Category Archives: Blogging

Monday Musings: Introducing the Toothbrush Principle

We have a Sonicare toothbrush — one of those rechargeable ones that vibrates, like, a trillion times per second and essentially buzzes plaque and tartar into submission. (That might not be exactly the science behind the technology, but that is certainly what it feels like.) The toothbrush has a built-in timer that changes the tone of the buzz every thirty seconds, to let us know it’s time to abuse a different part of our mouths (top front, top back, bottom front, bottom back, or whatever) and so we generally brush for about two minutes every morning and every evening. (Stick with me; there is a point to this.)

If we do the math, two times a day at two minutes per brushing comes to twenty-eight minutes per week, or 1,460 minutes of brushing per year. That’s twenty-four hours and twenty minutes. So, put another way, each year, we spend the equivalent of one entire day brushing our teeth. We can do calculations like this for all sorts of things. I do a workout each weekday morning before I take my morning walk. That workout lasts about forty minutes and I do it five days a week (except for when I’m traveling). So, that’s 200 minutes a week for, let’s say, forty-five weeks out of the year. That means I spend the equivalent of slightly more than six full days a year working out, just so that I can eat a bowl of ice cream at the end of the day and not feel too guilty about it.

But for the purposes of this post, let’s stick with the toothbrushing example. Assuming, of course, that you’re still reading. Certainly by now you’re wondering what the hell this is about.

Allow me to explain.

Speaking with beginning writers at conventions (as I did at ConCarolinas a week or so ago) I often hear that they are ready to start work on a novel, but they worry about carving out time in their already-busy lives for a big project. Such an endeavor feels overwhelming, frightening, impossible.

The Loyalist Witch, by D.B. Jackson (Jacket art by Chris McGrath)And in part, this is the fault of professionals like me, who talk about our work habits and, perhaps, create unrealistic expectations that writers with less experience then apply to themselves. I write full time. I demand of myself that I write 2,000 words per day. I am asked often how long it takes me to write a book, and the honest answer is that it takes me about three months, which is pretty quick, I know. Writers who are at the outsets of their careers should not necessarily expect to do the same.

Because I didn’t always write this fast. For the first ten years of my career, I was pleased to complete a book a year. And that pace is much easier to maintain than you might think. Let’s do a bit more math.

The Chalice War: Sword, by David B. CoeWe’ll begin with the assumption that the book we’re writing will come in at around 100,000 words, which is the approximate length of most of the Thieftaker books, the Chalice War books, and the Fearsson books. Epic fantasies tend to be somewhat longer; YAs tend to be shorter. But 100K is a good middle ground.

Let’s assume as well that at most we can afford to devote an hour a day to writing. And in that hour, we can only expect to write one page — about 250 words. That pace may sound way too slow, and you may be saying to yourself that at that rate we’ll be writing forever.

Well, no. At that pace, even allowing for missed days along the way, we can be finished with our 100,000 word novel in a little over 13 months. If we can up our production to five hundred words a day just on weekends, we can be done in closer to eleven months, under a year.

Feeling more ambitious? Say we can write for ninety minutes each weekday, and can manage to average 500 words a day, while taking our weekends off to recharge. Well, now we’re writing 2,500 words per week, and that novel will be done in less than nine months. Willing to write on weekends, too? Now we’re down to seven months.

I can go on, but by now you get the idea. Applying the toothbrush principle — which says simply that small efforts on a daily basis add up quickly — we can transform the very idea of writing a novel from something daunting — a challenge that feels too huge to tackle — into something manageable, doable.

Now, to be clear, I am not suggesting that anyone exchange brushing their teeth for writing. The day is long enough to get both done. And four out of five dentists surveyed tell us that the world will be a better, fresher place if we all continue to brush our teeth . . . .

Have a great week!

Monday Musings: A Wonderful Return To Convention-ing

I spent this past weekend at ConCarolinas in Charlotte, reconnecting with fans, colleagues, and friends. And it was great.

The last con I attended was DragonCon at the end of August/beginning of September 2023, before the fall and all that came with it. Since that time, I have largely avoided crowds of people and interactions with even some close friends. I shied away from personal contact with pretty much everyone. It has just been too hard.

And so resolving to attend this con was a big deal for me. I put it on my professional calendar early in the year, committed to it, both internally and publicly. Honestly, I wasn’t sure it was something I wanted to do, but I knew it was something I should do.

All of which made this past weekend such a wonderful and surprising pleasure. Yes, I sold a good number of books — it was one of my best ConCarolinas ever in that regard. But more than that, it simply was wonderful to see people, to talk about writing and publishing, to laugh with friends who have been absent from my life for far too long.

