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David B. Coe (a.k.a. D.B. Jackson) on Community and Genre (Part 1)

davidbcoeDavid 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, which was released yesterday, 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.

Community and Genre, Part I

by David B. Coe/D.B. Jackson

I attended my first genre convention in May 1997. It was Magic Carpet Con in Chattanooga and I was the newbie-est of newbies. I had just published my very first novel, Children of Amarid, and I knew nothing about anything. I didn’t understand conventions or the genre; I knew little about the business. But I still remember walking into the Read House Inn in downtown Chattanooga and seeing a guy in full Klingon battle garb, complete with forehead riffles and those spiked Klingon boots. He was pushing a baby stroller. And I thought to myself, “I have arrived.”

What I remember most about that convention is the way I was embraced by all who were there. Fans asked me questions about the new book and where the series was headed. Professionals offered advice, guided me through the intricacies of con etiquette, and offered reassurances about the lukewarm reviews my first novel had received: “Just getting reviewed in PW is good . . .” “Kirkus hates everything . . .” The con organizers treated me like royalty. It was an incredible experience, one that made me want to attend as many conventions as I could.

Looking back on that experience, I realize that no one cared what kind of fiction I was writing. The con had a decidedly SF orientation — most of the pros there wrote space opera (a term I’d never heard before). I think I was the only one writing epic fantasy. No one cared. I was the newest member of the family; that was all that mattered.

In the years since, I have written ten more epic fantasies, a media tie-in, and, most recently, urban fantasy, both historical and contemporary. My newest books, Dead Man’s Reach, the fourth volume in the Thieftaker Chronicles, a historical UF I write for Tor Books under the name D.B. Jackson, and His Father’s Eyes, the second book in The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, a contemporary UF I write for Baen Books under my own name, David B. Coe, are both out this summer. I’m a bit late coming to urban fantasy — according to many, this particular sub-genre peaked commercially some years ago. I really don’t care. I enjoy writing these books, and my fans seem to enjoy reading them.

One of the things I love about our genre is the freedom it gives to writers to explore with their fiction whatever they wish: literary themes, social issues, philosophical questions. You name it, we can do it. I have published stories and novels that deal with race, with ecology, with mental illness, with the ethics of bringing back extinct species through genetic engineering, with the meaning of betrayal and vengeance and redemption. I’ve explored those themes in ways that enhance my narratives and settings and character arcs. The issues underlying my work have never been replacements for key story elements, but rather complements to them.

And the stories I have read! I can’t even begin to name all the amazing concepts, story lines, and themes I’ve encountered. I am blessed to have colleagues who are brilliant, passionate, and unbelievably talented. They make me think; they open my mind to ideas I never would have entertained were it not for their novels and short fiction. And they write kick-ass stories, with compelling characters in memorable worlds, or striking re-imaginings of our own world.

I bring all of this up because it seems to me that in recent years some in our genre have started to draw distinctions among different kinds of stories, suggesting that some forms of storytelling are more valuable, more acceptable than others. I would rather not try to define the parameters of these distinctions; suffice it to say that readers and writers from all across the political and social spectrum value different elements of narrative. And that’s fine, there is room in speculative fiction for all tastes, for all approaches.

But that’s the point. None of us is obligated to like everything that is written in our genre. We all encounter books and short fiction that speak to us, move us, make us think. And we have all had the experience of reading something that leaves us cold. This is normal. The problem comes when we start to question the legitimacy of one another’s work. Science fiction/fantasy has always welcomed diverse points of view and a broad spectrum of political perspectives. Those who read and write in the genre represent every walk of life, every segment of society. This has been a source of the genre’s strength and longevity, not to mention it’s growing market position. We are at our best when we are inclusive and tolerant of all voices.

At a time when our nation’s leaders seem incapable of interacting in a spirit of civility and mutual respect, perhaps it’s inevitable that conflict and intolerance should trickle down into other aspects of society. And maybe I’m naïve to believe that the speculative fiction community might be immune. And yet, I hope. I know how important it was to me, when I was just starting out, to find myself embraced by an open, friendly, cohesive community. Don’t those writers and readers coming to our genre now deserve the same?

I will be back here in SF Signal in two weeks time. And I will return then to these themes. For now, comments are open. Feel free to respond.

3 Comments on David B. Coe (a.k.a. D.B. Jackson) on Community and Genre (Part 1)

  1. Paul Weimer (@PrinceJvstin) // July 22, 2015 at 12:22 pm //

    My fear, and my thought is that this is a reflection of the “Blue State/Red State” dichotomy that seems to infect US politics and life.

    The thing is, US fandom is NOT the entirely of world SF fandom, but the former seems to be trying to drag the latter into a culture war. I don’t think readers in Japan, China, Finland or even England care a fig about our politics and the division caused thereby.

  2. That’s a great point, Paul, and one we lose sight of all too often. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t care anymore about this political stuff. I can only imagine how the rest of the world feels.

  3. Samuel M_B // August 6, 2015 at 10:28 am //

    It’s hard to welcome in an open and friendly fashion people who are vocally committed to your marginalization or destruction. (This doesn’t mean necessarily we shouldn’t be open and welcoming, only at least acknowledging that it is hard.) Had you arrived at Magic Carpet Con wearing neo-nazi attire, widely known in the community for your essays in support of Holocaust denial, bearing a fantasy novel forwarding those themes, you may have received a different welcome. We shouldn’t mythologize the cohesion and openness of “pre-2000” fandom beyond a certain point.

    As far as political fatigue, as middle class, white, heterosexual, American, able-bodied, able-minded, English-speaking men, we have the luxury of tossing up our hands and saying that we are tired of it and don’t care about it anymore. For others, they see a call for being apolitical for what it ends up equating to: acquiescence to the political status quo, which marginalizes their voices and destroys their bodies. I am not sure it is fair to categorize “stop marginalizing us” and “stop destroying us” as being exclusive or intolerant statements. (I’m not saying that you personally are saying this, we’ve met and I think quite highly of you both as a human being and as a writer.)

    That said, I was at ConGregate a few weeks ago and there was a sign posted as you entered the con space to the net of: no harassment, no politics. I think it went over fairly well, as these things go, and was taken I think to mean “no political campaigning” instead of “we can’t discuss the politics of Star Trek” etc. I’m not yet sure what I think of it — after all, it’s a curtail of speech, at its root — as it is something I haven’t much encountered outside of the law forbidding political campaigning within X feet of a voting booth. One of the more enjoyable panelist experiences I’ve had is on a panel on politics in fandom with people I respect and with whom I disagree; it would be a shame to silence this kind of discussion, and there should be a pretty high bar to categorically restrict speech. I’m not sure that it was necessary (as the harassment policy and “no jerk” rule seems like it could have handled most situations I can think of) and I’m a little uncomfortable about the idea of removing politics from *science fiction* of all things.

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