Category Archives: D.B. Jackson

Tuesday Musings (Yeah, I Know…): Another (Brief) Update

I’ve started this post several times, only to flame out after a few lines. The truth is, I have nothing I want to write. I am in New York again, staying with my older daughter, doing what I can to help her through this most difficult time. That includes little things — shopping for her, keeping the apartment clean, cooking, doing small repairs on stuff that’s been broken for too long — and bigger things, like taking her to the hospital for small procedures and scheduling appointments with various doctors (Nancy or Erin or I will be taking her to those as well).

And I am also here to sit and talk with her, to keep her company, to do whatever simple things I can to make her comfortable and allow her to focus on healing and coping.

She has remarkable doctors and remarkable friends. Her support system is wonderful.

And so is ours. Nancy, Erin, and I have been so grateful to the many caring, loving friends and relatives who have done what they can to ease our burden. And I so appreciate the support I feel and see on my social media feeds, in my email inbox, in my snail mail postal box.

I don’t know how much I will be posting in the days and weeks, to come. I want to maintain the blog, but I also know that my focus right now needs to be elsewhere. So, thank you in advance for your understanding. Trust that I am doing as well as I can. I am taking care of myself, even as I also minister to my child. I am seeking out the help I need when I need it.

Wishing you all the best. Hug those you love.

Wednesday Musings: (No, That’s Not a Typo) Let’s Spend a Flight Delay Together

I have little to say professionally this week, but I have been thinking a good deal about a great many things. So, I’m double-dipping on musings . . . .

On Monday of this week, after a busy weekend in Brooklyn visiting Alex, our older daughter, Nancy and I accompanied Alex back to Tennessee for some midweek events here honoring Nancy. Alex is still in pretty rough shape and could not have traveled alone.

We were flying out of Newark and were scheduled to leave at 2:30 for a nonstop flight back to Nashville. But even as we were driving to the airport, I could see thunderheads forming to the west, piling on top of one another, like hulking gray boulders in the sky. I figured we would be fortunate to get out on time. Hah! Little did I know . . . .

We boarded, taxied, stopped, waited, waited some more, waited a whole lot more. Eventually, we taxied back to the gate, and eventually after that, we were allowed to deplane into the terminal so that we could get food, use the restrooms, stretch our legs, etc. By now, it was 5:00. Again, Nancy and I were traveling with our daughter who has cancer, who is weakened by treatments and generally exhausted. This was already going to be a long, trying day for her. Now it was getting worse.

An hour passed. And then another. The storms finally moved through, leaving the sky fiery and gorgeous. We were allowed to board again, told we would finally be leaving. We taxied, stopped, waited. Again.

We took off at 8:30, six hours late, and by the time we arrived, got our luggage, got the car, situated Alex, and drove the 90 miles from Nashville Airport to our house, didn’t get home until close to midnight. Too long a day. Too tiring. Too stressful. And yet . . . .

We are fine. Alex was tired the next day and had some relatively minor, unexpected issues crop up. But we got through the day in good spirits and in good shape. This musings post, though, isn’t about us. Not really, at least.

You see, the storms that stopped our flight from leaving, grounded every flight out of Newark, indeed out of all three New York airports (and also out of Boston’s Logan and others across the Northeast). When we returned to the gate after our initial attempt to leave, we found the terminal packed with people, all of them in the same situation we were in. I went searching for food and wandered far and wide, trying to find the exact thing our poor girl wanted to eat.

Not once did I see anyone complaining. Nor did I see anyone being nasty or berating gate agents or losing their patience with the crowds of fellow passengers. People were smiling, laughing, striking up conversations with strangers, playing with their kids, talking to their travel companions. You never would have known that every one of them had been inconvenienced for hours.

As I said, this was Monday. September 11. And I was reminded of that terrible day twenty-two years ago, and of the days after, when New Yorkers and New Jerseyans and Washingtonians and Pennsylvanians drew together in the wake of tragedy, treating one another with kindness and courtesy, with compassion and humanity. This year’s September 11th was a far easier, gentler day. We were delayed; we weren’t confronted by evil. But the same spirit of cooperation and good humor suffused our experience.

I’ve lived in the Southeast for more than thirty years now. And still, when I tell people that I’m originally from New York, I am often told how unfriendly people are up there, or how fortunate I am to live among the welcoming communities of the South.

And in some ways I am fortunate. Nancy and I have had a wonderful life in our little blue corner of Tennessee.

