Professional Wednesday: The Chalice War, Book I Cover Reveal!!

For some time now, I’ve been writing about and teasing my new Celtic urban fantasy, The Chalice War. The series is part thriller, part comedy, part myth, part urban fantasy, part mystery. It is set in our modern world — all over it, in fact: book I takes place in the U.S.; book II shifts the action to Australia, and book III is set in Ireland — but the series also draws heavily on Celtic lore. It is unlike anything I’ve written before. Each volume was a ton of fun to write, and will be, I hope, just as much fun to read. I love these books and I am incredibly excited about their upcoming release.

The first book, The Chalice War: Stone, should be out from Bell Bridge Books in February 2023. The second book, The Chalice War: Cauldron, will follow within a month or two, and the trilogy’s finale, The Chalice War: Sword, will drop not too long after that.

Today, I am delighted to share with you the incredible jacket art for book I, which was created by my brilliant editor and publisher, Debra Dixon. Drumroll please . . . .

The Chalice War-Stone, by David B. Coe

Monday Musings: Why I Love Soccer, and You Should Too

Unless you’ve been in a food coma for the last two weeks, or have been so mesmerized by the constant influx of sales emails coming from every vendor under the sun that you can think of nothing else, you probably know that professional soccer’s World Cup is currently being played in Qatar. And unless you’re one of the relatively few soccer fans in the U.S., you probably don’t care.

I am here to tell you that you should.

Soccer — football, as it is known most everywhere else on the globe — is far and away the most popular sport in the world. It’s not close. Those who study these things estimate that association football has 3.5 BILLION fans worldwide. For the sake of comparison, American football and rugby, as played in Europe, Oceania, and South Africa, have a combined fandom of about 410 MILLION. (The closest sports to soccer are cricket, at 2.5 billion fans, and basketball, at 2.2 billion.)

As popular as association football is around the world, that’s how unpopular it is in the United States, at least as measured in television and in-person viewership. Yes, people, particularly young people, love to play it. But that growing passion has yet to translate into viewership fandom on the levels of American football, basketball, baseball, or even hockey. And there are reasons for this.

Soccer is a game of athleticism, of speed, of power and grace and mind-boggling skill. It is also a game of nuance and subtlety, of creativity and strategy, of patience and scarcity. In most matches, goals come at a premium. Look at the final results from a typical week in England’s Premier League, of which Nancy and I are devoted fans, and you’ll see lots of 1-0, 2-1, 1-1, 0-0 scores. 3-0 is a blowout. 4-2 constitutes an offensive explosion.

Americans tend to like sports with lots of offense and/or lots of violence. It makes sense that American football, which has plenty of both, is our most popular sport. Baseball, once our National Pastime, had too little of either to remain the nation’s favorite. It’s no coincidence that in the last quarter century, baseball was at its most popular during the Steroid Era, when home runs were flying out of stadiums in record numbers.

As it happens, I still love baseball, and I love soccer for many of the same reasons. And here’s why. Every soccer match is like a pitchers’ duel in baseball. A single goal — like a single run — can change everything. Two can put a match beyond reach. The tension is intense and magical, the demand for near perfection is utterly compelling.

Why are goals so rare? It’s not as though the goal itself is small — quite the opposite. A standard goal is 24 feet wide and eight feet high. The pitch (soccer-speak for the field) is longer and wider than an American football field. The playing surface is large enough and the teams small enough (eleven per side) to allow for wide-ranging play. There is plenty of room for offense. So why isn’t there more?

The key to understanding soccer is the offside rule. At it’s simplest, the rule is this: At the time a pass is kicked, the intended receiver of the pass has to have at least one defender (in addition to the goalie) between themselves and the goal. In other words, an offensive player can’t just hang out by the goal waiting for a pass from a teammate. They have to make certain at least one defender is positioned nearer the goal. Until the pass is kicked. As soon as the ball is airborne, they can sprint to the goal. The timing of the player’s run has to be perfect — late enough to remain onside, early enough to beat the defender to the ball.

My description of the offside rule doesn’t do justice to its intricacy and its impact on every element of the game. There are so many permutations of what can be allowed and what can’t — its complexity feeds the drama of each match. The rule needs to be seen in action, again and again, under match conditions, to be understood and appreciated fully.

The other element of the game that I like is the lack of violence. Don’t get me wrong: Soccer matches can be rough. Challenges are physical and occur at speed. But there are penalties — free kicks — for unnecessary or gratuitous contact, and there are sanctions for repeated offenses. A player deemed to have made a dangerous challenge or too many rough plays is given a yellow card. A second yellow card means ejection from the game without replacement. The team will finish the game with only ten players instead of eleven. And a red card, given for excessively rough or reckless play, means automatic ejection, again, without replacement.

Sadly, the best American male athletes tend to go into American football, basketball, or baseball. That’s where the money is professionally, and so that’s where high school and college athletes try to make their reputations. Female athletes don’t have football or baseball as an option, but they do have soccer and basketball (both my daughters played varsity soccer in high school). In those sports, on the women’s side, the U.S. consistently fields the finest national teams in the world.

Maybe soccer isn’t for you. That’s fine, of course. But maybe you haven’t yet given it a chance. As it happens, the finest male players in the world are on display right now in the World Cup. Watch a match or two. Yes, the games might end without much scoring, but I guarantee you’ll be impressed with the level of play, the incredible athleticism (position players run an average of 7-10 miles per game!!), and the passion of those fans lucky enough to attend the games. And perhaps you’ll find yourself drawn to what many refer to as “the beautiful game.”

Have a great week.

