Tag Archives: novels

Professional Wednesday: What Matters In Your Work? Part I

On Monday, I began what will be a series of posts on the things that matter to us, and the ways in which we can make them central to our lives. Not surprisingly, I think about this a great deal with respect to my writing. And I believe all of us, no matter where we are in our careers, can benefit from this sort of thinking.

As with the broader topic, I expect that the question “What matters?” will inform the next few Professional Wednesday posts. Today, I want to take on the question in its broadest sense.

At the start of each year, I spend some time mapping out the coming months, trying to make certain that I schedule my work for the year to come, the various projects I hope to complete, in a way that will maximize my productivity without setting myself up for failure by giving myself unrealistic deadlines or overly ambitious timetables for the completion of manuscripts. It’s a process I’ve written about a couple of times in the past month or so. (Find other posts here and here.)

Creating a work calendar for the year is about more than time management, though. It is also about prioritizing. It is about answering the question “What matters?”

We all have projects we care about and goals that stir our passions. For some, “what matters” is that novel we’ve been trying for years to finish. For others, “what matters” is finally getting that first professional sale, either of a book or a short story. And for others still, “what matters” may simply be finally making writing a daily or weekly habit — getting started on a road that may not reach its final destination this year, but that at least begins here and now.

Whatever your “what matters” might be, it should inform your planning for the coming year.

The Chalice War-Stone, by David B. CoeWhat matters to me? Professionally, for this coming year, a few things. I have a series debuting in February. I want to promote the hell out of it. I want to feel at the end of the release windows — the weeks immediately preceding and following the releases of the three books — that I have done all I could to make the series successful. I also have an old series that I want to re-release. I’ve been talking about doing this for several years now, and each year I have found other projects to take up my time and energy. But this series, Winds of the Forelands, is one about which I am passionate. This is the year I bring it out again. It matters to me. And I want to start something new, a series that will take me in a new direction, I have resisted starting it for a couple of years, I believe because I am intimidated by the magnitude of what I’m taking on. It’s time to get over my hesitation.

Jacket art for Bonds of Vengeance, book III in Winds of the Forelands, by David B. Coe (Jacket art by Romas Kukalis)What about you? I’m not merely asking what you wish to accomplish, though obviously that’s part of the equation. I’m asking as well what you care about. Sure, maybe you want to be published — or at least contracted — by year’s end. That’s a laudable goal. But what project will get you there? What story is burning brightest inside you? What work will bring you joy? What project is most likely to tap into your greatest creative passion? That ought to be part of the equation as well.

Our professional pursuits are not just about what ambitions we’ll realize. They’re also about what matters most to us as artists. Writing, like all acts of creation, is about more than sales and “success,” however we might define that word. Writing is an act of love. This business is too hard, too fickle, too cruel, to be approached solely as a bottom-line endeavor. Often, the truest satisfaction we can hope to draw from our work is the self-recognition of our own achievement. And ultimately, I would argue, our own pride and sense of accomplishment ought to be what matters most.

So as you begin 2023 — and I hope it is a year of accomplishment and satisfaction for all of you — ask yourself “What matters?” Because I guarantee you, if the work — the concept, the narrative, the characters, the settings — matters to you, that emotional connection to the project will show up in your writing. “What matters” is not just about warm and fuzzy feelings. Answering the question will point you toward the most powerful expression of your creative vision.

Keep writing.

Professional Wednesday: Another Celtic Urban Fantasy Teaser!

This is a busy week and I have a lot going on. No time to sit still and write a Professional Wednesday post. And why should I when what you REALLY want is another teaser from my upcoming Celtic urban fantasy release. This, like the first one I shared with you several weeks back, is from The Chalice Wars: Stone, the first volume of the trilogy. It picks up sort of where that last teaser left off. Enjoy! And rest assured: normal Professional Wednesday posts will resume next week.

Keep writing! And read on!

*****

All of these suburban streets looked the same. Treeless yards, soulless cookie-cutter houses, paved driveways with new, expensive SUVs. It was enough to make Marti throw up. And it was likely to make her and her beat up Ford wagon stand out like mutts at a dog show.

If she ever found her house. As far as she could tell Fairlea Lane didn’t exist, though that could have been her fault. She had no sense of direction. None at all. Lots of Sidhe had the same problem. At least Alistar said so. But she had never met anyone who was as bad with a map as she was. She could get lost on a one lane desert highway. She had, in fact.

She wasn’t good with cars, either. Especially new ones with computers in them. She didn’t drive this old junker because she wanted to. She would have loved a sleek new roadster, something shiny and fast. But magic and tech didn’t always mix well.

Reaching an intersection, she stopped and read the street signs. Classic rock blared on her lousy little radio—she hadn’t been able to find any indie stations, and she wasn’t going to listen to country unless she had no other choice. She turned down the music and looked around. She had been here twice already. She was driving in freaking circles. The directions from the real estate agent had sounded so easy. Directions always did.

She leaned out the open window—needless to say, she didn’t have AC in this thing—and called to a cluster of kids playing with sidewalk chalk in a nearby driveway. They stared back at her like she was the monster living under their beds, until one of them got up and ran into the house, probably to tell her mother some crazy woman in a car from Colonial times was trying to kidnap her. Marti thought about driving away, but figured that would freak out the kids and their mom even more. The last thing she wanted was for her first day in the new neighborhood to end with a 911 call.

A woman emerged from the house a few moments later, the little girl peering out from behind her.

The woman halted at the end of her driveway. “Can I help you?” she asked in a clipped southern drawl. She gave the car a quick once over and then fixed her glare on Marti again.

“I hope so,” Marti said, hoping she sounded friendly and helpless, or at the very least sane. “Can you tell me how to get to Fairlea Lane?”

“You here to clean someone’s house?”

No, I’m here to steal your television.

“Actually, I’m moving in.”

For just an instant, Marti expected the woman to call her a liar. She saw the thought flicker in the woman’s eyes. But then she ventured out into the street, closing the distance between herself and Marti’s car.

“You buy the Herrera place?”

Marti shrugged. “I don’t know. The address is 16 Fairlea.”

“Mm hmm,” she said with a nod, “that’s probably the Herrera’s house. They couldn’t make their payments.” I wouldn’t be surprised if the same thing happens to you.

The woman didn’t say it, but Marti could tell she was thinking it as she checked out the car again. Marti hadn’t been here ten minutes and already she hated the place.

“So,” Marti said after an uncomfortable silence, “how do I get there?”

“It’s right over there,” the woman said, pointing toward a line of houses that backed up against hers and her neighbors’. “I’m not sure how you missed Fairlea. You come in from town?”

