Tag Archives: ConCarolinas

Professional Wednesday: Listening To My Own Work

SPELL BLIND, by David B. Coe (jacket art by Alan Pollock)About seven years ago, I received out of the blue, an email from the actor Bronson Pinchot, who is probably best known for playing the role of “Balki” in the sitcom Perfect Strangers. He was, by then, enjoying a successful career as a voice actor, and he was writing to me because he was about to return to the studio to begin recording his reading of the second Justis Fearsson book, His Father’s Eyes. He wanted to know what I had thought of his treatment of the first book in the series, Spell Blind, and if there were things I wanted him to do differently with the second book.

HIS FATHER'S EYES, by David B. Coe (jacket art by Alan Pollock)I was thrilled to get the email, and also impressed by the care he was taking with my books. But I wasn’t really able to give him the feedback he was after. “I have heard great things about your performance from friends, as well as from online reviews,” I told him. “I’ve listened to the sample on the Audible site and very much like your take on the character’s voice. The truth is, though, I am incapable of listening to others read my work. It has nothing to do with your performance, or any one else’s, for that matter, and everything to do with hearing the flaws in my own writing, which I find excruciating.”

This prompted a reply from him that was as amusing as it was courteous. Saying we were “birds of a feather,” he admitted that he had never been able to watch any of his on-screen performances for much the same reason. And there we left it.

Fast forward to a couple of weekends ago, when I attended ConCarolinas. I have been thinking recently of returning to the Justis Fearsson series to write more books in that world. I loved those characters, and really enjoyed writing contemporary urban fantasy, and I have felt for some time now that there is more I can do with the storyline. But I need to re-familiarize myself with the existing works, and I have been eager to start going back through the books.

SHADOW'S BLADE, by David B. Coe (jacket art by Alan Pollock)As it happens, I have from Audible the MP3 CD of the third and final book in the original trilogy, Shadow’s Blade. Since I also had in my immediate future two seven-hour drives, I thought I would go ahead and listen to the book. How bad could it be, right? Even if I hated what I heard (to reiterate, I wasn’t worried about Pinchot’s performance, but rather my writing), I could take solace in knowing that I was now seven years and at least eight novels more experienced than I was when I wrote the book.

I want to make clear here that prior to this, I had never, ever listened to one of my novels as an audiobook. Never. I honestly didn’t know what to expect.

Well, first of all, I loved Bronson Pinchot’s performance. His interpretation of most of the characters was spot-on. His pacing and mood and approach were terrific. I would be delighted to have him narrate more of my work in the future.

And I will also say that I enjoyed my own writing. I was far enough removed from the process of writing the book that I actually got caught up in the story, but was also familiar enough (still) with the book that I could anticipate key scenes and remember lines of which I was particularly fond at the time I wrote them. It was a little like rewatching a favorite movie, but more intimate.

Earlier today, I reached out to Bronson Pinchot, after all these years, and thanked him for his marvelous interpretation of the book. We had a very nice exchange; it turns out he has his own recording studio and business now, so if I want to hire him to do future books, I can.

But the larger point of this story is this: There is nothing wrong with pausing to take pride in our creative accomplishments. Were there passages in the book that I would write differently now? Absolutely. I noticed places where I could have trimmed, where I explained too much, where I should have left stuff unsaid, or presented the material differently. Overall, though, I was struck by how well the book held up. I was reminded of how much I enjoyed writing Justis Fearsson novels. And I was reminded as well that, generally speaking, I am pretty good at this writing thing.

I say that without fear that it will sound like bragging or conceit. Well, okay, I say it with just a little fear that it will sound like bragging or conceit . . . . But as I have suggested in previous Wednesday posts, writing is a difficult profession and if we don’t give ourselves a little credit now and then, an occasional pat on the back for a job well done, no one else is going to do it for us. I wrote a good book. Instead of finding the experience of listening to it excruciating, as I feared I might, I found it really fun and very satisfying. I wound up energized and even more eager to return to that world and write more Fearsson stories.