Wednesday Musings: Thanksgiving and Some People To Thank

The past couple of years, usually on the Monday of this calendar week, I have written about Thanksgiving — last year a catalogue of all the things for which I’m thankful (the list still holds), and the year before, ahead of the country’s first Covid Thanksgiving, a rambling remembrance of holidays past that still makes me laugh when I read it over. For obvious reasons, I didn’t feel like writing such a post for this past Monday. But with the holiday upon, I thought I would try again.

I don’t know how to approach a Thanksgiving post this year without repeating myself from those previous posts, and yet here I am making the attempt. And maybe repetition in this context isn’t the worst thing in the world. The things for which I am thankful year in and year out remain remarkably consistent — boring for a blog, but gratifying in every other way. My marriage, my children, my extended family and friends and fans, my career, and, of course, the good fortune of having a home, food in our pantry, health care access, and so many other blessings that too many people lack.

As I have said before, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, in part because it forces me to take stock, to set aside the petty grievances that too often cloud my mood, and recognize that in the important ways, despite real and serious problems in our lives, my loved ones and I are doing okay. We live, it often seems, at 75 mph, the world blurring past as we try to complete our work, take care of our chores, see to our obligations. Even when we are “on vacation” or taking a bit of time off, we try to squeeze in so much that the relaxed times feel rushed.

To me, Thanksgiving is a time to slow down, to focus on the now, on those things that matter most. It is a time to inhale deeply and say, “Right now, in this moment, I am grateful for _______.” The things we fret about, the things that inconvenience and nettle and worse — they’ll still be there the day after Thanksgiving (in fact, they’ll probably be on special…). They’re not going anywhere. So why not push them away for a while and accentuate the positive? This from a confirmed, life-long pessimist.

In any case, I will hop down off the soapbox now. And I will share with you a brief list of very important people, outside my circle of friends and family, who have made an enormous difference in my life this year. Their mention here is small thanks for all they have done for me and my family.

1. I am thankful for my therapist, a woman named Rebecca, who has been absolutely incredible to work with. She is insightful, gentle, funny. Best of all she gets me and understands when to push me and when to let me stumble into truths on my own. I have learned so much from our time working together, and feel better equipped than I have ever been to deal with the uncertainties of this crazy world.

2. I am thankful for my editor, the marvelous Debra Dixon, who has been an amazing creative partner, mentor, critic, and booster. She is terrific with artwork. She did the gorgeous covers for the Radiants books, and she has done a fabulous job with the first book of the The Chalice War, the Celtic urban fantasy about which I’ve told you all so much. You’ll see a reveal of the cover not too long from now.

3. My older daughter’s oncologist, who shall remain nameless so as to protect my daughter’s privacy, is just terrific. He is compassionate, honest, brilliant, devoted to our child and her battle with cancer, and willing to communicate with us whenever we have the need (so long as our daughter has given her okay, of course). We know he can’t perform miracles, but he has our daughter’s complete trust, respect, and affection, and that is all we can ask.

I wish these three a glorious Thanksgiving, and I wish the same to all of you. May your day be filled with laughter, joy, and the companionship of people you love. And may the year to come be filled with blessings large and small.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday Musings: Hate Has No Place In Thanksgiving

I had fully intended to write a fairly typical Thanksgiving week post — things I’m thankful for, what the holiday means to me, etc.

I can’t now. Because once again, America is killing its own. This weekend, a quick perusal of any news site (at least any news site that publishes real news) turned up a shooting on the campus of the University of New Mexico, a continuing investigation into the shootings at the University of Virginia, and, of course, the horrific mass shooting at Club Q, a nightclub in Colorado Springs that was a gathering place for that city’s LGBTQ community.

I have written before about the mind-numbing frequency of shootings in this country. For today, I’ll refrain from doing so again. Guns are part of the American psychosis. They plague our society and, I am afraid, always will. The Second Amendment to our Constitution, a relic of a different time, which should long ago have gone the way of the document’s limits on enfranchisement to white men, has somehow become more sacrosanct than protections of free speech and the prohibition against state-established religion. It is a vestigial amendment, as useless as T-Rex’s forearms. And yet it remains.

The massacre at Club Q raises different, deeper concerns. This was (another) hate crime aimed at the gay-queer-trans community. Such crimes have been on the rise this year as demagogues on the right have aimed poisonous rhetoric and destructive policy initiatives at all in the community, but especially trans youth, their parents, and their doctors. Too many politicians — among them Ron DeSantis, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, and the entire Tennessee Republican party— are trying to make a name for themselves in conservative circles by banning books that deal with LBGTQ themes, passing “Don’t-Say-Gay” laws, filling the political airwaves with falsehoods and ugly accusations, making it seem that any who are different, who live their lives outside the heteronormative assumptions of a bygone era, are enemies of our republic and a danger to our children.

The attacks are sick. They are founded on lies and inaccurate stereotypes. And make no mistake, they are directly responsible for the rise in violence aimed at the queer community, including this weekend’s shooting.

How do we reconcile this sort of tragedy with a national day devoted to giving thanks for our blessings? How do we look beyond the carnage, the grief, the fear, the devastating psychological toll this sort of terrorism has on entire communities, so that we can find our way to gratitude and compassion and love? I’m asking, truly. Because I don’t see it.

I’m thankful my children and other loved ones are safe? Of course I am. But that feels thin, self-serving, a bar set so low as to be meaningless. I’m thankful to live in a free country, a land that often trumpets its exceptionalism, its boundless virtues, its capacity for charity and resilience? Again, yes, I suppose I would rather live here than anywhere else. But the calculus gets harder with each shooting, with each act of brutal intolerance. What good is liberty if huge swaths of our populace live with constant, oppressive fear? What has happened to the promise of America when nearly two hundred and fifty years after the Declaration of Independence, so many of our citizens are still subject to physical violence and psychological brutality simply because they don’t conform to what a few narrow-minded fools consider “normal?”

