David B. Coe: HIS FATHER’S EYES, a Cathartic Novel

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David B. Coe/D.B. JacksonIf it seems like I just had a release day, like, two weeks ago, that’s because I did. Today is release say for His Father’s Eyes, book II in The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, the contemporary urban fantasy I’m writing as David B. Coe for Baen Books. And I’m pretty excited.

You’ll notice right away that the art for this series is quite different from the art for the Thieftaker books. In part that’s a function of the publisher. Baen likes stuff that looks a little pulpy — and I don’t mean that as a bad thing at all. The roots of our genre lie in the great pulp novels of the mid-20th century, and Baen draws on that tradition with all of its titles. More, I think that the Fearsson books have a noir-pulp element to them, along with a Gothic element and a fantasy element . . . I often describe them as Jekyll and Hyde meets the Wolfman, with a noir voice and spell magic.

For those of you who have yet to check out the first book in the series, Spell Blind — and shame on you if this is the case! — the Fearsson Books are about Justis “Jay” Fearsson, who is a weremyste. Weremystes are sorcerers — runecrafters, as they are also known. But every month on the night of the full moon and the nights immediately before and after, they go through what’s called the phasing. Their minds weaken and they go temporarily insane. At the same time, their magic strengthens so that when they are least able to control the powers they wield, they are most at risk of hurting themselves or others. And, in the long run, these phasings exact a heavy psychic toll, leaving most weremystes permanently delusional. Jay’s father, Leander Fearsson, is also a weremyste and his mind is pretty much shot, offering Jay an up-close view of his own dark future.

His Father's Eyes, by David B. Coe (Jacket art by Alan Pollock)The phasings have cost Jay his job as a cop, so now he’s a private detective, and in the first book he is called upon to help track down a magical serial killer who eluded him while he was on the police force. In this second book, His Father’s Eyes, Jay’s father is under assault from some sort of unseen magical being. Jay isn’t sure whether his father is imagining these attacks or if they’re real, but as the novel progresses, he stumbles upon a cabal of dark sorcerers who are using blood sacrifices to fuel a war with those who control the runecraft and keep it from being used for evil purposes. I’m not going to tell you much more than that, but I will say that in the course of the novel Jay deals with an attempted terrorist attack on a commercial jetliner, another string of bloody murders, a were-coyote, and, of course, the twisted, tragic truth of his mother’s death. Hijinks ensue.

As I mentioned in a post last month, I believe this book, along with Dead Man’s Reach, the fourth Thieftaker novel, which came out in July, represents my best work to date. I had visions for both novels — I had a strong sense of what I wanted the finished products to look like — and, lo and behold, they both came out exactly as I had intended. That doesn’t always happen, even for professionals, but when it does, it’s magic.

But there’s another reason I love this book so much, and I’ll admit that it seems a bit perverse, even to me. His Father’s Eyes is dedicated to my own dad, who I lost far too early. He and my mother died within a 15 month span. It was, without a doubt, the darkest period of my life. I wrote about it a bit, early in my career, but then I buried that pain away, believing, perhaps correctly, that for a while at least I was better off focusing on my family, my career, my friends. I started this book in 2006, but I didn’t get far, and then I had little choice but to put it away as I struggled to rewrite and sell Spell Blind.

When I finally got around to writing His Father’s Eyes last year, I realized that I’d been fortunate in a way. I wasn’t ready to write this book in 2006. I wasn’t ready to face the issues it was bound to bring up in my emotional life. Eight years later, I was ready. In the months before my mother died, she descended into an Alzheimer’s-like dementia. She was stolen for us well before we actually lost her. My father grieved for her as I had never seen anyone grieve before, and when he became ill, he hadn’t the will to battle his disease. He wasn’t willing to fight for a life that no longer included my mom.

I drew on all of this in His Father’s Eyes: my mom’s dementia, my father’s illness and grief, and my own pain at recognizing, denying, and finally accepting — because what choice did I have? — the mortality of my parents. This probably makes it sound like writing the book was an ordeal. And I think that if I had written it in 2006, it would have been. That was still too soon. But writing the book last year felt right. It was cathartic, and thought-provoking, and ultimately incredibly satisfying.

I have a friend, a writer and a very good one, who says that everything we feel and think and experience is grist for the creative mill. She’s right. The caveat, though, is that we can’t always process those emotions and experiences right away. Sometimes it takes time — weeks, months, even years. This October it will twenty years since my mother died, and in January it will be nineteen since we lost Dad. Because, sometimes it takes that long.

Once upon a time, I thought there was something wrong with using grief, loss, and the memory of love as inspiration for my work. I wondered if by delving into those emotions, I was exploiting something sacrosanct. I know better now. I honor my parents by remembering them. I honor them by creating something powerful and compelling out of their memory.

So that’s why I love this book perhaps more than any I’ve written before.

Are there ways in which your own life experiences have shaped your WIP? Care to share?

I hope you enjoy His Father’s Eyes. And I hope, if you do, that you’ll tell your friends about it.

*****

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, which 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 (today!). 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.

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6 comments to David B. Coe: HIS FATHER’S EYES, a Cathartic Novel

  • […] I am also back at the Magical Words blog site, with a post about the new book and all that it means to me. This was a difficult and cathartic book for me to write, and the post touches on why. You can find it here. […]

  • I think your friend is right; everything we experience opens a possibility for our writing. Sometimes we can’t write about it until we’ve processed. Sometimes writing is processing it. Sometimes it shows up without our realizing it. Case in point. I lost my mom when I was a senior in college. (And I still haven’t found her! *ba dum dum ching!* Sorry–I’m a fan of gallows humor.) But when I look back at my work, there are a lot of dead and missing moms. Shocking, right? 🙂

  • Emily, thanks for the comment. Yes, I find that I do a lot of parents estranged from their children when they die, and the reason, I think, is that when my mom died, she had still not reconciled herself to my decision to give up academia and write fiction. I still feel that estrangement, even though she’s gone nearly 20 years now. We really are just literary baggage carousels . . .

  • I think that’s an amazing way to honour your parents.

    “Until you’ve processed” really makes sense. So then it may be worth it worth it to note/write down the feelings while they’re being felt, then go back and revisit them once we’ve moved on and can view them more analytically. That may actually be part of the processing.

    My own anxieties and frustrations with certain things going on in my life have definitely influenced things I’ve written. The WIP I’m trying to sell came out of my time as a practicing witch, which is interesting because in the act of writing, I found myself leaving that world and community behind (or as I like to say, “Writing is my craft now.”) 😉

  • Razziecat

    David, my deepest sympathies for the loss of your parents, even though a couple of decades have passed. I know from experience that life changes a great deal when you lose someone. Personally I find that I can’t consciously put those emotions into my work. But they still find their way in; it happens without my intending it.

    Excuse me, now, while I go buy my copy of His Father’s Eyes 🙂

  • Laura, thank you. I love the line about your craft. And yes, I think that keeping track of the feelings, even if they’re in their raw form and not yet ready to be incorporated into our writing, is the first step in dealing with this stuff, in transforming those feelings from something inchoate, and even frightening on some level, into something that we can express. Thanks for the comment.

    Thank you so much, Razz. I wouldn’t say that I make a conscious decision to use these things. More, I found myself writing and realized that here, at last, was the right time and creative venue for tapping into those old emotions. I never stop missing my folks, but that emotion is colored now far more with the joyful memories I have of them, rather than with the grief of losing them, if that makes sense.