Category Archives: Blogging

Creative Friday: A Rare Treat

A week ago this morning, we woke up to a few inches of fresh snow. Now, this may not seem like a big deal to you, but for us, down here in Tennessee, snow is a too-rare treat. Even when we do get a nice snowfall, it usually vanishes within a day or so. Not this time. It fell wet and fluffy, and then dropping temperatures solidified it. We had snow on the trees for days. It was glorious — a welcome distraction from less savory goings-on in Washington.

These photos are from that first beautiful morning. The water shot is of a small shed on the property of a neighbor. I’ve actually always thought the structure was a bit of an eyesore, but on this day, in the snow and mist, it added a nice touch to my photo.

The two trail photos are from the rails-to-trails path where I take my morning walks. You’ll notice that there are two sets of footprints in the photos, one on the right side, heading away from me, and one on the left, harder to see, coming toward me. Those are Nancy’s. She had gone running on the trail about an hour before I took my walk. We were the only people to brave the trail that morning.

Wishing you a wonderful weekend filled with beauty and peace.

Trail Snowfall II, by David B. Coe Mist and Snow Reflections, by David B. Coe

Professional Wednesdays: Editors and Writers — The View From Both Sides

Right now, not for the first time, I find myself on both sides of the editorial process. On the one hand, I am co-editing the DERELICT anthology, reading submissions and starting to think about how authors might want to improve the stories that will be appearing in the collection. At the same time, I am starting to process editorial feedback on an upcoming novel that I’ve recently sold. As I have written before, the editor-author relationship is complex, sensitive, at times fraught. Working on both sides of it has taught me a great deal — about being a better a writer, and being a better editor.

I’ve written about this before from the writer’s side, focusing on the the following points: 1) Editors are our allies. The good ones, of which there are many, are interested in helping us make our stories or novels as great as they can be. 2) It’s never easy to hear criticism of our work, but it is essential to the creative process. Effective editors know how to present criticism in palatable ways so that we can use the feedback as it is intended. 3) When handled correctly on both sides — with sensitivity on the part of the editor and an open mind on the part of the writer — the revision process can be incredibly rewarding.

I have been editing for a far shorter time than I’ve been writing — three years versus, well, forever. But, of course, I come to my role as editor with more than a passing understanding of the process. In a sense, facing the difficulties of being an editor should be easy for me. From personal experience, I understand that authors don’t always respond well to critiques of our work. We can be resistant to making changes that steer our narratives away from our initial vision and suspicious of suggestions that the initial vision itself might be flawed in some fundamental way.

I have learned, though, that editors can be every bit as invested in the work as writers. Certainly editors form a different sort of attachment, but that doesn’t mean it lacks power, and it doesn’t mean editors are inured from frustrations of their own. I know that when I pour my energy into a piece, making notes and looking for solutions that will strengthen the narrative or clarify character motivation or punch up the prose, I find it deeply troubling, even hurtful when writers ignore my notes and recommendations.

Now, let me be clear. I am not saying that every single bit of feedback I offer as editor has to be acted upon and followed as I suggest. The writer in me rebels at the very notion of this. But I have seen writers ignore editorial feedback entirely, either because they feel they know better, or because they refuse to accept that their piece is anything less than perfect. That’s deeply frustrating.

The editor-writer relationship is built on trust and mutual respect. Writers have to trust that the editor wants the same thing they do — for the story in question to be as powerful and entertaining and affecting as possible. And they have to respect all that the editor brings to the process — experience with the written word, understanding of storytelling and its components, and the ability to discern where those components are working and where they’re not.

Editors have to trust that the writer made her decisions about wording, character arc, plotting, etc. with purpose, that she didn’t do these things haphazardly, but rather knew at every step how each phrase would contribute to her story. And they have to respect the sanctity of that vision I mentioned earlier, understanding that every change to the original document might pull it away — however incrementally — from the author’s artistic intent.

Writers and editors also have to keep in mind that neither party is perfect. Authors mess up. So do editors. Speaking as an author, I can tell you that no manuscript is perfect. Speaking as an editor, I can tell you that we don’t have a monopoly on wisdom.

Ultimately, when both sides dig in, it falls to editors to surrender. I say this not because I’m a lifelong writer, but because it is the writer’s story. Her name is on it. She created it. And I say this because every decent editor I have ever worked with has said the same to me. “It’s your story.” With that in mind, though, I would advise every writer reading this to give careful consideration to all the feedback editors give you, even if ultimately you reject some of it. They didn’t offer their criticisms lightly. They saw and identified elements of the story that needed work, and even if you don’t follow exactly their prescription for fixing these things, you should consider how you might make changes that will address their concerns.

