Tag Archives: David B. Coe

Professional Wednesday: 2023 Is 1/4 Gone — What Have You Done?

Spring is here. April is knocking on the door. 2023 is just about one quarter gone (a thought that sends me into a frenzied panic) and with the first three months of the year nearly over, I felt this would be a good time to pause and take stock of my goals and accomplishments so far. Care to join me?

The end of March is significant for me, because my convention season is about to begin. Yes, I sometimes have an event or two early in the year, but most years my professional travel begins in earnest with the onset of spring. 2023 promises to be no different in this regard, and the truth is I feel like I have been stuck in second gear since the beginning of the calendar year.

I keep a day book, a sort of diary, using my Sierra Club Engagement Calendar. I write down key events of each day, important conversations I might have had, and, most notably for the purposes of this post, an accounting of the work I have gotten done daily. I do this for myself (although it is also helpful occasionally in settling arguments about the timing of certain things . . . .) for moments like the one I’m having right now, when I wonder if I have actually accomplished anything at all.

I HAVE gotten work done this year. A lot of it has involved editing — the Artifice and Craft anthology I’m editing for Zombies Need Brains, edits on my upcoming Celtic urban fantasy series, and editing I do for clients. This is all important work, but it doesn’t leave me much to show for my efforts. When I’m writing a book, I can point to my page count or word count. With editing . . . my track-changes count? It just isn’t as satisfying.

Add to that the week-plus that I lost to Covid, and some travel I’ve done, and I can account for all the time that has passed since New Year’s. But aside from my short story for another ZNB anthology, Dragonesque, and a couple of dozen blog posts, I haven’t written much of anything this year. I think that is what’s bothering me. I get grumpy when I don’t write enough, and I’m feeling grumpy.

The Chalice War: Cauldron, by David B. CoeI also know that what has been a quiet year thus far is about to get very, very busy. Starting in May, we (Bell Bridge Books and I) will be releasing The Chalice War trilogy, the aforementioned Celtic urban fantasy. The first book, The Chalice War: Stone, will be out that month, followed closely by The Chalice War: Cauldron, and, sometime in the summer, The Chalice War: Sword. I can’t wait. Sword will be my thirtieth (yes, 30th) published book.

Also this summer, Zombies Need Brains will release Artifice and Craft, my 5th edited anthology, and Dragonesque, which will include “Reenactment,” my 30th published short story.

In April, I will attend JordanCon (Atlanta). In early June, I will attend ConCarolinas (Charlotte), and later that same month I will be at LibertyCon (Chattanooga).

I have recently been accepted into the Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop, which is taught in late May at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. Launch Pad is a week-long workshop on all things related to space and space travel taught specifically for writers and editors. It offers an amazing opportunity to learn about these fascinating topics from professional scholars who also happen to have backgrounds in SF. I have been considering a new science fiction project, one that would be a dramatic departure from anything I’ve written before. Launch Pad will be invaluable in preparing me to write those stories.

We have family travel on the schedule for July, following an important professional transition for Nancy at the end of June. And then I will be attending DragonCon (Atlanta) in late August/early September.

Jacket art for Bonds of Vengeance, book III in Winds of the Forelands, by David B. Coe (Jacket art by Romas Kukalis)I have two other projects underway as well. A nonfiction thing that I am not ready to discuss in detail, and, at long last, the editing of the Winds of the Forelands books for re-release in late 2023 or early 2024. And I have another writing project — a collaborative undertaking — that I also cannot describe in detail, simply because I am not the organizing force behind the project, so it is not mine to reveal. But I am excited about it.

And I have a possible tie-in project looming, which is not certain enough to reveal at this time.

I know: There’s a lot of secrecy in this post. My apologies. There is also a mixed message. On the one hand, I feel a bit stuck and dissatisfied with what I have done so far this year. But I am also excited about what is about to come and a bit overwhelmed with all that looms on my professional calendar.

At the beginning of the year, I had a sense of things I wanted to get done in 2023. My life has been filled with enough uncertainty over the past few years, that I knew better than to fill out a work schedule in ink. But I had goals; I still do, and they remain much the same. The busier calendar on my work horizon won’t make it any easier to get work done. Or will it? I work better when my deadlines are immutable, and once I have revised the third Chalice War book, I will be finished  with most of my editing duties for the year. More time for writing — yay!!

So, that’s where I am at the 1/4 mark. Where are you?

Keep writing!

Monday Musings: The Things We Say, The Things We Don’t Say

Let’s begin with a couple of quick exercises. First, I want you to pause for a moment and think of someone you’re fond of to whom you have something to say, something you haven’t yet said. Think of your feelings for this person. Maybe it’s a close friend, someone you have leaned on for support recently, someone who ought to hear directly from you just how much you appreciate them. Maybe it’s a friend who you wish was more, but you haven’t yet gathered the courage to say, “I think I’m in love with you.” Maybe it’s an acquaintance, someone you don’t know well, but would like to know better. Maybe you’re thinking it’s time to say to that person, “Hey, want to grab a coffee? I think we could be good friends.”

And now I want you to ask yourself why you haven’t yet spoken the words. Is it fear of being rebuffed, fear of making yourself vulnerable? Are you afraid it would just seem awkward? Have you convinced yourself there’s no time in the day for such things, that you simply haven’t had the chance? [Spoiler alert: At one time or another in my adult life, I have been in all those situations listed in the first paragraph, and I have not spoken up for all the reasons — and more — enumerated in the second.]