Throughout the weekend, I was touched by the number of people who wanted to offer condolences, words of comfort, hugs of support. I was grateful again and again for the expressions of sympathy, and then for the efforts made by people around me to treat me as they always have — with affection and kindness, but also with irreverence and snark. A weekend that I feared would be awkward and challenging turned out to be fun and refreshingly natural.

It was, in short, exactly the convention I needed and wanted it to be. I have a great many people to thank for that, and I am not going to try to name them here. It’s not that they don’t deserve to be mentioned and thanked individually. They really, really do. But I am destined to forget someone important, and thus do more damage than good with such a list. Suffice it to say that if we shared a moment (or more) during the weekend — if we had a meal together, or a drink, or a panel, or a conversation; if you stopped by my book table to peruse my offerings or buy something or ask me a question about writing; if you had a role in making the convention such a great success (despite broken escalators and hobbled elevators and malfunctioning thermostats) — I am deeply grateful to you. Thank you.

Have a great week.

Monday Musings: Contemplating Marriage At Thirty-Three Years

Thirty-three years ago, on Memorial Day Weekend in 1991, Nancy and I were married. We were living in California at the time, doing our graduate work at Stanford, which is where we met. We had a wonderful weekend, which included not just the wedding itself — in the Rodin Sculpture Garden in front of the Stanford Art Museum (now called the Cantor Arts Center) — and our reception at a restaurant called the Velvet Turtle, but also a Saturday softball game for all our guests, and several really nice lunches and dinners. To this day, I don’t know that I have ever felt more loved than I (we) did that weekend. It was glorious.

Wedding Day Photo 1We had lived together for two years before our wedding, and we were both in our late twenties. We had known almost from the day we started dating that we would spend the rest of our lives together, and by the time that weekend rolled around, we felt ready for the responsibilities and challenges of marriage. And we were. And still, we had no idea.

Life events come in flurries. I remember that year, ours was just one of many weddings we attended. Suddenly, it seemed like everyone we knew was getting married. A few years later, a bunch of our friends started having kids, and pretty soon we ourselves were shopping for a crib and changing table. Skip ahead to today, and we seem to be in a new phase in which many of our friends’ kids and (at least on my side of the family) several relatives are getting married. We have already been to one wedding this year, and we have three more to attend between now and summer’s end. Which is great. The first wedding weekend was loads of fun and I have every reason to expect the others will be as well.

I have no doubt that all four couples feel ready to make their commitment. They understand that marriage brings responsibilities and challenges. And they have no idea.

Wedding Day Photo 2
In front of Rodin’s “Gates of Hell.”

By any measure, Nancy and I have had a successful marriage. We’ve stayed together through tough times. We have remained true to each other. We are best friends and we are also still very much in love. We have raised two brilliant, reasonably happy, independent, beautiful children. We have pursued careers that we love, and each of us has enjoyed a good deal of success. We have supported each other through disappointments and setbacks, losses and tragedies. And we have shared countless marvelous experiences, things that we both will remember for the rest of our lives.

We have no cause for complaint.

And yet, with all of that going for us, I can also state without any doubt that we have both been through times of deep frustration with each other and with the circumstances of our life together. We have fought. We have gotten fed up. We have weathered periods of difficulty that could have torn us apart.

Some time back — more than ten years now — a couple with whom we spent a good deal of our social time told us they were splitting up. We were utterly gobsmacked. These were people we saw socially on a weekly basis. We celebrated holidays and birthdays with them. They were our closest friends here in our little town. Yet, we’d had no idea that they were having troubles. And I think that reveals something fundamental about the work involved in keeping a marriage going. So much of the effort takes place out of sight, unseen by anyone other than our partner. We don’t want our kids to see it. We don’t want to put on awkward displays in front of our colleagues or friends or families. We do the work in private, make our sacrifices without anyone other than our spouse knowing.

Nancy provost installationThe clichés are true. Of course marriage is about love, about passion, and — even more — about friendship. But it is also about compromise, about joining two lives and finding the balance necessary to make certain that each of those lives feels complete and fulfilling, even as together we build a third life that belongs to both of us. It is a complicated undertaking. And while love and passion are great, there are times when they feel elusive. The kids are sick and you both have work deadlines and the shopping needs to get done. Or one job is more demanding than usual and it’s all you both can do just to get one kid to soccer practice and the other to ballet while also taking care of dinner and arranging the babysitter for the Friday event in town. Work, balance, compromise, sacrifice — sometimes, it feels like that’s all there is. Those early days of the romance, when everything was laughter and love and sex and adventure, seem so very, very distant.

And yet those golden elements of marriage do come around again, if we’re patient, and if we keep making the effort.

So, what advice would I offer to those who are marrying now?