Marti checked the printed directions lying on the passenger seat. “I turned left from Foster Boulevard onto Sawyer. Is that coming from town?”

The woman nodded again. “Mm hmm. Like I said, I don’t know how you missed it.”

“I’m talented that way.”

She smiled. The woman didn’t.

She pointed to the street in front of them, the one intersecting the lane Marti was on. “This is Greenvale. Follow it around this way.” She pointed to the right. “You’ll pass the playground on your left. Fairlea will be on your right. Once you’re on Fairlea, your house will be three or four houses down, on the left.”

“Thank you.”

Marti pulled forward into the intersection, made a right. She could feel the woman and those kids watching her, but she kept her gaze on the road. Already most of what the woman said was a garbled mess in her head. But there would be a playground, and then Fairlea, and she’d figure out the rest. Or she’d find someone else to scare.

The houses here might have been identical to one another, sitting on barren plots of grass, shrubs, and concrete, but they were good sized. No doubt hers was way too big for one person. She had made it clear to the agent that she needed a home right away—any home. Money, she’d told her, was not an issue.

The account in New York had been Alistar’s idea. He’d even seeded it for her—transferring eight hundred thousand dollars from his own accounts into hers, back when that was some serious money. “Magic is great,” he told her at the time. “But in this world, there’s no substitute for wealth.”

The balances in his accounts were proof that living for two hundred years and having access to divination magic, could make a man very rich. And over the forty-plus years Marti had been squirreling money away in her account, it had grown into a pretty impressive nest egg—mid-seven figures. Alistar’s account was worth more than ten times as much. The manager on their accounts, Michael Craig, was also Sidhe, and had helped them with whatever paperwork and bureaucratic hassles came up over the years. Marti had opened her account under her real name—Diana Taylor—and had transferred it several years back to a new name—Carolyn Taylor, claiming that she was Diana’s daughter.

Michael’s colleagues at the bank were more than willing to believe her; Diana was born in the 1940s and couldn’t possibly have looked as young as Marti did. Getting the necessary documents proved easy. Marti had at least half a dozen birth certificates and social security cards stashed away, as did Alistar, just in case. Just in case: That had been their mantra. The hardest part had been keeping up with who they were, seeing to it that each of their various aliases listed a different alias as his or her spouse. The last thing they needed was for all their meticulous planning to be undone by a careless foray into polygamy.

The point was, Marti could have held out for something nicer, even if it cost her twice as much. But she was more interested in quick than nice. She needed a home, for herself and for Alistar’s stone. And in this case, quick also meant cheap—foreclosed, the construction not quite complete. She’d been able to buy it outright, with a bank check. No waiting, no mortgage papers to sign. She didn’t know how long she would stay. If history was any guide, she’d be moving again within a year or two; maybe sooner. But she owned the paper on the house, and so could do with it as she pleased.

She rolled past the playground on her left, and saw the intersection with Fairlea coming up on the right. Another group of kids played kickball on Fairlea, and they scampered to the sidewalks when they saw her turn, then gaped at her as she crept by.

Aside from them, and a pair of lawnmower-wielding gardeners a few lots down, the street was deserted. Four in the afternoon on a Friday, and there was no one here at all. A couple of bicycles lay abandoned in driveways, and in the distance a sprinkler twirled lazily in the middle of an unnaturally perfect lawn. Dogs barked; a mockingbird perched atop a telephone pole went through its repertoire, mimicking a jay, a robin, a goldfinch.

Number sixteen was the fourth house on the left, just as the woman had told her. There was little to distinguish it from the homes on either side of it. Beige vinyl siding, black shutters flanking the windows, a brick walkway leading to the front landing, a door of polished wood, with narrow etched glass windows on either side of it, and a half moon of triangular glass panes above. Marti couldn’t decide if it all struck her as tasteful or tacky. Either way, Alistar would have hated it, if for no other reason than the siding.

“I will not live in a plastic house!” he’d once told her, when they were working out the logistics of one of their many moves. “If that’s my choice, the Fomhoire can kill me now.”

She remembered laughing at this at the time; both of them had. It wasn’t funny anymore.

Marti pulled into the driveway and shut off the engine. But she didn’t get out. She stared at the house, at the yard, at the houses around hers.

Her lawn had been cut within the last few days, apparently for the first time in ages. Long strands of dried grass littered the walkway. Even groomed, though, the yard didn’t look healthy. Large patches of brown, dead grass covered much of the lot, and the flower beds—if that’s what they were meant to be—were filled with wilted shrubs and dried leaves from the one tree, an oak, shading the front of the house. She had little hope the backyard would be in better shape.

“Not exactly the garden we left behind, old man.”

She hoped she’d find a place in back where she could put the stone without it being conspicuous.

She opened the door, the creak of metal loud and harsh, and climbed out of the car.

As soon as her feet touched the driveway, she felt it. It was as obvious as the breeze cooling her sweat-soaked back, as pervasive as the twined scents of gasoline and freshly-cut grass.

Power.

It hummed in the cement like an electric current, raising the skin on her legs, pulsing through her entire body. It frightened her, enticed her, aroused her even. She hungered for it. But feeling it here, now, after all that had happened, all she had lost . . . .

“Crap,” she breathed knowing a moment of panic.

She had no conduit, and so no access to her magic. A sachet of wolf’s bane, bay, dill, and anise—an odd-smelling but powerful combination of protective herbs—lay in her glove box, along with raw pieces of onyx and jasper. Those might have been enough to let her escape an attack if one had been imminent. They would have had to be. Her other herbs, crystals, and oils were packed away in the back of the car.

But she hadn’t sensed magic. This was power, which was different. Sidhe and Fomhoire possessed magic. Sluagh were creatures of magic. Power came from conduits, and allowed Sidhe and Fomhoire to access their spellcasting abilities.

She held herself motionless, closed her eyes, and tested what she sensed, her awareness flicking out like a snake’s tongue tasting the air for predators or prey. No doubt about it: power. Potentially a conduit. Strong, but not dark, not malevolent. Neutral. Unclaimed. This wasn’t Fomhoire or Sidhe. Not yet, at least. It could go either way.

Still, she couldn’t keep herself from opening her eyes and scanning above for winged demons. The sky was hazy, a faint shade of blue, and, for now, empty of Sluagh.

Relief eased through her, loosening tensed muscles, slowing her pulse. Mostly.

