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Monday Musings: The Legacy of Hank Aaron

Henry Louis “Hank” Aaron died last week. He was, of course, a baseball legend, the former home run king. He was also a civic leader, a philanthropist, and a Civil Rights activist. And he’s been an idol of mine since I was a kid.

As a baseball player, Aaron was so good as to make superlatives redundant, and so ridiculously consistent that he managed to fly under the radar, at least in a relative sense, while rewriting baseball’s record books. He entered the Major Leagues in the game’s golden age, as part of the first generation of Black superstars. It is almost impossible to understate the revolutionary impact he and the other ballplayers of his cohort had on the game.

For those of us who love baseball, there are two statistical milestones that define supreme career achievement for batters: 500 career home runs, and 3,000 career hits. At the time I graduated from high school, only twelve players in the history of baseball had hit 500 home runs. Of those twelve, eight of them hit their first home run during the 1950s, and of those eight, five were black. At the same historical moment, only fifteen players had more than 3,000 hits. And only two players, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, both part of that class of Black superstars, were on both the 500 home run and 3,000 hit lists.

Even after the steroid era, which saw so many players — many of them undeserving — join that exclusive home run club, Hank Aaron still holds the record for most seasons with at least 20 home runs (20 such years). He holds the record for the most seasons with at least 30 home runs (tied, at 15), and is second only to Babe Ruth in the number of seasons with 40 home runs (tied with others at 8). When Aaron completed his career in 1976, he was second on the all-time hit list, and first on the all-time home run list. If all of his home runs had magically disappeared, he still would have had over 3,000 hits. To this day, he remains the Major League’s career leader in runs batted in and total bases.

He wasn’t as flashy as Mays, and, in fairness, he also wasn’t as good in the outfield or as fast on the base paths. He won “only” one Most Valuable Player award (in 1957) and only one World Series championship. (He played in two World Series and batted a combined .364 in fourteen games.) He never won the Triple Crown, as his contemporaries Frank Robinson and Mickey Mantle did. But he led the league in batting average twice, in home runs four times, in runs batted four times, in runs scored three times, in hits twice, in doubles four times, in total bases eight times, and in slugging average four times. He won three gold gloves for outstanding fielding. He stole thirty bases in a season once, and at least twenty six times. He was voted into the All-Star game twenty-one consecutive years — another record. He wasn’t particularly big or brawny, but he had as quick a bat as anyone in the game. Said one of his teammates, “Trying to sneak a fastball past Hank Aaron is like trying to sneak the sunrise past a rooster.”

Aaron grew up in Mobile, Alabama, deep, deep, deep in the heart of the segregated South. He loved baseball as a child, but for years wondered if he would ever have the chance to play in the Major Leagues. He was thirteen when Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s race barrier. Aaron played briefly in the Negro Leagues and then played in Jacksonville, Florida for a minor league affiliate of the Milwaukee Braves. He put up with racial taunts from fans, abuse from opposing players, and indifference, even hostility, from too many of his own teammates. Much of this continued when he reached the majors.

Still, in 1960, as a popular star on the Braves, he campaigned for Democratic Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy, and was said to have played a role in JFK’s crucial victory in the Wisconsin Democratic primary.

As has been well-documented elsewhere, Aaron’s pursuit of the Major League home run record in the early 1970s, after the Braves had moved to Atlanta, forced him into the national spotlight as never before, to his detriment. He and his family received death threats and cruel, horrible letters filled with racist invective. He himself said years later that his chase of the record should have been a time of joy and excitement, but was instead the darkest period of his life.

And yet, his performance on the field never suffered. In the three seasons leading up to his record-setting home run, when he was in his late thirties and should have been fading as a ballplayer, he hit 47, 34, and 40 home runs. He entered the 1974 season with 713 career homers, one behind Babe Ruth’s hallowed record. He hit the tying home run on Opening Day. He hit the record-breaking shot in his first home game of the season three nights later.

