Category Archives: Belle Books

Professional Wednesday: The Twisted, Tortured Story of THE CHALICE WAR

The Chalice War-Stone, by David B. CoeMy “What matters?” series of posts will conclude next Monday, after a Monday Musings post this week that straddled the personal and professional a bit more than usual. In the meantime, I am using today’s Professional Wednesday post to begin pivoting toward the impending release of my new series, a contemporary urban fantasy that delves deeply into Celtic mythology. The series is called The Chalice War, and the first book is The Chalice War: Stone. It will be released within the next month or so, and will be followed soon after by the second book, The Chalice War: Cauldron, and the finale, The Chalice War: Sword.

In my experience, every new project has a story (no pun intended) and this one is no different. Back in the summer of 2009, I was in a bit of a career doldrums. Blood of the Southlands, my third epic fantasy series, was complete, and all but the third book had been released. The series had done well critically, but sales were a bit disappointing — a pattern I had encountered before and would again — and I was trying to figure out where to go next. I had pitched the first iteration of what would become the Thieftaker series to my agent, and she was trying to sell it to Tor Books. But, as always, the publishing world was moving at a snail’s pace, and I had nothing to do.

Within half a year, I would be working on the Robin Hood novelization and starting to convert Thieftaker from an epic fantasy to a historical urban fantasy. But for the moment, I was without a project.

And then an idea came to me — a sudden flash of insight into what would become a pivotal scene in Stone. I took the idea and ran with it. First, I read a ton of material on Celtic history and lore, taking copious notes and figuring out how I might create modern-day versions of the heroes and deities I was reading about. Then, my research complete (for the moment), I began to write the first draft of a contemporary urban fantasy.

I didn’t do much outlining, but rather allowed the novel to take me where it might. And boy did it take me to some interesting places. It started in an imagined bedroom community in northern Virginia, soon evolved into a cross-country trek on U.S. Interstate 40, and wound up on the Strip in Las Vegas. The Battle Furies — the Morrigan — showed up. Turns out, in addition to being goddesses who fed on strife and human suffering, who could turn themselves into a winged horse (Macha) and twin giant ravens (Badbh and Nemain), who drove armies to a killing frenzy and men to uncontrollable lust, they were also Vegas nightclub singers.

Thieftaker, by D.B. Jackson (Jacket art by Chris McGrath)I finished the book and showed it to my agent. She liked it a lot, but thought it needed work. She was right, of course. But by that time, I had signed the contracts for Robin Hood and the Thieftaker books. Not too long after, I finally sold the Fearsson series to Baen Books and so had that trilogy to get through.

But I never forgot my Celtic urban fantasy, or its heroes Marti and Kel. When I had some spare time, I went back and rewrote the book, incorporating revision notes from friends and from my agent with my own sense of what the book needed. I rewrote it a second time a couple of years later, and having some time, started work on a second volume, this one set in Australia (where my family and I lived in 2005-2006). I stalled out on that book about two-thirds of the way in, but I liked what I had. By then, though, I was deeply involved with the final Thieftaker books and the Fearsson series. And I was starting to have some ideas for what would become the Islevale trilogy.

The Celtic books languished in a virtual trunk, not forgotten, but ignored. I didn’t know how to end the second book. I knew the first book needed another rewrite. And I had no idea how to complete the trilogy.

INVASIVES, by David B. Coe (Jacket art courtesy of Belle Books)But I had been through this before. The first book in the Case Files of Justis Fearsson went through at least half a dozen iterations between the first draft, written in 2005, and its eventually publication in 2014. I first came up with the basic concept for Invasives, the second Radiants book, in 2009. It sat on my computer desktop for more than ten years before I actually used it.

I revised Stone yet again, and in so doing, came up with an idea of how to complete the second novel. I rewrote what I had written of that novel, and this time got past whatever had held me back and managed to complete it. And in finishing that volume, I came up with an approach for the third book. It was daring, and quite different from the first two books, but it worked. I set that one in Ireland, and also in the Underrealm.

Finally, in 2021, I had a conversation with Deb Dixon, my marvelous editor at Bell Bridge Books. She asked me what I was thinking of writing next, and I said, “Well, I have this series I’ve been working on — a contemporary urban fantasy steeped in Celtic mythology . . . .”

Her response: “Yes, please.”

The moral of the story should be clear: Never, ever, give up on a project. Sometimes we’re not ready to write the ideas we have. Sometimes our imagination outstrips our creative abilities. At other times, our careers take us in other directions, and we’re not yet ready to pursue projects that we know we want to write eventually. And at still other times, our ideas come to us piecemeal. We can’t see the entire work, but we know there is something there worth writing.