Second exercise: Now think of the Other People in your life, the ones who have wronged you, who have angered you, who have hurt you, or who have done the same to someone you love. And think of the one thing you would like to say to them. I’m not referring here to the simple “F____ you!” or “Go to H____!” I’m suggesting you think of something you would like to say to them calmly, rationally, something that would be substantive, that would convey to them the full measure of why what they did or said was wrong and hurtful and damaging.

And again, I want you to ask yourself why you haven’t yet spoken the words. Is it fear of confrontation, fear of their reaction? Is it an unwillingness to revisit something unpleasant that is now over and done? Is it your sense that you could never say completely and eloquently enough what it is you really wish they could hear? Or is it more immediate than that? Is it that the person you’re thinking of for exercise 2 is also one of the people you thought of for exercise 1, and you fear bringing up the hurt again lest you kill a still-valued friendship or romance? [Again, over the course of my adult life, I have been in all these situations as well.]

This being a Monday Musings post, it will come as no surprise to any of you that I have been giving these issues a good deal of thought in recent weeks and months.

I was brought up in a family that did not suppress expressions of love or anger. We were an affectionate family, and we followed the example of our loving, affectionate parents. We could be a combative family, and we followed the example of those same parents, who actually bickered quite a lot, and occasionally had some pretty heated arguments. I was brought up believing that expressing emotions was healthy (mostly), that just as it we owed it to one another to say the extra nice thing, we also owed it to ourselves to speak our minds when put out (mostly).

When I was in graduate school, I shared a house with someone who remains to this day a cherished friend. Her family did NOT express anger, and so the first time I expressed annoyance with her about some trivial household thing, she grew very upset. I tried to explain my upbringing, to make her understand that just because I was angry, it didn’t mean I no longer wanted to be her housemate or her friend. She caught on quickly, and by the time we moved out of our place, she was much more comfortable giving voice to her anger. Funny, her spouse has never thanked me for this . . . .

Still, speaking freely with family and close friends is relatively easy. Doing so with people we don’t know as well can be a challenge. As I have grown older, I have grown far more comfortable sharing the extra kind word with people I know less well. Most respond well to expressions of appreciation or regard, and I am ALWAYS conscious of saying what I wish to say in words and in contexts that will not come across as creepy in any way.

But then there’s that anger thing. Just as expressing ourselves with those we know best is easier than it might be with looser acquaintances, so is kindness easier to share than anger. This may seem counterintuitive, especially given the breakdown of civil discourse across so much of present-day society. Again, though, I’m not talking about the verbal equivalent of flipping the bird, which IS easy. I’m talking about opening up and saying, “You wronged me, and here’s why it made me feel hurt or angry or diminished.” That is an act of intimacy, which is why many who find it relatively easy to say, “I love you,” can barely fathom saying, “I’m angry with you.”

There are in my life right now a number of people to whom I would like to express resentment, my sense of having been wronged. For myself, for a loved one — when the bonds are close enough it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. And as I contemplate such encounters, as I try to game out the conversations in my head, anticipating where they might lead, I find myself asking those questions I brought up earlier. Why haven’t I done this already? What do I believe such expressions if emotion might cost me (or my loved one)? What do I think I would gain from speaking my mind, and is it worth the potential risks or fallout?

As with so many of my recent Monday posts, I have no clear answers for the questions I’m asking. I know there are things I want to say, and at times in the past I have dealt with similar feelings by writing letters — letters I know I will never send, but which allow me to put words to my emotions so I can move on and look in the eye the objects of my anger.

Perhaps that is what I’ll do again. Or perhaps the time has come to speak my mind.

Have a great week.

Professional Wednesday: What Holds Me Back, part III — Imposter Syndrome and Other Insecurities

Continuing my series of posts on “What Holds Me Back,” I turn today to more difficult issues. In my experience, the greatest challenges creators face are emotional ones, and I have struggled with such things throughout my career. This is a complex subject, and not one that’s easy to cover in a single post, though I intend to try. The problem is, the emotional obstacles we face are varied and at times debilitating. Imposter syndrome, lack of self-confidence (which is different), excessive comparison of our own achievements and disappointments with those of others — these things and more can keep us from accomplishing all we hope to.

I’m not going to hold back in this post. My own experiences will only be helpful for the rest of you if I’m completely honest, so that’s my intent.

Let me begin with the obvious: I have been a professional writer for close to thirty years and in my calmer, more rational moments, I feel pretty good about my abilities and also about what I have done over my decades in the business. While I’ve never been a huge name in the field, I have been publishing long and short fiction continuously for my entire career. I consistently get good reviews, I have won several awards, and I enjoy the respect of my peers. In short, I have no reason to be anything but proud of what I have achieved as a writer.

And yet . . . .

That is, as I say, the rational view of my professional life. The thing about all the emotions I mentioned in the opening paragraph is that they’re not rational. They’re anything but. Yet they are persistent and pervasive, and they can be utterly crippling.

I have written before about imposter syndrome. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, it is self-explanatory: Imposter syndrome is the unfounded belief that, despite our qualifications and successes, we are undeserving of our status and whatever accolades we might have received. I recall years ago talking about imposter syndrome with a friend, someone who was at the time far more established in the field than I, and who had enjoyed some serious commercial success. I asked this person when I could expect my imposter syndrome to go away. My friend laughed. “When you find out, let me know.”