She had come here to get away. While on the road, she had managed to call one of the other Sidhe, to tell them of Alistar’s murder, to let them know she was without a conduit, that her part of the protective magical web—hers and Alistar’s—had been breached and would be out of commission for a while. Responsibility to her fellow sorcerers demanded no less. Beyond these warnings, though, she owed nothing more. She needed time—time to rest, time to grieve, time to find a new conduit.

This power she felt might allow her to bind again, but it didn’t promise rest or time. If she sensed it, someone else would, too. Fomhoire, Sluagh, others she didn’t wish to consider. It wasn’t a question of if they would find it—and her—only of when.

And yet, that wasn’t what bothered her most.

Marti didn’t believe in happenstance. The old gods didn’t simply allow things like this to happen; what others called coincidence a Sidhe knew for the machinations of the ancient ones. They delighted in bringing power to magic, power to power, magic to magic, for good or for ill. Which meant she was here because of this . . . presence. It had been waiting for her.

Professional Wednesday: Special Guest Joelle Presby

Joelle PresbyI first met Joelle Presby several years back at a convention, and I was struck straight off by a number of things. 1) She’s just plain nice. That’s certainly not unheard of in the publishing world, but it’s also not routine. Many people are in the game for themselves. Others pretend to me something other than what they are. Not Joelle. She is genuine, kind, funny. 2) She is also crazy smart. Read her bio. Read her post. She is SMART. And 3) Everyone I talked to at that convention who  was familiar with her work had come to the same conclusion: She was a rising star. A few years later, she continues to dazzle with the release of her first solo novel.

Please welcome to the blog Joelle Presby. [Cue wild applause.]

*****

Professional Wednesday: On Hope

By Joelle Presby

There are a number of ways storytellers transition from folks who write because they have to into folks who write because they have to and also have deadlines and readers buying their work. Like many writers, I think of my transition as special and unique.

I was solidly on the path to never being published, when I stumbled into an opportunity. I was writing my seventh rough draft novel with every intention of finishing it and immediately setting it aside to begin an eighth never-to-be-revised novel. Editing is a lot of work. And I’d let my hopes shrivel too much to sustain me through the grind of reviewing an entire novel’s flaws with a clear eye and rewriting it to make the words on the page fully match the story in my mind.

The re-birth of hope was all my husband Andy’s fault.

Debare Snake Launcher, by Joelle PresbyDebare Snake Launcher, by Joelle Presby (back cover)We were both naval officers in the nuclear power pipeline, trained in engineering and managing complex technical projects, but my degrees were in math and his were in physics and spacecraft design. I got sick (nothing terminal) and had to accept a medical discharge. But my next job required fewer hours, so I could write more. And we could attend science fiction conventions and meet up with authors as long as I did the arranging and accepted that Andy might be at sea. Conventions were a lot more fun when Andy came too. Science fiction authors tend to be significantly more interested in chatting with folks who have space craft engineering backgrounds than talking to another would-be writer who happens to have only a math and engineering background.

But my hope was shriveled, not gone.

When Andy Presby had regular meetings with David Weber to provide Honorverse tech continuity support, I came along. Mostly, I sat in a corner working on a new first draft, but it was fun to eavesdrop on some of the detailed discussions around revising nearly-finished drafts with an eye to incorporating newly postulated science and also not breaking the story world. I began to think just a little about editing my own work. I did and it was hard. So, mostly I wrote first drafts again. But my hope was growing.

Andy and eight friends formed the company BuNine in order to sign a contract with Baen Books to produce a fictional nonfiction encyclopedia of the Honorverse to be released on the twentieth anniversary of the first publication of ON BASILISK’S STATION (Honorverse book 1). The group started strong with Andy agreeing to a leadership role and a primary technical role for the many planned space craft articles. Then the US Navy sent Andy to a new job. He had almost no time. The work wasn’t getting done. I started getting calls. I knew how to be a project manager and I could write. My husband and our friends had made this commitment. I didn’t want them to fail. I didn’t want them to fail David Weber or Baen Books. I wrote bad articles and good ones. I poked Andy to get from him the ship specifications we absolutely needed. I revised the drafts and took editorial correction and revised again. It was hard, but not that hard. I did a lot of nonfiction writing for work, and for a day job, you don’t get to only do rough drafts. Besides, I told myself, this didn’t count. It wasn’t real writing.

But my confidence, my hope, my willingness to dare and try grew anyway.

I heard that Toni Weisskopf was interested in a short story to be published on Baen.com during the month that our project, now titled HOUSE OF STEEL: THE HONORVERSE COMPANION, released. My hope wasn’t big enough to send anything to Baen, but it was enough for me to write a very small Honorverse short story, revise it, and share it with my husband. He gave it to our friends who, without asking me, gave it to Sharon Rice-Weber who, without asking me, gave it to David Weber who, without asking me, gave it to Toni Weisskopf who wanted to buy it if… I would revise it.

The Baen.com story was well received by Honorverse fans. It led to an invite to write for the BEGINNINGS (Worlds of Honor 6) anthology. That success led to having my first published novel be a collaboration with David Weber: THE ROAD TO HELL (Multiverse #3). And then Baen gave me a contract to write a solo novel, which I had to revise. A lot. And it was worth it.

The revised version of my ninth rough draft novel a.k.a. my first published solo novel, THE DABARE SNAKE LAUNCHER, comes out November 1, 2022.

I still go to science fiction conventions and talk to writers, and I’ve learned I’m not as unique as I first thought. If you want to stay on the path to never publishing, it’s dangerous to keep writing.

Though if anyone has access to a time machine, please tell younger me that there is joy in getting the revisions right, and the satisfaction of reaching the last page on the final polish far, far exceeds typing “The End” for a mere rough draft.

Beware. Opportunity might be just around the corner. May you have enough hope to make the attempt.

And, as David B. Coe says, keep writing.

*****

Joelle Presby is a former U.S. Navy nuclear engineering officer and recovering corporate consultant who grew up in West Africa. Her first reader husband works for NASA, but he has yet to build her a space elevator. She does not admit to arranging a book deal through a quid pro quo arrangement with Mami-Wata.
 
Joelle began her writing career publishing in David Weber’s Honorverse and joined him as a cowriter for the Multiverse series with the novel, The Road To Hell. Over a dozen short stories later, she is releasing her first solo novel, , in November 2022.
 
She lives in Ohio with her husband and two children.

Professional Wednesday: Finishing a Book Actually Means More Work

As I mentioned last week, I have recently finished the third book in my new contemporary Celtic urban fantasy, The Chalice Wars. This book, The Chalice Wars: Sword, will be out sometime fairly early in 2023. Book I, The Chalice Wars: Stone, is currently in production, and book II, The Chalice Wars: Cauldron, is with my editor. The art work for the first book should be ready soon. I’ll share it the moment I can. I’m excited about these books. They are filled with tension and suspense, but also with humor, and they are quite different from other work I’ve done. And I am proud to add that when this third volume is published, it will be my 30th book.