But let’s be very clear: In my experience, New Yorkers are no less friendly than Tennesseans, they are no more prone to rudeness, they are no less considerate, they are no less community-minded. In many respects, they are MORE considerate of others, more accepting of people on their own terms, more inclined to go out of their way in service to the well-being of those around them. I have lived in New York and New England, California and the South. No region has a monopoly on courtesy. No region has a monopoly on ill-mannered boors.

And for those who believe the New York metro area is populated by unfriendly, unrefined jerks, think again. Need proof? Spend a flight delay among the region’s people.

Enjoy the rest of your week.

Monday Musings: Family Update

We are in New York this weekend — an impromptu trip to help our older daughter who is suffering through some rough side-effects after her most recent treatments. We are dealing with a lot right now. Her most of all. I won’t get into details, but I will say that the situation remains serious and difficult, and all of us — mom, dad, sister, patient — are struggling.

Through it all, our older daughter, Alex, has been remarkable. Remarkable. Courageous, wise, positive, resilient, matter-of-fact. I have been humbled by her strength and spirit again and again and again. And Erin, our younger daughter, has been amazing as well. She has been the rock on whom all of us have leaned. She, too, has been brave and brilliant, knowledgable (from her work in the health care field) and compassionate, a point of stability and also a constant source of humor and light.

I will resist my usual impulse when writing about my children, which is to deflect all credit for their amazing qualities toward their mom. Yes, they both remind me so much of her, and display so many of the attributes that drew me to Nancy years ago. But the truth is, I recognize myself in both girls as well. They are a blend of the two of us. Parenting them has been the great joy of our lives, and we have done a good job of it.

People write not-so-flattering things about Millennials and Gen Z-ers. It’s easy to find articles online and in papers about the shortcomings of the generations that have followed us older folks. I don’t see it. Alex’s friends — all of them her age or younger — have been incredible. They have offered her care, support, and companionship. They have taken her to appointments, cooked for her, picked up prescriptions for her. Back in 2021, when Alex began her first chemo treatment, and started to lose her hair, one of them drove down to Brooklyn from Maine so that she could get her head shaved as Alex was having hers done.

There is no greater point to all of this post. Not really. We as a family have been going through a hard time for two and a half years now, since Alex’s initial cancer diagnosis. We have had more than our share of setbacks and we honestly do not know what will happen ultimately. All of us want to be optimistic. All of us need to be realistic. Reconciling those two impulses isn’t always easy.

In the meantime, though, we are spending time together. We were in Colorado as a family in July. We are in NY with Alex now (Erin was here all week before we arrived, and Nancy was up here the week before that). When we leave tomorrow, Alex will come with us to Tennessee for a ceremony honoring Nancy’s service to the university there and unveiling her official portrait. After that, we’re not entirely sure, though we don’t think that Alex can be alone for the time being. So, at least one of us will fly back with her. Maybe both of us.

We do what needs to be done for the people we love, because love demands no less, because they deserve no less, because we know they would do the same for us.

Be kind to one another. Tell the people you love how you feel about them, how much you appreciate them. When you need help from others, ask for it. Just as you wouldn’t hesitate to come to the aid of those you love most, so they would not waver in their support for you.

Wishing you all a wonderful week.

Professional Wednesday: DragonCon and Professional Community

I am back from DragonCon, and I have a shortened week in which to get done a great deal, so today’s post will be fairly brief. Mostly, I want to say thank you — to the convention organizers, who did a wonderful job — yet again — with a near impossible task: keeping 65,000 people happy and safe throughout a weekend of fun, spectacle, and, for many of us professional networking and promotional activity. I want to thank the track chairs who once again welcomed me into their programming, treated me with respect and courtesy, and guided my colleagues and me through productive and interesting discussions. I want to thank the fans who came out to listen to us speak and buy our books. Without you, we writers are just a bunch of people with word processing software and voices in our heads.

And most of all, I want to thank my friends, of whom there are too many to name, who made me laugh, who engaged me in wonderful conversations — some silly, others fascinating, the best ones a combination of the two — and who expressed concern and support for me and for my family. This was a fun weekend for me, but also a hard one. At a time in my life when a part of me wants to retreat into my work and interact with no one, you all made my interactions feel safe and positive and comforting. I’m grateful to you all.

I often write and speak about the solitary nature of the writing profession. Most of us work in relative isolation, crafting our stories, polishing them, and venturing onto social media to promote them. Conventions like DragonCon offer us opportunities to emerge from our shells and reconnect with people we care about, people who understand the unique challenges of a publishing career, people who are witty and intelligent, passionate about their art and compassionate with their friends. I love to write, but I was reminded this week that I also love being a writer and having a diverse and committed creative community.