Based on conversations I’ve had and on reading I’ve done, I sense that imposter syndrome is fairly common across the creative arts, affecting visual artists and writers, movie stars and rock ’n roll icons. (It also happens to be common among academics, so it seems I was destined to deal with it no matter which career path I followed.)

It may seem that lacking self-confidence is the same as suffering from imposter syndrome. And certainly a case can be made that a shortage of confidence contributes to what I’ve just described. But really they are separate phenomena. As I have said, imposter syndrome is a real problem for me personally, lack of self-confidence less so. Still, I have dealt with it off and on, and I have seen the impact a profound lack of confidence can have on talented writers. It can make them question their ideas, it can keep them from moving forward with manuscripts because they constantly retreat into rewrites of perfectly good stories in order to fix imagined problems, and worst of all, it can prevent them from sending out stories and books for consideration. That same lack of self-assurance can bring with it social anxieties that prevent writers from taking advantage of convention and workshop situations. As I said before, it can be debilitating.

And finally, I mentioned early in the post our tendency to compare ourselves excessively with our peers and colleagues. Another friend of mine once referred to this as Locus Syndrome, Locus being the newsletter of the science fiction and fantasy fields, where many in the industry announce awards, new contracts, sales of secondary rights, and other career milestones. I no longer subscribe to Locus because the arrival of each issue set off my worst comparison tendencies. Why is that publisher taking so-and-so’s novel when they passed on mine? Why did that person receive that award; why didn’t I? Why did my publisher take out a full-page ad for writer “x” when they merely included my book in a group advertisement?

No, I’m not kidding. I really did stuff like this to myself. More, I was hardly alone in this regard. And I can tell you, just as jealousy in a relationship can undermine love and trust, envy in one’s professional life destroys everything it touches. Many of the people I envied I also considered friends, and my jealousy of their triumphs kept me from being fully happy for them, as I should have been. It placed a strain on our relationships.

Imposter syndrome, lack of confidence, envy directed at colleagues — all of these have held me back at one time or another over the course of my career. And I would argue that all are exacerbated by a simple truth about the writing industry and the arts in general: the markers we use to chart our progress and our achievements, all tend to be external. Reviews and awards, story or book sales and new contracts, Amazon rankings and royalty statements. Not only do these forms of feedback come from outside, they all lie well beyond our control. Sure, we can publicize our work and hope that will impact our numbers. And yes, we can write our books well, and so influence reviews. But really our reach in terms of sales and reviews is quite limited.

And this is why I often return to the idea of self-defining our successes. There are a lot of authors out there these days, and they’re producing a lot of books. There’s no guarantee that our book is going to be noticed or reviewed. There is no guarantee it will sell. Which means one of two things — either the lack of attention is going to make us jealous of more successful writers and cause us to question our talent, our imagination, the quality of our work, OR we are going to take satisfaction in our own achievements regardless of the feedback we get externally.

I’m not naïve. Like I said, I’ve been in the business for thirty years. I’ve seen a lot, experienced a lot, had my share of both triumphs and disappointments. I know better than most how publishing works. Obviously, we need good sales to further our careers. Obviously, we want good reviews to help us gain recognition for our work. I would never claim otherwise. What I’m saying is this: NOT getting those things does not mean our work is unworthy. It does not mean we don’t belong in the profession. It should not cause us to question all. And to be honest, I am saying these things — again — as much for myself as for you. We all need to hear it.

Keep writing.

Monday Musings: Joni Mitchell and the Creative Journey

Reckless Daughter, by David JaffeRecently, I have been reading a biography of Joni Mitchell (a holiday gift from my older daughter), a long-time favorite of mine and, in my opinion, the finest songwriter in the history of rock and roll (more on that shortly). It’s been an interesting read — the author is a bit fawning for my taste, and a bit too eager as well to weave Mitchell’s (admittedly phenomenal) lyrics into his prose. But as is often the case when I read biographies of artists I admire, the book made me think about creativity and the artistic process.

First, to my statement about Joni Mitchell’s place in rock history: In my opinion, if you look at her lyrical work, her melodies, and the remarkable alternate tunings she brought to her guitar work (a response to the weakening of her hand that resulted from a childhood battle with polio), she emerges as the most innovative, eloquent songwriter rock music has ever seen. And if she was a man, I don’t think there would be any argument. I know Bob Dylan is generally recognized as the best, but though his lyrics are great I believe his music and melodies lack the sparkling originality one sees in Mitchell’s songs. Honestly, I believe Joni’s toughest competition comes not from Dylan but from Paul Simon, whose music is as brilliant as his poetry. And between Simon and Mitchell the comparison is quite close. I prefer Mitchell ever so slightly.