So, if you are feeling down about a current project, put it away for a while, work on something else, and then return to it and read it fresh. Or, if you are generally lacking in confidence right now, take a moment to go back and look at some old work that you’ve set aside for one reason or another. Sure, you might see elements of the storytelling and writing that need improving. But chances are you’ll also rediscover what you loved about the projects in the first place. And there is definitely value in that.

Keep writing!

Monday Musings: Insanity

I spent this past weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina, attending ConCarolinas, a convention I attended every year from 2008-2019, and then missed for two years, once due to Covid concerns cancelling the event, and once due to diverticulitis knocking me on my butt.

ConCarolinas has long been a favorite of mine, a convention I have come to consider one of my “local” conventions even though I live six and a half hours away. It is attended by many of my closest friends in the writing world, and each convention feels like a family reunion. This year was no different. I caught up with friends I hadn’t seen in too long, and, as always, met some new people as well.

I want to tell you about the weekend, about the panels I was on and conversations I had. But instead, my Monday Musings are once again focused on avoidable tragedy. For the second weekend in a row, nearby Chattanooga has been the scene of a mass shooting. Last week six teens, all of them minors, were wounded in the downtown area right near the aquarium and the city’s wonderful Hunter Museum. As far as investigators can tell, the shooters were underage as well. Children shooting children with weapons that should never have been available to them.

Last night, three people were killed and more than a dozen were wounded by gunfire and then by cars fleeing the scene at speed (two died from gunshot wounds and twelve others were shot).

This after the mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde. And Tulsa. And Philadelphia. There have been twelve mass shootings in the U.S. since Friday. Since Friday. There have been thirty-six in the last three weeks, more than two hundred and thirty since the beginning of the year.

This is insanity.

I honestly don’t know what else to say. Ted Cruz and others of his ilk have been running from one talk show to the next, telling us that gun restrictions won’t work, by which they seem to mean that passing red flag laws, or age limitations for ownership of the deadliest weapons, or requirements for universal background checks, or bans on high-capacity, military-grade weapons won’t prevent all future shootings. And of course they’re right. We can’t prevent all gun-related violence or self-harm. But that doesn’t mean those laws shouldn’t be enacted. We have laws against murder in this country and still people kill other people every single day. Does that mean we SHOULDN’T have laws outlawing murder?

Of course not.

But I would challenge gun-rights advocates who oppose all limitations on firearms ownership to answer honestly a few simple questions. Isn’t it likely that passage of the measures listed above will prevent some killings? Isn’t it undeniable that passage of the measures would prevent at least one death? And are you willing to go to the parent or spouse or child of that next victim and say, “Yes, I know you have lost a person you love, but it was more important to me that we keep gun ownership in this country completely unfettered than it was that we save the life of your loved one”?

Of course they’re not.

We shouldn’t politicize gun violence and gun deaths. That’s what we’re told again and again by those who don’t want conversations about firearms control to go anywhere. Guess what. It’s already politicized, and it wasn’t those of us on the side of commonsense measures who made it so. But here in the hard truth: Republicans lack the courage and integrity necessary to stand up to the NRA and say, “Enough!” And Democrats lack the courage and integrity necessary to do what it would take to overcome Republican resistance to firearms restrictions. The cowardice and incompetence of our leaders on both sides dooms us to ever more bloodshed and fear.

But, hey, at least we all got to watch Johnny Depp and Amanda Heard air their dirty laundry in a public courtroom.

I should be energized today. I had a great weekend. I spent time with fellow professionals, engaged in fun, informative conversations about craft, about the business of writing, about my own projects. And instead, I feel weary, fed up, ashamed of and embarrassed for my country.

That’s really all I’ve got.

Have a good week. Stay safe.

Monday Musings: Thoughts About My Upcoming Appearance at JordanCon

This coming weekend, I will be attending JordanCon in Atlanta. There I will see many friends — colleagues as well as fans. I will sell some books, talk about writing, both on panels and informally over drinks and meals, and catch up with people who have been out of my life for too long. We will all be masked, of course. The con organizers are taking no chances, and I’m grateful to them for that.