As part of my professional activity this weekend, I gave a series of brief mentoring sessions for aspiring writers. During each one, and also in several extracurricular conversations with writers seeking to break into publishing, I found myself asking them if they had Beta readers, people they could ask to read their work who would then give them honest feedback. Most of them had some, but clearly needed to widen their circle of such friends.

Since these Professional Wednesday posts are usually geared toward writing advice, I will close with this: cultivate those relationships. Find fellow writers with whom you can share your work, with whom you can talk shop, with whom you can commiserate over disappointments and celebrate successes. They are more than people who can help you improve your writing. They are your future colleagues, your convention friends, the people you will see year after year, picking up where you left off at the end of the last con that you attended together. They are your moral support and your sounding boards, your partners in goofiness and the emotional undergirding that will sustain you for the rest of what I hope will be long and fruitful careers.

Keep writing!

Monday Musings (On Tuesday): Feeling the Loss of Jimmy Buffett

Living And Dying In 3/4 Time, by Jimmy BuffettThe news of Jimmy Buffett’s death this past weekend, hit me surprisingly hard, and I am still trying to figure out why. Buffett, the “Roguish Bard of Island Escapism,” as the New York Times called him in an online obituary, was a strong musical presence in my life. I have been listening to his music for more than four decades, I own a bunch of his albums, and over the years I have learned to play many of his songs on my guitars (none of them is particularly difficult to master). But the truth is, if asked to name my top five or top ten or even top twenty-five favorite bands and musicians, he probably wouldn’t make it onto any of those lists. So why do I feel as though I’ve lost a friend?

As with so much of the music I listen to, I was introduced to Jimmy Buffett’s songs by my oldest brother, Bill. This was long before Buffett’s fans came to be known as “Parrot-Heads.” It was before the song “Margaritaville,” Buffett’s biggest hit, had even been written or released. There was certainly not yet a chain of restaurants named for the song. Buffett had yet to become a bestselling author, or a musical icon, or a billionaire, all of which he achieved over the course of his career.

This was back in the early 1970s, when he was still a rather obscure country musician, albeit one with a terrific sense of humor and a unique sound. Bill played me songs from albums titled A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean and Living and Dying in 3/4 Time. Some of the songs were irreverent and funny (“Why Don’t We Get Drunk” and “The Great Filling Station Holdup”), others were memorably beautiful (“Come Monday” and “He Went To Paris”) and still others were just plain fun to listen to. Buffett’s studio musicians, whom he dubbed “The Coral Reefer Band,” were skilled and versatile, feeling equally at home with country, rock, reggae, and ballads.

So, yes, I enjoyed his music. But his loss means more to me than that. I mentioned earlier that I play several of his songs on guitar. I have for decades. I regularly performed some of them in college, when I played with my dear friends Alan Goldberg and Amy (Linenthal) Halliday. We played “Sugar Trade,” a song Buffett wrote with James Taylor, and “Wonder Why We Ever Go Home,” yet another beautiful ballad.

During one memorable night in the student pub, Bill came down from Boston to see us play and to perform a few songs with me. Bill was a skilled harmonica player and had a band of his own that performed regularly in New England. He and I played “Son of a Son of a Sailor,” a song I usually played during my solo set. Bill had prepared meticulously for our set; I hadn’t. I messed up my accompaniment to his harmonica solo in the middle of the song, getting the rhythm wrong and forcing him to adjust on the fly. He was gracious about it, but to this day I can’t listen to “Son of a Son” without cringing at the memory.

Jimmy Buffett’s music, more than that of most artists, touched me personally. I associate it with family, with friendship, with some of the most wonderful memories of my college days, with the comfort and joy I still draw from playing my guitars and singing — for myself, for Nancy, for our daughters.

And for some reason, I remember with incredible clarity an evening when Bill was playing Jimmy Buffett music not only for me, but also for my mom and dad on the stereo in their living room. He put on a song called “God’s Own Drunk,” a song originally written by Lord Buckley that Buffett covered brilliantly on Living and Dying in 3/4 Time. It is actually a story more than a song, and it is spoken over a slow country blues. It tells the tale of a man who, while guarding his brother’s moonshine still, partakes of some powerful booze and then encounters a bear, “a Kodiak-lookin’ fella about nineteen feet tall . . . .” I remember my father and particularly my mother getting such a kick out of the song, and Bill looking so pleased to have made them laugh.

As I say, Buffett was a musician and songwriter whom I enjoyed and respected, even though I was never a fanatic, never a Parrot-Head. His music has been a golden thread through my life for more years than I care to count. I’ll miss him.

Have a great week.

Professional Wednesday: Heading To DragonCon!