Sports Illustrated, Hank Aaron, 715I was watching that night, along with pretty much every other eleven year-old, baseball-loving boy in America. I remember everything about it — the call from announcer Vin Scully, the twist and high stare of Dodgers pitcher Al Downing as he watched the ball sail out over left field, Aaron’s joyful trot around the bases, the two white guys in civilian clothes who appeared out of nowhere as he rounded second base and patted his back and shoulder, the way his jubilant teammates mobbed him at home plate and put him on their shoulders. I still have the issue of Sports Illustrated from the next week, with Aaron on the cover holding up the baseball next to a golden, bolded “715.” And I also still have the special edition baseball card Topps issued that same year proclaiming Aaron baseball’s home run king.

The movie 42 tells the story of Jackie Robinson’s inaugural season in the Major Leagues. It stars the late Chadwick Boseman as Jackie, and Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey, the President, General Manager, and part owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who brought Robinson into Major League baseball. There is a moment in the movie, which may or may not be apocryphal, when Rickey tells Robinson of seeing white kids in the streets of Brooklyn, playing baseball and copying Robinson’s batting stance, pretending to be him.

That was my friends and me when I was growing up and playing baseball on my little dead end street outside of New York City. Except by then, thanks to the black superstars of the 1950s and 60s — Mays and Aaron, Frank Robinson and Ernie Banks, Bob Gibson and Billy Williams and Willie McCovey and so many others — we took for granted that all of us, white and privileged though we were, wanted to emulate the Black players we idolized. We copied their batting stances and pitching wind-ups. We tried batting cross-handed, the way Aaron did when he was a young minor leaguer. We made our baseball caps fly off when we ran, like Willie Mays, and tried to make basket catches the way he did.

For many of us, baseball and other sports opened our eyes to the importance of racial equality and opportunity. That may sound ludicrous, like I’m trivializing race by couching it in the context of sports. But it’s the truth. I grew up in a politicized household. I was only five when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, but my parents talked about him all the time, in glowing terms. In 1972, when I was all of nine years old, I knew about and followed Shirley Chisholm’s ground-breaking run for the Presidency.

Mine was also a baseball household. We watched other sports, but baseball was king. I heard about Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella from my Dad, who loved the Brooklyn Dodgers. I learned to love Willie Mays, because he was my brother Bill’s favorite player in the world. I understood that Black players had been excluded from baseball for too long and that this was a terrible injustice. How could the world be considered a fair place if Black players couldn’t even get in the game? And because I used to pore over statistics and records, I knew as well that whatever the game was like before Black players were allowed in the Major leagues, it could not have been complete. How could baseball, even in the age of Ruth and Gehrig, be the game that I knew and loved if players like Aaron and Mays were excluded?

Hank Aaron’s baseball legacy is clear. His social and historical legacy should be equally apparent. He was a man of grace, intellect, eloquence, and class who carried himself with dignity through an ordeal that should have been a celebration. By his example, his words and actions, his generosity and courage, he made this a better country. He will be missed.

Creative Friday: “Willin'” by Little Feat

This week, for Creative Friday, I offer a song.

Many, many years ago, my oldest brother turned me on to Little Feat, and they quickly became my favorite band. While in college, playing with my dear friends Alan Goldberg and Amy Halliday as part of a group we called Free Samples, we included “Willin’,” by Little Feat, in our repertoire.

I kept playing the song after college, of course, and eventually, when Nancy and I had kids and I started playing guitar for them, “Willin’” became one of my younger daughter’s favorites. There are pauses in the song, and for some reason she found them hilarious. The more I dragged them out, the more she laughed. To this day, in her twenties, she still can’t listen to me play the song without giggling.

In short, this song has been a part of my musical life for the better part of forty years. I recorded this version, including a second guitar track for the instrumental break, a couple of years ago, with my daughter in mind.

I hope you enjoy it.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Professional Wednesday: Creativity and the Market

As a professional writer — as a professional in the arts — I take on several career roles. I am an artist, of course. I create. I am an editor, and not just in the traditional sense of editing the work of others, as I’m doing now for the Derelict anthology. I also have to edit myself. All the time. Anything I publish will face edits from another editor, but first my work has to get through my own editorial process, which is fairly rigorous.