1. Remember to laugh and play. Nancy and I laugh and joke all the time, and we have managed to do this through almost every phase of our marriage. Our shared sense of humor is probably the single most important element of our partnership.

Our family in Monteverde, Costa Rica, November 2011.2. Have faith. I’m not talking about religious faith here (though if that’s your thing, great). I mean faith in each other and in what you share. That belief in the fundamental power of our bond has gotten us past some really hard times. The love might not always be palpable, but we KNOW it’s there, and that certainty gets us through.

3. Honor the work. I believe people cheat because when things grow difficult, they convince themselves that being with someone else will bring back all the fun of the early days without any of the problems. That’s folly. Every relationship takes work. Every relationship goes through rough patches. The work we do builds on itself. Nancy and my marriage is stronger now for all that we’ve put into it over thirty-three years. Why on earth would I want to start over when my best friend and the love of my life is right here?

I wish you love and laughter. Have a great week.

David and Nancy
(Photo by Cat Sparks)

Monday Musings: “What’s Next?” Well, How About Some Big News?

“When I ask ‘What’s Next?’ it means I’m ready to move on to other things. So, what’s next?” — Jed Barlet, THE WEST WING

Yeah, I will seek out almost any excuse to quote from The West Wing, it being my favorite television series of all time. But as it happens, this is a question that’s been on my mind for a while now. In the show, “What’s next?” was more than a change of topic or a jump to the next agenda item. It was also used to turn the page after a setback, to refocus the staff after a triumph, even to look for a new beginning after tragedy.

As is the case with so much that happens in the course of the show’s seven seasons, the quote has long had great significance for me, and this is especially true now.

I know better than to think I can “turn the page” or “move on” from the past year. And even if I could, I’m not certain I would. But I am ready to restart my life, to venture back out into the professional and personal world, to find a new routine that makes room for all the emotional complexity of the new reality my family and I face.

In some ways, I have already started this process. I finished a book a few weeks ago, one I started back in January. It was sort of a work-for-hire, tie-in book, but it was fun to write. The plotting and character work proved absorbing, and because I started it later than I intended, the deadline kept me focused, motivated, and, yes, just a little manic. If it seems like I am avoiding telling you anything specific about the book itself, that’s because I am. Sorry. For now, I can’t really talk about it. When I can, you will all be among the first to know.

I have also written a novella for a new shared-world anthology that will be released this summer by Zombies Need Brains. And, as some of you have seen, I am again accepting clients for my freelance editing business. At the end of this month, I will attend ConCarolinas, my first convention since DragonCon last September. Baby steps. But steps forward, which is the point.

Today, I can also share some news about What’s Next that I think will please a good many of you.

First a little background.

Many of you will have seen my blog post about the trip Nancy and I recently took to Italy. If you haven’t, you should check it out. For the photos, if nothing else. While we were in Venice, I fell in love with the city’s narrow lanes, ancient bridges, and gorgeous architecture. It is, visually speaking, the loveliest city I’ve ever seen. And there are no cars — all travel within the city is by boat, by foot, or by bicycle. Walking the streets was like a journey back in time.

Street sign in Venice: "Rio Terra Dei Assassini"
Street sign in Venice: “Rio Terra Dei Assassini,” which means, basically, “Street-That-Used-To-Be-A-Canal Of The Murderers.”

We took tours of the Doge’s Palace and Saint Mark’s Basilica (both were spectacular), and one of our tour guides mentioned that while Venice is a very safe city today, once upon a time it was anything but. And as proof of this, she said, we should pay attention to some of the street names. “Street of the Dead,” “Lane of the Murderers,” “Street of the Head” (that’s not a typo), and more.

And, of course, this set my writer brain in motion. One thing led to another, and I can tell you now that I am beginning work on a new Thieftaker universe series set in 18th century Venice. I don’t know yet if it will be a spin-off or will feature Ethan throughout. I don’t even know how I am going to get Ethan to Venice, though I have some ideas about that. But I have already commenced my research for the books and I am totally jazzed. One publisher has already expressed interest in seeing a series proposal, so that’s good as well.

Thieftaker, by D.B. Jackson (Jacket art by Chris McGrath)What about the rest of my life? What’s next in other realms?

Well, we’re about to start doing some work on the house — I won’t say it’s overdue, but it comes at a good time. We have more travel planned for later in the year and several weddings to attend this summer and fall. We’ll see Erin. We’ll see other family and many friends. I’ll be at DragonCon late this summer. And we’ll continue to heal, even as we also look for ways to honor Alex’s memory and celebrate her life.

I look forward to crossing paths with many of you in the months to come. We have some catching up to do.

Have a great week.

