01 July 2012

Guest Blog: D.B. Jackson

This week, we're welcoming historical fantasy author, D.B. Jackson. His title, THIEFTAKERset in 18th-century Boston, is the first in the Thieftaker Chronicles. D.B. is be here to talk about the novel and offer a copy. Please leave your comment for a chance to win. Here's the blurb:

Boston, Province of Massachusetts Bay, August 26, 1765

A warm evening in colonial North America's leading city. Smoke drifts across the South End, and with it the sound of voices raised in anger, of shattering glass and splintering wood. A mob is rioting in the streets, enraged by the newest outrage from Parliament: a Stamp Tax . Houses are destroyed, royal officials are burned in effigy. And on a deserted lane, a young girl is murdered.

Ethan Kaille, a thieftaker of some notoriety, and a conjurer of some skill, is hired by the girl's father to find her killer. Soon he is swept up in a storm of intrigue and magic, politics and treachery. The murder has drawn the notice of the lovely and deadly Sephira Pryce, a rival thieftaker in Boston; of powerful men in the royal government; of leaders of the American rebels, including Samuel Adams; and of a mysterious sorcerer who wields magic the likes of which Ethan has never encountered before.

To learn the truth of what happened that fateful night, Ethan must recover a stolen gem and sound the depths of conjurings he barely understands, all while evading Sephira and her henchmen, holding the royals and rebels at bay, and defending himself and those he loves from the shadowy conjurer.

No problem. Provided he doesn't get himself killed in the process.

Thieftaker is the first volume in the Thieftaker Chronicles, the new historical fantasy from D.B. Jackson. Combining elements of traditional fantasy, urban fantasy, mystery and historical fiction, Thieftaker is sure to appeal to readers who enjoy intelligent fantasy and history with an attitude.

**Q&A with D.B. Jackson**

Can you tell us a bit about THIEFTAKER?

THIEFTAKER is what I call historical urban fantasy.  It is set in Colonial Boston in the 1760s, just as the unrest that will eventually lead to the American Revolution is starting to disrupt life in the city.  My lead character, Ethan Kaille, is a thieftaker, a sort of 18th century private investigator who, for a fee, retrieves stolen items and returns them to their rightful owner.  He is also a conjurer and a ex-convict with a dark past -- he is, in my opinion, the most interesting and complex protagonist I’ve ever written.

The novel begins on the night of the Stamp Act riots.  While a mob is rampaging through the city streets, a young woman, the daughter of a wealthy merchant, is found murdered.  Some want to blame the mob for her death, but naturally our hero has other ideas, and soon he’s drawn into a web of intrigue that puts him at odds with representatives of the Crown, with leaders of the revolutionary movement, including Samuel Adams, with a rival thieftaker -- the beautiful and deadly Sephira Pryce -- and with a mysterious conjurer who is far more powerful than anyone Ethan has encountered before.  I won’t say more than that, because I don’t want to spoil any surprises.  But basically the book combines fantasy, mystery, and historical fiction in a way that I think turned out pretty well.

Is it part of a series, or is it a stand-alone novel?

Um . . . yes.  It’s actually both.  THIEFTAKER is the first book of the Thieftaker Chronicles which will be a series of stand alone mysteries built around a different historical event leading toward the rebellion against British rule.  So the mystery in this first book coincides with the Stamp Act crisis.  The mystery in the second book, THIEVES’ QUARRY, which will be out in the summer of 2013, takes place against the backdrop of the occupation of Boston in the fall of 1768.  And I have it in mind to write at least two more books in the Thieftaker “universe.”

I put a lot into my research for THIEFTAKER, and I love the setting, the characters, the concept -- so I wanted to make a series out of it.  I would like to keep writing about Ethan and Sephira and everyone else in their world for a while.  But I also wanted my readers to be able to pick up any book in the series and jump right in without worrying about which books came in which order.  So writing the books in this way -- as a series of stand-alones -- seemed to make sense.
Where did the idea for THIEFTAKER come from, and why did you choose this particular period in U.S. history?