All three of these things were true for me. On some level I knew what I wanted to do with the Celtic books back when I wrote that first iteration of Stone. But I wasn’t yet a good enough writer to do justice to the idea. I had other projects that were more fully formed and that I needed to work on in the moment. And so I did. And the idea for the trilogy took time to percolate.

In the end, these are books I love, stories I’m proud to see come to fruition. I look forward to sharing them with all of you.

Keep writing!!

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

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.

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.

Professional Wednesday: Finishing a Book Actually Means More Work

As I mentioned last week, I have recently finished the third book in my new contemporary Celtic urban fantasy, The Chalice Wars. This book, The Chalice Wars: Sword, will be out sometime fairly early in 2023. Book I, The Chalice Wars: Stone, is currently in production, and book II, The Chalice Wars: Cauldron, is with my editor. The art work for the first book should be ready soon. I’ll share it the moment I can. I’m excited about these books. They are filled with tension and suspense, but also with humor, and they are quite different from other work I’ve done. And I am proud to add that when this third volume is published, it will be my 30th book.

For today’s post, though, I want to focus on the mechanics of finishing a book, and precisely what that means for me in terms of work and process.

I know. It seems like finishing a novel should be fairly straightforward. We type “The End” and then we drink whisky. Right?

Turns out it’s not that easy.

First of all, I NEVER type “The End.” If we as authors have to tell our readers when a book has reached its end, we haven’t done a very good job with our ending. Just saying.

More to the point, finishing the first draft of a novel is just one step in a significantly longer process. Yes, it’s an important step, but it certainly does not mean the book is anywhere near “done.”

When I work on a book, I have a separate file open on my computer, which is usually called “[Book Title] Edit Notes.” This is a file filled with reminders to myself of things I need or want to change in the book. While writing my first draft I don’t want anything to stall my forward momentum. The most important thing we can do with a book draft is finish it. Let me say that again. The most important thing we can do with a book draft is finish it. Finishing a book is hard to do, and it is all too easy to retreat into edits and rewrites rather than move on toward those looming scenes we haven’t quite figured out how to write. It is also tempting, upon noticing in earlier chapters imperfections of prose or character or plotting, to fix them immediately, to make the manuscript as perfect as possible.

But here’s the thing: No first draft is ever going to be perfect. In fact, I would argue that no finished novel has ever been or ever will be perfect. That, though, is a conversation for another time. The point is, finish your book. It is much easier to edit a finished manuscript than it is to complete said manuscript in the first place. And so, when I think of changes that need to be made, I jot them down in a different file for later, thus preserving my momentum.

Fast forward to that glorious day when we actually finish the first draft. Well, now we have to deal with that file filled with edit notes. Working through my edits can take anywhere from one day to one week or even more, depending, obviously on how much work I’ve left for myself.

After I finish the edits, I next tackle my crutch words. Crutch words are verbal mannerisms unique to our writing, words or phrases that we tend to overuse or fall back on when in the midst of composing our stories. We all have them — I see them when editing the work of others, and I see them in my own rough drafts. I even see them in the published volumes of colleagues. My crutch words will be different from yours, which will be different from your writing-group buddy’s, which will be different from those of your favorite writer. But as I say, this is something all writers have to watch out for. I keep a running list of my crutch words in (another) word document on my computer desktop. And after completing any book or story, I work through this list, checking to see if I have overused any of the usual suspects. How do I know if I have overused them? I do a universal search of each word or phrase, which gives me a count of occurrences. And then I compare that number to the number of occurrences of the same word or phrase in several of my other completed, edited manuscripts, ones I know I have checked for crutch words. If the numbers are about the same, if figure I’m okay. If the number for the new book is a good deal higher, I have some work to do. Dealing with crutch words can be a slow, tedious process. It can take me several full days. Slow, tedious days . . . .

Finally, after seeing to my edits and getting my crutch words under control, I put the newly completed manuscript away for several weeks and start work on something else — short fiction, a new novel, editing projects. It doesn’t matter what. After about four to six weeks, depending on how soon the book is due, I pull out the manuscript again and read it through a couple of times start to finish, doing a full edit of the manuscript, looking for any and all problems — stylistic, narrative, structural, etc. Everything. Only after doing this, when I am convinced the manuscript is as good as I can make it at this time, do I send it on to my editor, or my agent, or my Beta readers. (At some point, I’ll have their suggested edits to deal with. And after that there will be copy edits and proofs. But that is part of the production process and is another subject entirely.)

By this time, of course, I’m in the middle of whatever project I’ve started next, so I’m no longer in the mood for celebrating the completion of the manuscript. But that doesn’t mean I can’t have a wee dram of whisky. . . .

Keep writing!

Creative Friday: Celtic Urban Fantasy Teaser!!

This week, I finished the first draft of the third and final book in my new project, a contemporary Celtic urban fantasy called The Chalice Wars. I have a lot to do with this newest manuscript still — I’ll discuss that in greater length in next week’s Professional Wednesday post.

But for today, as a way of celebrating the completion of this latest novel (which will be my 30th when it finds its way to print, later this year or — more likely — early in 2023), I thought I would share with you a bit of book one in the series. This is actually chapter 2 of The Chalice Wars: Stone

I expect it will be out in the next few months. Again, late this year or early next. For now, here’s a peek.

Enjoy!!

*****

Two drops of blood. One on the bottom stair, glistening on brick, red on red. The other on the cement landing by the front door.

The drops were small; she might easily have missed them, walked past and into the house without noticing. But having seen, she couldn’t look away, and she couldn’t take another step.

She stood rooted to the walkway, empty reusable grocery bags tucked under one arm, an oversized bottle of Australian Shiraz in the other hand, her bag slung over her shoulder. And she stared at the blood.

Alistar has cut himself, said a voice in her head. He’s cut himself while working in that damn garden of his.

To which a second voice—Alistar’s, usually so calm and reassuring—said, No, he’s dead. You need to get the hell out of here.

Blood, brick, the geraniums in the ceramic planters Alistar had placed on either side of the stairs. So much red today.

The front door was open behind the screen. Burl should have been there watching for her, tail wagging, tongue lolling happily. Or he might have been in the back garden with Alistar, in which case he should have come bounding around the corner of the house as soon as she pulled up.

She reached for the dog with her mind, with her magic. Nothing. This is what she felt at the store. This was what made her rush through the rest of her shopping, what drove her to flee the grocery store, leaving her half-full cart beside the check-out line. The sensation had been abrupt, final, like someone placed a wall between them.

Like someone had killed her conduit.

On that thought, she was moving again. Not inside, but to the back, the sweat on her palm making the bottle slick and unwieldy. At the corner of the house, she let the canvas bags drop to the ground. She kept hold of the wine; a weapon now.
As soon as she stepped into the backyard, she spotted Alistar.

He lay in the dirt between the slate patio and his bed of gladiolus. Even from a distance, she could see the blood that stained the front of his shirt, like a fan-shaped bib. She faltered a step, a choked sob escaping her, her stomach seizing into a fist. An instant later, she was at his side, knees cushioned in the rich black soil. A faint stench hung in the air, cloying, foul, the smell of rot, of disease, of death.

Alistar’s throat had been cut, ear to ear, the gash a ghoulish grin on his neck. His eyes, pale blue and once electric with wit and mischief and passion, were fixed on a clear sky, unseeing, lifeless. His midsection . . . . She couldn’t even look at that. Whatever killed him had feasted as well. She wanted to believe they waited until he was dead, but she knew better. A tear rolled down her cheek and she swiped at it. It landed like a raindrop on the slate, darkening the stone just beside Alistar’s hand.
His bloodied hand. One crimson-stained finger appeared to point at a dark scrawl on the patio. Letters in blood. A single word. Or part of one. “S-L-U-A—”

Not much, but enough.

“Oh, Alistar,” she whispered. But her heart hammered.

Now she understood where that terrible smell had come from.

Sluagh. Shadow demons. Winged, enormous, utterly without mercy. Fomhoire assassins.

Get the hell out of here!

His voice again, urgent and compelling.

First, though, she had to find Burl.

If a Sluagh did this, or more likely a trio of them—the old powers did things in threes or fours—Burl would be dead, too. They would sense the magic in him and assume he had been Alistar’s conduit. Forced to guess, she would say the poor dog was dead before Alistar knew what was coming.

She remained beside him for another moment, trying to reconcile the wreckage before her with her memories of the man she had loved. She never should have gone out. She was the one with a conduit, the one who had been maintaining their part of the network since the death of Alistar’s conduit two months ago. She should have stayed here and sent Alistar to the store. But he was so happy in his garden, and she was gone for such a short while.

It’s not your fault, and this is no time for blame. Go.