In 1971, as Joni Mitchell was preparing to bring out her next album, she had already established herself as one of THE up-and-coming songwriters on the folkrock scene. Other artists had enjoyed success covering her songs, most notably Judy Collins with “Both Sides Now,” and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young with “Woodstock.” But Joni herself had yet to become a performing star. That changed with the 1971 release of Blue, an album that is revered, and rightfully so. Its ten songs are uniformly excellent — there isn’t a dud in the collection. And several, most notably the incredible “A Case of You,” are as good as any songs put out by any of the singer-songwriters of the late ’60s and early ’70s. She followed Blue with 1972’s For the Roses, an album that has been added to the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry, an honor reserved for recordings of historic and/or aesthetic significance. In 1974, she released Court and Spark, her biggest commercial success, and Miles of Aisles, her first live album. She followed these with The Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975) and Hejira (1976). Five years, five studio albums and a live recording. The studio albums are remarkable for their consistent quality (among all the recordings I can think of one song — one — that is less than great) and their stunning musical diversity. The live album is just damn good.

I would challenge anyone to point to a better, more productive five-year stretch from any artist. Yeah, I know: The Beatles. Next to Mitchell’s songs, their early efforts sound simplistic, and the quality of their later production is sporadic.

So, yeah, in my opinion, Joni Mitchell is a once in a generation talent, who was slow to gain the recognition she deserved because she was a woman trying to find fame in a man’s world.

But I also have to say that I found the biography’s personal portrait of her disturbing and disappointing. Her incredible ego, her flirtation with casual racism, her inability to let go of old grudges or admit fault in any number of longstanding feuds, her tendency toward harsh judgments and summary dismissals of colleagues, old lovers, and former business partners, her self-destructive addiction to cigarettes, which ruined her voice — they all combined to leave me with the sense that while I love to listen to her music, I wouldn’t wish to know her. (This is not a quirk of this biography — another Mitchell biography left me feeling much the same way.)

More, I was struck as well by the degree to which her artistic sensibility and creative ambitions undermined her commercial success. I mentioned earlier that the brilliant studio albums she put out in the early 1970s were musically diverse. I cannot emphasize this enough. Blue was the ultimate expression on the singer-songwriter movement. Lyrically, For the Roses is just as good, but the music is far more complex, the instrumentation richer. Court and Spark manages to be commercial, capturing perfectly the pop sensibility of the early 1970s, while also offering breathtakingly eloquent poetry. Hissing of Summer Lawns begins her embrace of jazz themes, taking her music in unexpected directions, and Hejira refines and perfects that combination of jazz and pop.

But with Hejira her audience began to drop off slightly. The following studio album, Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter, which continued her experimentation with jazz and pop themes and pushed her music in less accessible directions, saw a more dramatic drop in sales. The trend continued for the rest of her musically productive years. She never recaptured the success of her early albums. By comparison, Paul Simon continued to experiment musically as well and found renewed success in the 1980s with Graceland and The Rhythm of the Saints. Miles Davis, the king of cool jazz and a favorite of Mitchell’s (and mine), experimented throughout his long career, sometimes with stunning success, other times with results that fell flat with fans and critics alike.

Other musicians I listen to — James Taylor, CSN, Elton John, Bonnie Raitt, to name a few — didn’t change their sounds all that much. They were content to follow the formulas that made them successful without the sort of experimentation and risk-taking one sees in Mitchell’s career arc. As a result, they have continued to sell. Also as a result, their creative journeys seem less impressive, less weighty.

Years and years ago, I met a writing hero of mine, a person I had read early in life whose works made me want to become a published author. This person spoke with some bitterness about the trajectory of their career. They had shifted directions after their early successful series, only to find that their audience fell off dramatically. When they changed directions a second time after the aforementioned project sold poorly, they lost even more of their audience. The writer’s message was clear: If you’re doing well with what you’re writing, keep writing it.

I have changed directions a few times in my career, with mixed commercial results. The Thieftaker books originally represented a marked departure from what I had done before. They sold quite well (albeit under a different name). Other shifts in direction have proven less fortuitous. But every time I have taken on a new project I have been driven more by artistic impulses rather than by commercial ones. I suppose that is evidenced by my sales . . . . [Rimshot] But without daring to put myself on an artistic level with the likes of Joni Mitchell (or any of the other creators I’ve mentioned by name) I would say that I have followed her example, or at least attempted to.

I write the story that burns in my heart. With the exceptions of the media tie-in work I’ve done, I have never taken on a project for financial reasons. I write what I’m eager to write. I love to challenge myself with new sub-genres, with new worlds and characters and themes. I think I would have long since lost interest in writing had I not taken my creativity in so many different directions.

Which is not to say this is the “right” approach, or that others who follow a different course are “wrong.” The fact is, I don’t listen to any of Joni Mitchell’s later albums. I don’t like them. On the other hand, I buy and listen to everything James Taylor puts out, because I know what I’m going to get, and I like the sound. And no, to anticipate the next question, I would not want people to make similar choices with respect to my books.

I have no answers, no absolutes to embrace, no advice to offer. This is one of those Monday posts that’s long on musing and short on solid conclusions. Each of us must follow our own creative path. I admire Joni Mitchell’s integrity, and I am awed by her brilliance. I certainly understand the artistic decisions she has made over the course of her career. And yet, I would have loved for her to put out more albums like those I loved from the Blue-to-Hejira era.

I also know that when people tell me, “I wish you would write more LonTobyn books,” I always want to respond, “Really? Have you seen the stuff I’ve written since? It’s SO much better . . . .”

I have been, and remain, of two minds about all of this. And I continue to muse.

Have a great week.

Creative Friday: THE CHALICE WAR: CAULDRON Cover Reveal!!

The Chalice War: Stone, by David B. CoeAs I have mentioned previously, the release of the first book in my upcoming Celtic urban fantasy, The Chalice War (Bell Bridge Books), has been delayed. We had hoped for February. It will be May.

After that, though, the other two books in the trilogy will come fairly quickly. You have already seen the gorgeous art for book I, THE CHALICE WAR: STONE, and yet I offer it again above. Because how can you see it enough, right?

And today, I offer as well, the cover reveal for book II, THE CHALICE WAR: CAULDRON. I am so jazzed about the look of these novels. Book II is set in Australia — in Sydney and its surrounds — where my family and I lived for a year back in 2005-2006. It was so fun to revisit our experiences there as I wrote the various scenes. And that bird on the cover is an Australian Magpie.

So, there it is! Enjoy!

The Chalice War: Cauldron, by David B. Coe

Professional Wednesday: What Holds Me Back, part II — Building a Platform

Last week, I started my newest series for the Professional Wednesday feature: “What Holds Me Back.” My first entry was on life in general, and the ways in which we learn to cope with life’s intrusions on our creative output.

This week I would like to shift my focus a bit to more writing-specific obstacles that can hold us back in one way or another. As it happens, there are a lot of them, so it may be this series will stick around for a while. But let’s begin with all those things that fall under the heading of “building our platform.”

Children of Amarid, by David B. Coe (jacket art by Romas Kukalis)I’ll preface this discussion with the obvious: I’m old. I’ve been in this business for a long time — it’s been nearly three decades since I signed my first contract. When I got started in the business, publishers were just beginning to expect that writers would maintain websites. Websites! Facebook and Twitter and the rest didn’t even exist. And when we signed contracts, writers could rightfully expect that our publishers would handle the bulk of the necessary publicity, which consisted mainly of taking out ads in journals, sending review copies to print magazines (kids, ask your parents) and other critical venues, setting up newspaper, radio, and television interviews, and arranging signing tours and individual store events.

My point being that the days of publisher-centric publicity have long since passed. Our jobs as writers have become far, far more demanding in so many ways. In the age of self-publishing, many of us are now required to get our own jacket artwork, to arrange for our own editing, to typeset our own books. But in today’s marketplace, ALL of us are responsible for creating audiences for our books. We are the ones who advertise our releases, who set up events, who make our marketing decisions. And social media gives us the opportunity to interact with and get to know our fans in ways I never would have dreamed possible at the outset of my career.

More than ever, we are not just writers. We are publicists and advertisers. We maintain our social media presence, and many of us also create additional content for blogs. All of these things can be time-sinks, and therein lies the danger. I know of many writers who, at the outsets of their careers, become so obsessed with “building a platform” or “establishing a fan base” or “finding their readership” that they leave themselves no time to do the one crucial thing all writers have to do to be successful: write their stories.

Yes, I am aware of the irony. Here I am blogging about the perils of spending too much time on one’s blog (among other things). But the danger is real, and it can become a trap for many. After so many years as a professional writer, I have gotten to the point where I can be productive on demand. I can turn out two one-thousand-word blog posts in a day and still have time left over to edit a couple of story manuscripts for the anthology, or I can get a couple of thousand words written on a work-in-progress and then write a thousand words more for the blog. I couldn’t have done this early in my career; writing in volume and switching gears among various professional tasks are skills I have developed over years. I think if I had started my career ten or fifteen years later, I would have struggled mightily to build my audience and simultaneously write my novels.

I have managed to maintain the regular Monday and Wednesday features of this blog, to turn out material on a regular basis, by making blogging a habit. I devote one day a week — usually the same day each week — to getting the posts written. Yes, I am sorry to blow-up such a carefully maintained illusion, but I DON’T write my blog posts on the days they go up. Sometimes, when I know I’ll be traveling during a given week, I will have posts, particularly the Professional Wednesday entries, scheduled a week or two in advance. I try not to allow post deadlines to loom. Why? Because currently I enjoy maintaining this blog and I don’t want it to become A Thing I Dread. And more to the point, I don’t want it ever to get in the way of work I have to do.

The Chalice War-Stone, by David B. CoeBlogging and social media are extras. Yes, in this day and age, they are important extras. Crucial, some might say. We have to publicize our books, or no one will buy them or read them. But as vital as this part of the job might seem, I would once again turn the previous phrase on its head: We have to publicize in order to be read? Yes, we do. But more important by far is this: We have to write the books in order for any of that publicity to be worth a damn.

Writers write. As I said earlier, the single most important thing we can do to further our careers, to build our audiences, to draw the notice of the industry, is write our fiction (or non-fiction, if that’s your thing). If you can maintain your output while also spending time each day blogging and feeding the social media beast, good for you. You’re more accomplished than I am. But if you find that you’re not getting as much done on your stories and books as you would like, check to see if maybe you’re spending too much time on the other stuff. And if you are, make the adjustment.

Platforms are great. But if you don’t have books to sell from them, all you’ve got is a flat expanse of wood.

Keep writing.

Monday Musings: About That Birthday I Was Dreading . . . .

“You want to complain about a birthday?” Life said. “I’ll give you a birthday to complain about.”

Last week, as usual, I wrote two posts. On Monday, I ruminated about my approaching birthday, making it clear that I was feeling a bit down about growing older and was having trouble putting myself in the birthday spirit. And then, in my Professional Wednesday post, I began a new series of posts — “What Holds Me Back” — about the things that sometimes limit my productivity. And I began the series with an entry about coping with life issues in general.