This coming weekend, I will be in Atlanta for DragonCon, the annual highlight of my professional calendar. For those of you unfamiliar with the phenomenon known as DragonCon, it is a huge convention that takes over Atlanta’s Peachtree Center every Labor Day weekend. In the past, the convention has attracted as many as 80,000 people. This year, in an attempt to control the crowd just a little, I believe attendance at the con has been capped at 65,000. Yeah, that’s still pretty big.

The con attracts television and movie stars (although I don’t know how the SAG strike will impact their numbers this year), directors, producers, writers (of scripts, novels, comic books, non-fiction, poetry, and pretty much every other written form), agents, editors, artists working in all media, musicians, animators, stand-up comics, costuming professionals, jewelry-makers, crafts-people of all sorts, and, of course, fans from all over the world.

The Chalice War: Sword, by David B. CoeIt is a spectacle. It is Mardi Gras for geeks. It is a party. It is a chance to do business. It is an opportunity to reconnect with friends. It is more fun than being six years old.

I will be on programming again this year, doing panels, signings, and a few mentoring sessions for the writers’ track. And when I am not involved in official convention programming, I will be in the Westin Hotel bar. If you’re in Atlanta for the weekend, please come by and say hello!

Here is my official schedule. (Note: I am listed in all program literature under “D.B. Jackson.”)

*****

Title: A Fond Farewell to Mrs. Maisel *Spoiler Warning*
Description: The final season of Mrs. Maisel took Midge’s career in a new direction, while her entire family is growing in new, unexpected ways. We might have gotten flashes of Midge’s future, but there are still plenty of things for our panelists to discuss.
Panelists: Jenna Johnson, D.B. Jackson, Dan Jolley, Cecilia Dominic, Elizabeth Carpenter(M)
Time: Fri 11:30 am
Location: Augusta Courtland Grand (Length: 1 Hour)

Title: D.B. Jackson signing booth 1201
Description: Come to the special author signing at The Missing Volume booth 1201
Panelists: D.B. Jackson
Time: Fri 01:00 pm
Location: Vendor Hall Floor 1 Mart2 (Length: 1 Hour)

Title: Themed Signing Alternate & Historic Fiction Track: History with a Twist
Panelists: Jean Marie Ward, Tamsin L. Silver, D.B. Jackson, David Boop, Gail Z. Martin, Walter Hunt
Time: Fri 05:30 pm
Location: Overlook Westin (Length: 1 Hour)

Title: The Gather: Welcome Home!!!!!!
Description: The best Gathering around of authors and fans! Who knows what surprises and treasures are to be found. We have more authors than the app will allow us to list, so you will be sure to find some great books to take home with your amazing Con stories.
Panelists: Milton J. Davis(O), John G. Hartness, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Philip Ligon, Jay Boyce, Jeffrey Falcon Logue, Patrick Dugan, William Joseph Roberts, Michael J Allen, Chris Jackson, Marc Alan Edelheit, Tamsin L. Silver, G. S. Jennsen, Katie Cross, David Boop, Quincy J. Allen, Tyra Burton, Matt Dinniman, Gini Koch, James Palmer, Darin Kennedy, Joelle Presby, Tao Wong, Harmon Cooper, D.B. Jackson, AJ Hartley, D.R. Perry, John Jackson Miller, Megan Mackie, Ellie Raine, Esther Friesner, Sean Fletcher, Katharine E. Wibell, Kaitlin Bevis, Isabelle Hardesty, Stacey Rourke, Mari Mancusi, Eric R. Asher, Frank Morin, Leanna Renee Hieber, Madaug Hishinuma, Wesley Chu, Bobby Nash, Howard Andrew Jones, Dennis Lee Robinson
Time: Fri 08:00 pm
Location: International South Hyatt (Length: 4 Hours)

Title: Anthology: A Buncha Great Writers Got Together…
Description: Wondering about anthologies? How to get invited into one? We’re going to lead you down the pathway to writing for anthologies.
Panelists: Trisha J. Wooldridge, Esther Friesner, Jeff Burns, Nancy Knight, Jean Marie Ward, D.B. Jackson
Time: Fri 08:30 pm
Location: Embassy EF Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)

Title: A Fan Discussion of The Last Kingdom: Seven Kings Must Die *Spoiler Alert*
Description: Seven Kings Must Die was our last look into the world of Uthred, son of Uthred, and his companions. What did you think of the movie as compared to the TV series? What excited you, or left you wanting more? Did you feel that it wrapped up things nicely? Come discuss with your fellow fans!
Panelists: Emily Myerscough(M), Corey Applegate, Cathalson, Katie Brewster, D.B. Jackson
Time: Sat 02:30 pm
Location: Macon Courtland Grand (Length: 1 Hour)

