David B. Coe (a.k.a. D.B. Jackson) has been my dear friend for over a decade (David contributed a guest post on my blog recently in which he discussed the circumstances of our meeting in 2002, and our friendship since then).
David is not only an exceptionally talented writer (his Thieftaker books are my favorite) but he’s also exceptionally prolific. I’m not kidding–the guy has TEN books out this summer.
Okay…so maybe I’m exaggerating. But not by much. Check out: Water Witch, Dead Man’s Reach, His Father’s Eyes…and I’m sure I’m missing something. On top of the hundreds of guest posts he wrote for this month’s blog tour to celebrate all these releases. LIKE THIS ONE! Which I demanded. Because what else are friends for? <grin>
Choosing three books that changed my life, even if it’s just for the purposes of a blog tour, is a little like choosing “Three Meals That Helped me Grow Big and Strong.” Sort of. Actually, no one would ever accuse of me of being either big or strong. But you get the idea. The first thought that pops to mind is “Only three?” And the second is, “Okay, how many people am I going to tick off by leaving their books off the list?”
A lot of fantasy/SF writers would choose the classics, and I suppose I could make a case for putting Lord of the Rings, or other landmark works in the field on my list. The truth is, though, my journey into a writing career began long before I discovered speculative fiction.
The first book that changed my life might also have been the first “serious” book I read without any help at all from my parents. Back when I was a little kid, and dinosaurs roamed the earth, Grosset and Dunlap published a series of nature books for children. Mammals Do the Strangest Things, Fish Do the Strangest Things, and the one that caught my fancy, Birds Do the Strangest Things. I loved all the …Do the Strangest Things books, but at the time, I was discovering what would become a lifelong passion for birds and birdwatching, and I found this book utterly fascinating. It described, among other things, the elaborate bachelor pads constructed by bowerbirds, that creepy 360-degree-turn-thing owls do with their heads, and the fact that some shrikes impale their prey on thorns and barbed wire to store for future meals, like little birdy survivalists.
Joking aside, Birds Do the Strangest Things confirmed for me that my love of birds wasn’t weird, or a valid justification for teasing from my contemporaries. Birds, the book assured me, were just as amazing as I believed. More, so were books themselves. This one fed my passion; it captivated and inspired me. Most important, it befriended me. I returned to it again and again, and each time it welcomed me, admitting me to a world that didn’t judge or ridicule. My lifelong love affair with the written word began with this book.
Our literary needs change as we get older, and I went through some fairly typical reading phases over the next ten to fifteen years: Hardy Boys mysteries and books about baseball, more sophisticated nature books and a host of novels, among them The Hobbit. When I was sixteen, having read Catcher in the Rye, John Knowles’ A Separate Peace, and a couple of other “coming of age” novels, as YA was known back then, I stumbled across Good Times, Bad Times, by James Kirkwood. (Kirkwood also wrote the script for A Chorus Line, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.) Good Times, Bad Times, appeared a decade after A Separate Peace, and in some ways the books were similar. Kirkwood’s novel told the story of Peter Kilburn, a typical alienated teen who goes off to prep school. There he’s befriended by Jordan Legier, a brilliant, charismatic kid with health problems. Their friendship deepens, but, predictably, is cut short by tragedy.
I’m the youngest by far of four children, and though Salinger and Knowles spoke to my siblings, I was a different kid, living in a different time. Kirkwood’s book touched my emotions in ways the older titles couldn’t and no other book had. It dealt with all the things I was thinking about at the time: friendship, sex, death, the struggle to fit in and still maintain some semblance of individuality. I understood its characters, and I imagined that if they were real, they would have understood me. Upon finishing it, I immediately started over from the beginning. I did that four times, and even after that binge returned repeatedly to certain passages. Good Times, Bad Times got me through my sophomore and junior years in high school.
Which brings us to number three. Given that I’m a fantasy author, I suppose it’s not surprising that one of my choices is in the genre. I’m cheating in a way, because my third life-changing book is actually a trilogy: Stephen R. Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever (Lord Foul’s Bane, The Illearth War, and The Power That Preserves). By the time I read the series, I had already fallen in love with fantasy. I knew that I wanted to read as much of it as I could.
Donaldson made me want to write.
Reading those books came as a revelation. His world was fascinating and strange; his “hero” was dark, at times evil, always difficult to like. I never wanted to create a protagonist like Covenant; I found him too distasteful. But having read fantasies that all struck me as somewhat similar, I felt as though Donaldson had drawn back a curtain, revealing a thousand new possibilities. If he could turn Covenant, this leprous misanthrope, into a hero, and create a world that embodied health and healing, a fantasy writer could do anything.
From the moment I finished reading the first Covenant trilogy, I knew I would be a fantasy author. I intended to explore every nook and cranny of my imagination, and though I still have a long way to go before I satisfy that ambition, I’ve at least made a dent in it. This summer I have two new novels out. The first, Dead Man’s Reach, the fourth volume of the Thieftaker Chronicles, which I write for Tor Books under the name D.B. Jackson, came out on July 21. The second, His Father’s Eyes, the second installment in the Case Files of Justis Fearsson, which write as David B. Coe, comes out from Baen Books on August 4. These will be my seventeenth and eighteenth published novels.
At first glance, my newest books may seem to have little in common with Birds Do the Strangest Things and Good Times, Bad Times. But the passion for reading sparked by the first title, and nourished by my teenage obsession with the second, made possible the spark of inspiration the came with the third. Taken together, they put me on the path to where I am now, and I couldn’t be more grateful.
David B. Coe/D.B. Jackson is the award-winning author of eighteen fantasy novels. Under the name D.B. Jackson, he writes the Thieftaker Chronicles, a historical urban fantasy from Tor Books that includes Thieftaker, Thieves’ Quarry, A Plunder of Souls, and, the newest volume, Dead Man’s Reach, was released on July 21. Under his own name, he writes The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, a contemporary urban fantasy from Baen Books. The first volume, Spell Blind, debuted in January 2015. The newest book in the series, His Father’s Eyes, comes out on August 4. He lives on the Cumberland Plateau with his wife and two daughters. They’re all smarter and prettier than he is, but they keep him around because he makes a mean vegetarian fajita. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.