28 July 2013

Guest Blog: D.B. Jackson

This week, we're welcoming author D.B. Jackson, whose latest novel THIEVES' QUARRY is set in America's 18th century and follows Jackson's earlier novel, THIEFTAKER. The author will offer a free copy of THIEVES' QUARRY to a lucky blog visitor. Here's the blurb:

Boston, Province of Massachusetts Bay, September 28, 1768

Autumn has come to New England, and with it a new threat to the city of Boston. British naval ships have sailed into Boston Harbor bearing over a thousand of His Majesty King George III’s soldiers. After a summer of rioting and political unrest, the city is to be occupied.

Ethan Kaille, thieftaker and conjurer, is awakened early in the morning by a staggeringly powerful spell, a dark conjuring of unknown origin. Before long, he is approached by representatives of the Crown. It seems that every man aboard the HMS Graystone has died, though no one knows how or why. They know only that there is no sign of violence or illness. Ethan soon discovers that one soldier -- a man who is known to have worked with Ethan’s beautiful and dangerous rival, Sephira Pryce -- has escaped the fate of his comrades and is not among the Graystone’s dead. Is he the killer, or is there another conjurer loose in the city, possessed of power sufficient to kill so many with a single dark casting?

Ethan, the missing soldier, and Sephira Pryce and her henchmen all scour the city in search of a stolen treasure which seems to lie at the root of all that is happening. At the same time, though, Boston’s conjurers are under assault from the royal government as well as from the mysterious conjurer. Men are dying. Ethan is beaten, imprisoned, and attacked with dark spells.

And if he fails to unravel the mystery of what befell the Graystone, every conjurer in Boston will be hanged as a witch. Including him.

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

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

For those who are unfamiliar with the Thieftaker Chronicles, can you give us an overview of the series and some sense of what this newest book, THIEVES’ QUARRY, is about?

The Thieftaker Chronicles, which began with the publication last year of THIEFTAKER, tell the story of Ethan Kaille, a conjurer and thieftaker living in pre-Revolutionary Boston. The books are historical urban fantasies: historical for obvious reasons; urban fantasy because of the mystery element, because of Ethan’s magical abilities, which help him in his investigations and encounters with Boston’s unsavory side, and because the setting, while Colonial, is very much urban.

THIEVES’ QUARRY begins in the fall of 1768, as British troops prepare to occupy Boston.  A fleet of naval vessels is anchored in Boston Harbor, carrying the occupying soldiers.  And all of this is real -- the fleet, the occupation, the city’s oddly mixed response to the occupation as it began.  These things are part of the historical record. But I have added a ship to the invasion force, and using a spell of magic that Ethan senses early one morning, I then kill every man aboard this fictional vessel.  Authorities of the Crown come to Ethan seeking his guidance in solving the mystery of these nearly one hundred deaths, and Ethan finds himself drawn into political struggles and criminal dealings that endanger his life and the lives of every conjurer in Boston.

How has your degree in history helped you with your writing of this series?

I actually specialized in 20th century U.S. history and wrote my dissertation on the New Deal.  But when working toward my degree I studied all periods of U.S. history, and I always found the late Colonial Era incredibly interesting.  So I came to the Thieftaker series with some knowledge of the period, of its key events and issues, and of the sources I would need to consult when researching the books.  That was a great advantage.

But the sort of information I needed to write these books is actually not the same stuff that Ph.D. candidates study in preparation for their exams.  There were huge gaps in my knowledge of what everyday life would be like for Ethan and his fellow characters.  For instance, I had to know if the streets of Boston were lit at night in the 1760s.  That would be a fundamentally important fact of Ethan’s life on a daily (or nightly) basis, but it was of little concern to me when I was a graduate student.  (As it turns out, Boston did not get its first gas street lights until 1774, courtesy of no less a personage than Paul Revere.) Mostly, my familiarity with history and historical literature provided me with an understanding of what questions I needed to answer in order to cobble together an accurate portrait of life in Colonial Boston.

What was the most interesting thing you learned or found while you were doing your research for the Thieftaker books?

Actually, I had a number of fun discoveries along the way.  Most of them were small details that allowed me to add dimension and texture to my setting and historical characters.  For instance, while researching Samuel Adams, I learned that he was afflicted nearly all his life by a mild palsy of his hand and head.  I believe it was something like what we today call “essential tremor” or “benign essential tremor.” At one point I was searching for a physical description of Stephen Greenleaf, the Sheriff of Suffolk County, who was Boston’s lone law-enforcement authority, and who was charged with keeping the peace in the city though he had no police force at his command.  He is one of my hero’s antagonists throughout the series -- a very important character -- and I had no idea what he looked like.  And then one day, I was looking through an old, old volume on Google Books and there, suddenly, was a pen and ink sketch of the good sheriff.  That was an exciting day.