For today’s post, though, I want to focus on the mechanics of finishing a book, and precisely what that means for me in terms of work and process.

I know. It seems like finishing a novel should be fairly straightforward. We type “The End” and then we drink whisky. Right?

Turns out it’s not that easy.

First of all, I NEVER type “The End.” If we as authors have to tell our readers when a book has reached its end, we haven’t done a very good job with our ending. Just saying.

More to the point, finishing the first draft of a novel is just one step in a significantly longer process. Yes, it’s an important step, but it certainly does not mean the book is anywhere near “done.”

When I work on a book, I have a separate file open on my computer, which is usually called “[Book Title] Edit Notes.” This is a file filled with reminders to myself of things I need or want to change in the book. While writing my first draft I don’t want anything to stall my forward momentum. The most important thing we can do with a book draft is finish it. Let me say that again. The most important thing we can do with a book draft is finish it. Finishing a book is hard to do, and it is all too easy to retreat into edits and rewrites rather than move on toward those looming scenes we haven’t quite figured out how to write. It is also tempting, upon noticing in earlier chapters imperfections of prose or character or plotting, to fix them immediately, to make the manuscript as perfect as possible.

But here’s the thing: No first draft is ever going to be perfect. In fact, I would argue that no finished novel has ever been or ever will be perfect. That, though, is a conversation for another time. The point is, finish your book. It is much easier to edit a finished manuscript than it is to complete said manuscript in the first place. And so, when I think of changes that need to be made, I jot them down in a different file for later, thus preserving my momentum.

Fast forward to that glorious day when we actually finish the first draft. Well, now we have to deal with that file filled with edit notes. Working through my edits can take anywhere from one day to one week or even more, depending, obviously on how much work I’ve left for myself.

After I finish the edits, I next tackle my crutch words. Crutch words are verbal mannerisms unique to our writing, words or phrases that we tend to overuse or fall back on when in the midst of composing our stories. We all have them — I see them when editing the work of others, and I see them in my own rough drafts. I even see them in the published volumes of colleagues. My crutch words will be different from yours, which will be different from your writing-group buddy’s, which will be different from those of your favorite writer. But as I say, this is something all writers have to watch out for. I keep a running list of my crutch words in (another) word document on my computer desktop. And after completing any book or story, I work through this list, checking to see if I have overused any of the usual suspects. How do I know if I have overused them? I do a universal search of each word or phrase, which gives me a count of occurrences. And then I compare that number to the number of occurrences of the same word or phrase in several of my other completed, edited manuscripts, ones I know I have checked for crutch words. If the numbers are about the same, if figure I’m okay. If the number for the new book is a good deal higher, I have some work to do. Dealing with crutch words can be a slow, tedious process. It can take me several full days. Slow, tedious days . . . .

Finally, after seeing to my edits and getting my crutch words under control, I put the newly completed manuscript away for several weeks and start work on something else — short fiction, a new novel, editing projects. It doesn’t matter what. After about four to six weeks, depending on how soon the book is due, I pull out the manuscript again and read it through a couple of times start to finish, doing a full edit of the manuscript, looking for any and all problems — stylistic, narrative, structural, etc. Everything. Only after doing this, when I am convinced the manuscript is as good as I can make it at this time, do I send it on to my editor, or my agent, or my Beta readers. (At some point, I’ll have their suggested edits to deal with. And after that there will be copy edits and proofs. But that is part of the production process and is another subject entirely.)

By this time, of course, I’m in the middle of whatever project I’ve started next, so I’m no longer in the mood for celebrating the completion of the manuscript. But that doesn’t mean I can’t have a wee dram of whisky. . . .

Keep writing!

Creative Friday: Celtic Urban Fantasy Teaser!!

This week, I finished the first draft of the third and final book in my new project, a contemporary Celtic urban fantasy called The Chalice Wars. I have a lot to do with this newest manuscript still — I’ll discuss that in greater length in next week’s Professional Wednesday post.

But for today, as a way of celebrating the completion of this latest novel (which will be my 30th when it finds its way to print, later this year or — more likely — early in 2023), I thought I would share with you a bit of book one in the series. This is actually chapter 2 of The Chalice Wars: Stone

I expect it will be out in the next few months. Again, late this year or early next. For now, here’s a peek.

Enjoy!!

*****

Two drops of blood. One on the bottom stair, glistening on brick, red on red. The other on the cement landing by the front door.

The drops were small; she might easily have missed them, walked past and into the house without noticing. But having seen, she couldn’t look away, and she couldn’t take another step.

She stood rooted to the walkway, empty reusable grocery bags tucked under one arm, an oversized bottle of Australian Shiraz in the other hand, her bag slung over her shoulder. And she stared at the blood.

Alistar has cut himself, said a voice in her head. He’s cut himself while working in that damn garden of his.

To which a second voice—Alistar’s, usually so calm and reassuring—said, No, he’s dead. You need to get the hell out of here.

Blood, brick, the geraniums in the ceramic planters Alistar had placed on either side of the stairs. So much red today.

The front door was open behind the screen. Burl should have been there watching for her, tail wagging, tongue lolling happily. Or he might have been in the back garden with Alistar, in which case he should have come bounding around the corner of the house as soon as she pulled up.

She reached for the dog with her mind, with her magic. Nothing. This is what she felt at the store. This was what made her rush through the rest of her shopping, what drove her to flee the grocery store, leaving her half-full cart beside the check-out line. The sensation had been abrupt, final, like someone placed a wall between them.

Like someone had killed her conduit.

On that thought, she was moving again. Not inside, but to the back, the sweat on her palm making the bottle slick and unwieldy. At the corner of the house, she let the canvas bags drop to the ground. She kept hold of the wine; a weapon now.
As soon as she stepped into the backyard, she spotted Alistar.

He lay in the dirt between the slate patio and his bed of gladiolus. Even from a distance, she could see the blood that stained the front of his shirt, like a fan-shaped bib. She faltered a step, a choked sob escaping her, her stomach seizing into a fist. An instant later, she was at his side, knees cushioned in the rich black soil. A faint stench hung in the air, cloying, foul, the smell of rot, of disease, of death.

