Today the Summer 2013 Thieves’ Quarry Blog Tour is back at Magical Words, the group blog on the craft and business of writing that I maintain, as David B. Coe, with Faith Hunter, Misty Massey, John Hartness, James Tuck, and Mindy Klasky, among others.  Today’s post coincides with the dropping off of my oldest child at college for her freshman year.  So it is called “Grist For the Mill:  Emotion and Creativity,” and it is about using personal experience and emotion and memory to strengthen the emotional content of our books and stories.  I hope you enjoy it.  And I hope to see many of you at DragonCon later this week!

Today’s post can be found at http://magicalwords.net, the group blog on the business and craft of writing fantasy that I maintain with fellow authors Faith Hunter, Misty Massey, Mindy Klasky, John Hartness, Kalayna Price, and James Tuck, among others. The post is called “On Creativity: Narrative, Fiction, and Life” It is a special post, written on a very special day in my life. I hope you enjoy it.

I grew up just outside of New York City.  I was a Yankees fan, a Knicks fan, a Rangers fan, a Giants fan.  And, as a loyal New Yorker, I have spent much of my life rooting against teams from Boston — the Red Sox, the Celtics, the Bruins (the Patriots too, but they haven’t really been the Boston Patriots since I was a little kid).

On the other hand, I lived for several years in Providence and all of my siblings lived for at least some time in the Boston area.  So, while I grew up hating Boston’s teams, I have always loved the city of Boston.  When it came time to set my Thieftaker books in a Colonial era city, Boston seemed the logical choice.

The terrorist attack on the Boston Marathon venue left me stunned and grieving, not only for the victims most affected by the bombings, but for the entire city.  I still recall my sense of outrage, of violation when my beloved New York was attacked in 2001.  I know what the people of Boston are feeling.

Thieftaker120And so, it is with deepest sympathy and love and solidarity that transcends lifelong sporting rivalries that I embark on a fundraiser and giveaway to do my small part in helping Boston get back on its feet.  Through a website called First Giving, I am hosting a fundraising event the goal of which is to raise $5,000.00 by July 2 (the release date for THIEVES’ QUARRY, and for the paperback reprint of THIEFTAKER) for the Boston Foundation and the One Fund of Boston.  If you will help me raise the funds, I’ll make it interesting for you.  Here’s how it works:

For each fundraising milestone we reach, I will be giving away prizes to lucky donors.

– When we reach $1000 raised, I will give away one signed uncorrected manuscript of THIEFTAKER. This is a collector’s item — a copy of the manuscript that was sent out to other authors who were asked to blurb the book before its release in 2012.
ThieftakerT-Shirt600When we reach $2000, I will give away one Boston Thieftaker’s Guild t-shirt in whatever size the winner wants. The t-shirt can be signed if the winner would like it to be.
– When we reach $3000, I will give away one signed paperback edition of THIEFTAKER. (This book comes out on July 2, so the giveaway will happen then.)
– When we reach $4000, I will give away one signed hardcover edition of THIEVES’ QUARRY. (This book will also be available on July 2 and will be given away then.)
Quarry120– When we reach $5000, I will give away a second signed paperback of THIEFTAKER and a second signed hardcover of THIEVES’ QUARRY to one lucky donor. (Also to be given away on July 2.)

The donation site can be found here:  http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/DBJacksonThieftaker/thieftakergiveaway

I hope you will join me in reaching out to the people of Boston, and doing our part to speed the healing process.  And I hope that you’re one of the luck winners.

Thank you.

Today I have a post up at the SFNovelists blogsite, a site I maintain in cooperation with approximately 100 other published authors of fantasy and science fiction.  The post (written under David B. Coe) is called “Six Non-Writing Things That Might Improve Your Writing,” and it is about the things I do to keep my creative juices flowing and my life balanced and healthy.  I hope you enjoy it.

Yes, it’s been a little while since my last blog tour installment.  I admit it.  I was a little burned out and needed the week off.  My wife and girls and I went to the North Carolina Coast and spent the week swimming, reading, sitting out in the sun and sand, beachcombing, listening to the rush and retreat of the surf.  It was lovely.

But now I’m back, and I’m ready to get back to work.

It seems appropriate, though, to resume the blog tour with a post about taking time off from writing.

I’m asked quite often what advice I would offer to aspiring writers, and quite often I respond, at least in part, by saying that writers write, and that those who seek to become professional writers should make a daily habit of writing.  I still think that’s sound advice.  Writing is a little like exercising:  The more you do it, the easier it becomes.  There is no such thing as a writing muscle, of course, but I believe that the imagery can be helpful.  When you write, you tone your writing muscle, making it leaner, stronger, more efficient.

I know that after I take off too much time from writing, my writing muscle becomes a bit flaccid, and it can take me a couple of weeks, or even longer, to get back “in shape.”

And yet, having said all of that, I would now like to make the case for NOT writing all the time, for taking time off and giving oneself a break periodically.