Title: How Epic is Epic?
Description: Some stories are so big they require more than one book…sometimes many more than one. These can be called epic stories. What makes a story epic? How do authors decide how many books their big story requires?
Panelists: Kevin J. Anderson, Jean Marie Ward, David Weber, D.B. Jackson, Timothy Zahn
Time: Sat 05:30 pm
Location: International South Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)

Title: Back in Time: Historical Urban Fantasy
Description: Our panelists explore supernatural beings & magic set in historical real-world settings.
Panelists: Cherie M. Priest, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Marie Brennan, D.B. Jackson, Carol Malcolm(M), Aaron Michael Ritchey
Time: Sat 08:30 pm
Location: Chastain 1-2 Westin (Length: 1 Hour)

Title: Many Tongues, 1 World: Using or Creating Languages in Literature
Description: We will be pulling in authors and a linguist to discuss using and creating languages for fantasy settings. Sometimes they may pull from the real world, other times it might be making things from scratch.
Panelists: Davis Ashura, Mera Rose, Mel Todd, Kevin McLaughlin, D.B. Jackson, Alex Shvartsman
Time: Sun 01:00 pm
Location: Embassy CD Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)

Title: 15 Minute Mentor Sessions
Description: A chance for budding authors to talk one-on-one with a successful industry professional about business, promotion, the writing process, & career advice. Sign up in the Writer’s Track. (Embassy E/F)
Panelists: James Nettles, Darin Kennedy, D.B. Jackson, R.J. Blain
Time: Sun 02:30 pm
Location: Embassy G Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)

Title: Are You a Good Witch, or a Bad Witch? Varieties & Approaches in UF
Description: Witches in Urban Fantasy run the gamut from helpful to extremely dangerous and self-serving, often in the same story. Our authors discuss their characters and the categories they fall into.
Panelists: Jennifer Blackstream, D.B. Jackson, Rachel Rawlings, Meg M Robinson, Melissa F. Olson, Carol Malcolm(M)
Time: Sun 05:30 pm
Location: Chastain 1-2 Westin (Length: 1 Hour)

Title: D.B. Jackson/David B. Coe signing booth 1201
Description: Come to the special author signing at The Missing Volume booth 1201
Panelists: D.B. Jackson/David B. Coe
Time: Mon 11:00 am
Location: Vendor Hall Floor 1 Mart2 (Length: 1 Hour)

Monday Musings: Confessions Of A Boring Old Guy

A few weeks ago, while we were vacationing in Colorado, I got high. When I was young — high school, college, and into grad school, I used to get high a lot. Too much, probably. But upon marrying Nancy and starting to pretend to be an adult, I gave up weed. For a long time, I was fine with that. I didn’t miss it. More recently, that began to change. I was curious: would I enjoy getting high now, as an old man, as much as I did as a kid?

Surprise! I did! I enjoyed it a lot. I took a gummy — a fraction of one, actually. I’m fully aware that today’s marijuana is a lot more potent than the stuff I was used to in my youth. And I ate the gummy with a clean conscience, since the evil weed is legal in Colorado. When I have the opportunity, I will do it again.

Why the confession?

The other day, I ran across an article in the New York Times that basically consisted of writers confessing to stuff they do that is of questionable morality and, in some cases, legality. Some of the testimonials were fairly mild — playing violent video games, shopping at Amazon. Others were more serious. One writer confessed to being a serial shoplifter. Another likes to drop acid at concerts. My confessions aren’t likely to be nearly so entertaining, but still I figured, yeah, I do some embarrassing stuff, too. So, why not?

For the record, as much as I dislike Amazon and lament the site’s impact on the literary marketplace, I shop there, too. All the time. All. The. Time. What can I say? It’s cheap, quick, convenient. I’m not proud of this, but this post is all about honesty, right?

I also play stupid games on my phone. Not violent ones — I don’t enjoy those. But dumb, wasteful, pointless? Check, check, and check. I play them daily. I do all the silly daily-goal tasks, I accumulate . . . stuff — whatever the game tells me I ought to accumulate. And I enjoy the games immensely. I am ridiculously pleased when things go well, and comically frustrated when they don’t.

I really, really enjoyed the Bridgerton spin-off, Queen Charlotte. Yes, I did.

I have a stunningly large baseball card collection. It numbers between 15,000 and 17,000 cards, the oldest being from the 1950s and the newest being from the early 2000s. I started collecting when I was five years old, and I still have many of those original cards. And I will admit that when I was a kid, I stole a few packs of baseball cards from a local store. Not proud of that at all.

