Today we have a special author interview with D.B. Jackson (aka David B. Coe)! His latest novel, Thieves' Quarry
--a historical urban fantasy--is the second book in the Thieftaker Chronicles
and is already on bookshelves, released last week. The first book, Thieftaker
, is now out in paperback. I sent David a few questions to answer regarding the series, his writing, and some general "get to the know the author better" questions as well. He's traveling today, but he said that if you have any questions for him regarding the books to ask them in the comments section and he'll be checking back off and on throughout the day to answer them. So what would YOU like to know about the series of D.B. Jackson? Ask away!
1. Introduce yourself and give us a brief summary of your new book, Thieves’ Quarry.
Introduce myself? Hmmm. Okay. [Waves.] Hi, everyone. I am D.B. Jackson, a.k.a. David B. Coe. I’m the author of fourteen published novels -- most of them fantasy -- and a number of short stories -- some fantasy and some science fiction. I have a Ph.D. in history, which, I suppose, gives me some small qualification to write historical urban fantasy. That’s what I’m working on these days.
Thieves’ Quarry is the second book in what I call the Thieftaker Chronicles, a series of stand alone murder mysteries, set in pre-Revolutionary Boston, with a touch of magic thrown in for good measure. The Thieftaker books follow the adventures of Ethan Kaille, a conjurer and thieftaker (sort of the 18th century equivalent of a private detective). In this book, which takes place in 1768, as the British occupation of Boston is just beginning, Ethan is hired by agents of the Crown to investigate the seemingly inexplicable deaths of every man aboard the HMS Graystone, a British naval vessel anchored in Boston Harbor as part of the occupying fleet. His inquiry soon entangles him in colonial politics, in a search for a cache of smuggled pearls, and in a deadly struggle with a powerful conjuring force. 2. Thieves' Quarry is the second book in the current series. Did you find writing this book more or less difficult than the first? What made it harder to write than the first? What was easier?
Well, as your question anticipates, there were ways in which it was much easier, and ways in which it was more challenging. It was easier because I began with a far better understanding of my setting, of my core characters, of my magic system, and of the history I was attempting to weave into the narrative. I was building on groundwork I had put down in Thieftaker, the first book in the sequence, and so I was able to delve deeper into certain elements of my story. In that first book, I was just trying to tell my story and to make certain that my readers understood enough of the background -- both of character and setting -- to enable them to follow along. And at the same time, I was learning, too. I was trying to get comfortable with my point of view character, with the voice and tone I wanted to establish not only for that book, but for the larger series. So, this time around I was able to relax a little more, play with things I had already figured out in book one.
By the same token though, there are challenges to a second book -- or a third or fourth or fifth -- that I didn’t have to worry about in Thieftaker. The biggest of these was the seemingly simple task of keeping characters and themes fresh. The last thing I wanted to do was just write Thieftaker again, but with a few cosmetic changes. I wanted this to be an entirely different book, one that would have certain familiar elements -- recurring characters, Ethan’s longstanding rivalry with the lovely and dangerous Sephira Pryce, the historical setting -- while going in very different directions. I learned that it is far more difficult to re-introduce characters than it is to bring them on stage the first time. Because I had to point my readers to the same qualities and attributes, but I had to do so in new ways.
The result, though, is a book that is, in my opinion, even stronger than the first, and probably better than anything I’ve written before. Those new elements I mention blend nicely with the familiar stuff, and my comfort with the material shows in the flow of the storyline and the leanness and clarity of the prose. I’m very pleased with this book. 3. You're using the pseudonym D.B. Jackson for this series, although you have published under the name David B. Coe. Why use a pseudonym? Was it your idea, or the publisher's?
The idea of using a pseudonym for this series came originally from my publisher, but it was, quite honestly, something to which I was open to from the start. Their reasoning, which made lots of sense to me, was that David B. Coe books had certain qualities -- they were alternate world fantasies, with lots of castle intrigue and high magic; they had many point of view characters and plot threads; and they tended to be extended story arcs, meaning that they took a few volumes to tell one overarching story. The Thieftaker books are different. These are urban fantasies, set in our world in that historical setting I’ve mentioned. Ethan is the lone point of view character. Each book is a stand-alone mystery, with a lean style and a noir tone. Put another way, it was an issue of author branding, of keeping David B. Coe books separate from D.B. Jackson books.