Trust and respect, and, most importantly, a shared desire to get the most out of a story idea. These are the foundations of the writer-editor relationship. Having worked extensively on both sides, I can tell you that when all three pillars are present, the relationship can be incredibly rewarding.

Keep writing!

Monday Musings: It’s Not Like We Didn’t Know

“Is it possible to be astonished and, at the same time, not surprised?” — Jed Bartlet (Peter Noah, The West Wing, Season 7)

It’s not like we didn’t know he was capable of this. It’s not like we haven’t known all along that his Presidency represented an existential threat to the American experiment. On election night in 2016, I texted my brother, “I fear for our republic.”

It’s not like we didn’t know.

Yet seeing it unfold in real time, was utterly shocking. And as we learn more of who was in the crowd, what was done to the building and to the victims, and what was being said and done by Trump, Giuliani, and others as the siege of Congress unfolded, I cannot help but believe that we were, all of us, very fortunate it didn’t turn out far, far worse. Trump is desperate now to minimize the danger after the fact, to claim that he only wished to see “protesters” put pressure on Congress to heed his calls for an investigation into “voter fraud.” His two minute “Please-Don’t-Throw-Me-In-Jail” video on Friday night was a gambit designed to lessen the possibility of a last minute impeachment or invocation of the 25th Amendment. Naturally, his Republican enablers are lapping it up and spewing it all over social media, still doing his bidding.

But make no mistake: This was an attempt at a coup. This was terrorism. This was the most blatant, violent assault-from-within on our republic since the Civil War. If those who inspired it, and those who carried it out, had been successful, it might well have been a fatal blow to our nation’s most revered institutions.

I remain wary. I fear what Trump’s most crazed supporters might attempt on January 20th, when Joe Biden is inaugurated at the Capitol Building. Having resorted to violence on this level once, it will be that much easier for them to take this step a second time, a third, and beyond, until the path becomes well-trod, and the results are normalized in some way. I am deeply alarmed by how many of Trump’s lackeys on Capitol Hill and in the media are willing to gaslight us less than a week after the fact. “It was Antifa,” they claim. “Antifa radicals posing as Trump supporters.” Seriously — several have said this. According to a DoD report on the National Guard response, it was a “First Amendment protest.” In short, I see too many reasons to expect that Wednesday’s events presage more of the same.

Yet, I can also find cause for hope. Sometimes it takes a crisis, a near catastrophe, to open our eyes to the folly of our own actions. Sometimes, we must step to the very edge of the abyss before we can convince ourselves to back away. This, I believe, is happening now within Republican circles. It is telling that Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, the most prominent of those Congressional enablers who incited the mob on Wednesday, are being condemned and shunned by people on both sides of the partisan divide. It is telling that several GOP elected officials, as well as the Wall Street Journal, the National Association of Manufacturers, and others, are calling for Trump’s removal from office by one method or another. It is telling that Big Tech is finally, belatedly, kicking Trump off their platforms, citing the danger of further incitement. It is telling that officials within his Administration are running for the exit doors.

Notwithstanding the threats to our country that remain, Trump is disgraced, likely beyond the possibility of redemption. His inexcusable call to Georgia’s Secretary of State (all but forgotten in the wake of the attack on the Capitol Building), and his willingness to risk people’s lives in pursuit of his own anti-democratic ambitions, have exposed him for what he is: a lawless, self-absorbed, authoritarian thug who cares nothing for this country or its people.

I believe it’s possible that he believes his own lies. Maybe he’s so utterly incapable of accepting any sort of loss, that he has convinced himself others deprived him of victory. Maybe it makes perfect sense to him that Democrats AND some Republicans AND Mike Pence AND his own Supreme Court and Federal Court picks have joined together in a vast conspiracy to deny him a second term. As I say, it’s possible.

More likely, though, is the obvious: That he is a self-serving grifter who has used his spurious election claims to raise money for himself, his family, and his future ambitions, whatever they might be. That he is so obsessed with his own brand that he will literally risk the future of our nation in order to avoid admitting he lost.

The good news is that despite the blood-chilling events of this past week, and the falsehoods spread by Trump and too many of his sycophants since November 3, he will be leaving office on January 20. In a rare and welcome bipartisan display of resolve and courage, Congress returned to its duties the very night of the attack, and in the small hours of the morning completed the certification of the Electoral College. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be taking power. Trump himself admitted as much on Friday.

Our nation will likely be tested again, perhaps soon. But the dark days of the Trump Administration will soon be over.

Creative Friday: From the Archives

Back in January of 2019, Nancy and I spent a weekend in Washington, taking advantage of the fact that she had a conference there, and had traveled from another professional event that placed her in the city a few days early.

We had a great time — wonderful food, including a spectacular Ethiopian dinner our first night; visits to museums; a morning at a small crafts fair; walks along the Washington Mall. It was a memorable visit. Part of what made it so special was a gorgeous snowfall that started Saturday evening and had turned the city into a wonderland by Sunday morning. Many places we hoped to visit that last day were closed because of the storm, but our walks were especially scenic.

I took this image of the Capitol Building while literally standing in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue. That should tell you how quiet the city was in the midst of the snow.

There is no building, no structure, no monument, in this entire country that means more to me than the U.S. Capitol Building. In a nation not always known for its inspired architecture, it is both a wonder and a work of art. It is, to my mind, the embodiment of all that we strive to be as a nation, a physical expression of our history and our most just and humane aspirations. The White House, to me at least, is a symbol of power; the Capitol speaks to our democratic republicanism. It belongs to all of us.

Which makes what happened there this week, all the more tragic. Seeing that building overrun by seditious thugs, watching insurrectionists — domestic terrorists — occupy the building’s exterior balconies and porticoes, smash windows and doors, and carry weapons and Trump flags into the chambers where the people’s business is done, filled me with despair. Seeing racist assholes carry Confederate flags through the Rotunda enraged me. Knowing that these people were spurred to violence by an egotistical autocrat and his Congressional enablers, who sought to use mob intimidation as a cudgel in order to overturn the results of a free and fair election, leaves me grieving for our nation.

I fear that I will never again look at the Capitol quite the same way. I usually hesitate to use words like “desecrate” for secular sites, but that’s what this was: a desecration, an assault upon and violation of the most hallowed ground in the United States.

I may or may not have more to say about this week’s events in next week’s Monday Musings post. For now, though, I wanted to share this image, and my memories of the Capitol Building in happier times.

Have a wonderful weekend. Stay safe. Be kind to one another.

U.S. Capitol in Snow, by David B. Coe

Professional Wednesday: A Ton of News, and Organizing My Time

Welcome to my new Wednesday blogging feature, Professional Wednesdays. As some of you may remember, back around Thanksgiving I asked you for advice on the future of my midweek posts. My Writing-Tip Wednesdays were well received throughout 2020, but by the end of the year I was struggling to come up with new advice topics. I became convinced that I couldn’t sustain that old format for another year without repeating myself.

What I suggested in that Thanksgiving week post was a new, related feature — Professional Wednesdays — that would combine a few disparate ideas: a professional journal discussing current projects and struggles and epiphanies; more generalized musings on the market, the craft, and others elements of creative life; a few advice posts, as I think of topics I failed to cover in 2020; and my responses to the storytelling components of books, movies, TV shows, and other artistic endeavors I encounter.

This catch-all idea for the blog received a lot of enthusiastic support from those of you who commented, and so here we are. In the coming months, I’ll be sharing with you all sorts of posts touching on professional issues, creativity, and “behind the scenes” looks at my own works-in-progress as they develop. I hope you enjoy this new approach to my Wednesday posts.

To start off 2021, I would like to share with you some news and how it relates to something I did on New Year’s Day — something I do every New Year’s Day.

Let’s start with the news. 2020 was a fairly quiet year for me professionally (no, THAT’S not news. Be patient…). I was pretty productive, especially given the circumstances, but the year was somewhat light on professional news. Until the very end of the year…

News item number 1: I have signed a contract for a pair of supernatural thrillers, the first of which I expect will be coming out late in 2021. The first book is written, but needs to be revised. The second book is in its conceptual phase. I expect to write it this spring. I am not ready to reveal who will be publishing the books except to say that it is a highly respected small press, a house I’ve wanted to work with for some time. Details to come as soon as the last of the “t”s and “i”s are crossed and dotted.

News item number 2: We have artwork for the Thieftaker novellas, and it now looks like the first of those novellas should be out sometime later this winter. And the artwork? It’s by Chris McGrath. Yep. The same Chris McGrath who did the artwork for all four of the original Thieftaker novels. It is magnificent.

News item number 3: Speaking of the original Thieftaker novels, we have gotten the rights reverted on the third and fourth Thieftakers, A Plunder of Souls and Dead Man’s Reach. These are books that came out after my editor debacle at Tor, and as a result neither book ever received the TLC and attention it deserved. Well, Lore Seekers Press has reissued the books, with the original artwork, in ebook format and (forthcoming very soon) in trade paperback. If you have yet to read these novels, this is the time to get them, before the new Thieftaker novellas come out. They are among my favorites of all the novels in any series I’ve ever written. Dead Man’s Reach in particular might well be the best crafted novel I’ve ever done. Check them out. (A word about the links to the books: ONLY the Kindle versions are the reissues. The physical books listed on Amazon right now, are the old ones from Tor. You want to wait for the new trade paperbacks.)

News Item number 4: I will be teaching an online class in epic fantasy AND serving as a main workshop faculty member for the Futurescapes Writing Workshop in March.

News Item number 5: Submissions are now closed for Derelict, the Zombies Need Brains anthology I am co-editing with Joshua Palmatier. We received 340 stories for about five open slots, and will be reading stories this month making our final choices for the anthology. Derelict should be out late in the spring or early this summer.

So, yes, I suddenly have a lot going on, and I am so excited. The thing is, though, all of this stuff is happening quickly. The revised first book in the new supernatural thriller series is due March 1. The completed manuscript of the second book is due June 1. The Thieftaker novellas still need some final polishing and proofing. That should happen this month. My talks for Futurescapes need to be ready by early March, and the Derelict submissions need to be read before the end of January.

Which is why I spent part of New Year’s Day with a calendar — a paper wall calendar, something I can hang by my desk and see every day — breaking down week-by-week, at times day-by-day, what I need to do and when in order to meet my various deadlines. As I mentioned earlier, this is something I do at the beginning of every year, although some years it’s more necessary than others. I view New Year’s as a time to organize myself and set goals that are attainable. That last is key. Setting goals and having ambitions is great, but only if we don’t set ourselves up for failure and disappointment. Setting too many goals can be overwhelming, especially if we’re unsure of how we’re going to meet them. By mapping out my time, breaking down my tasks into discreet tasks that I can fit into a work calendar, I convince myself that I can do all the things I want to AND I provide myself with a roadmap for success.

I recommend it.

I wish you all a successful and fulfilling 2021.

Monday Musings: Tempering Optimism with Reality

In my New Year’s post last Friday, I wrote about my optimism for the coming year, my resolve to anticipate good things instead of expecting the worst.

And the world responded with a hefty dose of reality — a new COVID strain that is far more contagious than the original, the death of a colleague (not from COVID as far as I know), and the hospitalization of a colleague and friend (definitely because of COVID). The numbers keep going up. Tennessee, which was largely spared in the first wave, and saw few enough cases in the second to enable COVID-deniers to continue their foolishness, is now being clobbered by this terrible illness. My state ended the year ranked first in the country in new cases per capita. And still our governor refuses to mandate mask-wearing or take any reasonable steps to curb the spread.

When I said that I was optimistic, I should have added a caveat: “All expressions of optimism are predicated on state and national leaders not behaving like spineless morons.” Or something of the sort.

One hundred and forty Republican members of the House of Representatives, and at least one baldly ambitious Republican Senator, have vowed to contest the results of the Electoral College when Congress takes up the election certification on Wednesday. This in the absence of ANY tangible evidence of systemic or widespread election fraud. But for the House members, it’s a free ride, a painless and useless way to endear themselves to Donald Trump’s crazed supporters. They know their objections will go nowhere. Both houses of Congress must ratify such a protest for even one state’s electors to be refused, and with a Democratic House, and enough sane Republicans in the Senate, neither house is likely to support this effort.

The willingness of Senators Josh Hawley (Sycophant — Missouri), Ted Cruz (Slimeball — Texas), and others to join in this pointless exercise is both more insidious and more dangerous. Hawley was elected to the Senate in 2018, and has spent the past two years positioning himself for a White House run in 2024. Cruz ran against Trump in 2016, and is such a profile in cowardice that he didn’t allow Trump’s highly personal attacks on his wife and his deceased father keep him from becoming one of Trump’s most vocal lackeys in the Senate. Both men see their actions on the Electoral College as a springboard to the Republican nomination, as a way to convince Trump supporters that they are the true heirs to Trump’s legacy of corruption, incompetence, hatred, and support for batshit-crazy conspiracy theories. This is a naked play for political advantage, and it comes at the expense of the stability and legitimacy of our republic. But hey, I bet both men get bumps in the next poll out of Iowa…

The thing is, as Senator Ben Sasse (Wishy-Washy — Nebraska) said the other day, most Republicans in the House and Senate know that Trump has lost, and won’t really be all that sorry to see him go. And we know this is the case because just this weekend Trump had his veto of the National Defense Authorization Act overridden by huge bipartisan majorities. This was the first veto override of his Presidency. Only eighty-seven House Republicans voted to sustain the veto, meaning that at least fifty-three of those planning to contest the Electoral College vote understand that their actions on January 6 will be purely for show. If the Republicans in either house really thought Trump would be around for another term, no way would they have humiliated him in this way.

Meanwhile, Trump is handing out pardons like it’s Halloween at the White House and they’ve run out of Big Macs to give away. Campaign felons, murderous mercenaries, brutal cops, cronies, anyone with knowledge of Trump’s wrongdoing — the list of those already pardoned or eligible for future pardons grows longer by the day. When he is not issuing pardons, he is pushing as hard as he can to allow oil and gas drilling on protected federal lands, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and continuing to use his baseless claims about election fraud to fundraise, bilking his supporters out of literally tens of millions of dollars.

When I said that I was optimistic, I should have added a timestamp: “All expressions of optimism are predicated on the notion that improvement will occur after 12:00 pm (EST) on January 20, 2021.” Or something of the sort…

In all seriousness, I am optimistic, but I’m also a realist. I grieve for the thousands upon thousands who succumb to this vicious disease every day. I send good thoughts to my sick friend and all who are fighting to recover. I expect the remaining two weeks and change of the Trump Administration to be even more of a shit-show than usual. I hope and hope and hope some more than the special elections in Georgia continue that state’s transition from red to purple to blue.

I know that advances and improvements will come slowly, and will be accompanied by setbacks, many of them heartrending. But what choice do we have? I meant what I said last week: I have spent too long anticipating the worst, and I know that doing so is not good for my emotional or physical health. So optimism is what’s left.

More than that, I honestly do believe.

Be patient, friends, for just a short while longer. A change is coming. Better times lie ahead.

Photo Friday: Wishes For 2021

At long last, 2020 is in the world’s rearview mirror, and good riddance. We have a couple of weeks of craziness to get through, and a pandemic to beat back. But I enter this new year optimistic, for our planet, for our nation, for my friends and colleagues, for my family and me. Maybe that makes me naïve. So be it. I spent too much of 2020 anticipating the worst, and making myself miserable in the process. I choose not to do that again.

And so I share with you this image, captured last week during a lovely photo walk I took with a dear friend. I came back with several good pictures, but this one spoke to me. We are, I believe, crossing to a new normal that will be different from what we have known, but tempered and — dare I hope — better for what we have learned.

I wish you a wonderful New Year. May you find light in unexpected places, clarity in reflection, and joy in the simple beauty of the world around us.

Walking Bridge at the Golden Hour, by David B. Coe

Writing-Tip Wednesday: Why Do We Create?

I just reread my first post of the year, when I first discussed my weekly blogging plans, and my goals for the months to come. I closed the post with “Happy 2020. May it be your best year yet.”

How did that work out…?

This is likely my last post of the year, and my final Writing-Tip Wednesday post before I shift Wednesdays to a slightly broader format. It’s also a slightly longer post than usual; I hope you’ll stick with it. I have posted about a vast array of topics over the past fifty-one weeks, and all of them have dealt with creativity in one way or another. At times, the creative elements of my posts have been explicit and obvious; at other times, when discussing the business and the state of the market, the connections have been less clear. But always it comes back to the act of creating, the process of harnessing the imagination in order to produce… something.

Creativity is integral to who I am, to the life I lead. I consider myself fortunate beyond words in this regard. And I’m not just talking about writing. If you follow my blog or my social media, then you know that I am also an avid photographer and a longtime musician, and I’m passionate about all of my creative endeavors. But I do each of these things for different reasons, and I think this speaks to something all writers ought to consider.

Why do we create?

I like to tell people that I wrote my first book when I was six. It wasn’t much of a book — a few sheets of paper on which I had scrawled a story and scribbled illustrations, sandwiched between a couple of pieces of colored construction paper and bound with yellow yarn. But it was, to my mind, as much a book as all the titles on my shelves. All through my childhood, there was nothing I enjoyed more in school than creative writing. Any opportunity we were given to sit quietly and write was, for me, like the most glorious sort of recess.

In junior high, my classmates and I were assigned to keep a creative journal. For an entire semester, we were to write every night — or as close to it as we could manage — and we were free to write whatever we wanted. I still have mine. I did write every night. I wrote short stories and poems and my reflections on the world as I saw it. I LOVED keeping that journal.

All through high school and college, I wrote. I saw the world through a writer’s eyes. Always, my first thought upon seeing a sunset, or enjoying a meal, or even dealing with emotional problems, was “How would I write this?”

My love of storytelling, of the creative alchemy we perform when converting emotion and sensation into words, still drives me, challenges me, fills me with joy and satisfaction (when it’s not frustrating me and making me want to chuck my computer through a window).

But, of course, my writing is also my job, and I have to think about it as such. That’s fine. I am so lucky to be able earn money doing what I love; I can hardly complain. At this point, though, I write to publish. Anything I work on for any amount of time, I expect to sell. If I don’t, then that piece of writing has…failed in some respect. That sounds harsh, I know, but it’s true. It also sounds mercenary, and that, I fear, is unavoidable. I can be passionate about my work, and also want to make money off of it. I make no apologies for that.

I feel quite differently about my photography. I am, I believe, a very good photographer. I have spent years studying photography, teaching myself techniques, making myself see my surroundings with an artist’s eye. I was drawn to photography early in life, in part, I have to admit, out of jealousy. My older brother, Jim, is a renowned and immensely talented painter. He was a bit of prodigy — his talent emerged in his early teens and as passionate as I am about writing, that’s how he continues to be about visual art. I wanted to creative images, too, but I have never been able to draw. Oh, I tried. But I’m terrible. There’s no other way to put it.

When I was thirteen, I asked for a camera, thinking that perhaps photography would offer me a path to visual artistic expression. My early efforts didn’t amount to much, and eventually I stopped trying. About fifteen years ago, though, I decided to try again. I dedicated myself to learning how to shoot, how to see, how to frame. The results have been deeply satisfying. I have sold a few photos and I’ve had work in local galleries. But while I have been pleased by these moments of public attention, I mostly capture images for myself. Nancy and I recently enlarged and framed several of my best images and they are now gracing the walls of our home. I have also produced a coffee-table photo book that I shared with just a few friends and family members. And my computer’s screen saver is a slide show of my best images.

I get as much joy out of seeing my own images in my house, in that book, on my computer, as I have from any sale of a photo. To be honest, I took nearly as much pride in hanging those images as I have in selling a new novel. I do it for me, and that’s enough.

And I feel still another sort of love and pride for my music. I have been playing guitar for more than forty years. I have always been able to sing, and for a while, in elementary school and junior high, I was content to express that talent in school musicals. But at some point I figured out that playing guitar might attract the notice of girls. (As it turns out, guitars weren’t enough. I also needed charm, height, and good looks, none of which I possessed. But hey, I learned to play guitar.)

I still love to play — for myself, for Nancy, occasionally for and with friends. Playing for my girls when they were young was truly a joy. I’ve never been very good at writing songs. I tried. I wrote a very few decent tunes in college, but I had a couple of friends who wrote amazing music, and my inability to craft songs as good as theirs, and as good as I thought mine should be as well, frustrated me. At some point, I stopped trying. Today, most of my playing is fairly derivative. I hear a song I like and I teach myself to play it. It’s fun. I get to recreate songs I admire, either for a small audience or for me. The truth is, though, I’m not adding much to the world’s music. I’m just another guy learning to play another James Taylor tune.

And so I ask again, why do we create?

I create stories for my livelihood. I create photos that are utterly original, but only for my friends, family, and me. I create music in order to pay homage to something I love, and to entertain myself.

I have tried throughout this year to gear my writing tips to writers of every ability level and every aspiration. Some of you won’t be satisfied with your writing until you’ve published a story, or a novel, or a series, or a bunch of series. I get that.