Thanksgiving at its best — and it has long been my favorite holiday — is about taking stock, slowing down to acknowledge, in private or publicly, those people and things for which we are most grateful. It is a time for family and friendship, for sharing and giving. And, yes, for good food and laughter around the dining room table.

Murder, bloodshed, terror, hate, bigotry — these have no place in our celebrations. Today, I don’t feel thankful. It doesn’t feel right to catalogue all the ways in which I am so very fortunate, though I know I ought to do so. Everything I eat tastes like dust and ash.

In days to come, we will hear more about the man who did this. He’ll be called “troubled” and his actions will be condemned. We’ll hear the inevitable pablum from the right — “our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.”

But few will speak the obvious hard truths. This man may be sick, but so is our society. His actions may be those of a madman, but they are the natural outgrowth not only of mental illness, but also of cold, cruel political calculation. And today’s thoughts and prayers will be rendered meaningless by tomorrow’s soundbites.

Take care of one another. Stay safe.

Professional Wednesday: What I Learned During a Recent Visit With Claude Monet

Last week, Nancy and I were traveling for her work, and we had the opportunity to spend a day and a half in New York City. We had dinners with our older daughter, we attended some university functions, Nancy had finance meetings, and I had part of a day to myself.

As I have mentioned here recently, I am trying to figure out where to go with my writing. (And allow me to take this opportunity to thank those of you who weighed in with opinions about what project I should take on next. Many of you want to see continuations of existing series — Thieftaker was the most popular request, followed by Fearsson and Radiants. Not surprisingly, the new project I mentioned as a possible choice received little love. The unknown is bound to attract less notice. But the most heartening element of the responses I received was the repeated assurance that you would welcome and read whatever I choose to tackle going forward. And for that, I am grateful beyond words.)

As I continue to grapple with this decision, I thought I might find inspiration in art, and so, on a bright, crisp Monday morning in New York City, I walked north along Fifth Avenue to 83rd Street and the grand entrance to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I didn’t know precisely what I sought in the museum, but I trusted the instinct that drove me there. Much the way our bodies sometime crave certain types of food — salty snacks, or protein rich foods — so I believe our brains can crave input of a specific type. I felt a strong need to look at the beauty of creative endeavor.

Specifically, I wanted to see the work of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. Degas, Manet, Morisot, Cezanne, Pissarro, Cassatt, Van Gogh, Gauguin, and my favorite, Claude Monet. As a historian (and a camera bug), I find the development of Impressionism (in the latter third of the nineteenth century) fascinating. It coincided with the invention and popularization of photography. Suddenly, artists were freed from the need to create images that were accurate and lifelike. A photograph could do that. Instead, artists could begin to experiment with color, with light and shadow, with texture, with the self-conscious use of brushstroke and palette knife.

Claude Monet,  Rouen Cathedral: The Portal (Sunlight) 1894, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York
Claude Monet, Rouen Cathedral: The Portal (Sunlight) 1894, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York.

Monet was fascinated in particular with the way light and color changed from hour to hour, day to day, season to season. He painted series after series, experimenting with images of the same subject matter painted at dawn and dusk and midday. Haystacks on farms, poplar trees in the French countryside, water lilies, the Houses of Parliament and Charing Cross Bridge in London, and two of my favorite series: the façade of the Cathedral at Rouen, and the Japanese footbridge and pond at his home in Giverny.

Claude Monet,  Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies 1899, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York
Claude Monet, Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies 1899, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York.

Seeing these paintings last week filled me with joy, with a sense of calm and contentment. It was glorious. I lingered in the museum for hours longer than I had intended to.

But what does this have to do with writing? Why would it warrant discussion in a Professional Wednesday post?

Honestly, I am still trying to figure out the answers to those questions. But I think it comes down to this: Creativity demands that we reexamine those things we have taken for granted, the things we have accepted as routine. The daily dance of light across the front to a building, the shape and forms we see each day. But creativity also asks that, on occasion, we rethink everything about our art. Imagine having been trained as a classical artist in the mid-nineteenth century, only to have every assumption about visual art overturned by the invention of a light-capturing box.

In the course of my lifetime (and I’m not THAT old . . .), we have sent spacecraft beyond the pull of earth’s gravity and out to the edges of our solar system. We have created lenses capable of peering through space and time to the very beginnings of our universe. We have replaced the rotary phones that were wired into our homes with untethered devices that take pictures, monitor our finances, store our music, and handle computational tasks that used to challenge machines so big they needed to be housed in warehouse-sized spaces.

We have seen the impossible become consumer-ready, the fantastical turned mundane. And as storytellers, we have had to stretch to come up with ideas that will surprise and captivate and satisfy. That stretch doesn’t necessarily imply pursuit of the increasingly outlandish. Rather, I would argue, it has forced us to reconsider simplicity, to infuse the familiar with qualities that make us marvel or recoil.

And as I search for my next spark of inspiration, I find myself wondering what will be for me the literary equivalent of watching color and shadow transform a garden pond and the reflections of a footbridge. Once upon a time, I worried that I would run out of ideas for stories, that I would complete a series, only to discover that it was the last one, that my creative well had run dry. Now, as I approach the big Six-Oh, my fear is that I will run out of time before I have completed all the tales I wish to write. I’m don’t worry about failing to find a new idea; I worry about choosing the wrong one and wasting time on something I don’t love.

Late in his life, Monet began to lose his sight. And still he worked, learning to create images of power and beauty and drama despite seeing color and form with less clarity. Creativity finds a way. Inspiration carries us past obstacles both physical and emotional.

Maybe, ultimately, that was the reminder I needed when I stepped into the Met. I still don’t know what I’ll be writing next. I do know that the challenges in my life have not gone away and won’t anytime soon. But I am a creator, and I still crave inspiration. So, I will consider, and I will settle on a project, and I will share with you the stories that stir my passions.

And I wish you the same.

Keep writing, keep creating.

Monday Musings: Midterms Round-up — Orange is the New Blech!

This time last week, I was lamenting the what I saw as inevitable advances by anti-democratic forces in this year’s midterm elections. Yes, I was worried my party would take a drubbing, but more, I feared elections in Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere might put in power election deniers, people more wedded to party and certain personalities than to the founding principles of our republic.

What a difference one week can make.

Incredibly, miraculously, astoundingly, this year’s midterms turned out to be a reaffirmation of America’s commitment to democracy and those aforementioned founding principles. Yes, Democrats are poised to lose control of the House of Representatives, though only by five seats or fewer. Republicans might — might — get to 221 seats (leaving Democrats with 214). But I think it’s more likely they’ll have 220 or 219, which would constitute a razor thin majority, one of the smallest in the last century. Actually, I just looked it up. It would be the smallest majority since the 65th Congress of 1917-1919. It would likely be a recipe for infighting, and for repeated failures and embarrassments for new Speaker Kevin McCarthy and his buddies.

The Senate remains in Democratic hands. Remarkably, incredibly, astoundingly, miraculously. By the time the Georgia runoff is done, Democrats might well have 51 seats, a PICKUP of one. Now this assumes that Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) and/or Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) won’t jump ship and switch parties to swing the majority to the Republicans. But I don’t believe either is likely to do so. Certainly Manchin won’t do that before the Georgia runoff. If the Democrats win in Georgia, he won’t switch at all. And Sinema has to be looking at fellow Arizona Democrat Mark Kelly’s reelection victory, at the Arizona Governor’s race, which Democrat Katie Hobbs currently leads, and also at other down-ballot races. Being a true Democrat in today’s Arizona has proven to be a pretty good thing electorally speaking. Moreover, as a Republican she would absolutely face a right-wing primary challenge. She would likely lose her seat months before the general election. I believe it’s more likely that over the next two years, her Senate voting will trend leftward — slowly, cautiously, but inexorably.

The most important results from Tuesday night, though, had far less to do with Congress, and far more to do with the sanctity of America elections. ALL the MAGA loonies who were running for Secretary of State positions in key battleground states lost. Every one. Including the biggest loony of all, Jim Marchant in Nevada. And with the temporary exception of Kari “Wackadoodle” Lake in Arizona, all the election deniers running for governor in key battleground states also lost. And Lake is trailing and may be on the verge of being declared the loser in her race.

Make no mistake, this election was a repudiation of a soiled Republican brand. It was a rejection of election denying. It was an endorsement of free and fair elections. And, by the way, it was also an expression of outrage at the overturning of Roe v Wade, the 1973 ruling that for nearly fifty years provided national legal protection for women’s reproductive freedom. Constitutional bans on abortion were defeated at the polls in the ruby-red states of Kentucky and Montana. Constitutional guarantees of abortion rights passed in California, Michigan, and Vermont. Opponents of the right to choose had a very, very bad night. Indeed, early evidence suggests that young voters, especially young women, were motivated to vote this year to an extent rarely seen in midterm elections, their activism fueled by outrage over the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe as well as by opposition to anti-democratic candidates.

Most of all, last week’s election serves as a reminder that a certain former President is NOT the most powerful force in American politics. He is the loudest certainly, the most dangerous beyond any doubt. But he is weak, driven by ego and pique more than by any true political skill or insight. He is a drag on the Republican party. He is a has-been.

Already he is tearing his party apart from within, attacking both Florida Governor RonDeSantis and Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin, who have emerged as his chief rivals for the 2024 Republican nomination. (He said Youngkin’s name “sounds Chinese” — a quote. I swear to God. And he claimed he sent the FBI to Florida in 2018 to save DeSantis’s flagging gubernatorial campaign, which, if true, would be something worth investigating, to say the least.) The former guy intends to go ahead with an announcement of his 2024 Presidential bid, but now it will be welcomed only by his most rabid supporters.

Across the country, again and again in high profile races, his hand-picked candidates lost. More than anything else, this election was a repudiation of Trumpism. Twice now he has lost the popular vote while running for President, and now twice in midterm elections that were in large part all about him, the Republican party has underperformed. In 2018, the GOP suffered historic losses. And this time, in a midterm that should have provided his party with a bonanza, the country instead gave its votes to the party of an unpopular President who has (through no fault of his own, I should add) presided over high inflation and rising gas prices. The Republicans should have kicked butt this year. They didn’t, and it is largely because of the orange has-been. Everyone knows it. Even Rupert Murdoch is rethinking his support of the man. When a Republican leader has lost Fox News, he has lost everything.

I don’t know what will happen in two years. None of us knows. Two years in politics is like ten lifetimes. But I do know this: Donald Trump’s attempt to elect a state-level MAGA infrastructure that would steal the 2024 election for him has failed utterly.

Am I gloating? Yeah, a little bit. Where Trump is concerned, more than a little bit. But the fucker deserves it.

God bless America.

Have a great week.

Professional Wednesday: Another Celtic Urban Fantasy Teaser!

This is a busy week and I have a lot going on. No time to sit still and write a Professional Wednesday post. And why should I when what you REALLY want is another teaser from my upcoming Celtic urban fantasy release. This, like the first one I shared with you several weeks back, is from The Chalice Wars: Stone, the first volume of the trilogy. It picks up sort of where that last teaser left off. Enjoy! And rest assured: normal Professional Wednesday posts will resume next week.

Keep writing! And read on!

*****

All of these suburban streets looked the same. Treeless yards, soulless cookie-cutter houses, paved driveways with new, expensive SUVs. It was enough to make Marti throw up. And it was likely to make her and her beat up Ford wagon stand out like mutts at a dog show.

If she ever found her house. As far as she could tell Fairlea Lane didn’t exist, though that could have been her fault. She had no sense of direction. None at all. Lots of Sidhe had the same problem. At least Alistar said so. But she had never met anyone who was as bad with a map as she was. She could get lost on a one lane desert highway. She had, in fact.

She wasn’t good with cars, either. Especially new ones with computers in them. She didn’t drive this old junker because she wanted to. She would have loved a sleek new roadster, something shiny and fast. But magic and tech didn’t always mix well.

Reaching an intersection, she stopped and read the street signs. Classic rock blared on her lousy little radio—she hadn’t been able to find any indie stations, and she wasn’t going to listen to country unless she had no other choice. She turned down the music and looked around. She had been here twice already. She was driving in freaking circles. The directions from the real estate agent had sounded so easy. Directions always did.

She leaned out the open window—needless to say, she didn’t have AC in this thing—and called to a cluster of kids playing with sidewalk chalk in a nearby driveway. They stared back at her like she was the monster living under their beds, until one of them got up and ran into the house, probably to tell her mother some crazy woman in a car from Colonial times was trying to kidnap her. Marti thought about driving away, but figured that would freak out the kids and their mom even more. The last thing she wanted was for her first day in the new neighborhood to end with a 911 call.

A woman emerged from the house a few moments later, the little girl peering out from behind her.

The woman halted at the end of her driveway. “Can I help you?” she asked in a clipped southern drawl. She gave the car a quick once over and then fixed her glare on Marti again.

“I hope so,” Marti said, hoping she sounded friendly and helpless, or at the very least sane. “Can you tell me how to get to Fairlea Lane?”

“You here to clean someone’s house?”

No, I’m here to steal your television.

“Actually, I’m moving in.”

For just an instant, Marti expected the woman to call her a liar. She saw the thought flicker in the woman’s eyes. But then she ventured out into the street, closing the distance between herself and Marti’s car.

“You buy the Herrera place?”

Marti shrugged. “I don’t know. The address is 16 Fairlea.”

“Mm hmm,” she said with a nod, “that’s probably the Herrera’s house. They couldn’t make their payments.” I wouldn’t be surprised if the same thing happens to you.

The woman didn’t say it, but Marti could tell she was thinking it as she checked out the car again. Marti hadn’t been here ten minutes and already she hated the place.

“So,” Marti said after an uncomfortable silence, “how do I get there?”

“It’s right over there,” the woman said, pointing toward a line of houses that backed up against hers and her neighbors’. “I’m not sure how you missed Fairlea. You come in from town?”

Marti checked the printed directions lying on the passenger seat. “I turned left from Foster Boulevard onto Sawyer. Is that coming from town?”

The woman nodded again. “Mm hmm. Like I said, I don’t know how you missed it.”

“I’m talented that way.”

She smiled. The woman didn’t.

She pointed to the street in front of them, the one intersecting the lane Marti was on. “This is Greenvale. Follow it around this way.” She pointed to the right. “You’ll pass the playground on your left. Fairlea will be on your right. Once you’re on Fairlea, your house will be three or four houses down, on the left.”

“Thank you.”

Marti pulled forward into the intersection, made a right. She could feel the woman and those kids watching her, but she kept her gaze on the road. Already most of what the woman said was a garbled mess in her head. But there would be a playground, and then Fairlea, and she’d figure out the rest. Or she’d find someone else to scare.

The houses here might have been identical to one another, sitting on barren plots of grass, shrubs, and concrete, but they were good sized. No doubt hers was way too big for one person. She had made it clear to the agent that she needed a home right away—any home. Money, she’d told her, was not an issue.

The account in New York had been Alistar’s idea. He’d even seeded it for her—transferring eight hundred thousand dollars from his own accounts into hers, back when that was some serious money. “Magic is great,” he told her at the time. “But in this world, there’s no substitute for wealth.”

The balances in his accounts were proof that living for two hundred years and having access to divination magic, could make a man very rich. And over the forty-plus years Marti had been squirreling money away in her account, it had grown into a pretty impressive nest egg—mid-seven figures. Alistar’s account was worth more than ten times as much. The manager on their accounts, Michael Craig, was also Sidhe, and had helped them with whatever paperwork and bureaucratic hassles came up over the years. Marti had opened her account under her real name—Diana Taylor—and had transferred it several years back to a new name—Carolyn Taylor, claiming that she was Diana’s daughter.

Michael’s colleagues at the bank were more than willing to believe her; Diana was born in the 1940s and couldn’t possibly have looked as young as Marti did. Getting the necessary documents proved easy. Marti had at least half a dozen birth certificates and social security cards stashed away, as did Alistar, just in case. Just in case: That had been their mantra. The hardest part had been keeping up with who they were, seeing to it that each of their various aliases listed a different alias as his or her spouse. The last thing they needed was for all their meticulous planning to be undone by a careless foray into polygamy.

The point was, Marti could have held out for something nicer, even if it cost her twice as much. But she was more interested in quick than nice. She needed a home, for herself and for Alistar’s stone. And in this case, quick also meant cheap—foreclosed, the construction not quite complete. She’d been able to buy it outright, with a bank check. No waiting, no mortgage papers to sign. She didn’t know how long she would stay. If history was any guide, she’d be moving again within a year or two; maybe sooner. But she owned the paper on the house, and so could do with it as she pleased.

She rolled past the playground on her left, and saw the intersection with Fairlea coming up on the right. Another group of kids played kickball on Fairlea, and they scampered to the sidewalks when they saw her turn, then gaped at her as she crept by.

Aside from them, and a pair of lawnmower-wielding gardeners a few lots down, the street was deserted. Four in the afternoon on a Friday, and there was no one here at all. A couple of bicycles lay abandoned in driveways, and in the distance a sprinkler twirled lazily in the middle of an unnaturally perfect lawn. Dogs barked; a mockingbird perched atop a telephone pole went through its repertoire, mimicking a jay, a robin, a goldfinch.

