Author Interview: David B. Coe
Posted by Dianna Gunn
Today I’m very proud to introduce author David B. Coe. Although not too familiar with his novels, I am a big fan of David B. Coe’s work in the blogosphere, particularly on Magical Words.
1. Can you tell us a bit about your most recent book?
Actually, this is a somewhat more complicated question than it sounds. My most recent novel was actually the novelization of the Ridley Scott/Russell Crowe movie ROBIN HOOD that came out last year. I was hired to turn the script into a novel, which was an interesting experience. I wasn’t allowed to change any dialogue or plot; creatively speaking I only was allowed to explore creatively in descriptive passages and internal monologue. And I only had five weeks to write a 90,000 word novel. But it was a little like playing with someone else’s toys, and so I don’t really count it as one of my books.
So, then I could say that my most recent book is THE DARK-EYES’ WAR, the final book in my Blood of the Southlands trilogy. This is an epic fantasy series, set in the same universe as my Winds of the Forelands quintet. It’s sort of a medical thriller in a medieval setting, except eventually the magical contagion sweeping across the land leads to a war. I loved writing the Southlands and Forelands books — they were filled with sorcery and politics and intrigue. Lots of fun. But THE DARK-EYES’ WAR came out in hardcover about a year ago, and while it will be released in paperback late this year, it doesn’t feel very current.
Which leads us to my third “most recent book,” which I think might be of interest to readers of your blog. I am a co-founder of, and a regular contributer to the Magical Words blog site (http://magicalwords.net), a site devoted to the craft and business of writing. The original members of the site were Faith Hunter, Misty Massey, C.E. Murphy, and me. Catie Murphy is on hiatus from the site, and we have since added A.J. Hartley, Stuart Jaffe, and Edmund Schubert as regular contributers. All of us collaborated on a new writing book called, appropriately enough, HOW TO WRITE MAGICAL WORDS: A WRITER’S COMPANION, which was released by Bella Rosa Books late in December. So that is my latest project. And that’s probably more than you wanted to know….
2. When and how did you decide you were going to become a writer?
I wrote my first novel when I was six. It wasn’t very good, and I did the illustrations myself, which actually made it even worse. But I think on some level I had already decided at that time that I was going to be a writer. Creative writing was always my favorite activity in primary school; when I got to high school I managed to set into a selective writing class, and I went to college expecting that I would be a creative writing major. Things got a bit muddled at that point. I started thinking that maybe journalism would be a more practical pursuit than fiction writing. And then I fell in love with history, and decided that I would get a Ph.D. so that I could teach, and study history, and write. But I eventually decided that the academic life wasn’t exactly what I wanted, and I went back to my first love: fiction.
3. What was the first story you remember writing about?
That first novel that I wrote as a six year-old is about a pair of bald eagles who are making a nest when a hunter comes and tries to shoot them. The eagles attack the hunter and drive him off, and then go back to their nest, where they live happily ever after. The next book, also written when I was six, is about a fish named Jim who none of the other fish like. But then the other fish get trapped in a fishing net, and Jim rescues them. After that, the fish like him, and they all live happily ever after.
Clearly I was grappling with profound issues in these books; the ever-changing struggle between the natural world and humankind, the bleak tableau of the faceless masses in a harsh, capitalistic society and the redemptive power of sacrifice and selflessness. Plus, you know, kid stuff….
4. How long does it usually take you to complete a first draft?
Well, longer now that my books are about more than fish and eagles….
When I started out, I was taking the better part of a year to write my first drafts; nine months at least. But I was less confident in my writing then. I was still learning my craft. And the market was such that epic fantasies were commonly 200,000 words long. These days, I write a book in about half that time, maybe even less. (ROBIN HOOD was an obvious exception.) I’d say four months is about right for me these days. But again, I’m a much more experienced writer, and my books are now coming in at 100,000 to 120,000 words, because that’s what the market will bear.
5. Can you tell us a bit about your editing process?
I think that self-editing might be the most idiosyncratic part of the writing process. I know so many writers, and every one of us seems to have a different approach to editing our work. I tend to write somewhat slowly — maybe 1,500 to 2,000 words a day when I’m in a good rhythm — but I do a lot of polishing as I write. I’m pretty careful with my wording, with my character work, with my plotting — as all professional writers are. But I’m just OCD enough that I can’t move on to a new section of a chapter or story until I feel that what I’m working on is clean and just about how I want it. As a result, my editing process is a bit less intense than that of other people. To be clear: This isn’t because I write better drafts than others, or because I’m doing anything “right” that others are doing “wrong” but simply because I do so much of my editing along the way. So I’ll finish a draft, let it sit for a few weeks, and then go through it a couple of times to change some of the wording and make sure that my plot points fit together.
At that point, I send it off to my agent and either to my editor, or, if the book isn’t under contract yet, to a beta reader or two. Once my readers come back with comments, I’ll go back and start to rework those parts of the book that don’t seem to have worked. If the book is under contract, this revision process will be followed by copyedits and proofs. So, by the time a book goes to press, I’ve read through it and worked on it at least five or six times.