Monday Musings: For One Night, Magic and Light Beat Out Doom and Gloom

Forty-one years ago, after an emotionally difficult sophomore year in college, I took a job as a camp counselor at a sleep away camp in rural Pennsylvania. I didn’t want to go home, and I didn’t want to stay in Providence, and I thought a summer of working and living and playing with kids would be good for me. It was, mostly. But that’s not what this post is about.

All the counselors at the camp had two essential duties. First, they were bunk counselors, living with and taking care of kids in a given age group. I was assigned to a bunk of twelve-year-old boys, who, I learned, straddle the line between “kid” and “teen,” ping-ponging from angelic to demonic and back again with breathtaking agility. And second, counselors had a specialty that they taught throughout the summer. I was an avid birdwatcher and nature enthusiast even then, so I was the nature counselor. As it happens, my fellow bunk counselor and I were both named David. He had been at the camp for several years, so he was “Old Dave” and I was “New Dave.” And my colleague in the outdoor program was also named David, so he and I were “Camping Dave” and “Nature Dave.” (It didn’t seem to bother anyone — well, except me — that I didn’t like being called “Dave” then any more than I do now.)

Near the end of the summer, Camping Dave and I organized a sleep-out for any kid or counselor who cared to join us, so that we could watch the peak of the annual Perseid meteor shower. Our plan was to have the kids sleep out on the huge soccer/baseball field, cook s’mores, watch shooting stars, and stay up past their usual bedtimes. Sounds great, right?

Except things didn’t go according to plan.

They went far, far better than we hoped.

Because that night there was a northern lights display that lit up the night sky up and down the eastern part of the United States. My brother was camping in Vermont that same night, and he saw it too. The kids thought it was very cool, though I don’t think they understood how special it was to see what they were seeing. A few were disappointed that the weird, curtains of light in the sky made it impossible to see shooting stars.

Dave and I, and the other counselors who were with us, were thrilled. Most of us had never seen the northern lights before. The glow in the sky was mostly green that night, at least it appeared so from where we were, and it danced and flickered and shimmered for hours before fading well after midnight. To this day, my memories of that night remain vivid and joyful. Before this past Friday night, it was the only time in my life when I saw the aurora borealis.

Aurora Borealis, May 10, 2024, photo by David B. Coe
Aurora Borealis, May 10, 2024, photo by David B. Coe

Friday night, found me in Tennessee rather than Pennsylvania, and yet, in a testament to the power of this year’s solar event, Friday’s display was every bit as spectacular as that first one so many years ago. And yet . . . .

We got our first hint of the possibility of unusually widespread aurora sightings a couple of weeks ago. Astronomers reported an increase in solar flare activity that they thought would soon peak at historic levels. On Friday itself, when the first of the huge flares occurred, scientists again noted that this could mean unusual aurora occurrences.

But those predictions were buried in news reports of quite a different nature. Most of the news outlets neglected to focus on what turned out to be a wondrously beautiful event that linked people all over the globe. Instead, most articles warned of what the sunspot activity and solar wind might do to communications satellites, electric grids, internet providers, and other parts of the electronic infrastructure on which we depend. And hey, I get it. Media outlets and the governmental and scientific institutions to which they turn for information when stuff like this happens don’t want to be caught off guard. They don’t want to be blamed for the dislocations caused by foreseeable problems. So they emphasize the expected bad news and downplay anything that might detract attention from those dire potential consequences.

As it happens, though, the few disruptions caused by Friday’s solar flares turned out to be minor. The real story turned out to be the phenomenal views of auroras enjoyed by people around the world in areas for which such sightings are usually quite rare.

Look, no one who knows me would ever confuse me for a Pollyanna. I am a lifelong pessimist. I am Mister Doom-and-Gloom. I am Eeyore. But Friday night was amazing, a night I will remember for the rest of my life. And I wonder how many people missed their chance to experience it because news of what was going to occur wound up buried in stories about terrible troubles that never materialized. Probably a lot. Which is too bad. Because the collective joy shared, across continents and oceans, by strangers who were fortunate enough to see the auroras, both borealis and australis, was an inspiring, albeit temporary antidote to the doom and gloom that confronts us on a daily basis.

I hope you were among the fortunate who saw the display.

Have a great week.

Wednesday Fun!: Our Trip to Italy in Words and Photos

The Forum in Rome. Photo by David B. Coe
The Forum in Rome. Photo by David B. Coe

Nancy and I are recently back from three and a half weeks in Italy, a marvelous trip that took us to Rome, Venice, Lucca (in north Tuscany), San Quirico d’Orcia (in south Tuscany), Florence, Orvieto (in Umbria), and finally back to Rome for a couple of nights before our flight back to the States. It sounds like a whirlwind, but really it wasn’t. We had plenty of time in most places (a person could spend six weeks each in Florence and Rome, and still not see everything . . .), and did a good deal of our in-country traveling by train, which reduced the stress of getting around considerably. (The one exception was Tuscany, where we rented a car for six days, enabling us to visit several small, mountaintop medieval cities that aren’t served by the train system.)