I have watched the entirety of The West Wing — from series pilot to series finale, seven season’s worth, 154 episodes — at least ten or twelve times. What can I say? I love the characters, have long been a political junkie, and think that Aaron Sorkin writes like a god. I will also admit that during the George W. Bush Administration, and again during the Orange Guy’s Administration, I took refuge emotionally in the Bartlet White House.

I have a TERRIBLE sweet tooth. I manage to control it for periods, and I eat well in other ways. But oh, how I love my desserts. Candy, cookies (I love, love, love cookies) ice cream, cake, puddings. I just took a break from writing this post to eat a bunch of Nutella straight out of the jar. My favorites? Chocolate chip cookies, Twizzlers, any ice cream with caramel or butterscotch in it. There are a few things I don’t like — cheesecake, desserts with nuts in them, anything pumpkin flavored — but usually, if it’s sweet, I love it.

Yeah, okay. Most of this is pretty tame stuff. I don’t drink to excess. I don’t cheat on my wife. I don’t drop psychedelics or break the law or lie on my tax returns. The fact is, I’m pretty boring. I’m a nice guy. In most respects, I always have been. When I was young, I was the kind of guy women wanted as a friend, but weren’t drawn to romantically. I wasn’t in any way edgy or “dangerous” or exciting. I also wasn’t tall or good-looking, which didn’t help . . . .

But that’s okay. The same qualities that make me a bit boring also make me a good husband, a good dad, a good friend. I’ll take that any day.

Have a great week!

Professional Wednesday: Reading Books Several Times

Under Heaven, by Guy Gavriel KayI have just started reading a book that I have read at least one time before. Maybe two. It is Under Heaven, by Guy Gavriel Kay, a terrific historical fantasy set in a world modeled after Tang Dynasty China. The truth is, I read many of Guy’s books more than once. I read books by other authors multiple times as well, and I would recommend that others do the same — writers AND non-writers.

My first time through any book, I read for plot. Yes, I pay attention to the writing, to the character work, to the creation of setting, to the mechanics of narrative and pacing. But I also tend to rush my reading just a bit, as I am eager to know what happens next. On a second read, I can slow down and appreciate those elements of craft that I know I missed the first time through the book.

This is actually true for me of watching movies and television shows as well. I am a story teller by trade, and I learn something new about story, about dialogue, about pace and point of view, each time I experience a show or movie or book. With Kay’s work in particular, I find that I cannot gain a full appreciate of his magnificent prose and his explorations of character in only one reading. I need to dive back into a book a second, and maybe even a third time to explore it thoroughly.

I will admit that there are also books I have read not two or three times, but ten or twelve. This goes beyond learning craft. The story becomes something more — something akin to literary comfort food. The world of the book is a place I go — familiar, safe, predictable but also beautiful and nurturing. It’s like listening to a favorite old album; the well-worn melodies and lyrics bring peace and transport me to an earlier time.

I also will say that when I edit a story or novel, either for an anthology or for my freelance editing business, I ALWAYS read through the manuscript twice. I edit and make notes both times through, but invariably I find things on the second pass that I missed on the first (in part because I am more distracted by plot on the initial reading). And invariably as well, I find at least a few comments and criticisms that I offered the first time through that are “fixed” by later developments in the story.

There is an old saying that I repeat with some frequency, short and to the point: “Writers read.” We read for any number of reasons. To learn the marketplace and see what others are doing with the old tropes of our chosen genre or subgenre. To support our colleagues and friends in their pursuit of fame and fortune, or at least subsistence and an escape from obscurity. And we read to learn all we can about this marvelous and confounding career path we have chosen.

For that last, one reading is rarely enough. When we find a book that captivates us, that makes us envious of the skill and eloquence of the author, that makes us want to improve our own craft so that we might elicit from our own readers what the author has elicited from us, we are well served to go back and study the text in depth. My friend Faith Hunter often tells of her early reading of fantasy books, as she was making up her mind to write in the genre. She would take notes in the book margins, use highlighters of different colors coded to draw her attention to character development, setting, narrative structure, etc. She made herself a student of the genre, and in doing so mastered it, setting up her subsequent, well-deserved success.

I don’t mark up my books in that way, not because I think it’s a bad idea, but because I’m a little (maybe not so little?) compulsive about keeping my books pristine. But I do study the techniques of other writers. That is why I read certain texts over and over. And that is why I recommend you do the same. Even if you’re not an aspiring writer, there is much to be gained from such exploration. It is akin to pausing in a museum to look more closely at a painting, to study the shape and pattern of brush strokes. Sometimes appreciating fully the work of a story teller means taking the time to scrutinize their approach to telling that story.

Keep writing!