Another time, I was trying to find contemporary descriptions of the inside of King’s Chapel, one of Boston’s oldest houses of worship.  The information was hard to come by until I found a document that had been posted by an architecture firm that specialized in historical renovation.  This firm was working on a renovation of the chapel and had taken bore samples from the walls that allowed them to determine what color the interior walls had been painted at various times in the chapel’s history.  That was invaluable.

Are there more Thieftaker books in the works?  What do you have in store for Ethan next?

One of the challenges in a series like this one is to keep each book fresh and avoid giving readers the sense that the books are formulaic.  Of course, there are certain recurring elements to the stories:  the historical background, the character relationships, the magic system, the fact that each book is a mystery. But each story also needs to be different.  And so in the third book, A PLUNDER OF SOULS, I introduce a new character, who is to Ethan something like what Moriarty was to Sherlock Holmes.  To be more accurate, I reintroduce him.  This character, Nate Ramsey, first appeared in “A Spell of Vengeance,” a short story I wrote last year and published at Tor.Com.  In that story, Ramsey, who is also a conjurer, gets the best of Ethan.  Well, in book III, Ramsey is back.  It is the summer of 1769, and Boston is in the midst of an outbreak of smallpox (as it really was that summer).  I won’t reveal more, except to say that Ramsey is an even more formidable foe for Ethan now than he was when the short story took place, in 1763.

The fourth Thieftaker book will be called DEAD MAN’S REACH.  I don’t want to say too much about it except that it is set in March 1770, at the time of the Boston Massacre.

Can you tell us a bit about your creative process?  What is a typical work day like for you?  Do you outline, or do you prefer to “wing it?”

I tend to be fairly boring in my approach to my work.  I work slowly, steadily, systematically.  With the Thieftaker project I began by jotting down questions I had about Boston in the 1760s and then organizing my research around answering them.  When I had done enough research to feel comfortable starting to write, I outlined the whole book, as I usually do.  But as usual, by about chapter ten I had strayed from the outline enough that the rest of it was useless.  So I outlined the book again, this time from chapter eleven onward.  And then at about chapter seventeen, when that second outline had also outlived its usefulness, I outline the remainder of the book.

As for my typical day, it’s also pretty boring.  I get to the gym first thing in the morning.  I spend the rest of my day sitting in front of my computer, so getting a workout in first thing is good for my mood, my mind, and my waistline.  After that, I work through the morning, taking a couple of quick breaks.  I have a lunch, and then work through the afternoon until my wife and daughters get home and it’s time for dinner.  I tend to leave my evening hours and weekends for family and household stuff.  But otherwise I treat writing as a full-time job, because really that’s what it is for me.

What advice would you give to writers who are just at the start of their careers?

I think that the best advice I can offer to young writers is to love what they do, and I mean that on a couple of levels.  The writing business is hard.  The pay isn’t always good, publishing can be frustratingly slow, a writer’s future is only as solid as the sales numbers for his or her most recent book.  So, if a writer doesn’t love to write, if he or she isn’t driven to craft stories and books by love of the written word and devotion to the characters clamoring for attention in his or her imagination, there really is little other reason for doing it.

But “love what you do” also means love the stuff you write. Young writers will quickly find that the market is constantly shifting, moving from one “hot new thing” to the next.  Sometimes we get lucky and catch a wave at the perfect moment.  Occasionally we can respond to the leading edge of a trend and get in on it.  But most of the time, it’s a bad idea to try to write to the market.  Young writers are far better off writing the story they want to write, the story for which they have passion.  Love the book, because there is usually no telling if you can match the market exactly or not.  If a writer tries to write something just in order to be commercially viable, chances are the book will suffer.  Write what you love and regardless of the market, you’ll turn out the best book possible.

D.B. Jackson is also David B. Coe, the award-winning author of more than a dozen fantasy novels. His first book as D.B. Jackson, the Revolutionary War era urban fantasy, Thieftaker, volume I of the Thieftaker Chronicles, came out in 2012 and is now available in paperback. The second volume, Thieves’ Quarry, has just been released by Tor Books. D.B. lives on the Cumberland Plateau with his wife and two teenaged 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.

Learn more about author D. B. Jackson at: