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Author: David B. Coe

On Release Day for My Latest Novel, I Ponder My Inspirations

On Release Day for My Latest Novel, I Ponder My Inspirations

Time's Children DB Jackson-small Time's Demon new hires-small

Two weeks ago, John O’Neill was kind enough to publish in Black Gate my review of Guy Gavriel Kay’s newest novel A Brightness Long Ago. In the review, I mention that Guy Kay’s work has long been an influence and inspiration for my own. As John and I discussed what I might write for a post marking today’s release of my latest work, Time’s Demon, book two in my Islevale Cycle, he reflected on that line in my review and asked if I might want to put together a piece on the works that have shaped my writing and my career. This is why the man is a World Fantasy Award-winning editor.

Authors writing about our inspirations quickly find ourselves in tricky territory. The fact is that everything we read influences us, just as does every other thing we experience. Our creativity comes from a deeply personal place, and each of us is the sum of, among other things, our experiences, our emotions, the people with whom we interact, and, yes, the art to which we’re exposed. Anything I read can help to shape my work-in-progress – even the worst book ever penned might at least point me in the direction of things I don’t want to do with my next scene. So clearly, when we talk about our influences, we mean something deeper and more substantive.

Then there is the fact that many of our closest friends are also colleagues, and we don’t wish to offend with an act of omission. Again, all that I read influences me in some way, and I am constantly inspired by the talent, vision, and passion of writers I know and care about.

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A New Gem from a Seasoned Master: Guy Gavriel Kay’s A Brightness Long Ago

A New Gem from a Seasoned Master: Guy Gavriel Kay’s A Brightness Long Ago

A Brightness Long Ago-smallBy any measure, Guy Gavriel Kay is a giant in the field of fantasy. He has won a World Fantasy Award (for Ysabel in 2008) and been nominated for three others. He has won the Aurora and Sunburst awards, and in 2014 was made a member of the Order of Canada. Even before the release of his first series, the critically acclaimed Fionavar Tapestry (The Summer Tree, The Wandering Fire, The Darkest Road) Kay had already established himself as an important figure in the fantasy world by editing The Silmarillion with Christopher Tolkien. Every one of his thirteen novels has enjoyed stunning critical success. And on a personal note, his work, with its lyrical prose, insightful character work, and brilliant world building, has been an inspiration to me throughout my career.

It is no exaggeration to say that the release of a new Guy Gavriel Kay novel is always a notable event in our genre. The May 14 publication of his latest work, A Brightness Long Ago (Berkley), promises to be no exception. Moving, intriguing, surprising, and ultimately deeply satisfying, it ranks with Tigana, The Lions of Al-Rassan, Ysabel, and Under Heaven as one of Kay’s very best.

A recitation of the plot of A Brightness Long Ago hardly does justice to the richness of this narrative. An old man, Guidanio Cerra, reflects on his past, in particular his life-altering romance with a young noblewoman, Adria Ripoli. They first meet on a night in Danio’s youth when Adria has come to the city-state of Mylasia, posing as an innocent who has been sent to satisfy the sadistic sexual appetites of Mylasia’s Count Uberto. In reality, she has come to assassinate the Count. But Adria is wounded in their encounter and is unable to flee the palace without help. Danio knows the count was a brute, and he admires Adria’s strength and courage, as well as her beauty. He also knows of her noble heritage. He offers his aid, allowing her to evade capture.

They next meet when Adria rides a mount in the famed race of Bischio. It is rare for a woman to ride, unheard of for the daughter of a noble house to do so, though in this, too, she attempts to keep her identity hidden. The extravagant wagering on the race attracts the notice of rival mercenary commanders, Teobaldo Monticola di Remigio and Folco Cino d’Acorsi, and the contest’s unexpected outcome draws Danio into the drama of the men’s blood feud.

To reveal more would be to spoil some truly wonderful moments of drama, suspense, passion, tragedy, and vengeance. It is enough to say that the pace of this tale does not flag.

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Books and Craft: Parables for the Modern Reader

Books and Craft: Parables for the Modern Reader

WizardofEarthsea-small The Tombs of Atuan-small The Farthest Shore-small

The Earthsea Trilogy (Bantam, 1975). Covers by Pauline Ellison

Early last year, I began a column here at Black Gate that I call “Books and Craft.” The idea was to shine a light on the writing elements that contribute to the greatness of classic works in our genre. (You might care to read my previous pieces on Nicola Griffith’s Slow River, and Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana .) I intended to write these on a regular basis, but life and work intervened. Today I’m happy to be back with a new “Books and Craft” post about books that have long been deeply special to me.