Rome, looking toward St. Peter's Basilica. Photo by David B. Coe
Rome, looking toward St. Peter’s Basilica. Photo by David B. Coe
Piazza di San Marco and St. Mark's Basilica, Venice. Photo by David B. Coe
Piazza di San Marco and St. Mark’s Basilica, Venice. Photo by David B. Coe

Faced now with the prospect of summarizing our trip for this post, I am a bit overwhelmed. We saw and did so much. Much of it falls into one of three or four categories — we walked A LOT; we ate A LOT and drank a bit as well; we saw many of the Sights That One Sees In Italy; and we hung out with friends in Florence, where two couples we know and love were on extended work-related stays.

The Grand Canal, Venice. Photo by David B. Coe
The Grand Canal, Venice. Photo by David B. Coe
Venice. Photo by David B. Coe
Venice. Photo by David B. Coe

No matter where Nancy and I go on any trip, we wind up walking long distances. We feel that the best way to get to know a place is to explore it on foot, and as it happens, many of Italy’s cities lend themselves to this sort of exploration. Sometimes we walked with destinations in mind. Our first two days, when we were in Italy and still struggling with a little jet lag, we walked from our accommodations to the Colosseum and to Vatican city. After visiting those sights, we walked some more, looking for places to eat, stopping in at interesting shops or at yet another gorgeous cathedral from the 1400s. When we moved to Venice, we walked even more. What a gorgeous city! Every turn, every new lane or alley leads to another canal, another beautiful foot bridge, another view of a gondola or some other boat. It is a playground for light and shadow, for color and reflection, and for any who fancy themselves photographers.

Apennine Mountains above Lucca. Photo by David B. Coe
Apennine Mountains above Lucca. Photo by David B. Coe
The view from Pienza. Photo by David B. Coe
The view from Pienza. Photo by David B. Coe

While we were in Lucca, we found a hike that took us high into the Central Apennine Mountains. It was, in a word, spectacular. We had a perfect day — clear, breezy, cool — and were afforded incredible mountain vistas and equally beautiful views down toward ancient Tuscan mountain villages. The trail itself was a little rough, but still, it was a memorable morning. Tuscany in general was amazing. We stopped in San Gimignano, Montepulciano, Siena, Pienza, and Montalcino, where we enjoyed a fabulous wine-tasting and lunch at the Poggio Rubino Winery. Each of these cities was breathtaking and steeped in history. If we go back to Italy at some point, I think I could spend another week in Tuscany and never grow tired of the landscape, the food, the wine, the people. We had a similar experience in Orvieto, in the neighboring region of Umbria. Also stunningly beautiful, also rich in history, cuisine, and winemaking.

Orvieto, Umbria. Photo by David B. Coe
Orvieto, Umbria. Photo by David B. Coe

Florence as a city offers a compromise of sorts between Venice and Rome. Venice, as I said, is visually captivating. But there is an emptiness to it beyond the beauty and the tourist culture, which is ubiquitous. It felt at times as if, without the shops and restaurants and tourism industry, the city would simply cease to exist. Rome, on the other hand, is so huge as to be overwhelming. There is a tourist core to the city — in the old sections around the Roman ruins and various museums and duomos. But there is also Vatican City. There is a vast, thriving fashion industry. And there is as well a bustling urban center, with business and industry, contemporary culture, and everything else one might expect a world capitol to have.

Florence skyline and Duomo from Boboli Gardens. Photo by David B. Coe
Florence skyline and Duomo from Boboli Gardens. Photo by David B. Coe

Florence is, in many ways, as beautiful as Venice and as historically and culturally rich as Rome. But it offers more than Venice on a scale that is more welcoming than Rome. And for us it was doubly special, because of the friends we had there. These were two couples from utterly disparate parts of our lives. But they both happened to be there at the same time, and, it turns out, they got along really well. So much fun!! We had companions for so many of our meals, several of our sightseeing ventures, and even a couple of shopping sprees. While in Florence, Nancy and I also took a cooking class, which was great. We learned a ton and made by hand, without any sort of machine, our own pasta, which we then ate with sauces prepared as we watched by a master chef.