Leaving him seemed wrong. He deserved . . . more.

No. You have to go. And you have to take it with you.

She stood, gripped the wine bottle once more, and strode to the back door. It was open, of course. Burl lay sprawled on the kitchen tiles, his silky white fur matted with blood, his water dish overturned, the floor covered with a thin, dark pink mixture.

Tears again, a stream of them this time. How could she cry so for her dog, when she’d shed barely a tear for Alistar?

He wasn’t just a dog.

She felt more than grief. The stench of the Sluagh was thick in here. She gagged, biting back against the bile rising in her throat, and the terror clawing at her chest. Without a conduit, she was vulnerable, all but defenseless. Sidhe or no, she couldn’t cast much of anything without a source for the magic.
She swallowed hard, wiped her eyes again. Burl deserved to be buried, too. Losing either one of them would have been bad enough. But both?

She stepped over the dog, avoiding the stained water, and halted at the door to the dining room. Drops of blood trailed away from the kitchen, through the dining room, and into the living room. Toward the front door. She guessed they had come in from the front, killed the dog, gone back out the same way, and snuck up on Alistar from behind. Then they returned to the house and ransacked it, breaking and tearing nearly everything of value. Sluagh wouldn’t worry about leaving behind a trail of destruction, much less a splattering of blood. They were hunters, nothing more or less. They worried about the kill and whatever they’d been sent to find.

At last, terror kicked in. She hurried to the bedroom, knowing she couldn’t take much. There wasn’t time, and the Sluagh hadn’t left much intact. Clothes, photos, papers, books, music. Most of the furniture was Alistar’s and what belonged to her wouldn’t fit in her car.

Alistar had insisted they keep boxes in the attic and packing tape in the utility drawer, just in case there came a time when they would need to leave without delay. He had also paid the rent on a month-to-month basis; no lease.

“I want to be able to leave this place on an hour’s notice, and never look back,” he often said.

Hearing the words in her head once more, she muttered, “You were supposed to come with me, old man.”

She was packed in less than two hours, and had the car loaded before nightfall. But she waited until dusk to return to the garden for the one thing she couldn’t leave behind.
When it was dark enough, she went to the garage and retrieved the ancient wooden crate Alistar stored there. It must have weighed ten pounds empty. She carried it to the farthest end of his garden, took a spade from his shed, and removed the stone from its spot in the dirt.

“It should be packed in soil,” he’d told her at least two or three times. “And the crate should be nailed shut.”

On one occasion she laughed at him. “Why tell me all of this? You’ll be the one packing it. You never let me near that thing.”

He’d stared back at her, silent and grave and beautiful in the dying light of an autumn afternoon. Had he known it would come to this? Had he seen it?

She stared at the gaping hole she’d left in the dirt. They had hosted parties at the house, sat with friends on the patio, sipping wine and chatting deep into the night. No one ever noticed the stone, which was just as it had to be.

There was nothing striking about it. It was vaguely round, about the size of a honeydew melon, dull grey, with a few gleaming specs of mica and quartz. And with the spells she and Alistar had cast on it, its power was dampened. She shivered, as if someone ran a magical finger down her spine. The spells. They had cast them together, so that if one of them died, the spells would survive. He had seen this day coming.

Bastard. Brilliant bastard. More tears streamed down her cheeks. She went back to work.

The stone fit perfectly in the crate. She had created a nest of soil for it, leaving just enough room to sprinkle more dirt around it and over it. She sealed the crate, then retrieved the other stone from behind the shed. It looked much like the first; same color, shape, and size. She put it where Alistar’s stone had been, smoothed the dirt surrounding it.

She stood, lifted the crate with a grunted “Sonofabitch!” and staggered out to the car. There she wedged it into a space she had left unfilled in the far corner of the rear hatch. As an afterthought, she threw in the shovel, too. It had been Alistar’s, just like everything else in the garden shed. She slung coats and a few dresses over the stone, arranging and then rearranging until it all looked natural, like she was a slob, rather than someone trying to hide something.

When everything else was done, she went to the basement for the last of Alistar’s precautions. Somehow he had managed to buy or steal license plates from half a dozen states. On their own, the plates would have been of limited use, but he had also arranged to have new registration stickers sent each January from the state DMVs. She didn’t know how he did it, and he never bothered to tell her; it was just Alistar being Alistar. But she was smart enough—or maybe scared enough—to put a fresh set of plates on her car, and to take the others with her.

From now on, she would be from Maryland. Until she needed to be from somewhere else.