Ursula K. Le Guin died earlier this year after a stellar career of nearly sixty years. She was a master of speculative fiction, one of the most decorated writers ever to grace our genre. She was perhaps best known for her science fiction novels set in the Hainish Universe, but personally, I am most fond of her fantasy, specifically the first three of her Earthsea novels: A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, and The Farthest Shore. (In fact, my newest series, The Islevale Cycle, is set in a world of islands and seas that I meant as an homage to Earthsea and Le Guin.)

These three early Earthsea novels, often referred to as The Earthsea Trilogy, were published as children’s books. They were written, though, with a spare sophistication and elegance that appealed to a broad audience and brought them critical and commercial success. Earthsea is a world of myth, rich culture, and social complexity. By creating a network of islands and archipelagos, Le Guin ensured that her land would be home to a variety of traditions, customs, and people. And in making Ged, the hero of the series, dark-skinned, she brought a non-traditional protagonist to a genre that had, until that time, been overwhelmingly white.

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Books and Craft: World Building and the Importance of Setting

Books and Craft: World Building and the Importance of Setting

Tigana Anniversary Edition-small Tigana Anniversary Edition-back-small

After a longer hiatus than I had a intended, I am back with the second in my Books and Craft series of articles on the elements of story telling that make “classic” and “must-read novels”… well, classic and must-read. In my first entry, I wrote about Nicola Griffith’s science fiction masterpiece, Slow River, and Griffith’s innovative use of point of view.

Today, I turn to one of my favorite fantasy novels: Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana, a stand-alone epic fantasy (that rarest of all things), which first appeared in print in 1990. I actually referred to this book in my first column, while making a point that bears repeating. As with Slow River, there is no one craft element of Tigana that makes it a successful novel. Kay displays here the command of language and pacing, character development and narrative arc his readers have come to expect. Another observer might focus on one of these, or some other facet of his work, to explain why they love this novel — or any of the others he has penned in a spectacular career that now spans more than three decades.

But to my mind, the defining characteristic of Tigana, the one that established it as my favorite fantasy when I first read it so many years ago, is its magnificent world building. In creating the Palm, a hand-shaped landmass of rival kingdoms that is somewhat reminiscent of medieval Mediterranean Europe, Kay has blended religion and ritual, history and politics, cuisine and viticulture and music and art, into something so rich, so alive, so compelling, that the reader cannot help but be transported with each cracking of the book’s spine. All that unfolds in Tigana’s pages flows from this sense of place.

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Battles with Blades and Bows, and Creatures Charming and Terrifying: Journeys, edited by Teresa Edgerton

Battles with Blades and Bows, and Creatures Charming and Terrifying: Journeys, edited by Teresa Edgerton

Journeys Teresa Edgerton-smallI admit it. As both a writer and a reader, I’m a sucker for a good themed anthology. The writer in me loves responding creatively to a prompt, finding inspiration in the unexpected. The reader in me is always fascinated to see the range of tales a collection of talented, thoughtful authors can tease from a shared basic notion.

Journeys, an epic fantasy anthology, edited by Teresa Edgerton and published by Nathan Hystad’s imprint, Woodbridge Press, hits the cybershelves on February 15th. For fans of sword and sorcery, of legend and myth, of quests and creatures and unforeseen narrative twists, it is a strong, at times compelling collection of short fiction from fourteen accomplished authors. The theme for the anthology is fairly simple and broad enough to allow every contributor as much freedom as possible. As Hystad put it, “Though I was asking for a common trope, the genre could be… really any fantasy style, with a journey, quest, or adventure as the central premise.”

Great anthologies often bring together a mix of established authors, and writers who are just at the start of their professional careers. On the one hand, we have well-known artists who can be counted on to build on a long personal history of excellent storytelling. We also encounter, though, the fresh voice, the writer whose name is not yet familiar, but whose talent shines through in the most surprising ways. With Journeys, Teresa Edgerton has managed to strike such a balance, bringing together authors from the UK. and the US, some with long resumés, some with only a story or two to their credit.

Among the more established names, we find John Gwynne, who draws inspiration from Celtic legend in “The Sundering,” a story of love, betrayal, and vengeance. Gail Z. Martin, who on her own and with her husband, Larry N. Martin, has penned several series ranging from epic fantasy to steampunk to urban fantasy, gives us a tale set in the universe explored by her Fallen Kings Cycle. Adrian Tchaikovsky and Juliet E. McKenna, who have enjoyed success in the U.K. as well as the U.S., give us a pair of powerful narratives. Tchaikovsky’s “The World Wound,” follows rivals who must work together to heal a rift in the fabric of the world that threatens the very existence of humanity. McKenna, in “The Road to Hadrumal,” has returned to one of her own previously explored worlds to craft a story of magic and hope.