As it happens, I managed to write both posts ahead of time. I had them ready to go before the weekend was over. And boy did those posts come back to bite me in the ass.

In the Wednesday post, I wrote this about life, or rather Life, which I anthropomorphized to make a point:

“Life is a fickle bastard, with a cruel streak a mile wide, a perverse — at times evil — sense of humor, and a preternatural knack for intruding at the absolute worst moment. But Life can also be charming, deeply attractive, kind, generous, and downright fun . . . . Life is as changeable as March weather, as unpredictable as the best storyline, and as relentless as time itself. Life happens constantly; Life will not sit quietly in a corner reading a book and respecting our need for calm just because we have a looming deadline or a new idea we are eager to explore. Life lives to mess with us.”

Given how well I seem to understand Life’s perverse nature, you’d think I would have known what would happen if I complained about an upcoming birthday.

My birthday was yesterday. I have spent the last week sick with Covid. Nancy and I made plans to travel for the weekend, to get down to St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge to do some hiking and birdwatching and photography. We had to cancel the trip. She made me a cake last weekend, while I was writing the aforementioned posts. We wound up freezing it, because with Covid stealing my sense of smell, I couldn’t taste it at all.

“You want to complain about a birthday?” Life said. “I’ll give you a birthday to complain about.”

Jokes and sarcasm aside, I have to say, “Message received.”

Birthdays, someone once said, are the price we pay for growing older. We love them as kids, of course. We want nothing more than to add to the running total, to get Older, because with Older comes perks, not to mention presents. The presents get better with age. The perks too, for a while, and then less so. But my dad always used to say about getting older, “it’s better than the alternative.”

I won’t spend a lot of time on the “yes, life is hard, but I have so much to be thankful for” thing. I touched on this last week and it remains true. My life IS hard these days. I know precious few people who have it easy. And I am deeply grateful for the life I have, private and professional. But reading back through last Monday’s post, I realize I wasn’t complaining so much as struggling to accept what I couldn’t and wouldn’t want to prevent. I was down, and I wrote about it.

And again, Life was, like, “You’re think you’re down now? Hold my beer.”

So, here I am, on the day after my birthday, at the end of a truly crappy week of fever and coughing and isolation and in-home masking and tasteless, aroma-less food . . . and I feel much better about turning a year older than I would have imagined possible when writing last week’s post. Like some Jimmy-Stewart-from-It’s-A-Wonderful-Life wannabe, I have seen that things could be substantially worse than they are, that being a youthful (not to mention immature) 60 is really not half bad. It’s not that I was imagining myself as a Covid patient forever, but rather that I was made hyper-aware of all the things I value in my routine, all the things I love to do — things that were denied me by the fever and taste-loss and social distancing. My morning workout, my walks, my regular work schedule, relaxed time with Nancy, get-togethers with friends, bird walks and photo walks and signing along with my guitar (my voice is still recovering), good wine and good whisky and all the wonderful foods Nancy and I make and eat.

The everyday, the humdrum, the same old same old — it turns out, I love that shit. My routine is pretty darn good, and the little things I enjoy each day — my morning smoothie and afternoon iced coffee, our household guac recipe — mean more to me than I realized, at least until I couldn’t taste them anymore. Life’s challenges remain, and, yeah, I’m sixty fucking years old. But I’m good, thanks. And when I’m not, I know that the people I love have my back. There are far, far worse things.

Wishing you all a wonderful week.

Professional Wednesday: What Holds Me Back, part I — Life Issues

As we turn the calendar to March, I thought I would turn to a new series of posts in my Professional Wednesday feature. This month, as I struggle with a bit of work-related inertia, I have decided some might find it helpful to read about “What Holds Me Back.” Because let’s be honest — those of us who seek to make a living as professional creators face no shortage of obstacles to productivity. We have to be self-motivated, we have to be disciplined, we have to be imaginative and prolific on demand. None of this is easy and at times it seems hobgoblins lurk in every corner, threatening to undermine even the most sincere determination to get stuff done.

What — or who — are my hobgoblins? How do they disrupt my work patterns, and what do I do to keep them at bay? These are the questions I hope to address in the next several Wednesday posts.

This week, I address perhaps the most obvious and formidable hobgoblin of them all: Life.

Life is a fickle bastard, with a cruel streak a mile wide, a perverse — at times evil — sense of humor, and a preternatural knack for intruding at the absolute worst moment. But Life can also be charming, deeply attractive, kind, generous, and downright fun. This is part of what makes Life such a difficult opponent in the battle over productivity. Life is as changeable as March weather, as unpredictable as the best storyline, and as relentless as time itself. Life happens constantly; Life will not sit quietly in a corner reading a book and respecting our need for calm just because we have a looming deadline or a new idea we are eager to explore. Life lives to mess with us.

All strange metaphors aside, in my experience, relating to my own work output and also my interactions with other professionals, general life disruptions are responsible for the vast majority of missed deadlines and punted obligations. Sometimes it’s the (relatively) small stuff — a kid with a bad cold or stomach bug, a blown car engine or flat tire, a flooded basement or loss of power. Sometimes it’s more serious than that — an ailing elderly parent, a dire illness in the family, a failing marriage, the death of a friend or relative. I’ve faced my share of such things — not all, but enough; every one of us has.