The idea for THIEFTAKER actually started with a footnote that I read in Robert Hughes’ wonderful history of Australia, THE FATAL SHORE.  My wife and I were preparing for her Sabbatical during which we were going to live for a year Down Under -- that’s why I was reading the book.  I should probably mention here that I have a Ph.D. in U.S. history and am a refugee from academia.  I’m pretty much a nerd, which you probably knew the moment I said that I had been reading a footnote . . .  Anyway, the footnote mentioned England’s foremost thieftaker, a man named Jonathan Wild.  Wild was a brute and criminal who was responsible for nearly all the thefts that he “solved” as a thieftaker.  He or his henchmen would steal goods, and then those things that Wild couldn’t sell for great profit he would turn around and return for a fee.  He made a fortune, and all the while was hailed for his uncanny ability to recover stolen goods.  And I thought “What a great idea for a book character!”  I modeled my lead character’s nemesis, Sephira Pryce, after Wild.  It might be the first time I had a book idea present itself to me in the form of an antagonist rather than a protagonist.

In its first incarnation, THIEFTAKER was actually set in a world of my imagining. After discussing the concept with my editor, though, I agreed to consider rewriting it as a historical.  We thought about putting it in London, but then I suggested pre-Revolutionary America, and he loved the idea.  I have always been fascinated by the period leading up to the Revolution.  It is a time fraught with anxiety and uncertainty.  Most colonists in the 1760s still considered themselves loyal subjects of the British Empire, but they were also starting to perceive that there was something unique about their status as Americans.  For a character like Ethan Kaille, who is trying to find his way in the world after serving nearly fourteen years in prison, this added uncertainty seems a perfect complement to his personal struggles.  Finally, I chose Boston, because it was at the center of so many key events leading to the American Revolution.  Also, by the 1760s it had lost its status as North America’s leading city.  New York and Philadelphia were bigger, more prosperous.  Boston had fallen on hard times and grown rather seedy.  It was, in short, a mirror of my lead character.
You mentioned before that you have a Ph.D. in history.  Aside from the obvious benefits for writing historical fiction, what do you think that your educational background has done for your career?

Primarily, I think that getting my Ph.D. gave me the discipline I need to be a successful writer.  I know that there are lots of writers out there with as much talent as I have -- many of them have more.  But writing my dissertation, which was far, far less fun than writing my novels, trained me to write on demand, to put my butt in the chair even on those days when I wanted nothing at all to do with writing.  It also trained my mind, teaching me to find narrative in seemingly disparate and unrelated events.  That’s a valuable skill for an academic, but I think it’s also helpful for a fiction writer in that it has allowed me to tie together subplots in innovative and unexpected ways.

Writing under another name, David B. Coe, you are part of the Magical Words blogsite.  Can you tell us a bit about that? 

Of course.  Magical Words was founded by Faith Hunter, Misty Massey, and me.  We met at a writer’s conference, hit it off, and decided that we wanted to work together on some project or another.  And since we had spent the weekend teaching, we had the idea of creating a blog devoted entirely to the craft and business of writing.  Each weekday, we would have new content offering advice to aspiring writers.  We brought several other writers into the site as regular contributors -- our line-up currently includes C.E. Murphy, A.J. Hartley, and Kalayna Pryce, as well as occasional contributors Carrie Ryan, Diana Pharaoh Francis, Mindy Klasky, and Lucienne Diver -- and have maintained the site for four and a half years now.  We even have a book out called HOW TO WRITE MAGICAL WORDS: A WRITER’S COMPANION.  The site, with its extensive archive of old posts, is a great resource for writers looking for help with their craft or for advice on the market.
All right -- it seems appropriate then to finish by asking what single piece of writing advice you would offer to an aspiring writer.

There are so many possible answers, so many good tidbits that have been mentioned by people on the Magical Words site.  I guess my one bit of advice would be to finish what you start.  I hear from lots of aspiring writers who have novel fragments and story fragments on their hard drives that are not ready for the market. They have lots of ideas, but have yet to complete any of them.  They get bogged down in the plotting or character problems that invariably crop up during the preparation of a manuscript.  And I would say, fight through it.  Get something done.  Finishing a book or story gives a sense of accomplishment that really cannot be matched, but more to the point, it is easier to revise than it is to compose.  If you can make yourself finish your work-in-progress and THEN go back to fix its problems, you will have a much easier time making the book what you want it to be.  Finish what you start; don’t retreat into rewrites before the story is done.

Thank you, D.B., and best of luck with THIEFTAKER!