I am also a business professional. I make career decisions on a weekly-if-not-daily basis, often in consultation with my agent, but not always. Most short fiction projects don’t involve an agent, and the same is true of some projects that I put out through small presses or that I might publish myself.

And, of course, I am responsible for a good deal of my own marketing and publicity. Maintaining this blog, and the websites on which it appears, keeping up with social media, etc. — all of this is time consuming and absolutely essential to my career.

Most of the time, I can fulfill each of these roles without my actions in one coming into conflict with my actions in another. Most of the time. But what about those few occasions when there are conflicts of a sort? What do I do then?

I’m often asked whether my publishers have pressured me to write a book a certain way in order to have more marketing appeal, or (related) whether I have ever had a publisher tell me to write a certain type of book. And the short answer is no. I have worked with many editors on my various series, and (as I mentioned last week) all of them have been very clear in saying that my books are, well, MY books. I retain final creative control over how the books are written. Editors may make suggestions designed to improve the book, but these are suggestions and in the end decisions about content are mine to make.

That said, though, I have throughout my career received suggestions that were designed to maximize the marketability of a book or series. Again, the decision has always been mine to make, but marketing suggestions often come with what we might call “implied incentives.”

“If you do it this way, you may well sell more books and make more money.”

Some of these choices are huge in scope. How huge? Well, when I first pitched the Thieftaker series, I envisioned it as an epic fantasy, set in an alternate world. My editor at the time suggested that turning it into a historical would make it more marketable, and, he added, if I did so Tor would be able to give me a bigger advance. He suggested I set the books in London. I didn’t want to do that, but once I started thinking about it as a historical, I hit on the idea of setting the series in Boston. And, as they say, the rest is history… [Rimshot]

At other times, the artistic/marketing choices are more subtle. And that brings us to the immediate inspiration for this post. I am starting the edits on a supernatural thriller that I have recently sold to a small press. The first book in the series is complete, and I love it. But I have been aware from the very start that the book will not be easy to market. It’s a thriller, intended for adults, but it has a teenaged protagonist and a few elements that convinced my agent we should market the book as a YA thriller. I wasn’t sure about this, but she was, so that was how we pitched it to publishers.

Well, a publisher bought the book, and the series, but like me, the publisher sees the book as an adult thriller and has asked me to make some changes that she feels will make the marketing of the book easier. Her initial suggestions struck me as too drastic, and so we talked and have reached a compromise that satisfies our shared marketing concerns while also preserving my original concept for the book and overall project.

And this is really the point of today’s post.

As an artist, I have in mind a plot, a set of characters, a setting, a tone and pace and voice for the book. I am committed to that initial vision, and certainly will follow it as I write and revise the first iteration. Once we transition from the creative impetus to the actual marketing of the book, though, the business side of my professional brain kicks in a little. I will not jettison my creative vision for money. Not ever. But I also will not — cannot — allow my adherence to a creative vision to undermine a book’s commercial viability. My goal as writer is to put out the best product I can, and to make a living. So, I will strive to find a balance between respecting my creative efforts and working with the publishing professionals who have agreed to put out my book, and who are skilled in the marketing side of the business.

Writing is my art. It’s my profession. It’s my source of income. I’m not interested in preserving my amateur status in order to make the literary Olympics. I want to write, and I want to make money doing it. In order to be satisfied, not only with my work, but also with the results of that work, I need to blend my roles and get the most out of each project — creatively and financially.

That’s what it means to be a professional.

Keep writing.

Monday Musings: This is EXACTLY Who We Are

“This is not who we are.”

Comforting words that have been trotted out repeatedly in the days since the Capitol Hill insurrection that left six dead and scores injured, and that shook to the core our faith in the strength of our republic.

We’ve heard politicians from both sides of the aisle say this, none with more conviction than Joe Biden. “This is not who we are. We’re Americans. We’re better than this.”