Monday Musings: Family, Soccer, and the Women’s World Cup

Earlier this year, I wrote a post about Title IX (which became law a half century ago) and the impact women’s sports have had on our culture, our society, and my family. I received a fair number of comments on that post, most of them from women whose lives had been changed by their own involvement in organized athletics, or from women who completed their schooling before Title IX was enacted, and who regretted missing out on such opportunities.

Erin and AlexMy mind has been on Title IX again over the past month, as Nancy and I (and our daughters, while we were all together in Colorado) watched the Women’s World Cup. Soccer has long been a very big deal in our household. Our daughters grew up playing, first in weekend league soccer and then through middle school and high school. Both of them were accomplished players. Both of them continue to love the sport. And so we all look forward to the World Cup — men’s and women’s — the way we look forward to holidays and birthdays.

For those of you who are not fans of soccer — “the beautiful game,” as it is called in other parts of the world — this year’s Cup matches were played in venues all around Australia and New Zealand, the co-hosts of the tournament. And with the exception of a few blow-outs in the earliest stages of the competition, the matches were incredibly competitive and exciting, and were played with all the skill and artistry one would expect from some of the best athletes and finest footballers on the planet.

AlexWorld Cup soccer — men’s and women’s — begins with what is called group play. The field of thirty-two is divided into eight groups of four. Each group plays among themselves, three matches for each team, and they get three points for a win, one point for a draw, and none for a loss. The two teams with the best record from each group advance to the knockout stage, so called because there are no ties, and the loser of each match is knocked out of the competition.

Yes, the U.S. Women’s team, four-time winners of the Cup, two-time defending champions, and, historically speaking, the traditional powerhouse of women’s soccer, was knocked out of the tournament in the round of sixteen, after just barely making it through group play. And after that, American media and, no doubt, many American fans stopped watching the Cup. We were disappointed in our household, too, but we kept watching, because the play in match after match was just that good.

The fact is, the Americans were not the only favorite to make an early exit. Germany, another perennial contender, who have twice won the cup and are ranked second in the world after the U.S., didn’t make it out of group play. Neither did Brazil, ranked eighth in the world, Canada, ranked seventh, or France, ranked fifth. Instead, teams like Colombia and Australia made historic runs deep into the tournament, and several teams — Jamaica, Morocco, and South Africa — made their first trips ever to the knockout stage. Ultimately, the tournament was won by another long-time power in women’s soccer, Spain who won a taut, action-filled, at times frenetic final against England by a score of 1-0. But any of the four teams that made the semi-finals — Sweden, Australia, Spain, or England — would have been first-time winners of the Women’s World Cup. That hadn’t happened since the very first women’s tournament in 1991.

ErinDespite American disappointment, these developments actually constitute incredibly good news for women’s soccer around the world. Title IX paved the way for the U.S. women to become a dominant team, and in many European nations, where traditional football is THE sport, women’s teams have access to facilities and funding. But in other places this is simply not the case. The Jamaican woman faced so many financial hardships in their preparation for this year’s Cup that they literally had to rely on crowdfunding in order to participate.

Tournament success for teams that have previously had little to celebrate can only boost support for women’s soccer, and women’s sports in general, all across the globe. And while sports may seem trivial given the challenges and dangers woman face the world over, anything that increases opportunity, that builds confidence, that unites people in community, that shines a spotlight on the glories of strength and resilience, diversity and teamwork, aspiration and freedom, can only benefit women and girls everywhere.

The U.S. team will recover from this year’s disappointing performance. (And by the way, the team’s early exit had NOTHING to do with being “woke” as some buffoons on the right have suggested. It had everything to do with the team being relatively young and inexperienced, with the coach being timid and uncertain, and with the front line failing to capitalize on scoring opportunities. The U.S. women were “woke” in 2019, when they won. They were “woke” in 2015 when they won. Just sayin’.) They will win other World Cups and other Olympic gold medals. But their path to victory is only going to get harder, because the competition is only going to get tougher. That’s as it should be. As women’s athletics gains greater and greater attention, as the financial obstacles they face diminish over time, teams in sports like soccer will move toward worldwide parity. Which is also as it should be.

In the meantime, I am already looking forward to Olympic soccer next year — men’s and women’s. And before then, I have Premier League games to watch!

Have a great week!

Professional Wednesday: Writing Work-For-Hire Projects

Love what you write.