Some of you write because you want to craft the best story you can, and if you publish it, great. If you don’t, if the only people who read it are your friends and family, that’s okay, too. The process itself is the point. Your goal is to create the best piece you can.

And some of you take great joy in writing fan fiction, in writing homages to characters and storylines that you admire and want to be part of in some way. That’s great, too.

There is no single right answer to “Why do we create?” No matter where you fall on the continuum of creativity I’m describing here, you can learn to be a better writer, you can take satisfaction in the act of creation, and you can engage in that alchemy I mentioned earlier.

Because there is something truly magical in creativity — in the simple act of harnessing the imagination — something that has nothing at all to do with money or reviews.

I wish you joy and inspiration in all your endeavors.

And, of course, keep writing.

Monday Musings: Memories of “New Year’s” Passed

I thought the ball would, you know, drop. As in fall. As in have a bit of velocity. I thought maybe it was made of glass and would shatter. THAT would be cool.

I will confess that I don’t usually enjoy New Year’s Eve. With very few exceptions, my memories of the New Year’s celebrations of my youth are all tinged with disappointment. It’s supposed to be a Big Night, and it rarely actually was. It’s supposed to be romantic — that midnight kiss — and quite often my high school and college hopes for New Year’s romance were thwarted. It’s supposed to be a night to party, to get happy on booze. I was never one to drink to excess, and many of the people I was with who did get drunk wound up regretting doing so.

Even the Time’s Square ball drop was disappointing the first time I saw it. I was just a kid, of course, and I expected it to be dramatic — I thought the ball would, you know, drop. As in fall. As in have a bit of velocity. I thought maybe it was made of glass and would shatter. THAT would be cool. I figured maybe there would be fireworks. Something. ANYTHING.

Instead, it was about as exciting as watching an elevator go from one floor down to the next.

Not every New Year’s Eve has been bad. Nancy and I tend to have enjoyable, quiet evenings: a movie, a good bottle of wine, maybe a special dinner. Every once in a while, a friend will have a party and we’ll go for a while. Clearly THAT won’t be happening this year…

One year, when I was a junior in high school, several friends and I went to see the Allman Brothers Band on New Year’s Eve. They gave a good show, although they played late and then skipped their final encore, which should have been “Rambling Man.” To this day, I’m a bit salty about that.

Nancy, the girls, and I were visiting my brother and his family for the Y2K New Year. The families had fun together, and my brother Bill, and his partner were with us as well. Bill was pretty freaked out by Y2K. As was his wont, he expected the worst to happen. Every doomsday scenario you can remember from that period, he embraced. He even went so far as to take a bunch of cash out of the bank, in case the ATM machines all crashed. The morning of December 31, he decided he was too worried about what was surely coming, and he needed to go back to his home in western Massachusetts and ride out the impending crisis there. So he left us. That evening, as the first news reports came in from Australia and parts of Asia, it became clear that Y2K would be a non-event. The next morning, Jim and I called Bill to wish him a happy New Year and make sure he was all right. And being the wise-ass I am, I asked him, “Hey, you don’t happen to have any extra cash lying around, do you?” I won’t repeat his response here…

We were living in Australia for New Year’s 2005-06. Down Under, New Year’s is a summer holiday, so, like most Aussies, we spent December 31st at the beach, and then at a fun street fair in Wollongong. That night, we were treated to a terrific fireworks display. The next day, the first of the year, was spectacularly hot. I mean HOT. It got up to 44 degrees Celsius, which is equivalent to about 111 degrees Fahrenheit. It was too hot to do anything at all. At one point, I walked into the kitchen of the house we were renting, and all the spiders that lived in the walls and cabinets — a couple of dozen in total — had emerged from their hiding places and were scattered across the ceiling. Bizarre, and more than a little freaky. The girls put on their bathing suits and spent much of the day playing in the bathtub. Nancy and I did our best not to move. Late in the day, a front moved through, bringing strong winds and cool temperatures. It probably dropped thirty degrees, to the low-80s. To us, at that point, it felt like fall had arrived.

This will be another quiet year, and that’s fine with me. Nancy and I will have our nice wine and yummy dinner. We’ll watch a movie or play Gloomhaven, or [gasp] both. And we will happily, eagerly bid 2020 farewell and welcome 2021.

Wherever your plans for the holiday take you, I hope you have fun, stay safe, and enjoy the company of people you love. I wish you a New Year filled with joy, friendship, laughter, and good health.

See you in January.