Interior of the Duomo di Siena. Photo by David B. Coe
Interior of the Duomo di Siena. Photo by David B. Coe

As I said earlier, it’s so difficult to do justice to a trip of this length in a single post. But I have tried. I would offer a few other quick tidbits. We saw many, many duomos, cathedrals, county churches, etc. We saw Saint Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. But I think our favorite was the Duomo di Siena, the interior of which was mind-blowing. One of the best things we did was attend a glass-blowing demonstration at the Murano Glass Factory in Venice. Extremely cool. We had so many terrific meals and tried so many new foods. My personal favorite was the pappardelle al ragù di cinghiale that I had several times in Tuscany. This is a broad ribbon of fresh pasta with a sauce made with wild boar — a traditional Tuscan recipe. Incredible. We also discovered the joys of Campari, Aperol, and other Amaro liqueurs. Campari, which is sweet at first with a strongly bitter finish, is the chief ingredient in a Negroni (equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth). Aperol is sweeter and less bitter, and is best known as the chief ingredient in an Aperol Spritz (Aperol and Prosecco). We drank a lot of both. And we fell in love with Brunello wines — delicious reds that are deeper and smoother in flavor than any wine I’d ever had before.

Nancy enjoying an Aperol Spritz.
Nancy enjoying an Aperol Spritz.
Me and my Negroni, my Negroni and me....
Me and my Negroni, my Negroni and me….

Hope you enjoy the photos!

Monday Blues: The Hardest Birthday

Yes, another post about our daughter and our loss. A part of me shies from this, wonders if I have written about her too much. “Write something upbeat,” I tell myself. “Something funny, something — anything — that isn’t about grief.” But we are grieving. Still. It’s been six months since we lost Alex. A bit more, actually. It seems like so long. It seems like nothing. And that is what my therapist tells me — that really six months is nothing. We remain at the very outset of a long journey, one that will be part of our daily existence for the rest of our lives.

So, yes, another post about our daughter.

As it happens, we are, generally, doing pretty well. We recently returned from three weeks in Italy (photos to come later this week), where we had an incredible time walking, learning, eating and drinking, seeing friends, and managing to live in the moment. We have more travel coming later this year. We have family and friends to see, weddings to attend, things to anticipate and enjoy. We have work to do, which also remains a balm.

But today, none of that matters.

Today, Alex would have — should have — turned 29 years old.

Today, I am shattered glass. Today, I am leaden skies and unrelenting rain. Today, I am a father bereft.

Tomorrow will be better. I know that. Next year will be a little easier. And the year after that more so. Today is the hardest day.

I understand all of this. But none of it makes this day any easier. As you read this, I will be off doing . . . something. Birdwatching, perhaps. Playing with my camera. Walking. Later, maybe, I will play some music. Mostly, I will be thinking of my darling girl.

I have nothing more to say, I’m afraid. I have no wisdom to offer. No deep words or insights. Today is a day to be endured, to be gotten through. I am simply doing the best I can.

Be kind to one another. Tell the people you love how you feel about them.

Monday Musings: It ALWAYS Feels Good To Finish a Book

I could have ended this post at the title. That really is the point. I have been writing fiction for close to thirty years. I have finished more than thirty novels and as many pieces of short fiction, and yes, each time I complete the first draft of any story, it feels great. Kind of like completing a good workout or reaching the summit on a lengthy hike.

So, what is this new, just-completed novel about?

Well, I can’t really tell you that. I am co-writing with someone — a person of some celebrity who came up with the story concept but left much of the writing to me. Someone who, I will be honest, paid me rather well. And someone who, for now, would rather I said less than more about the story, the book, and our partnership.

I’m fine with that, but it does mean that I can’t answer questions. I’m sorry to keep secrets. Really.

I can tell you that finishing this particular book has felt better than most. In part, that is a consequence of all that my family and I have been through. I finished a novella for Joshua Palmatier at Zombies Need Brains earlier this year, and I’m pleased with how that came out. But this more recent project felt big when I started it. I didn’t know if I was up for writing a full novel.

And it is always a challenge to write in someone else’s world, bringing to life someone else’s characters and plot lines. (As it happens, the Zombie Need Brains story was written in a shared universe, so both of the things I’ve worked on this year have been not entirely my own.) On the one hand, when writing in someone else’s sandbox, I want to honor the creative vision of the person or people who conceived of the world and characters. I feel a sense of responsibility to the original idea and source material (in this case, a script). At the same time, though, I also NEED to feel some ownership in the project. I want to have a creative stake in what I’m writing. Otherwise, the work has no emotional or artistic appeal, and my writing winds up sounding flat.

As many of you know, about fifteen years ago, I wrote the novelization of a script for a major motion picture (I would rather not be more specific . . .). It was a difficult and, frankly, unpleasant process, in large part because I was given no freedom to create. I had to stick to the exact dialogue and narrative presented in the script. I could do some internal monologue, but that was all. This new project was VERY different. My co-writer gave me a good deal of freedom to write the story as I thought it should be written. As this person pointed, movies and their books are often very different. They were fine with that being the case here.