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Books and Craft: The Power of Point of View

Books and Craft: The Power of Point of View

Slow River Del Rey-small Slow River Del Rey-back-small

Today, I begin a new column here at Black Gate. I’ve been toying with the idea for “Books and Craft” for some time now. As an avid reader, a professional author, a writing mentor and instructor, and a lifelong student of craft, I have long been interested in what it is about certain books that capture our imaginations and elicit our passions. Why do we return again and again to certain stories? What qualities define “classic” novels and “must-read” new ones?

In this column, I hope to address those questions. I plan to look at a variety of fantasy novels, and science fiction as well, with an eye toward identifying an element of craft that contributes to their success. Sometimes the books will be familiar — those classics of the genre we know so well. Sometimes they’ll be more obscure titles — hidden gems that you might not know, but ought to. And sometimes they’ll be new works that demand our attention.

Let me be clear: I am not so presumptuous as to suggest that the specific craft element I identify is necessarily THE single factor in a given book’s success. Just because I might focus on, say, world building in Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana, that doesn’t mean his character work (or his prose, or his pacing) isn’t spectacular as well. My articles are intended to be illustrative and even instructive, but certainly not definitive. Whether as readers or as writers, we have something to learn from the work of successful artists. My hope is that these articles will help you see aspects of storytelling that you might not have noticed previously.

And so…

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Enough, Part II

Enough, Part II

Hugo Award Black GateA couple of weeks ago in this space, I waded into the Hugos nomination controversy with a statement about my own view of awards. Today, I wish to take that discussion in a somewhat different direction.

I’d like to begin today’s installment with an anecdote. Back in 1996, my wife and I were watching the Academy Awards, rooting for our favorite films to win. One of those films was Apollo 13, which was up for nine awards that night, including best visual effects.

The visual effects category was unusual that year, in that only two movies were nominated. And to us, Apollo 13 seemed to have it in the bag. In the introduction of the category the presenters talked about all that director Ron Howard had done to reproduce faithfully for the screen the launch and flight of an Apollo spacecraft, including the use of reduced gravity aircraft. It was impressive stuff. To top it off, the movie was up against Babe, a movie in which pigs and other barnyard animals had been made to look like they were really talking.

So what happened? The pig won. We were flabbergasted.

Looking back in later years, though, I understood what I hadn’t then. As good as the effects were for Apollo 13, there had been, in past years, other movies that recreated space flight, including zero gravity conditions, and did so convincingly. Apollo 13’s effects were amazing, but they didn’t change the game. On the other hand, no one had ever seen a pig talk quite like this.

The Academy wasn’t saying that Apollo 13’s effects were bad. They might not even have been saying that Babe’s effects were better. They were recognizing the innovation, as awards of this sort often do.

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Enough, Part I

Enough, Part I

Dead Man's Reach-smallFor weeks now, I have debated back and forth about this post, and even as I write it and contemplate submitting it to Black Gate, I remain ambivalent about whether or not I should. I have kept silent throughout the spring and summer, watching as the genre I love tears itself apart, and I haven’t known what to do. I still don’t.

I have two original, novel-length releases coming this summer. Dead Man’s Reach, due out on July 21, is the fourth book in my Thieftaker Chronicles, a historical urban fantasy series I write for Tor Books under the name D.B. Jackson. His Father’s Eyes, which drops on August 4, is the second book in The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, a contemporary urban fantasy that I write for Baen Books under my own name, David B. Coe.

Put another way, I have two books coming out this summer from different publishers, in different series, under different names. And, I should add, I’m thrilled by this. As any author writing these days knows, busy is good; I’m happy to say that I’m as busy as I’ve ever been.

But I am writing for Tor and Baen, the two houses at the center of the Sad/Rabid Puppy controversy that has ravaged science fiction and fantasy over the past several months. I knew going in to my contract with Baen (the most recent book contract I’ve signed) that I might be putting myself in an awkward position. I’ve been writing for Tor for nearly twenty years, covering four series and a total of sixteen novels. I’m new to Baen, but have known the editors there for years, and was delighted when presented with the chance to work with them. I can speak to the strengths of both houses, and have done so recently.

Politically, I’m more in tune with the culture at Tor than the one at Baen. But in that regard I join a large group of wonderful, left-leaning writers who publish with Baen, including, among others, Eric Flint, Mercedes Lackey, and Steve Miller and Sharon Lee. The folks at Baen treat all of their writers well, and as long as we meet our deadlines, write good books, and promote the hell out of them, they don’t give a damn about our politics. Which is precisely as it should be. And Tor, which publishes John Wright as well as John Scalzi, does exactly the same.

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