And in the short term, there is nothing we can do about them. Life imposes its own exigencies. When our kid is sick or our parents are fading or a relative or friend is in need, we have no choice but to prioritize the people we love and the obligations we’ve taken on as parents and partners, offspring and siblings and friends. No one with a thread of compassion or decency should punish or blame us for this. Those who would, do so at their own risk, because eventually they, too, will be on the receiving end of Life’s caprice.

The problem comes later, after the crisis has passed, but while the aftermath lingers. Nearly two years ago, when our daughter received her cancer diagnosis, I withdrew from . . . well, pretty much everything. I told my agent and editor that I wouldn’t be able to make a deadline that was still a couple of months away. I stopped seeing friends. I hunkered down with my fear and my grief and my anger, and I essentially surrendered to this terrible thing Life had done to my family and me. I was sure I couldn’t work through it, and so I didn’t even think it worthwhile to make the attempt.

Nancy responded differently, not because she is better or stronger than I am (although she might well be both . . .) but because she deals with emotional strain differently. She is great at compartmentalizing, which is good, because at the time she had a high-stress, high-profile job. In the time since, she has advanced to a position that is even more high-stress and high-profile. Her ability to compartmentalize has served her well.

I don’t have that ability. I can’t compartmentalize. But, I realized, I had a different ability I could harness. I had learned years ago — when we lost my parents, and later when we lost my eldest brother — to channel my grief and pain into my art. And it didn’t take me long after hearing the news of our daughter’s illness to understand that was precisely what I needed to do. Within a week of calling my agent and editor to tell them I was pulling back, I sent them new messages. I am working through this. I will make my deadline.

INVASIVES, by David B. Coe (Jacket art courtesy of Belle Books)And I did. The book was Invasives, by the way. It contains the best character work I’ve ever done, and that is no coincidence.

I suffer from anxiety and panic disorder. I sometimes walk the edge of depression. I know as well as anyone that coping with life is hard, and that glib, easy-fix solutions to the shit life throws at us are worse than useless. Such facile responses can actually hurt, because they suggest to those of us who struggle that the problem isn’t the circumstance but rather our inability to deal with it.

But I know as well, from my own experience, that we don’t have to be whole to create. Life elicits emotion and those emotions can overwhelm and paralyze. The thing is, though, we’re creators, and emotion is our bread and butter. Yes, at times the emotions we feel in life’s rawest moments are like a downed electrical wire. We touch them at our own risk. As I found a couple of years ago, however, we can be resilient in the face of the worst circumstances. Long before I was ready to interact with other people, I was ready, even eager, to take hold of that live wire and use it for something constructive and healing.

Life can disrupt our art. We all know this. But we are alchemists at heart. We can turn grief and hurt and fear and anger into golden moments on the page (or the canvas or the guitar or the stage — whatever). And, for me at least, that is how I keep life from holding me back.

Keep writing.

Monday Musings: Facing Down a Big Birthday

I am staring down the barrel of a big birthday. This time next week, I’ll have passed a dubious milestone, and the fact is, right now I’m struggling a bit with the whole getting older thing.

Yes, I know the clichés. Even on my birthday, I only get a day older. Age is a state of mind. Growing older beats the alternative.

None of them is helping right now.

I remember feeling similarly ten years ago, as I neared my last milestone birthday. I was (and am again) acutely aware of being far closer to my dotage than to my youth. Since that last big birthday, I’ve lost a brother, watched as my older daughter battles serious illness, lost my mother-in-law and a brother-in-law, and more friends than I care to count. Life has been challenging, and at the same time wondrous and fun and rewarding, making it feel all the more precious.

Sometimes I write posts with a lesson in mind, or as a way of dispensing what little wisdom I might have. Other times, I write searching for answers. This post doesn’t fit neatly into either of those patterns. I have no wisdom today. I don’t know what lesson I might offer to myself, much less to someone else. And, frankly, I am not seeking advice from others. As I say, I know the platitudes. I am deeply grateful for all I have and all I have accomplished. And I am certain the answer for what ails me right now lies entirely within.

I think in part I am eager — impatient, even — to get on with the next phase of my life. Nancy and I have raised our children, we have enjoyed our careers, we have worked hard to set ourselves up financially for what we call “retirement,” although I don’t think it will really be a retirement in any traditional sense. I don’t intend to stop working, and while Nancy is ready for whatever might be next, she is also open to any and all possibilities in that respect. All I know is that I am looking forward to changing the pace of the life we share so that we can enjoy each other and the things we love doing together.

And so in a way, my resistance to this birthday is rooted in that impatience, but also in the understanding that the work we did to get to this point in our shared life took thirty-plus years and swooped by in a flash of laughter and love, struggle and grief. The time we have left to enjoy the fruits of that work feels potentially too brief by comparison.

When Nancy and I started dating (in our mid-late twenties), we told each other we would give the relationship eighty years, and if at the end of those eighty years together we felt the relationship wasn’t working anymore, we’d go our separate ways. Obviously, we said this with tongues firmly in cheek. But in all honestly, I want my eighty years. Every one of them. Right now, that romantic fantasy is bumping up against the reality of my 60th birthday.