She tossed the old plates and the wrench into the back, and closed the hatch.

She needed to let the others know. Their part of the network was open now, exposed. In recent months she had sensed gaps, weaknesses in their web of magic that the Fomhoire might exploit. Now it was worse, and without her conduit there was no easy way for her to send a warning. All she could do was run, and hope she’d find an opportunity to tell them later.
It didn’t feel right. Alistar still lay in the garden, Burl in the kitchen.

Alistar had long been a prominent figure in the Sidhe community, which made her one as well. They had helped establish the network monitoring this part of the Sidhe world for Fomhoire incursions. That was reason enough for Fomhoire and their Sluagh friends to want Alistar and her dead. Not that they needed reasons to kill.

She sensed, though, that the Fomhoire were also after the stone, and she didn’t understand why. Alistar had never explained to her the stone’s significance. For years she had wanted him to tell her, but always he refused. Now she needed to know, and he was gone.

“That part wasn’t so brilliant, old man,” she whispered, peering through tears at the darkened house.

You’ll figure it out. Now, go!

She climbed into the car, and with one last glance toward her home, toward the gardens, she drove away.

Monday Musings: Wading Back In (and Why I Left)

Yes, I’m back, dipping my toes cautiously into the social media waters, gauging my mental state. I have a lot going on professionally right now, and I need to write about it, to boost the signal (as the market phrase would have it), to shout it from the virtual rooftops.

And so, I’m venturing back out into the digital world. But you, who have put up with me disappearing now and again, deserve a bit of an explanation for my sudden withdrawal back in early July.

The short version is this: Our older daughter, who has been battling cancer since March 2021, had an unexpected setback. “Unexpected” as in out of the blue. All (or at least almost all) the indicators had been looking pretty good, pointing toward slow but measurable progress. And then one scan — a formality, dotting the “i”s and crossing the “t”s — came back with unambiguously bad results. Bad.

We were devastated, and I needed time. As it happened, at that point in the summer, Nancy and I were preparing for a long stretch of travel, and I would have needed to write several weeks worth of blog posts in advance and schedule them for our time away. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t bring myself to write a bunch of happy, chatty posts when I was shattered.

Hence, my pull-back.

Our daughter is back in chemotherapy. We’ll find out before too long whether it is working as we hope or if her doctors will need to try something else. In the meantime, she is doing remarkably well. The side-effects of this particular drug are, mercifully, not too terrible. She is working as usual on non-treatment days. She is seeing friends, going to parties, having fun. She is a wonder. A force of nature. Her courage and strength and resilience and determination humble me. I am embarrassed by my own fragility. But I’m a parent and my kid is sick and I can’t do a damn thing to make it all better. Isn’t that what dads are supposed to do? Make it all better? I feel helpless.

But given all she is doing for herself, how can I do any less than step back into the world, be a professional, and live my life as best I can?

So . . . .

I am currently working on my new contemporary Celtic urban fantasy. I have recently revised the first book, The Fugitive Stone, and am now about to submit for editorial feedback the second book, The Demon Cauldron. The third book, The Lost Sword, is about two-thirds written. I’ll be resuming work on it soon.

The Kickstarter for the new set of Zombies Need Brains anthologies is live and it needs your support! We have four anthologies in this year’s set, including Dragonesque, an anthology of stories from the dragon’s point of view, for which I will be writing a story, and Artifice and Craft, an anthology of stories about magical or supernatural works of art that I am editing with my wonderful friend, Edmund R. Schubert. We are halfway to our funding goal, but that leaves us with some fundraising distance to travel in the three weeks we have left. Please, please, please help us out.

I am also continuing to edit on a freelance basis, as I have been for about a year now.

And I am preparing for a couple of upcoming professional events. I will be a guest at this year’s DragonCon, my first appearance at the con since 2018. I can’t wait to get back to our genre’s version of Mardi Gras — it’s always a highlight of my professional year, and it’s been too long. DragonCon takes place in Atlanta, the first weekend of September.

And later in September, I will be an instructor at the Hampton Roads Writers Conference, leading workshops on Point of View, Character Development and Character Arc, World Building, and Pacing and Narrative Arc.

Busy times. Difficult times. But I think that’s true for all of us. We all struggle. We all find ways to cope, to overcome, or at least to distract and scrape by.

I mentioned our travel — Nancy and I went to Colorado, where we had a wonderful visit with our younger daughter and her partner. From there, we went to Boise, to see Nancy’s family. And finally, we spent nearly a week in the area around Bozeman, hiking every day, looking at birds and butterflies, the brilliant hues of wildflowers and mountain vistas that stole our breath. Maybe I’ll post a few photos in the weeks to come.