As I have said here before, writing is hard.  It is draining emotionally; it is something many of us do in isolation, with little daily feedback; it can be deeply frustrating, not only in its everyday mechanics, but also in the slow progress that often characterizes our pursuit of longer term goals.  Sometimes, we just need time away from this work.  Creative burnout is real.  It can happen to the most dedicated and passionate among us.  Taking time away from our writing simply makes sense.  We wouldn’t want to work our real jobs without some time off.  We wouldn’t want to spend every waking minute with our children or our spouses or anyone else for that matter.  Breaks are healthy, they are necessary.  Without breaks, we run the risk of smothering our passion for the work we do.

But even more than that, sometimes breaks can actually be beneficial to the creative process.  Clearing our minds after finishing one project, or even after tackling a particularly difficult section of a work-still-in-progress, can make the next task far more manageable.  And yes, there are even times when we find ourselves confronted by something so challenging and troublesome that we need to take a break before we overcome it, lest we waste too much time and energy banging our heads against the proverbial wall.

Let me be clear here:  I am NOT saying that each time we reach an impasse with a book or story, we should take time off and wait for a solution to come to us.  Nine times out of ten — or maybe even ninety-nine times out of a hundred — I believe that the best way to deal with a creative problem is to sit at the computer (or in front of pad and paper) and work it through.  But there are exceptions.  There are times when that approach won’t work, and time away from writing really is the answer.

I am also not saying that with every finished chapter we should take off a week as a sort of creative reward.  Most of the time, I finish one section of a book or story and move on to the next.  But again, on occasion, rewarding oneself with a break of a day or two after reaching a milestone in a project can be a good thing.  And taking time off after completing a book manuscript is, in my view, essential to a writer’s mental and creative health.

Butt in Chair is still one of my favorite writing mantras.  We succeed by doing the work.  Still, taking time off from writing every now and then is not just acceptable, it is good practice, if for no other reason than because you will find yourself energized when you return to the work.  Just as I do now.

Keep writing!

The Summer 2012 THIEFTAKER Blog Tour takes me back to familiar ground today.  I have two posts up.  The first, my usual Monday Magical Words post, can be found at http://magicalwords.net, the group blog on the business and craft of writing fantasy that I maintain with fellow authors Faith Hunter, Misty Massey, Kalayna Price, C.E. Murphy, and A.J. Hartley.  The post is called “On Creativity and Writing:  Making the Most of Ideas, part I,” and it’s the first post in a series about dealing effectively with new book ideas.  The second post can be found at http://www.sfnovelists.com, the group blog on speculative fiction that I maintain along with a group of over one hundred published authors of fantasy and science fiction.  It is called “A Father and Writer Looks At Violence In His Books,” and it is about how we decide what’s appropriate for your readers.  I hope you enjoy both posts.

Signing books at Between Books in Claymont, DE.

Signing books at Between Books in Claymont, DE.

Fourteen days, ten cities (well, okay, some of them were towns), 2,930 miles, seven signings, a class on writing taught at Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, a business lunch in New York City followed by drop-ins at a couple of NYC Barnes and Nobles, where I signed a bunch of books for stock, visits with wonderful friends and beloved family, and even a couple of truly memorable meals.  I would say that the THIEFTAKER Summer 2012 Signing Tour — my very first signing tour ever — was an unqualified success.

I have to admit that as I was preparing to leave for this trip I was intimidated by the scope of what I was doing and afraid that I was setting myself up for one disaster signing after another.  What’s a disaster signing?  That’s when you sit in a store, in front of a table piled high with your books, and no one shows up to buy them.  No one speaks to you.  No one comes near you, because they’re afraid that if they do, if they so much as make eye contact, they’ll HAVE to buy a book that they don’t want.  Disaster book signings happen to just about all of us at one time or another.  I’ve had more than my share of them.
But this time around I had none.  Not a single disaster.  This is not to say that I had people lining up out the door and around the block to buy copies of THIEFTAKER.  Far from it.  But I did have solid foot traffic at every signing.  And I’m so grateful to every person who came to hear me read, and/or buy a copy of the book.  I hope you enjoyed the various events, and that you’re enjoying the book itself.

Signing at Books-A-Million in Charlotte with Faith Hunter and Kalayna Price.

Signing at Books-A-Million in Charlotte with Faith Hunter and Kalayna Price.

Mostly, I want to thank everyone who made the tour possible — my terrific publicist at Tor Books, Leah Withers, who put much of the tour schedule together; my brother, Jim, who let me stay at his home and came to my Albany signing; my friend, Alan Goldberg, with whom I had a memorable musical afternoon, and who also came to the Albany event; my friends Elyse Poller and Gerald Dunne, who hosted me in Storrs, and told so many friends about the signing that we very nearly sold every copy of THIEFTAKER in the store; James Tracy, the headmaster at Cushing Academy and my closest friend from my graduate school days, who not only offered me the chance to stay in the lovely town of Ashburnham, but also invited me to speak to a creative writing class at the school — those kids and their teacher then accompanied me to my signing at the Somerville Public Library; my cousin, Lynne Gold-Bikin, who let me stay with her in Pennsylvania, as I made my way from New York to a signing in Claymont, Delaware; Faith and Rod Hunter who hosted me for three wonderfully fun days in Rock Hill, South Carolina, who took me out on the river for a glorious few hours on Monday, and shared a late-night jam session Tuesday; and A.J. Hartley and his charming family, who hosted me for my last night on the road.

Speaking at the Somerville Public Library.

Speaking at the Somerville Public Library.

And of course, the folks at the various stores where I signed: Maria Perry and her staff, at Flights of Fantasy, Suzy Staubach and her staff at the UConn Coop, Maria Carpenter at the Somerville Library, Greg Schauer and his volunteers at Between Books, Mike Pruett and Alison at the BooKnack, Mel and Rae and the rest of the staff at the Harbison Court Barnes and Noble, and Sonya and her staff at the Cotswold Mall Books-A-Million.

It was as fine a tour as I could have imagined, and I have a pretty good imagination.  How good?  Well, I’m already starting to envision my next tour . . .  Again, thanks so much to everyone who had any part in it.

Weary and Heavy

May 15, 2012

Some days are harder than others.  Sometimes we feel older than our years.  At some point the routine weighs more heavily, the responsibilities seem more onerous.  Bad news arrives from a distance of both years and space, little moments that remind us of our own mortality catch us off our guard, the slog of the day-to-day seems unrelenting.

I am weary tonight, and my heart is heavy.  I could write more, but really that’s what it comes down to.  And tonight of all nights, I feel that my time would be better spent playing my guitar, seeing to my girls, sitting with my wife.

If you love someone, tonight would be a good night to tell him or her so, be it with words, or with a kiss, or with the simple act of taking a moment to sit and say or do nothing at all.

Today, Nancy and I took our daughters and two of the younger daughter’s friends to see Mirror, Mirror, the new Snow White interpretation starring Julia Roberts and Lily Collins.  It was good; not great but good.  Certainly it was worth seeing, although if I could have seen it in our local theater (which charges $3 per person) instead of in one of the big theaters in Chattanooga for $7, it might have felt like a bit more of a bargain.  Julia Roberts is wonderful as the evil queen.  She is biting, coldly charming, and just desperate enough to be believable and somewhat sympathetic.  Lily Collins was very good as Snow White.  She is stunningly beautiful, and she brings strength and backbone to the role, which is very refreshing for those of us who still shudder at the sappy weakness of Disney’s old animated Snow White.  In the final scene she looks just like a young Audrey Hepburn, at least she does to me.

Armie Hammer, as Prince Alcott, and Nathan Lane, as Brighton, the queen’s lackey, are both good as well, and the dwarves, with their odd stilts and quirky personalities give a nice twist to the old story.  There are some pretty cool effects — the mirror in particular, and also the puppet attack (see the movie; then you’ll understand) — and the costuming is very, very good.  On the other hand, it is at root a somewhat silly story, and even the modern touches can’t disguise that completely.  As I say, it’s good, but it’s not brilliant by any stretch.  That seemed to be the consensus among our group, at least.  I don’t like to reduce movie descriptions to numbers on a scale or stars, or anything of that sort.  But on a scale of one to ten I’d give it a 7.5; or, put another way, about three and a half stars out of five.

My younger daughter, who is in seventh grade, is playing middle school volleyball this year.  She is quite an athlete.  She’s a truly gifted swimmer, and has been playing soccer since she was four years old.  But this is the first year she has played volleyball, and frankly I didn’t know what to expect.  I played volleyball in high school; I always enjoyed it.  When my daughter started working with the team, she and I spent some time working on technique.  But until this afternoon, I hadn’t seen her play in a match.

She was awesome.  She serves overhand, with a little run-up and jump.  And her serves are powerful!  She digs out hard shots from the other side like a pro, and she even had a couple of really nice spikes.  It’s not that I didn’t think she had the potential to be good at volleyball.  The truth is, she’s good at just about every sport she tries.  (When she was in fourth grade, she won her school’s Punt, Pass, and Kick competition and then took second place in the second round that covered this section of our state.  All this despite the fact that at the time she won the local competition, we didn’t even own a football.)

What gets me though, is that I didn’t know she could do the things I saw her do this afternoon.  I had no idea.  She blew me away.  Her team lost a very, very tight match, and she was there at the end, a leader on the team, consoling the girl who let up the final point — that might have been the most impressive thing I saw her do, actually.

She’s the younger of my two kids, and in some ways I still think of her as younger than she is.  That’s a mistake that will be much harder to make after what I saw today.

This evening I’m a proud papa.  Actually, I am most evenings…

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