I have written before of my emotional health issues. I have been candid about my struggles and also about the comfort and growth I have found in therapy. I have learned that whatever I am working on at a particular moment rarely impacts my mood and health in a vacuum. It’s all connected, even if I don’t always see the connections right away. I am certain my current hyper-awareness of my own mortality is tied to my brother Bill’s death five years ago, and also to my ongoing worries about my daughter’s health. I know it is connected as well to lingering professional ambitions and dissatisfaction with elements of my career path.

This is what I meant when I said the answers lie within. I know that next week I will only be seven days older than I am now, not a year. I know as well that the coming decade will be filled with . . . well, with life — with pleasure and pain, joy and sadness, good days and bad. Many have told me that they have LOVED life in their sixties. I intend to as well.

But to draw inspiration from the incomparable Ned Ryerson, I also know that first step is going to be a doozy . . . .

Have a great week.

Professional Wednesday: My Best Mistakes, part IV — Managing Expectations

The Outlanders, by David B. Coe (jacket art by Romas Kukalis)For the past several weeks, I have been sharing “My Best Mistakes,” which have included inappropriate remarks at a convention, poor business decisions, and replies to reviews. This week’s “Best Mistake” is a little different, in that it’s less about interactions with others and potential damage to my career than it is about self-care and maintaining equilibrium in a difficult profession.

I started my career as a complete unknown in fantasy and science fiction. This was before Amazon had ever turned a profit. It was before ebooks had really become a thing. If one aspired to a notable writing career, New York traditional publishing was essentially the only game in town. So when I sold my first novel to Tor Books, one of the top names in speculative fiction, I was excited. My first advances, I now realize, were actually pretty decent, although at the time they felt small. But I dreamed of bigger things to come.

Jacket art for Bonds of Vengeance, book III in Winds of the Forelands, by David B. Coe (Jacket art by Romas Kukalis)My first series, the LonTobyn Chronicle, did well. It won the Crawford Award as the best fantasy by a new author, and my sales grew steadily. Children of Amarid would eventually go through six printings. When I signed contracts for my second series of novels, Winds of the Forelands, Tor gave me significantly higher per-book advances.

I say all of this not to brag, but rather to set up a discussion of my expectations at that point in my professional development. Up through the releases of the first couple of Forelands books, my career had followed a steady upward trajectory. And — my big mistake — I began to assume that this was simply the way of things. I was climbing, just as I had hoped. My career, I thought, would build and build and build. Maybe I would never be a huge seller, but I would improve my sales with each publication, and improve my advances with each new contract.

It never occurred to me that the industry would undergo a set of seismic transformations, impacting everything from publishing’s corporate structures to the way we read books, and undermining all assumptions about the publishing business. On a personal level, it never occurred to me that certain mistakes made by others would have profoundly negative consequences for my sales. Nor did it occur to me that my luck — and yes, luck plays a large role in all of this — would turn on a dime from terrific to terrible.

To be clear, I wasn’t wrong to hope for progress. Ambition is good. Dreams of growth are good. Rather, my mistake lay in expecting that everything would keep getting better, in assuming that I could anticipate what the publishing industry would look like five years after I started or ten years after. I won’t even say I thought books would always be made of paper, or that the traditional New York publishing model would always remain ascendant. If someone had asked me if I believed such things I would have said no. Change is inevitable. But I certainly didn’t imagine such dramatic transformations would come so quickly.

I also should be clear in saying I know how fortunate I have been to have the career I’ve had. I love what I do. I get to play “let’s pretend” every day and I get paid for doing so! No, my career hasn’t followed the path I had hoped for. But twenty-five-plus years on, I am still writing, still selling novels and stories to publishers.

More to the point, I still love the work I’m producing. While my commercial performance might not improve with every novel, the quality of my writing and storytelling does. I am still learning my craft, and I take great satisfaction in the progress I make as a writer from one project to the next.

But the consequences of my mistake, of my unrealistic and unrealized expectations, were severe and long-lasting. It’s easy to look back now and see the magnitude of those changes in the industry, or appreciate the part chance can play in any writer’s fortunes. But in the moment, I blamed myself for things over which I had no control. I saw the vicissitudes of the business as personal failure. I convinced myself that instances of bad luck were an indication that on some level I didn’t deserve the success of which I had once dreamed. And I grew bitter with each new disappointment. So many times, I considered giving up on this job I love.

It took me years to come to grips with things I probably should have understood sooner. That in any profession, hard work doesn’t always guarantee success; that what we achieve and what we convince ourselves we “deserve” are often not the same; that in business, as in life in general, there is no point in complaining about what is “fair” and what isn’t; and that all any of us can ever do is work to the best of our ability, and treat people with respect and courtesy. The rest is in the hands of fate, or the divine, if that’s your thing.

In the years since those first books had me believing I was on a professional escalator to the proverbial heavens, my career has had plenty of ups and downs. I have had no choice but to adjust to the fact that there is no guarantee of more and more and more success. Waves and troughs, I now know, are the norm. And one of the reasons I am so happy in my work these days — happier than I’ve ever been — is that I have internalized these realizations. I write the stories I want to write, the books I know I would enjoy reading if they weren’t mine. And while I still do what I can to make my books successful, I no longer live and die with sales figures and reviews and such. I do the best work I can do, and that’s enough. It has to be enough. Because that’s life.

Keep writing.