As a result, the book proved to be a great way for me to work my way back into writing after last year. A good deal of the emotional content was already spelled out in the original source material, meaning I didn’t have to do a deep dive into my own emotional world, which I am not yet ready to do. But I could add in some new content, some different characters, some different points of view. And in so doing, I could put my own creative stamp on the finished product. Which I did, quite well, I believe. The resulting story really is a collaboration, a blending of artistic visions.

What’s next for me professionally?

I’m not sure yet. Nancy and I have some travel planned for this year, as well as some long-deferred work on the house and yard. And so I think I will probably take a little break from writing fiction while we tend to other parts of our lives. But that is not to say I don’t have ideas for new stories. I do. I have Thieftaker ideas, I have an old series that I still intend to reissue sometime fairly soon, I even have Fearsson ideas. And I have ideas for stories in universes not-yet-created-or-explored. So, stay tuned.

And thank you for your patience.

Have a great week.

Monday Musings: How Am I? Well, It’s Complicated…

Back in November, just a few weeks after the death of our older daughter, I wrote of the difficulty I regularly encountered answering the question, “How are you doing?” At the time, my emotional state was a moving target. I didn’t know how I was doing. Not day-to-day, not hour-to-hour. I was as changeable as mountain weather, as fragile as ancient parchment, as vulnerable as a newborn. I was all over the place.

David and daughter AlexIt has now been nearly five months since we lost Alex. I still get the same question — and to be clear, I don’t mind being asked. Not at all. It’s just that I still don’t know how to answer. My friends tell me that five months is nothing, that there is no reason I should have a handle on my emotions already. My therapist says the same. I suppose I should listen to all of them. But I grow impatient with myself. I make my living with words and with emotions. The core of my art is conveying the emotional state of my point of view characters. It’s practically the definition of what a fiction writer does.

And I cannot manage to put into words what I am feeling. Worse, I can’t even explain it to myself. I had a birthday this past week. And birthdays, holidays — those can be tough when grief is fresh. I will always miss hearing from Alex on my birthday, but this was the first one without her, and the sense of loss was particularly keen. (Alex’s birthday is in early May, and already I dread its approach.) But I also had a good day. I had wonderful conversations with family and friends, a lovely dinner with Nancy. And yes, I had comforting memories of conversations with Alex on previous birthdays.

How was I doing that day? I have no idea. Great. Terrible. Okay. Not so well.

I wrote about grief just after New Year’s. Actually, I’ve written about grief a lot in the past year, but in that post in particular I wrote in praise of grief. “We grieve because we have loved,” I said. “We grieve because we remember. And while the ache of our grief dulls and lessens with time, we never stop grieving. Nor would we want to.” I hold to that still. But neither do we want to become mired in our grief. Is that what’s happening to me? I don’t know. Helpful, right? Maybe now you’re starting to grok my frustration.

In the older post I mentioned in the opening graph, I worried about those moments — fairly frequent — when I felt numb. At times more recently, I have felt as though I am emerging from that numbness. And then I’ll find myself back there again, and I’ll have no idea how I got there or when it happened. Memories still ambush me, surprising me with their vividness, stealing my breath, leaving me unable to do much of anything. No, I don’t want to stop grieving. Except when I do. Because, yes, there are times when I wish I didn’t have to grieve at all, when I’m just so tired of feeling this way, whatever “this way” might be. And then another memory warms me, brings a smile, reminding me that grieving really is better than forgetting.

I don’t think the problem is that I haven’t made any progress. I’m not sure there’s a “problem” at all. As I say, friends, family, and people who should know tell me my state of mind is pretty normal for what is an extraordinary circumstance. And then they remind as well of what I already know: There is no “normal” for something like this.

The point of all this? Well, one point is, please don’t stop asking how I’m doing. Really. I appreciate the love and concern behind the question. And the other point is, when I answer with a shrug and an “I’m not really sure,” know that I’m not being evasive. I’m being honest.

Finally, the greater point is that the answer to “How am I doing?” is as complicated and long as a novel, as a relationship, as a parent’s love for his child. I am doing all right, except on those days when I’m not. I am getting work done, except for those times when I can’t. I am eating well, exercising, taking care of myself, letting Nancy take care of me, and doing my best to take care of her. I am not curled up at the bottom of an empty bourbon bottle. I am not spending eighteen hours a day in bed. I am not paralyzed with loss and sadness. But neither am I the embodiment of emotional health. If I was, I think I’d have cause to be worried.

How am I?

I’m okay, thank you for caring. How are you?