I’m paraphrasing — that’s not an exact quote. But it’s close enough.

The problem is, this is exactly who we are. It’s who we have been for two and a half centuries. We are a nation whose racism and blithe acceptance of White Supremacist doctrine is embedded in the original wording of our Constitution. According to that revered document, the version ratified in 1788, slavery was an accepted economic and political reality, black slaves counted as merely three-fifths of a human being, and unless you were a white man, you didn’t get to participate in our political process.

Subsequent amendments have remedied the worst offenses of the original, but it took a prolonged and bloody Civil War to make most of them possible, and another fifty years of agitation to win the vote for women.

Our politics have been riven by race, by anti-democratic tendencies, by a win-at-all-costs mentality for nearly the entire history of our nation. Andrew Jackson refused to enforce the Supreme Court’s 1832 Worcester v. Georgia ruling that ordered the state of Georgia to halt the removal of the Cherokee from the state. “[Chief Justice] John Marshall has made his decision,” Jackson said. “Now let him enforce it.”

In 1856, Representative Preston Brooks, a pro-slavery Democrat from South Carolina, walked into the Senate Chamber and assaulted Massachusetts Republican Charles Sumner, beating him bloody and senseless with a gold-tipped wooden cane. Sumner had “given offense” with a fiery speech condemning slavery.

Anti-communist crusades in the 20th century — in the 1920s, led by Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, and in the 1950s, led by Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin — saw frightening curtailments of civil liberties and shocking violence aimed at suspected socialists and communists. Palmerism and McCarthyism were built on lies and distortions that fed a frenzy of authoritarian rhetoric and policy, all in the name of protecting our democratic republic.

Police brutality directed at Blacks and the political Left is also nothing new. Images of police attacks on Blacks during the urban race riots of the 1910s and ‘20s, can be laid alongside footage of similar attacks on Civil Rights protesters in the 1950s and ‘60s. And these can be matched with video captures of the violence and cruelty we all witnessed during the summer of 2020, when Black Lives Matter activists were beaten and shot in the streets of America’s cities.

Of course this is who we are. It is who we have been from the start.

I don’t say this to feed complacency or to justify any recent events. I don’t say it because I hate America. I don’t say it even to reassure — “we’ve been through this before; we’ll get through it this time.”

I say it because the sooner we accept that what we’re witnessing now is nothing new, the sooner we can change “This is not who we are,” to “This is not who we ought to be.”

I have been horrified by the excesses of Trumpism (which will take its place alongside “Palmerism” and “McCarthyism” in the annals of history). I fear what might happen at Wednesday’s inauguration. And yet, I will admit that I do take some comfort in knowing that we have weathered crises of this kind before. On Friday, I heard an NPR interview with Stephanie Cutter, the producer of the 2021 inauguration. She was asked about the threats aimed at Wednesday’s festivities, and she made clear that while she is taking them seriously, she is not panicking. It seems there were equally credible threats aimed at Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration — no surprise there. The threats were so serious, that Obama had prepared instructions for the huge crowd gathered on the Mall, telling them what to do in the event of a terrorist attack. Fortunately, he didn’t need them. But threats of this sort are nothing new.

So, yes, this is who we are. America is, and has always been, as flawed and conflicted as the people who populate her. Nor are we alone in this regard. History tells us that nations on every continent have been subject, at one time or another, to violent assaults on liberty, to authoritarianism, to political conflicts that result in bloodshed and threaten to tear the very fabric of civil society. The United States is hardly unique in this regard.

And perhaps that is the point. Americans have long touted our “exceptionalism.” Our system of government, which truly is unique in many regards, was supposed to protect us from the sort of raw, ugly violence we saw on January 6th. We were supposed to be immune.

But THAT is not who we are. This nation — of the people, by the people, for the people — is by definition doomed to be flawed. The American experiment is a human endeavor, and so is subject to all the foibles and problems of anything human. The sooner we accept this, the sooner we stop denying who and what we are, the sooner we can get to the crucial task of becoming who and what we aspire to be.

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.