Number sixteen was the fourth house on the left, just as the woman had told her. There was little to distinguish it from the homes on either side of it. Beige vinyl siding, black shutters flanking the windows, a brick walkway leading to the front landing, a door of polished wood, with narrow etched glass windows on either side of it, and a half moon of triangular glass panes above. Marti couldn’t decide if it all struck her as tasteful or tacky. Either way, Alistar would have hated it, if for no other reason than the siding.

“I will not live in a plastic house!” he’d once told her, when they were working out the logistics of one of their many moves. “If that’s my choice, the Fomhoire can kill me now.”

She remembered laughing at this at the time; both of them had. It wasn’t funny anymore.

Marti pulled into the driveway and shut off the engine. But she didn’t get out. She stared at the house, at the yard, at the houses around hers.

Her lawn had been cut within the last few days, apparently for the first time in ages. Long strands of dried grass littered the walkway. Even groomed, though, the yard didn’t look healthy. Large patches of brown, dead grass covered much of the lot, and the flower beds—if that’s what they were meant to be—were filled with wilted shrubs and dried leaves from the one tree, an oak, shading the front of the house. She had little hope the backyard would be in better shape.

“Not exactly the garden we left behind, old man.”

She hoped she’d find a place in back where she could put the stone without it being conspicuous.

She opened the door, the creak of metal loud and harsh, and climbed out of the car.

As soon as her feet touched the driveway, she felt it. It was as obvious as the breeze cooling her sweat-soaked back, as pervasive as the twined scents of gasoline and freshly-cut grass.

Power.

It hummed in the cement like an electric current, raising the skin on her legs, pulsing through her entire body. It frightened her, enticed her, aroused her even. She hungered for it. But feeling it here, now, after all that had happened, all she had lost . . . .

“Crap,” she breathed knowing a moment of panic.

She had no conduit, and so no access to her magic. A sachet of wolf’s bane, bay, dill, and anise—an odd-smelling but powerful combination of protective herbs—lay in her glove box, along with raw pieces of onyx and jasper. Those might have been enough to let her escape an attack if one had been imminent. They would have had to be. Her other herbs, crystals, and oils were packed away in the back of the car.

But she hadn’t sensed magic. This was power, which was different. Sidhe and Fomhoire possessed magic. Sluagh were creatures of magic. Power came from conduits, and allowed Sidhe and Fomhoire to access their spellcasting abilities.

She held herself motionless, closed her eyes, and tested what she sensed, her awareness flicking out like a snake’s tongue tasting the air for predators or prey. No doubt about it: power. Potentially a conduit. Strong, but not dark, not malevolent. Neutral. Unclaimed. This wasn’t Fomhoire or Sidhe. Not yet, at least. It could go either way.

Still, she couldn’t keep herself from opening her eyes and scanning above for winged demons. The sky was hazy, a faint shade of blue, and, for now, empty of Sluagh.

Relief eased through her, loosening tensed muscles, slowing her pulse. Mostly.

She had come here to get away. While on the road, she had managed to call one of the other Sidhe, to tell them of Alistar’s murder, to let them know she was without a conduit, that her part of the protective magical web—hers and Alistar’s—had been breached and would be out of commission for a while. Responsibility to her fellow sorcerers demanded no less. Beyond these warnings, though, she owed nothing more. She needed time—time to rest, time to grieve, time to find a new conduit.

This power she felt might allow her to bind again, but it didn’t promise rest or time. If she sensed it, someone else would, too. Fomhoire, Sluagh, others she didn’t wish to consider. It wasn’t a question of if they would find it—and her—only of when.

And yet, that wasn’t what bothered her most.

Marti didn’t believe in happenstance. The old gods didn’t simply allow things like this to happen; what others called coincidence a Sidhe knew for the machinations of the ancient ones. They delighted in bringing power to magic, power to power, magic to magic, for good or for ill. Which meant she was here because of this . . . presence. It had been waiting for her.

Monday Musings: Elections, John Adams, and the Future of Our Republic

Back in September 2020, as we lurched toward the Presidential election, I wrote a piece for this blog on the peaceful transfer of power. In it, I warned of the dangerous path followed by the former inhabitant of the White House, who was already sowing doubts about the integrity of the vote and laying the groundwork for his unsuccessful coup attempt in January 2021.

My warnings were well-founded, of course, but I fear I was terribly naïve about how to combat the threat our former president posed. When I wrote the piece, I believed that once he was defeated and removed from office, his pernicious influence on American politics would fade. I was wrong.

Tomorrow is Election Day, and as of this date, a staggering number of Republican candidates at all levels of government have, like the former guy in 2020 (and 2016), refused to promise that they will honor the voting results in their races. To draw upon a turn of phrase used by President Biden in a speech last week, they have decided that they only love this country and its founding principles when they win.

If you will allow me to slip on my historian’s cap for a moment . . . . The most important date in the history of our republic is not July 4, 1776 or October 19, 1781 (the effective end of the War for Independence) or March 9, 1779 (the date on which our new nation started operating under the authority of the Constitution). To my mind, the most important date in our history is March 4, 1801. That was the day on which President John Adams relinquished power to his political rival, Thomas Jefferson, who had defeated him in the election of 1800.

Here is what I wrote in 2020 about that moment in our history:

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.

It was bad enough that a defeated President, driven by ego and pique and an insatiable appetite for affirmation and power, should imperil this foundational imperative of our system of government. But it is truly chilling to see one of our two major parties mimicking his behavior, adopting his model of petulance and self-interest as an across-the-board election strategy. Make no mistake: The future of our nation is under threat.