Thank you for your understanding when I needed to step away from social media. Thank you for the warm, welcoming embrace of your friendship as I return. Going forward, I will try to do better.

Professional Wednesday: Dealing With My Latest Editorial Feedback

I’ve written many times before about dealing with edits on a story or novel manuscript, and I don’t want to repeat myself any more than necessary. But I have just received feedback from my editor on the first book in my upcoming Celtic urban fantasy series, and I thought a return to this topic might prove helpful to some. Including me.

Earlier this year, I wrote about my expanded editorial responsibilities, and the ways in which doing more editing had made me a better writer, as well as the ways in which writing for more than twenty-five years had helped hone my editorial eye. I also mentioned that the best editors are those who help writers realize their creative visions without imposing the editors’ own, and that professional writers must learn to be open to editorial comments and to avoid defensiveness.

Neither of these things is easy to do.

RADIANTS, by David B. Coe (Jacket art by Belle Books)My editor at Belle Books is a woman named Debra Dixon, and she is a truly remarkable editor. This first book in the Celtic series is our third novel together, after Radiants and Invasives. In our time together, I have never once felt that her responses to my work were intrusive or unhelpful. With each book it’s been clear to me that her every observation, every criticism, every suggestion, is intended to help me tell my story with the greatest impact and in the most concise and effective prose. A writer can’t ask for more. This doesn’t mean I have agreed with every one of her comments. Now and then, I have felt strongly enough about one point or another to push back. And she’s fine with that. That’s how the editor-writer relationship is supposed to work, and she has always been crystal clear: In the end, my book is my book. But even when we have disagreed we have been clear on our shared goal: To make each book as good as it can be.

INVASIVES, by David B. Coe (Jacket art courtesy of Belle Books)My struggle right now is simply this: Her feedback on this first book is quite extensive and requires that I rethink some fundamental character issues and cut or change significantly several key early scenes. And she’s right about all this stuff. No doubt. This first book has been through several revisions already, and the second half of the book — really the last two-thirds of the book — just sings. I love it. She loves it. The first third is where the problems lie. To be honest, the first hundred (manuscript) pages of this book have always given me the most trouble. I wrote the initial iteration of the book more than a decade ago, and in some ways those early chapters still reflect too much the time in which they were written. They feel dated.

So I am rethinking the opening. Again.

In the weeks to come, I will likely rewrite most or all of those early chapters. Right now I am still struggling a bit to wrap my head around how, exactly, I am going to tackle those rewrites. This is a book I love, a book I have lived with for twelve years, a book I have worked and reworked and reworked again. I thought I was done with it. I thought it would be fine as written. I needed Deb to look it over and tell me all the ways it doesn’t work.

Now that she has done this, I can’t think about the book without cringing at all the flaws I missed, that I was willing to accept. Again, to be very, very clear, I do not disagree with any of Deb’s critiques of the novel. But this doesn’t mean they don’t pain me.

And that’s all right, too. Again, as I have said many times before, writers have to be open to editorial feedback. We have to understand that our first draft, or our second, or even our tenth, isn’t perfect. A book can always be improved. We don’t publish when our books are perfect. If we did, no book would ever be published. We publish when the book is as good as we fallible humans, working together, can make it.

What I don’t always mention when writing about editing and revisions, is this: I go through a complicated emotional process when dealing with an editor’s feedback. It starts with grief. I always feel a little hurt by the criticisms of my newest baby. I feel bruised and battered, sad and even a bit helpless. We love our books. We have worked so hard to make them as wonderful as they can be. Being told they need still more work, having all their faults and flaws pointed out to us — that kind of sucks. [Editor’s note: delete “kind of”]

Grief gives way to anger pretty quickly. It’s not that this hurts, although it does. No! It’s that [insert editor’s here] is just flat-out wrong! What they hell do they know? Okay a lot. But it’s not like they’ve been doing this for years and years! Okay, yes, they have. It’s not . . . It’s not . . .

It’s not them. It’s me. And my book.

Anger sluices away, and what’s left is resignation, recognition. All those problems the editor has identified? They’re real. They need our attention.

Which brings us to despair.

My book is terrible. Despite what my editor thinks, it can’t be saved. I should just give up now.