Alistar’s throat had been cut, ear to ear, the gash a ghoulish grin on his neck. His eyes, pale blue and once electric with wit and mischief and passion, were fixed on a clear sky, unseeing, lifeless. His midsection . . . . She couldn’t even look at that. Whatever killed him had feasted as well. She wanted to believe they waited until he was dead, but she knew better. A tear rolled down her cheek and she swiped at it. It landed like a raindrop on the slate, darkening the stone just beside Alistar’s hand.
His bloodied hand. One crimson-stained finger appeared to point at a dark scrawl on the patio. Letters in blood. A single word. Or part of one. “S-L-U-A—”

Not much, but enough.

“Oh, Alistar,” she whispered. But her heart hammered.

Now she understood where that terrible smell had come from.

Sluagh. Shadow demons. Winged, enormous, utterly without mercy. Fomhoire assassins.

Get the hell out of here!

His voice again, urgent and compelling.

First, though, she had to find Burl.

If a Sluagh did this, or more likely a trio of them—the old powers did things in threes or fours—Burl would be dead, too. They would sense the magic in him and assume he had been Alistar’s conduit. Forced to guess, she would say the poor dog was dead before Alistar knew what was coming.

She remained beside him for another moment, trying to reconcile the wreckage before her with her memories of the man she had loved. She never should have gone out. She was the one with a conduit, the one who had been maintaining their part of the network since the death of Alistar’s conduit two months ago. She should have stayed here and sent Alistar to the store. But he was so happy in his garden, and she was gone for such a short while.

It’s not your fault, and this is no time for blame. Go.

Leaving him seemed wrong. He deserved . . . more.

No. You have to go. And you have to take it with you.

She stood, gripped the wine bottle once more, and strode to the back door. It was open, of course. Burl lay sprawled on the kitchen tiles, his silky white fur matted with blood, his water dish overturned, the floor covered with a thin, dark pink mixture.

Tears again, a stream of them this time. How could she cry so for her dog, when she’d shed barely a tear for Alistar?

He wasn’t just a dog.

She felt more than grief. The stench of the Sluagh was thick in here. She gagged, biting back against the bile rising in her throat, and the terror clawing at her chest. Without a conduit, she was vulnerable, all but defenseless. Sidhe or no, she couldn’t cast much of anything without a source for the magic.
She swallowed hard, wiped her eyes again. Burl deserved to be buried, too. Losing either one of them would have been bad enough. But both?

She stepped over the dog, avoiding the stained water, and halted at the door to the dining room. Drops of blood trailed away from the kitchen, through the dining room, and into the living room. Toward the front door. She guessed they had come in from the front, killed the dog, gone back out the same way, and snuck up on Alistar from behind. Then they returned to the house and ransacked it, breaking and tearing nearly everything of value. Sluagh wouldn’t worry about leaving behind a trail of destruction, much less a splattering of blood. They were hunters, nothing more or less. They worried about the kill and whatever they’d been sent to find.

At last, terror kicked in. She hurried to the bedroom, knowing she couldn’t take much. There wasn’t time, and the Sluagh hadn’t left much intact. Clothes, photos, papers, books, music. Most of the furniture was Alistar’s and what belonged to her wouldn’t fit in her car.

Alistar had insisted they keep boxes in the attic and packing tape in the utility drawer, just in case there came a time when they would need to leave without delay. He had also paid the rent on a month-to-month basis; no lease.

“I want to be able to leave this place on an hour’s notice, and never look back,” he often said.

Hearing the words in her head once more, she muttered, “You were supposed to come with me, old man.”

She was packed in less than two hours, and had the car loaded before nightfall. But she waited until dusk to return to the garden for the one thing she couldn’t leave behind.
When it was dark enough, she went to the garage and retrieved the ancient wooden crate Alistar stored there. It must have weighed ten pounds empty. She carried it to the farthest end of his garden, took a spade from his shed, and removed the stone from its spot in the dirt.

“It should be packed in soil,” he’d told her at least two or three times. “And the crate should be nailed shut.”

On one occasion she laughed at him. “Why tell me all of this? You’ll be the one packing it. You never let me near that thing.”

He’d stared back at her, silent and grave and beautiful in the dying light of an autumn afternoon. Had he known it would come to this? Had he seen it?

She stared at the gaping hole she’d left in the dirt. They had hosted parties at the house, sat with friends on the patio, sipping wine and chatting deep into the night. No one ever noticed the stone, which was just as it had to be.

There was nothing striking about it. It was vaguely round, about the size of a honeydew melon, dull grey, with a few gleaming specs of mica and quartz. And with the spells she and Alistar had cast on it, its power was dampened. She shivered, as if someone ran a magical finger down her spine. The spells. They had cast them together, so that if one of them died, the spells would survive. He had seen this day coming.

Bastard. Brilliant bastard. More tears streamed down her cheeks. She went back to work.

The stone fit perfectly in the crate. She had created a nest of soil for it, leaving just enough room to sprinkle more dirt around it and over it. She sealed the crate, then retrieved the other stone from behind the shed. It looked much like the first; same color, shape, and size. She put it where Alistar’s stone had been, smoothed the dirt surrounding it.

She stood, lifted the crate with a grunted “Sonofabitch!” and staggered out to the car. There she wedged it into a space she had left unfilled in the far corner of the rear hatch. As an afterthought, she threw in the shovel, too. It had been Alistar’s, just like everything else in the garden shed. She slung coats and a few dresses over the stone, arranging and then rearranging until it all looked natural, like she was a slob, rather than someone trying to hide something.

When everything else was done, she went to the basement for the last of Alistar’s precautions. Somehow he had managed to buy or steal license plates from half a dozen states. On their own, the plates would have been of limited use, but he had also arranged to have new registration stickers sent each January from the state DMVs. She didn’t know how he did it, and he never bothered to tell her; it was just Alistar being Alistar. But she was smart enough—or maybe scared enough—to put a fresh set of plates on her car, and to take the others with her.

From now on, she would be from Maryland. Until she needed to be from somewhere else.

She tossed the old plates and the wrench into the back, and closed the hatch.

She needed to let the others know. Their part of the network was open now, exposed. In recent months she had sensed gaps, weaknesses in their web of magic that the Fomhoire might exploit. Now it was worse, and without her conduit there was no easy way for her to send a warning. All she could do was run, and hope she’d find an opportunity to tell them later.
It didn’t feel right. Alistar still lay in the garden, Burl in the kitchen.

Alistar had long been a prominent figure in the Sidhe community, which made her one as well. They had helped establish the network monitoring this part of the Sidhe world for Fomhoire incursions. That was reason enough for Fomhoire and their Sluagh friends to want Alistar and her dead. Not that they needed reasons to kill.

She sensed, though, that the Fomhoire were also after the stone, and she didn’t understand why. Alistar had never explained to her the stone’s significance. For years she had wanted him to tell her, but always he refused. Now she needed to know, and he was gone.

“That part wasn’t so brilliant, old man,” she whispered, peering through tears at the darkened house.

You’ll figure it out. Now, go!

She climbed into the car, and with one last glance toward her home, toward the gardens, she drove away.

Professional Wednesday: One Hot-Mess of a Writing Post

Dispensing writing advice when one is struggling a bit with one’s own work can be somewhat strange. Just ask . . . well, me.

I am more than 50,000 words into my current work-in-progress, the third book in my Celtic urban fantasy. (No, you haven’t missed any releases. Book I is in production and should be out later this year or early in 2023.) Some days, the writing comes smoothly and other days it’s a struggle. And, of course, I am closing in on the dreaded 60% mark, so at that point all bets will be off.

Over the past few years, I’ve offered advice on dealing with a whole host of problems. Stuck at 60%? Distracted? Unable to get started? Unsure of how to finish? Check the archives of this blog. Chances are, I’ve got some post somewhere that tells you how I have addressed the issue. All the posts are well-meaning. Some of them might even have helped someone somewhere at some point.

Sometimes, though, there is no cure. Sometimes the only way past the struggle is through the struggle.

I am not at my best right now, for any number of reasons. And I am doing all I can to write despite distractions small and large, personal and national, serious and foolish. Writing, though, is messy. Writing is not one smooth, free-flowing creative process that starts when we type “Chapter One” and completes itself when we type “The end.” (And just an aside here: Writers shouldn’t have to type “The end.” If we need to tell our readers when the story has ended, we haven’t done a very good job ending it. Just saying.)

Writing, as I have said too many times before, is really hard. Writing is fits and starts. It’s three steps forward and two steps back. It’s write, revise, delete, write some more, delete some more, write some more, revise some more, etc., etc., etc.

And here’s the thing. Or here are the two things. First, anyone who has ever devoted any meaningful portion of their life to writing knows this already. And second, everyone who has ever known this, has promptly forgotten it the moment they start their next book.

Because we want it to be free-flowing, smooth, easy, linear. We want it to be painless. And why wouldn’t we? Who in their right mind says, “I’m going to write a book and I hope it comes within a hair’s breadth of killing me?” Then again, who in their right mind says, “I’m going to write a book…?”

But I digress.

In all seriousness, we want the process to be simple, and so we forget what it’s like to be in the throes of creating. Every book I have written has been a struggle at one point or another. Some are worse than others, but every one has its moments. I’ll struggle with plot points, argue with my characters, second-guess my world building. I’ll doubt that the book is any good, I’ll question whether I can even finish it, I’ll go through periods, sometimes weeks long, when I have to force myself just to sit down in front of my computer. Because I. Don’t. Want. To. Write.

Until I do again. And then all is well with the world, and the book seems pretty good. Better than that. It’s very good. Hell it’s one of my best — maybe even THE best thing I’ve ever done. And it will only ever be eclipsed by the next one.

Put another way, writers are head-cases. I know I am. And there’s a reason my writer friends are my writer friends, if you know what I mean.

You may be surprised to learn that there really is advice embedded in this hot-mess of a post. It’s simply this: Keep working. Writing is a battle, like any creative endeavor, like any endeavor at all that is worth pursuing. It frustrates us and exhausts us. It challenges us by striking at those places where we’re most vulnerable — our confidence, our sense of self-worth, our ability to stare failure in the eye and say, “Not today, motherfucker.” But that’s also the beauty of it. If it was easy, finishing a book wouldn’t feel so damn good. And it will feel good. Because you will finish your book.

Wishing you smooth-flowing prose, fast-moving plots, and characters who surprise and delight you.

Professional Wednesday: Dealing With the Slog, part II — The 60% Stall

Jacket art for Bonds of Vengeance, book III in Winds of the Forelands, by David B. Coe (Jacket art by Romas Kukalis)Many years back, while I was working on one of the middle books in my Winds of the Forelands quintet, my second series, I came downstairs after a particularly frustrating day of writing and started whining to Nancy about my manuscript. It was terrible, I told her. There was no story there, no way to complete the narrative I’d begun. The book was a disaster, and I might well have to scrap the whole thing.

To which she said, mildly, “Ah. You’re at the 60% point?”

The question brought me up short, because that’s exactly where I was. And prompted by her remark, I realized something obvious to her that I’d missed up until then: To that point in my career, every book I’d written had stalled at the 60% mark.

Last week, I began a new “Most Important Lessons” feature that focused on “Dealing With the Slog.” The first post focused on meeting our self-imposed deadlines. Today’s installment will discuss how to address the 60% Stall.

I would love to tell you that as my career has progressed, I have moved past this problem, but I’d be lying. I don’t stall at 60% with every book, but I do run into problems at that point in most manuscripts. It seems to be endemic to my process. And I’m certainly not the only writer who does. The more I talk about the problem, the more I realize it’s fairly common.

The problem as it presents itself to me can be boiled down this way: When I begin a novel, I know what the main conflicts are, and I have a clear understanding of the obstacles I intend to throw in the path of my protagonist(s). And I also have a good sense of how I want my story to end. Quite often, though, as I write my story, certain elements change. I often alter plot points as I write them. My characters assert themselves in subtle ways, developing their own personalities and wills, and forcing me to rethink their arcs.

So those obstacles as I have written them are not quite the same as what I envisioned originally. On the other hand, the ending, as I imagined it, remains largely unchanged. And thus the path between the crisis point for my protagonists and the end point I want them to reach has to change as well. And the pivot point, the moment when we shift from doing all sorts of nasty stuff to our heroes to beginning to have them fight back and turn the tide, usually starts at about the 60% mark. Yes, shit still goes wrong after that. I’m not saying the last third of the novel has to be a golden time for the protagonist. Far from it. But, for me at least, 60% is when things begin to turn.

How do we address the 60% stall?

First, let me tell you what I don’t do. I don’t panic. I don’t rant and rave. I don’t freak out. Not anymore. Not since Nancy pointed out to me that this is something I go through with most of my books. Plot holes happen. The book as we planned it — whether we outline in detail or write by the seat of our pants — doesn’t always look exactly like the book as we write it. And that’s okay. There is still a story here worth telling. There is still a path between where we are at 59% and where we wish to be on the last page. Breathe. Calm down. It’s going to be all right.

The second thing I try to do is assess the deviations between what I’ve written and what I had in mind originally. Quite often, the answer to overcoming the Stall lies in those differences. Maybe (for instance) we have introduced a new character we hadn’t planned on including, and that person’s presence has set up this narrative disconnect. Most likely, that means the character in question needs to figure into the new narrative path leading us from where we are to where we need to be. Or maybe we have added a key plot twist we hadn’t anticipated originally. Again, if that’s the case, chances are our new solution needs to address the consequences of this twist.

The third thing I consider is whether I need to A) change the ending I’d had in mind, B) add an element in the final 40% to deal with the new conditions I’ve created, or C) go back and edit out some of the changes I have allowed to creep into the first 60%. Choice C) is almost always my least favorite option. Why? Because I have written the book as I have thus far for a reason. If I have strayed from my original, pre-writing vision, it’s because new stuff came to me organically, as I wrote. And generally — not always, but most of the time — I find that my organic decisions are my best decisions.

Finally, and most important, I keep writing. I keep moving forward. Even if my (temporary) solution to navigating past the Stall is flawed, I always, ALWAYS believe it is better to keep pushing through. The alternatives are to give up entirely (unthinkable!!) or to retreat into rewrites and try to fix the problem that way, which in my opinion makes the Stall harder to overcome. Every completed manuscript will require editing, and it may well be that after completing the first draft, setting it aside for a while, and then starting the revision process, we will discover solutions to our narrative issues that weren’t obvious when we were in the middle of writing.

The important thing to remember is this: The 60% Stall is not a death knell for our story. It is a temporary setback. It is not cause for panic, but rather for reflection, for brainstorming, for creative thinking about our narrative.

Keep writing!!

Professional Wednesday: My Approach to Writing Book Reviews

All the Seas of the World, by Guy Gavriel KayAfter publishing my review of Guy Gavriel Kay’s marvelous new book, All the Seas of the World (coming from Viking Press on May 17), the good people at Black Gate Magazine approached me about writing more reviews for them, something I am excited to do. So, going forward, in addition to being an author and editor, I will also be a reviewer.

In my discussions with the wonderful John O’Neill, Black Gate’s award-winning editor, I made it clear that I would write honest reviews on a spectrum ranging from “this is a pretty good book” to “this is the finest book I’ve ever read.” But I would not write any negative reviews. John agreed, telling me this was just the approach he was after. And yet to many, that might seem like an odd approach to reviewing books, and so I feel it’s a position that bears explaining.

I believe reviews are most valuable when they point readers in the direction of something they might enjoy. I understand there are certain publications — Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus Reviews come to mind — that are expected to review a wide range of books and distinguish the good from the bad. By necessity, such venues have to give some negative reviews. Indeed, early in my career I was on the receiving end of several such critiques. It’s part of the business. In a sense, with publications like those, the bad reviews actually lend legitimacy and weight to the good ones.

Black Gate Magazine, and other journals of its kind, are not like that. They do not review comprehensively. They pick out a few books in the genre and shine a spotlight on them. In effect, they say, “Hey, fantasy readers! Here are a couple of books you should check out, not to the exclusion of others necessarily, but simply because they are particularly good.” For a venue like Black Gate, writing and publishing a negative review would be gratuitous. It would be an act of singling out one book for disparagement and ridicule.

As I said to John during our discussion, I have no interest in hurting someone’s career. If he and his staff send me a book to review and I don’t like it, we will simply keep that opinion to ourselves. There’s no need to pan it; we just won’t be recommending it. Because the fact is, just because I don’t like a novel, that doesn’t mean it’s bad. I’m only one reader. My not liking a book simply means . . . I didn’t like it. Period. Full stop.

I feel quite strongly about this, because I have been on the receiving end of a gratuitously scathing review.

Yes, I know: There are unwritten rules pertaining to writers and professional critiques of our books. Writers aren’t supposed to read our reviews. Newsflash: We do anyway. Writers are supposed to ignore bad reviews. It’s harder to do than you might imagine. If writers are going to read our reviews and not ignore them, we should internalize the good ones and shrug off the bad ones. That might be even harder than ignoring them.

And as it happens, the review in question was the perfect storm of ugliness. First, it was about a book I loved and know was good. Sure, it had flaws; show me a book that doesn’t. But it was a quality book and it certainly didn’t deserve the treatment it received. Second, the review was in a high profile publication. Lots of people saw it. Third, I have good reason to believe the reviewer, with whom I had a bit of history, was acting out of personal animus. The criticism was savage and it was presented in such a way as to be especially humiliating. I won’t say more than that.

Except this. The review hurt. It sent me into a professional tailspin that lasted months. That dark period is long since over, so I am not seeking sympathy. But at the time, it did some damage to my psyche and to my creative output. And there was no reason for it. They didn’t like the book. Fine. Then ignore it. Don’t give it the benefit of a positive spotlight.

They went further. Again, fine. That’s their choice.

I will take a different tack. If I like a book I will publish a review saying so. If I don’t, if for some reason the book doesn’t excite me, or it rubs me the wrong way, I will set it aside without public comment and move on to the next.

Other reviewers are, of course, free to take a different approach. I will not judge them. But I want to write reviews for the fun of it, for the satisfaction of sharing with others my perceptions of an entertaining or moving or thrilling reading experience. I’m not interested in hurting anyone.

Keep writing!

Professional Wednesday: What We Can Learn About Writing From a Horny Bluebird

I got you with the title, didn’t I? I thought I might.

The horny bluebird in question lives in our yard and is so hopped up on testosterone, so eager to make himself THE player among breeding bluebirds in the area, that he has spent much of the spring attacking reflections of himself in a window downstairs and the driver’s side mirror on my Prius. The latter is the main target of his pugilistic outbursts. The mirror itself is marked with marks from bird’s beak, and the entire side of the car is dripped with bird poop. Charming, I know.

Every day for weeks he has attacked his own image, flailing at his reflection again and again and again, never seeming to tire of a battle he can’t hope to win. He is relentless, almost mindlessly so. The cute female bluebird making googly eyes at him (birds do that, you know) is HIS, and he will brook no competition for her affections. He will not surrender, no matter how many times he smacks his bill against something immovable and invincible.

Perhaps you can see forming here the beginnings of my theme for the post. But do I believe you should emulate or reject the bluebird’s behavior? Is it an example of folly, or admirable perseverance?

Both, actually.

On the one hand, I really do admire the bird’s tenacity. Sure, he’s a bit crazed, and he’s trying to drive off another “bird” that doesn’t actually exist. But he’s doing so with gusto. And the fact is, when it comes to dealing with the business side of a writing career, all of us need to be something of a horny bluebird. (Yeah, that is a line that might well haunt me for the rest of my career . . .)

Thieftaker, by D.B. Jackson (Jacket art by Chris McGrath)I would love to be a bestselling author. And with each new project I take on, I wonder if this might finally be the literary vehicle that gets me there. Thieftaker, Fearsson, the time travel books, the Radiants franchise. I had high hopes for all of them. All of them were critical successes. None of them has taken me to that next level commercially. So does that mean I should give up?

Of course not. I am now working on my Celtic urban fantasy, and I would be lying to you if I said I didn’t hold out the same hope for this series.

Nearly every writer, I believe, has goals they attack with similar ferocity and persistence. Some folks are looking for that first short story sale, and they keep sending out stories. Some are trying to sell a first novel. Others have done well with small presses but want desperately to break in with a New York publisher. I judge no one for their ambitions, just as I have no intention of abandoning my own.

Rather, I would encourage every writer reading this to keep up the fight. Yes, you may feel like a bird hammering away at its own reflection, but I truly believe the fight itself is worth waging. For me, at least, pursuing my goals no matter what keeps my work fresh, energizes me, and keeps a slight chip on my shoulder, which I think helps me maintain a necessary level of motivation. So battle on!

At the same time that I see value in the bluebird’s example for some business purposes, however, I think it is far less helpful in other contexts. And when I originally hit on this as a topic for today’s post, it was this aspect of the analogy that caught my imagination.

In my conversations with writers over the years, and in my observations as a professional in the business, I have seen too many aspiring authors doggedly clinging to their dreams for a single book or series idea that does not work and that is holding back their careers. They have a project they love, love, love, but simply cannot sell. And rather than move on to new story ideas, they revisit this one over and over. They edit and polish, tear it apart and rebuild it, get feedback from one beta reader after another, all in the belief that this time they’re going to get the story right and finally make the sale.

And I should add two points here. First, I also see the opposite: writers who become discouraged after only one or two rejections and give up on worthwhile projects that simply need a bit more love. There is a balance to be found. Working too long on a book or series that enjoys no success can stall a burgeoning career. Giving up too soon can cost a writer an opportunity they didn’t even know they had.

Second, I have doggedly stuck with projects for years, doing just the sort of repeated reworking I describe above, and eventually selling the books to a publisher. I did it with the Justis Fearsson books. I did it with the new Celtic series.

His Father's Eyes, by David B. CoeThe difference between what I did with those two projects and what I am telling you not to do is this: I kept working on these books, but I also moved ahead with other projects, so that I wouldn’t stall my career. Yes, I worked for six years on the first Fearsson book. But in that time, I also wrote the Thieftaker books and the Robin Hood novelization. This, by the way, is also the secret to finding that balance I mentioned. By all means, keep working on the one idea, but do so while simultaneously developing others. Don’t become so obsessed with the one challenge that you lose sight of all else.

As a general business strategy, I believe the reckless stubbornness of the bluebird can prove effective. But when applied with too much fervor to a single book idea, it can become a trap, one that keeps us from realizing our dreams.

So endeth the lesson of the horny bluebird.

Keep writing.

Professional Wednesday: Why Write? — Taking Another Swing

Other stories — fictions as well as legends based in truth — shape our languages and our ways of thinking, our imaginations and, yes, the stories we add to humanity’s opus. Every story we tell is, in a sense, a new entry in an ongoing dialogue among storytellers that goes back generations.

During one of the several writing panels I spoke on this past weekend at JordanCon, my fellow panelists and I painted a fairly bleak picture of the current state of the market for writers. Falling advances, shrinking publicity budgets, purges of editors at various publishing houses — the litany of alarming trends goes on and on. Contracting with a big-name New York publisher is becoming ever more difficult, leaving aspiring writers with fewer options outside of self-publishing, which remains a hard road for authors who don’t already have a prominent social media presence. And even for more established writers, myself included, small press publishing has become the more attractive and realistic option.

All of this means less money and more work, almost regardless of how much visibility and experience an author might have.

Which begs the question, why keep at it?

This is a question I have asked myself often over the course of a career that has seen its share of ups and downs. I am sure I have even addressed the issue in one way or another on this blog. But I feel the answer bears repeating.

I keep writing because I love to tell stories, and I still have ideas for novels and short fiction that speed my pulse and light my creative vision. I love to give voice to the myriad characters in my imagination who clamor for my attention. I love world building, discovering new places in which to set my narratives, building exciting histories (yes, I’m a history geek, and, for me, “exciting histories” is NOT an oxymoron . . .) constructing cool magic systems. I love it all. Stop writing? I might as well stop thinking.

More than that, though, storytelling is, to my mind, central to who we are as humans. Every holiday we celebrate, secular or faith-based, comes with a story. And when we share those tales of achievement, or triumph, or spiritualism with our children, we pass to them our shared values, our customs, our beliefs. Societies and cultures define themselves with their stories.

Other stories — fictions as well as legends based in truth — shape our languages and our ways of thinking, our imaginations and, yes, the stories we add to humanity’s opus. Every story we tell is, in a sense, a new entry in an ongoing dialogue among storytellers that goes back generations.

Depending upon who you ask, there are really only twenty types of stories. Or seven. Or three. And regardless of what number you agree with, I suppose there might be some truth to this notion. Stories can be categorized if the listing parameters are drawn loosely enough. Another way to look at it is that every story is different and there are as many stories as there are storytellers and ideas. I edit anthologies, and I have seen authors — literally hundreds of them — take a single theme and each create something utterly unique.

Three basic stories, or billions of them? I can go either way. But I believe with all my heart that every writer is engaged in that dialogue I mentioned a moment ago. Stories are embedded in culture, which in turn shapes each new story, which then informs the next generation of creators. Which suggests that we who write are engaged in an undertaking of near cosmic proportion, one that dwarfs the individual.

So is that why we write?

Maybe.

Or maybe we write because we’re writers and what else are we going to do with our days? Maybe we write because as hard as it might be, it’s still a way to make a living.

From the sublime to the ridiculous. Yes, ridiculous. Don’t believe me? You should see my most recently royalty statement . . . [Rimshot]

I come back to how I began. I write because writing is what I love to do. I am profoundly grateful and unbelievably fortunate to have a spouse who loves me and supports me in all ways imaginable. And thus I am able to make a career of my passion. It is not always easy. I have, on more than one occasion over the past quarter century, considered giving up.

But for better or worse, this is what I do, what all of us writers do. And the eternal dialogue awaits our next entries.

Keep writing.