that I’ve enjoyed watching him flop about like a hooked fish on a pier (yeah, I know, I’m mixing metaphors — deal with it), searching for any defense that might save his sorry ass. “The documents were planted! It’s a hoax.” “I declassified the documents ages ago.” (Quite a neat trick — knowing to declassify documents that would be planted on his property without his knowledge years later . . . .) “This is all legal under the Presidential Records Act.” (Spoiler alert: It’s not.)

At the same time, our current President (legally and fairly elected) is having a summer to remember. Tumbling gas prices, inflation starting to come under control, continued historic strength in the job market, Democratic voters motivated and mobilized by the SCOTUS decision overturning Roe v. Wade, voters in ruby red Kansas rejecting an abortion ban, one piece of major legislation after another passed and signed into law, rising poll numbers, surprisingly strong Democratic performances in special elections. It all adds up to a changing political landscape, and the realization that November might not turn out the way most pundits were predicting only a few months ago.

On the other hand, drought and floods and fires serve as constant reminders that despite the passage of the climate change bill — a significant and laudable achievement for the Administration and Congress — our planet remains gravely at risk. With that in mind, I believe when historians look back on 2022 decades from now, they will identify as the most significant moment of the year this week’s decision by the California Air Resources Board to ban the sale of new gasoline-powered motor vehicles after 2035.

Yes, it’s only one state. Don’t let that fool you. If California were a sovereign nation, its economy would be the fifth largest in the world, behind only the U.S., China, Japan, and Germany. Alone it accounts for more than 1/7 of our country’s GDP, and its citizens own far more cars than do the residents of any other state. Where California goes, the automobile industry will have little choice but to follow.

At long last, someone in this country has stepped forward and said, “This way to climate sanity. Follow me.” I expect Gavin Newsom, California’s governor and a Democratic Presidential hopeful for 2024 or 2028, sees this as good politics, which is also telling.

Look, anyone who knows me well will tell you I have a lot more in common with Eeyore than I do with Pollyanna. I am all too aware of the threat Trumpism poses to our republic, of the damage the Supreme Court has done to our society and the further damage it could very well do in its next term, of the precarious state of our planet and the limited reach of even California’s dramatic actions this week.

I am also aware of the tough road that lies ahead for my family, for my older daughter in particular.

As a part-time essayist, I can choose to dwell on the negative, or, as the song goes, I can accentuate the positive. For now, I prefer to do the latter. My hope may prove audacious, fantastical even. But I embrace it anyway. I can also promise you I won’t always be able to do this. My inner Eeyore is strong and persistent. For now, though, he is quiescent, and I’m glad.

I wish you a week of hope, good health, and good tidings.

Professional Wednesday: Writing Through — A #HoldOnToTheLight Post

#HoldOnToTheLightAfter running away from social media for six weeks, and ignoring publicity opportunities and the like, I feel a little funny offering any professional advice to anyone on anything. Which, I realize, is entirely wrong-headed.

Sometimes the stuff we write is completely divorced from our real lives, but more often than not, we draw upon personal experience and knowledge for our character work, our world building, our plotting, and our dialogue. Here’s a passage that is a case in point. It’s from The Fugitive Stone, the first book in the Celtic urban fantasy I’m working on.

“One of the insidious things about anxiety and depression—about all mental health problems, really—is the false sense that we’re the only ones who are like this. That we’re broken, and everyone else is ‘normal’”—she put air-quotes around the word—“whatever the hell that means. After all this time, you’d think I’d know better.”

The truth is, lots of writers struggle every day with problems and emotional issues that are at least as difficult as mine. Many have it worse than I do. I know this, and yet I still have to fight the tendency to think I’m the only one, that I’m messed up and everyone else is fine. There’s a little voice in my head that whispers shit like that to me all the time. I hate that fucking voice.

As I have mentioned here before, I find work to be a balm, a welcome distraction, a place I can go where my worries and griefs recede and I am free to create and thus escape for a short while. Sure, the stuff I’m avoiding is there waiting for me when I step out of my office, but the respite is the thing. It helps. Being productive, getting work done, helps me feel . . . [here’s that word again] normal.

There is no secret sauce to this. I can’t give advice on how others might find the same thing to be true with their work. Everyone suffers from mental illness in unique ways. Everyone’s challenges manifest differently. I know how fortunate I am to be able to work and produce and find solace in doing so. I know it’s not a path open to everyone.

But I will say this: Last year, when our daughter first received her cancer diagnosis, I gave up on everything, at least at first. I was convinced I wouldn’t be able to function. I called my agent and my editor and I told them both I was stepping back from all professional activities. I wouldn’t be blogging or posting to social media, I wouldn’t be attending conventions, I couldn’t imagine trying to write anything, and so I was going to stop working on the book I was writing at the time. I usually hit my deadlines, but that was one I was certain I would miss.

It didn’t take me long, though, to understand that sitting around worrying about my [adult] child and grieving for the terrible changes imposed upon our family by her diagnosis were poor activities with which to fill each day. I needed to do something that made me feel alive, that reminded there was more to my life than her illness.

This was in the spring of 2021, and the first day I tried to write was pretty much a disaster. I barely got anything written, and I’m not sure I kept a word of it. But the mere act of sitting down at my computer to work felt familiar and, thus, reassuring. I did it again the next day, and the one after that. By the end of that week, I had managed to write more than 7000 words — not close to my usual pace, but not bad at all. The weeks that followed were even more productive.

INVASIVES, by David B. Coe (Jacket art courtesy of Belle Books)In the end, I hit my deadline. More, the book I wrote that spring, Invasives, the second Radiants novel, turned out better than I ever could have imagined. I love the book, not only because I think it’s good, but because it saved me. It got me through that terrible spring and early summer.

I guess what I’m saying is this: We are all coping with something. Life is hard. Life throws obstacles in our paths all the time. Life is a book and we are its protagonists, and just as we writers love to rain shit down on our characters, life rains shit down on us. My tendency, when the shitstorms grow too wild, is to run and hide. I did it in March of 2021. I did it again just a month or so ago, when our daughter suffered a setback in her fight with cancer.

But in 2021, and again this summer, I found that work helped.

Work might not be the answer for you. Maybe knitting is. Maybe photography is. Maybe music or birdwatching, cooking or cleaning, painting or gardening, reading or watching old movies. It doesn’t matter what it is. What matters is recognizing that something might help, that looking beyond the pain might well be just what you need.

Be well. Take care of yourself and the ones you love.