JordanCon will not be my first convention of the year — that was Boskone back in February. But somehow this one feels like the start of the convention season. It is the first of several appearances I’ll be making this summer and fall — JordanCon, ConCarolinas, LibertyCon, DragonCon, Hampton Roads Writers Conference, perhaps World Fantasy Convention.

And I have to say, I am more excited for this set of conventions and workshops than I have been in several years. I think part of it is my pent up need to interact with people, to be in a professional setting (as opposed to on a professional Zoom call). Another part of it is the simple fact that I miss my friends. For instance, I haven’t hung out with Faith Hunter in ages. And for those of you who don’t know, Faith is this year’s Literary Guest of Honor at JordanCon. I will be “interviewing” her at the Guest of Honor event Saturday morning of the convention. It should be tremendous fun. (11:30 AM — be there!)

I am, generally speaking, an outgoing person. I enjoy conventions. I enjoy talking to fans and discussing craft and business issues on panels. Since the pandemic began, I have struggled more than ever with my anxiety, and have found myself shying from contact with large groups. I’ve had to force myself to be social and I’ve battled nerves before the few events I have done.

In other words, I haven’t felt like myself, and I’ve hated it. I’m ready to be out in the world again, among people I know and care about and respect. I look at these upcoming conventions and such as more than professional obligations, more than promotional opportunities. They’re a step toward renewed emotional health.

Yes, that’s a lot to ask of a speculative fiction convention, and maybe I’m loading too many expectations onto JordanCon and other events. But really, I’m placing those expectations on myself. As I have said in other posts recently, this spring has been a time for me to come out of my emotional bunker. Life remains complicated for my family and me. On the other hand, as I look around, I see a world filled with people coping with issues of one sort or another. It used to be, when I found myself in the midst of trying times, I would look forward to “normal life” when the difficulties subsided.

I have come to realize there is no such beast. “Normal” as I envisioned it was a time without problems, without stuff going wrong. And that’s not realistic. “Normal life” is complicated in one way or another. Pretty much always. I don’t mean to sound grim. I’m not being Eeyore. Quite the opposite, actually. I’m finding that the hard stuff is a little easier to deal with when I understand that all of us struggle, that no matter how bad one part of life might seem at any given moment, I am not alone, and there is almost invariably another part of life that is good, great even.

This coming weekend, I will begin in earnest to put this perspective into practice.

For those of you who will be at the convention — and I hope to see many of you there — I will be on the following panels (with times and hotel venues):

“Economics of Publishing: How Does It All work?” — Friday, 8:30pm, Conference Center

“I’ve Written Something. Now What?” — Saturday, 10:00am, Conference Center

“Author Guest of Honor Spotlight: With GoH Faith Hunter” — Saturday, 11:30am, Dunwoody

“Outlining vs. Pantsing: What are the Benefits and Drawbacks?” — Sunday, 10:00am, Conference Center

“Pro-Tip: What I Wish I’d Known” — Sunday 1:00pm — Conference Center

Southern Red Trillium, by David B. CoeWhen I am not in these panels, I will be at my table in Author’s Alley, signing and selling books. I also plan to have with me some of the new photographic cards I wrote about recently. Please feel free to come by and say hello. Yes, I’ll be working, but I also welcome the chance to catch up. And maybe I’ll convince you to buy a book or two!

In the meantime, have a great week!

A Quick-Tip Tuesday Post on Writing Communities

Writing can be a lonely profession. We often work on our own, toiling alone for hours at a time, sending our work into what can feel like a marketplace vacuum, and waiting for feedback that can be hurtful, even brutal. It’s hard, and our solitude makes it harder. Yes, we have loved ones on whom we can lean for support, but there’s no substitute for talking these things out with people who understand the process and the pain, the toil and the isolation.

Today’s Quick-Tip Tuesday post at Magical Words is about writing communities — conventions, retreats, crit groups — and the benefits they bring to writers of all levels. I’m recently back from ConCarolinas and the Roaring Writers 2016 Retreat, where I led critiques and taught, and I have a new writing group in my town, so this topic has been on my mind lately. I hope you enjoy the post, which you can find here.

Keep writing!