Monday Musings Potpourri: Travel, Music, Soccer

I’ve taken a couple of weeks off from the blog recently — a week here, a week there. When I came back to the blog after all that happened last year, I chose to do so on my own terms. All things being equal, I would like to post something every week. But I don’t want these essays to become a burden, something I dread doing. And so when I have nothing to say, I keep my virtual mouth shut (a notion I would love to impart to more than a few public figures). And when life gets in the way, I don’t fight it. You all have been incredibly generous with your support and patience. I no longer worry that if I slack off for a week or two there’ll be no one here when I come back. Thank you for that.

The problem is, sometimes — often actually — I want to write, but I have no idea what about. Today is such a day. I would like this post to go somewhere. I’d like an idea to spark in my head and carry me along. I’m still waiting . . . .

It’s a musings post, and my mind is going in a lot of directions right now.

Recent travels:

We are just back from a week-long journey to Mexico City, where we attended the wedding of my nephew to the charming, brilliant, beautiful love of his life. We took part in a wonderful weekend of festivities that included a terrific Sunday afternoon with just the two extended families. Great food, the best mezcal I’ve ever had, a lovely setting, fun conversations, lots of laughter. At one point, I was speaking with the bride’s father, who brought up the old saying (apparently as common in Mexican society as in our own) that we can choose our friends, but our families are ours whether we want them or not. And weren’t we all so fortunate that both families were so great and got along so well? A laudable sentiment, and truly fitting.

Part of the Diego Rivera mural, Mexico City
Part of the Diego Rivera mural, National Palace, Mexico City

Nancy and I were struck again and again by the kindness and generosity of everyone we met in Mexico City. Our Spanish is not very good at all. But people were patient and went out of their way to help us. And we were fortunate to have so many memorable meals, as well as fascinating visits to the Museo Nacional de Antropologia and to the National Palace with its magnificent murals painted by Diego Rivera. My brother and I got in a fun day of birdwatching at the botanical garden of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. A great visit.

Musical Explorations:

I have remarked before that Nancy and I are fairly new to the world of TV streaming. Until just about a year and a half ago, we were still suffering with satellite internet, which was too slow and too limited in terms of bandwidth to allow us to watch all the shows garnering raves from our friends. Well, the same was true of music. My listening was pretty much limited to the music I had on CDs, which I had uploaded to my computer and phone. This year, finally, I subscribed to a music streaming service and I have been exploring artists about whom I had been curious, or to whom I had been introduced by friends and family. (Looking at you, Erin!)

Like who? you ask. Well, as I write this, I am listening to Zac Brown Band, whose music I have come to love. Rockin’ Country music with terrific vocals and a great instrumental sound. Zac Brown plays Taylor guitars, so I was first introduced to his stuff by their promotional materials. And then Erin played a bunch of his songs for me. Now I am hooked.

Lots of friends had told me about Jason Isbell, and I own and love Southeastern, a haunting, powerful album. Now, I’m working my way through the rest of his catalogue, which is excellent as well.

Australian guitar virtuoso Tommy Emmanuel plays an eclectic blend of country, blues, rock, folk, and oldies, and because he’s so good, everyone wants to play with him, so you can find him doing duets with a who’s who of musical royalty. Some of the music is instrumental. Some has vocals. All of it is enormous fun.

Soccer:

Yeah, I know. I’ve written about this before. But Nancy and I are deep into this year’s Premier League (England) season, which is shaping up to be one for the ages. In recent years, one team has dominated, or, if fans are fortunate, two teams have fought for the season title. This year, with ten matches left on everyone’s schedule, three teams, Arsenal, Liverpool, and Manchester City are locked in a super-close battle that seems destined to come down to the final week of the campaign. This weekend, Liverpool and Man City played a thrilling, taut, brilliant match that ended in a 1-1 tie.

Yes, I’m sure that sounds like a contradiction — a thrilling 1-1 tie? How can that be? Trust me, it can. End-to-end action, inspired defense, a few moments of almost inconceivable luck that left both of us speechless, and beautiful, precise play throughout. Americans love offense. I get that. That’s why pro football has become something more like flag football than the defense-heavy sport I remember from my youth. It’s why baseball is now all about home runs. But part of the appeal of soccer is that every goal is precious. A single score can change the complexion of everything happening on the pitch. And in a match as important as this weekend’s Liverpool-Man City fixture, each scoring opportunity was crucial. What fun. Can’t wait for next week!

So, yeah. A bit of travel, a bit of music, a bit of sport. Nothing earth-shattering. And that’s okay. There’s lots of really dire, important stuff happening in the world. I’ll get back to those topics at some point. Or not. But sometimes we need to stop and enjoy the little stuff.

Be well, and be kind to one another.