6. What did your road to publication look like?
Well, as I said before, I was in academia, thinking that I would probably get a job teaching history somewhere. But I completed my doctorate in the spring, and I had a few months before the next round of academic jobs were advertised. My wife said, “You know, since the day I met you, you’ve been talking about writing a novel. You have a few months; why don’t you start one?” And that’s what I did. I wrote a few short stories, to get the feel of the world I’d created, and the voice for the novel I wanted to write, and then I started in on the book itself. By the end of the summer, I had finished the first five chapters of what would become CHILDREN OF AMARID, my first novel. I gave the chapters and a synopsis of the rest of the book, to a friend who had been in publishing for years and years, and who had agreed to act as my agent, and he shopped my book around while I applied for history jobs.
We got a couple of rejections. But then, in March, just as I was offered a teaching position at a very good school in Colorado — my history dream job essentially — I also heard from an editor at Tor, who wanted to see everything I had relating to CHILDREN OF AMARID. Basically my two professional pursuits collided in a single day and I had one weekend to make up my mind which path I would follow. I chose writing fiction, and really have never looked back.
7. What do you think the most important piece of advice is for a writer to keep in mind?
I’m going to cheat and give you more than one. The first is simply this: Writers write. It’s fine to talk about how much we love writing, and to bounce story ideas back and forth with friends. But when it comes right down to it, the only way to be successful in this business is to churn out the pages. We have to put our butts in the chair, everyday if possible, and get the work done. Even if we’re not getting published yet, even if we’re collecting stories on our hard drives or in our spiral notebooks, we have to keep on writing.
Second, we have to remember that writing, while it seems to be a solitary endeavor, is actually an interactive art. The Writer needs the Reader, just as a visual artist needs someone to look at her work, or the singer needs someone to hear her song. We can’t be afraid of rejection. No one has ever sold a story without sending it out for others to see. Not everyone will like what we write. Some people might hate it. And I’m not going to lie and say that this doesn’t hurt. It does. But that’s the price of doing business. If a writer is too afraid to send out his or her work, then her/she isn’t really a writer.
And finally, don’t expect to get rich doing this. Some people do, but they are the exceptions to the rule. This is a very, very hard way to make a living. Write because you love it, because you are sickened by the thought of not writing, of not giving expression to the voices in your imagination clamoring to be heard, of not telling those stories burning a hole in your chest. If you don’t love it that much, don’t do it, because the pay sucks, the hours are worse, and there is no job security.
8. What do you think about the future of the ebook industry?
Obviously, the ebook industry is growing, and will continue to grow at an accelerating rate. But I do not believe that paper books will disappear any time soon. The model often used when people predict this is the recording industry — the switch from LPs to CDs to digital. But I think this analogy breaks down pretty quickly. The percentage of the general population that listens to music is huge; the percentage that reads books is actually very small. And while book readers are enjoying ebooks, they also love their dead tree books, and won’t give them up any time soon. I also believe that ebooks will actually bring more readers to the market and may well wind up being a boon to the publishing industry.
There is a dark side to it as well, though, as one would expect. The publishing industry has contracted in recent decades, to the detriment of writers and readers alike. There are fewer publishers now, fewer markets, which means fewer opportunities for authors and fewer choices for readers. I think that as proprietary technological battles over format play themselves out, we’re going to wind up with only one or two real players in the ebook market, and I think that could be dangerous, in that it could severely narrow the market yet again.
And for the record, no, I don’t own an e-reader of any sort. But my wife has an iPad.
9. What are you reading right now?
A couple of things. I always have the latest issue of THE NEW YORKER handy. It’s a great publication — I can find not only fiction, but also articles about politics, technology, popular culture, social issues, etc. It’s entertaining, and it also is constantly giving me story ideas. I also have a bunch of books on my To Be Read pile, all of them by friends: RAGAMUFFIN by Tobias Buckell, BLOOD CROSS by Faith Hunter, STAYING DEAD by Laura Anne Gilman; DOPPLEGANGSTER by Laura Resnick, to name a few. And I’m in the middle of a history book called AS IF AN ENEMY’S COUNTRY by Richard Archer, which I’m reading for my current work in progress.
10. What are you working on right now that readers can look forward to?
What a segue! My next project is something I am totally jazzed about. I am writing historical urban fantasy under a new pseudonym: D.B. Jackson. The series is called Chronicles of the Thieftaker, and the first book, which will be out in May 2012 is called THIEFTAKER. It is set in pre-Revolutionary Boston, and it is about a man named Ethan Kaille who makes his living as a thieftaker, essentially an eighteenth century private investigator. Ethan is a former mutineer and convict. He’s also a sorcerer. And in this first book he investigates the murder of a young woman who dies the night of the Stamp Act Riots and who appears to have been killed by magic. The second book is with my editor right now; I’ll be revising it soon.
I’m also writing a fantasy for middle readers; I have a contemporary urban fantasy that needs one last rewrite before I shop it around; and I have an idea for a new contemporary urban fantasy that I plan to start once I’ve completed the middle reader book.
Thanks very much for the questions!
Bio: David B. Coe is the Crawford award-winning author of the LonTobyn Chronicle trilogy, the Winds of the Forelands quintet, the Blood of the Southlands trilogy, and more than a half dozen short stories. He has also written the novelization of director Ridley Scott’s movie, Robin Hood, starring Russell Crowe. His books have been translated into a dozen languages. He is currently working on a new historical fantasy, Thieftaker, which will be published under the name D.B. Jackson.
David is also part of the Magical Words group blog (http://magicalwords.net), and co-author of How To Write Magical Words: A Writer’s Companion. His web site can be found at: http://www.DavidBCoe.com.