I say it a lot. It is the single piece of advice I always offer when asked what tips I would give to young writers (young of age, young of career). And I believe the advice is sound. Love what you write means a few things. It means love the process, love the act of creation, because writing is hard and isolating and, for most of us, not very profitable. It means write the story that burns in your soul, the story you ache to write, because if you write a story for which you have little passion in the hope of matching the market, chances are you will write an inferior story (and still miss the market, which is a moving target). And it means take time to appreciate your achievement in completing a story, in writing a great scene, in creating something entirely your own, because, as I say, writing is hard, and so is the publishing business, and we need to recognize our own successes.

But here’s the thing: We can’t always love what we write, and we certainly can’t always write what we love. Writing is an art, of course. It is creation. It can be fun and thrilling, soothing and healing. It can feed the soul.

It is also a business, a way of making a living. I am happiest when writing stuff that excites and nourishes me. Writing the Radiants books and the Chalice War trilogy was incredibly fun, and also a balm in a time of emotional turmoil. In the past, though, I have also written not for joy but for a paycheck. That is part of what I do. I have written media tie-in books that I would never, ever have written if not for the promise of money at the end of the process.

That may sound crass. So be it. I am a professional, which can mean a lot of things, some of them positive and dignified, some of them mercenary. I bring this up today, because I am on the verge of signing a contract for new work-for-hire writing. I can’t talk about the particulars right now. At some point, I’ll be able to. But I can discuss the process in general terms and even give some tips for dealing with this sort of work.

The thing about work-for-hire writing and media tie-in projects is that they are, in many instances, not necessarily what we would choose to write if left to our own preferences. Obviously this is not always the case. I have several colleagues who spend a good deal of time writing in the Star Wars universe, or the Star Trek universe, or some other genre franchise. And they love the work. They enjoy playing with characters they have grown attached to over the years, much as I enjoy playing with Thieftaker characters in new situations.

Robin Hood, by David B. CoeBut the media work I have done in the past wasn’t like that. Back in 2009-2010, I wrote the novelization of Ridley Scott’s movie Robin Hood, starring Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett. The movie wasn’t out yet — I worked from a script — and I didn’t know whether or not I would love it. (I didn’t.) In 2018, I wrote a novel that tied in with the History Channel’s Knightfall series about the Knights Templar. In this case, I got to see all the episodes of the first season before the series was aired. I liked the show well enough.

In both cases, though, I always felt as though I were playing with someone else’s toys, which made the writing a bit challenging. I didn’t have the freedom I feel when working on my own stories in my own worlds. So, how did I make the work tolerable? DID I make the work tolerable? Good questions.

1) Look for something — anything — that allows you to take ownership of the project. This was particularly tough with the Robin Hood book, because the studio with whom I contracted maintained a death-grip over every element of the story. I could not add or delete ANY dialogue or scenes from the screenplay. I was utterly at the mercy of the script and the shoot, although the studio heads were so secretive, they would not allow me to see the movie!! I had to work from stills and from a couple of two minute movie-theater trailers. That was it!

So how did I take ownership? Point of view. I was in the minds of the characters, and since no internal monologue can be scripted, I could do with those passages whatever I wanted (to a point). There is one scene in the book of which I’m particularly proud — it’s written from the point of view of an old and fading Richard the Lionheart and I believe I nailed it.

Knightfall: The Infinite Deep, by David B. CoeWith the Knightfall book, I had a good deal more freedom and control, and so I enjoyed the process much, much more. But still I was mostly writing from the viewpoint of someone else’s characters. There is one point of view character, though, who I made my own — a child who appears later in the series as an adult. But her childhood POV was mine and gave me that sense of ownership, of personal investment in the book.

2) Take pride in what is yours and acknowledge the limitations placed upon you by what is not. Put another way, write the best book you can given the flaws inherent in the larger franchise. Robin Hood is not a great book. Robin Hood was not a great movie (though I believe it was better than many critics said). I believe I did as much with the book as I could under the circumstances, and that is all I can ask of myself.

3) Accept that work-for-hire makes possible the stuff we WANT to write. There is nothing wrong with writing for money. Hell, that’s what nearly all of us strive for when we begin this professional journey. When people ask me which of my books are my favorites, I never mention Robin Hood or Knightfall. But I don’t shy from talking about the experience of writing the books. I’m not ashamed of having written them. I’m a professional writer, and in both cases the media work provided a necessary financial bridge between personal projects. Without Robin Hood, I might not have written the Thieftaker books. Without Knightfall, I might not have written the Islevale Cycle.

Media tie-in, work-for-hire — call it what you will. This sort of work is part of the business, and while it may not be my favorite sort of book to write, it is part of what I do to maintain my career and to pay a few bills. If work of this sort comes your way, jump at the opportunity. The money is good and the publications bring exposure and possibly more jobs. Just remember to make the work your own in some way.

Keep writing!!