Our republic has endured for as long as it has because, with very few exceptions (Rutherford B. Hayes, Richard Nixon, and now Donald Trump), our leaders on both sides of the aisle have chosen to abide by the rules as laid out in the Constitution. Yes, politicians cheat. They wage dirty campaigns. They look for every advantage. This has been true for as long as our nation has existed. In the end, though, they have accepted voters as the final arbiters of their electoral fates. As soon as candidates refuse to do this, they expose the fragility and brittleness of our system. If enough politicians on either end of the political spectrum decide the only legitimate outcome of a race is their own victory, the entire system will collapse. Outcomes matter, of course. But the integrity of the process itself is what preserves democratic institutions. Take away that integrity, leave election outcomes to be determined by who can scream “fraud” loudest and longest, and we are doomed.

This is the future today’s GOP is embracing. They have chosen to place themselves and their party over the will of the people, and if they are rewarded for doing so, the American Experiment is over.

Let me be clear: When elections are close, there are going to be recounts. That is part of the process as well. No one disputes that. (It is worth remembering that in 2020 the Trump Campaign demanded and was granted multiple recounts in Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. And while a handful of votes shifted one way or another, not one of these recounts altered the final result.) One can demand a recount and then honor the decision of voters once the process is complete

What we are seeing this year is not the expression of legitimate concerns about close election results. The elections haven’t been held yet. Rather, this is a systematic attempt to sow doubts about the elections ahead of time and thus justify whatever shenanigans they intend to try next. It’s disgusting. It’s immoral and corrupt and corrosive.

There are other issues on voters’ minds this year, obviously. I would argue that the preservation of our republic outweighs all of them. Vote like democracy itself is at stake. Because it is.

Have a good week.

Professional Wednesday: Special Guest Joelle Presby

Joelle PresbyI first met Joelle Presby several years back at a convention, and I was struck straight off by a number of things. 1) She’s just plain nice. That’s certainly not unheard of in the publishing world, but it’s also not routine. Many people are in the game for themselves. Others pretend to me something other than what they are. Not Joelle. She is genuine, kind, funny. 2) She is also crazy smart. Read her bio. Read her post. She is SMART. And 3) Everyone I talked to at that convention who  was familiar with her work had come to the same conclusion: She was a rising star. A few years later, she continues to dazzle with the release of her first solo novel.

Please welcome to the blog Joelle Presby. [Cue wild applause.]

*****

Professional Wednesday: On Hope

By Joelle Presby

There are a number of ways storytellers transition from folks who write because they have to into folks who write because they have to and also have deadlines and readers buying their work. Like many writers, I think of my transition as special and unique.

I was solidly on the path to never being published, when I stumbled into an opportunity. I was writing my seventh rough draft novel with every intention of finishing it and immediately setting it aside to begin an eighth never-to-be-revised novel. Editing is a lot of work. And I’d let my hopes shrivel too much to sustain me through the grind of reviewing an entire novel’s flaws with a clear eye and rewriting it to make the words on the page fully match the story in my mind.

The re-birth of hope was all my husband Andy’s fault.

Debare Snake Launcher, by Joelle PresbyDebare Snake Launcher, by Joelle Presby (back cover)We were both naval officers in the nuclear power pipeline, trained in engineering and managing complex technical projects, but my degrees were in math and his were in physics and spacecraft design. I got sick (nothing terminal) and had to accept a medical discharge. But my next job required fewer hours, so I could write more. And we could attend science fiction conventions and meet up with authors as long as I did the arranging and accepted that Andy might be at sea. Conventions were a lot more fun when Andy came too. Science fiction authors tend to be significantly more interested in chatting with folks who have space craft engineering backgrounds than talking to another would-be writer who happens to have only a math and engineering background.

But my hope was shriveled, not gone.

When Andy Presby had regular meetings with David Weber to provide Honorverse tech continuity support, I came along. Mostly, I sat in a corner working on a new first draft, but it was fun to eavesdrop on some of the detailed discussions around revising nearly-finished drafts with an eye to incorporating newly postulated science and also not breaking the story world. I began to think just a little about editing my own work. I did and it was hard. So, mostly I wrote first drafts again. But my hope was growing.

Andy and eight friends formed the company BuNine in order to sign a contract with Baen Books to produce a fictional nonfiction encyclopedia of the Honorverse to be released on the twentieth anniversary of the first publication of ON BASILISK’S STATION (Honorverse book 1). The group started strong with Andy agreeing to a leadership role and a primary technical role for the many planned space craft articles. Then the US Navy sent Andy to a new job. He had almost no time. The work wasn’t getting done. I started getting calls. I knew how to be a project manager and I could write. My husband and our friends had made this commitment. I didn’t want them to fail. I didn’t want them to fail David Weber or Baen Books. I wrote bad articles and good ones. I poked Andy to get from him the ship specifications we absolutely needed. I revised the drafts and took editorial correction and revised again. It was hard, but not that hard. I did a lot of nonfiction writing for work, and for a day job, you don’t get to only do rough drafts. Besides, I told myself, this didn’t count. It wasn’t real writing.

But my confidence, my hope, my willingness to dare and try grew anyway.

I heard that Toni Weisskopf was interested in a short story to be published on Baen.com during the month that our project, now titled HOUSE OF STEEL: THE HONORVERSE COMPANION, released. My hope wasn’t big enough to send anything to Baen, but it was enough for me to write a very small Honorverse short story, revise it, and share it with my husband. He gave it to our friends who, without asking me, gave it to Sharon Rice-Weber who, without asking me, gave it to David Weber who, without asking me, gave it to Toni Weisskopf who wanted to buy it if… I would revise it.

The Baen.com story was well received by Honorverse fans. It led to an invite to write for the BEGINNINGS (Worlds of Honor 6) anthology. That success led to having my first published novel be a collaboration with David Weber: THE ROAD TO HELL (Multiverse #3). And then Baen gave me a contract to write a solo novel, which I had to revise. A lot. And it was worth it.

The revised version of my ninth rough draft novel a.k.a. my first published solo novel, THE DABARE SNAKE LAUNCHER, comes out November 1, 2022.

I still go to science fiction conventions and talk to writers, and I’ve learned I’m not as unique as I first thought. If you want to stay on the path to never publishing, it’s dangerous to keep writing.

Though if anyone has access to a time machine, please tell younger me that there is joy in getting the revisions right, and the satisfaction of reaching the last page on the final polish far, far exceeds typing “The End” for a mere rough draft.

Beware. Opportunity might be just around the corner. May you have enough hope to make the attempt.

And, as David B. Coe says, keep writing.

*****

Joelle Presby is a former U.S. Navy nuclear engineering officer and recovering corporate consultant who grew up in West Africa. Her first reader husband works for NASA, but he has yet to build her a space elevator. She does not admit to arranging a book deal through a quid pro quo arrangement with Mami-Wata.
 
Joelle began her writing career publishing in David Weber’s Honorverse and joined him as a cowriter for the Multiverse series with the novel, The Road To Hell. Over a dozen short stories later, she is releasing her first solo novel, , in November 2022.
 
She lives in Ohio with her husband and two children.

Monday Musings: Memories of Halloweens Past

With much larger family neighborhoods, not to mention dormitories, only two miles away, in the village proper, the families with kids in our area tend to drive over to town for trick-or-treating. Certainly, that was what we did when our girls were young enough to go out in search of gobs of candy. Nancy and I don’t usually buy candy at all, knowing that whatever we buy we’ll wind up eating ourselves, since no one will be ringing our doorbell. Okay, some years we DO buy candy, knowing that whatever we buy, we’ll wind up eating ourselves . . . .

The larger point remains, though. For us, for many years now, Halloween has been a non-event.

Erin as kitty catWhen the girls were little, we used to take them into town, meet up with their friends and their friends’ parents, take a bunch of photos (all of them too cute for words), and then commence the hunt for goodies. We would actually bring a bag or two of candy to supplement what our friends were giving out, so that we wouldn’t be total freeloaders, and while half the parents (sometimes the dads, sometimes the moms) went out walking with the kids, the other half stayed, gave out candy, drank a bit of wine. Those were great evenings. Sadly, I missed out on trick-or-treating as often as I participated. Back then, World Fantasy Convention was held each year on Halloween weekend. If Halloween fell anywhere between a Thursday and a Sunday, chances were I’d be away. Sometimes, if the travel was complicated enough, I missed out on Halloween on other days as well. I considered WFC one of the most important professional events on my calendar — I still do — but looking back, I wish I’d skipped the convention more often than I did. I missed out by not taking my girls door-to-door more than I did.Alex as pirate

I grew up in a small suburb, a bedroom community of New York City. From an early age, my parents felt comfortable sending me out with my friends on Halloween night. Before then, I remember my sister, Liz, taking me trick-or-treating. She is older than I am by twelve years, and so by the time I was old enough to go out, she was old enough to have given it up. She was a good sport and always accompanied me for as long as I wanted, for as far as my little legs could carry me. Back then, we young-uns would be armed with two items: a brown paper shopping bag bearing the image of a ghost or a stylized witch or a spooky jack-o-lantern, and a small, orange, slotted cardboard box in which we were to collect pennies for Unicef. A quick internet search tells me that “Trick-or-Treat For Unicef” is still a thing, though these days the boxes have little handles and, yes, QR codes.

I judged the success of the night by the weight and jangle of that orange box, and the weight and sag of that shopping bag. Each year, the latter proved disappointing. Somehow, in the build-up to Halloween, I pictured myself filling my shopping back to the brim, which, of course, would have required a walk lasting days rather than hours, and covering leagues rather than miles. The truth was, I always returned with more candy than I could possibly eat (not that I didn’t make the effort). In one of those old paper shopping bags, candy piled two inches deep was a lot of candy.

My parents, of course, examined and culled my takings. My father loved Mary Janes — peanut butter flavored taffies that always threatened to tear the fillings from his teeth — and Bit-O-Honeys. My mother loved Good and Plenty and anything chocolate (though obviously she didn’t take ALL the chocolate, or anywhere near it). The inspection of our haul post trick-or-treat was, for my siblings and me, a bit like April 15th. We got to keep most of what we brought home, but the powers-that-were took their cut.

Any loose candies, home-packaged candies (like baggies filled with loose candy corn), or homemade treats we threw out. Our parents were not trusting. We threw away apples as well, our fears stoked by urban legends of people slipping razor blades into apples. Raisins we were allowed to keep, but honestly, what kid wants to get boxes of raisins on Halloween?

I remember several of my costumes — baseball player (in a vintage woolen Yankee uniform that I thought was very cool, until I put it on and found it itched like mad), hobo (with burnt cork rubbed on my face to make me appear unshaved), astronaut (this was at the height of the Apollo era, and my helmet “mask” had a tiny little lightbulb that flickered on when I pressed a control at the end of a thin wire that ran from the helmet, down my sleeve, to my hand), ghost (with a freaking scary rubber mask), Charlie Chaplin (I honestly don’t know why; I never was particularly fond of his movies). I think I went as a vampire one year, with those plastic teeth and my hair slicked, but I might be making that up.

All this by way of saying I miss Halloween. I miss the excitement I felt for it as a kid, I miss the anticipation I saw in my own kids as the end of October approached and thoughts turned to candy and costumes. (I remember a pirate and a tiger, a ballerina and a soccer star, a kitty-cat and a scarecrow, a froggy and a princess.) I would love another chance to savor the holiday . . . and I suppose that’s what grandchildren are for. Someday!!

Have a great week!

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