But, of course, we have no intention of giving up. We’ve written the damn book. If we’d intended to give up, we would have done it ages ago, when we were first struggling to write it. No, the only thing we can do is fix it, make it as good as it can possibly be, which was the entire point of submitting ourselves to the editorial process in the first place. And so at last we come to acceptance.

And at that point we are ready to begin revising.

I am somewhere between despair and acceptance right now. By the time you read this, I should be fully in acceptance and ready to begin revisions.

Because I’m a professional writer, and this is what we do.

Keep writing.

Professional Wednesday: Down Time Is Not Wasted Time — A Guest Post From JD Blackrose

My friend JD Blackrose has a new book coming out — Demon Kissed, a novel I was happy to blurb. Today she drops some writing wisdom on us. Read on!


JD BlackroseYou won’t get your best ideas sitting at your desk. You’ll get them in the shower. Or, when you’re driving your car, or taking a walk on a snowy day.

Unfortunately, the only things these three scenarios have in common is that you usually can’t write anything down. I’m willing to guess that authors lose more ideas to a lack of pen and paper than to anything else.

In an article on the website for the meditation app, Headspace, author Christine Yu reports that her cousin once gave her a waterproof notepad and pencil so when she got her best idea in the shower, she had a place to write it down. (I didn’t know such a thing existed, but it does. Google “Aquanotes.”)

Or do what I do and carry your phone with you. Type a few quick words into the Notes section of your phone at a red light. If you are a sophisticate, leave yourself a voice memo. In the shower or while chopping veggies, when you can’t just stop mid-suds or slice, yell to your partner, “Remind me about the pig with the swizzle stick,” or ask Siri to take a memo. Just saying it out loud should be enough to get you through a quick wash or salad.

It’s all good, and it is all valuable, because you’ll need those notes of inspiration later. How many times have you been raring to go, ready to write, only to sit in front of your computer and find your ideas have dried up?

Demon Kissed, by JD BlackroseIt’s happened to all of us. It happened to me writing my new book, Demon Kissed, and the next two in The Summoner’s Mark trilogy, coming from Bell Bridge Books.

Luckily, I had notes for inspiration, and I used them to get a handle on the main character and her voice. If I hadn’t had those stolen thumb-typed crib sheets, I wouldn’t have gotten a foothold on the story at all, or maybe I would have, but it would have been much later and my chance to pitch the books might have passed me by.

Writer A.A. Milne is often quoted as saying, “Don’t underestimate the value of doing nothing.” This is accurate, but the full quote is, “Don’t underestimate the value of doing nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you cannot hear, and not bothering.”

Very Winnie-the-Pooh.

As writers, we talk a lot about “butt-in-chair” practice. Get a certain number of words each day! Set aside one hour every single day! Write a story start to finish.

It’s all good advice, and yet, nonsense.

According to Yu’s article, problem solving through insight involves the right temporal lobe of the brain, while problem solving via a more active, analytical approach involves the frontal lobe. We literally are using our minds differently, and being in the shower, or exercising, or being in woods puts us in a state of rest and relaxation, ready to receive inspiration.

In other words, we need both. I do a lot of yoga and the title of this piece comes from an online yoga instructor who said, “Down time is not wasted time.” He’s absolutely correct, and though he was talking about yoga, it applies to our writing practice too. Spinning our wheels in front of the computer makes us cranky and defeated. It is the opposite of what we are trying to achieve, and when we do create words under those conditions, they are often stilted.

While I believe in creating a writing habit, something I’m going to write a book about soon, I also believe that writing time is not necessarily all about fingers on keyboard or pen in hand. You must pay attention to the other part of your brain and give it the space it needs to work.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, talks about the “Four Horsemen: defensiveness, stonewalling, criticism, and contempt.” If this sounds like your inner voice, it is time to take a break and go for a stroll. Take notes or dictate into your phone, or dare to do nothing and not bother, like A.A. Milne. Come back to your writing later. The words might be there then.

*****

About JD Blackrose

JD Blackrose is the author of The Summoner’s Mark series from Bell Bridge Books, and The Soul Wars, The Devil’s Been Busy, and the Zombie Cosmetologist novellas from Falstaff Books, as well as numerous short stories, including “Welcome, Death” in the Jewish Book of Horror.

Demon Kissed is out February 28th.

Follow JD Blackrose on Twitter and Facebook
Visit the author’s website. Read an excerpt of Demon Kissed.
Purchase:  Indiebound | B&N | Amazon | Kobo

Monday Musings: About That Professional News I Mentioned Two Months Ago…

Screen shot of Facebook postNearly two months ago, early in the new year, I posted on social media that I had some exciting professional news I couldn’t share quite yet. I was thrilled, and wanted to let people know. But I also didn’t want to say anything before all the details had been settled. So I posted my little teaser, forgetting the one immutable rule of the publishing business: Things always happen slower than one thinks they will.

Well, I can finally make the announcement official. I have signed and sent the contracts, and they are (or soon will be) back in the hands of my publisher.

I have signed a contract for a new trilogy with Belle Books.

What kind of trilogy?

I’ll tell you, but first some brief background. (Sue me: I’m a writer, so I always build suspense, and I’m a historian, so I always fill in backstory . . .)

A little more than a decade ago, in the summer of 2011, I found myself with nothing to write. We (my agent and I) had sold the Thieftaker books to Tor, and had turned in the first volume, but was waiting on revision notes. The year before I’d finished my Blood of the Southlands series and had also published the Robin Hood novelization. We were shopping the Justis Fearsson series, but sensed that the first book needed more work. And, frankly, I was not yet in a state of mind to tackle another rewrite on that front.

And so, with nothing else to do, I started something new. When I named the file folder on my computer desktop, I just called it “NewUF” (new urban fantasy). The book remained untitled for a long time.

The scene I first envisioned (not the first scene in the story) centered around a woman who wakes up from a night she can barely remember with a wound she feels but can’t see. She stumbles to the shower, but the pain only increases. At last she finds herself picking at skin that looks normal but feels rough and scarred. And suddenly blood is cascading down her side. She doesn’t know or remember why.

A little weird, right? Ideas come in all shapes and sizes. Some books take form clearly and sequentially. Some introduce themselves piecemeal, like a jigsaw puzzle. I didn’t know what to make of the scene I’d imagined, but working backward from it I filled out the character of this woman, I sculpted her world, which is basically our world with a magical twist, and I built other characters around her.

The result was a contemporary urban fantasy steeped in Celtic mythology: two women, a Sidhe sorcerer and her human conduit, fighting off shapeshifting Fomhoire demons and their allies from the Underrealm, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance.

It sounds grim, and it also sounds a bit like other books we’ve seen before. It’s neither. Yes, there is some serious shit going down throughout the book, but there is also humor and there are lots of unexpected twists in both the magical underpinnings of the story and the narrative itself.

I wrote the book in about three months. And then I set it aside. I had final edits to do on Thieftaker and I needed to get started on Thieves’ Quarry, the second book in that series. I loved this other book I’d written, but I knew it was part of a larger project, and I didn’t know yet what to do with the next books in the sequence.

Thieftaker and its sequel did well. We sold the Fearsson series. And abruptly, I had more than enough work to keep me busy for a few years. But I certainly never forgot about my Celtic series, and a few years later, when I pulled the book out of the proverbial drawer, I reworked it, taking into account my agent’s editorial comments from that first draft, and all that I had learned since while writing the Thieftaker and Fearsson books. A couple of years after that, I took it out again and edited it some more. And finding myself once more with a bit of time, I started work on the second volume.

This second book built on what I’d done in book one, but the plot stalled at the 2/3 mark (as books often do) and, with other work to get done — now on the Islevale series — I put it away again.

And on it went. I returned to these books again and again, polishing book one to a high shine, eventually completing and then polishing book two, and finally developing an idea for the third book in the trilogy. By then we’d reached the middle of 2021. I was working on the Radiants series with an incredible publisher and editor, and I decided it was finally time to bring these books out of the drawer they’d been in and present them for possible publication. Which brings us to this post.

We don’t always know what will happen with the stories and books we write. The first book in this new Celtic urban fantasy has, at this point, been through five or six iterations and countless edits. It wasn’t ready in 2011. Not even close. But I believed in the idea, and I knew that with work I could make it into a publishable novel.

Sure, I have other books and stories that have never gone anywhere and probably won’t. I also have ideas like this one that are still awaiting their time.

Never give up on a story you love. Maybe it’s not ready yet. Maybe you haven’t figured out how to end it or where to take subsequent volumes. Maybe you’re not sure what it needs, but you know it needs something. Stick with it. Work on other things as well. Sometimes we need to confront stubborn ideas and stories head on. Sometimes we need to set them aside and let them percolate while we write other characters in other worlds.

I don’t yet know what to call this new series. When I know, you’ll know. The first book is titled Stone Bound. I expect it will be out later in 2022 or early in 2023. The second book is called The Demon Cauldron.

Have a great week.