At least that’s what I tell people. The truth is, I’ve been with the Feds in the witness protection program for a number of years now. My real name is David “Mugsy the Keyboard Tickler” Gold. I turned State’s evidence a few years ago in the great Reserves Against Returns Scandal of the late eighties and early nineties, and have been on the run ever since. But don’t tell anyone . . . 4. What sets this series apart from the others? What kinds of challenges did you face writing a series so different than your other series?
Some of the differences are quite obvious: the historical stuff, the fact that it’s urban fantasy instead of epic fantasy, etc. But the thing that really sets this series apart from my previous work is my lead character, Ethan Kaille. And I mean that in a couple of ways. First of all, as I mentioned, he is the only point of view character for the series. Everything that my readers experience comes through him: through his senses, his intellect, his emotions. So, far more than in anything else I’ve written, I am dependent on the strength of my work in developing one character. He has to be someone my readers like and trust implicitly. And yet he also needs to be interesting enough to sustain the narrative and hold my readers’ attention chapter after chapter, book after book.
The real challenge, therefore, was creating a character rich and textured enough to bear all that responsibility. Ethan is, far and away, the most complex, intriguing character I’ve ever created. He is older than most fantasy heroes -- late-thirties, early-forties, which believe me, I know is not old in today’s world. But for a colonial setting and a fantasy novel, he’s a bit older than most protagonists. He has been a sailor in the British Navy, second mate aboard a privateering vessel, a participant in a mutiny, a convict laboring on a sugar plantation in Barbados. He is broken in many ways -- he lost part of his foot to infection during his time as a prisoner, and so he walks with a limp. He lost his future, his first love, his reputation, and is now trying to rebuild a life for himself. And, of course, he is a conjurer living in an age that conflates conjuring with witchcraft and condemns witches to death. So he lives much of his life in fear of having his spellmaking abilities discovered. The level of detail I’ve devoted to developing his character goes way beyond what I’ve done before. All of this, I believe, serves to make him an effective point of view character for the books.5. Since this series is historical in nature, what comments do you have regarding the research involved as its background? Do you love the research? Despise it, even though it's necessary? Or did you just say, "To Hell with history!" and write what you wanted to write?
I mentioned that I have a Ph.D. in history, which is really a fancy way of saying that I’m a total history geek. I LOVED doing the research for this series and I was meticulous about trying to get stuff right. Of course there are fictional elements to the story -- the magic, the majority of my characters, the murder mysteries that Ethan has to solve, even that idea that there were thieftakers in 1760s Boston (there weren’t -- thieftakers did exist in London and other European cities in the 1700s, and briefly in the New World in the early 1800s, but they weren’t in Boston in the pre-Revolutionary era). But when I use historical events as a backdrop to my narratives, as I do with the 1765 Stamp Act riots in Thieftaker, and with the 1768 occupation of Boston in Thieves’ Quarry, I do everything in my power to be accurate with those details.
Why would I expend so much energy getting the little things right when so much of the story is made up? Because I want my readers to be transported back in time when they open the books. I want them to feel that they have gone back to a Boston that could have been. Nothing ruins my reading experiences faster than feeling that the author has gotten something wrong. Certain mistakes can be jarring, and can yank a reader right out of the narrative experience. I want to be sure that my readers won’t have that experience.6. Give us the Hollywood elevator pitch for this novel (something like "Star Wars crossed with Harry Potter, angsty teenagers at University in space but waving lightsabers instead of wands!"). Who would play your lead characters?
Well, for fans of Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden books, the pitch has been “Harry Dresden meets Samuel Adams.” For those who aren’t familiar with Butcher’s work, I would say that it’s “Sam Spade meets Samuel Adams with a dash of magic thrown in.” I would like Mark Wahlberg to play Ethan, and maybe Mischa Barton as Sephira Pryce. 7. Coffee, tea . . . or something stronger? What keeps you writing?
Forgive me for this answer, because it is going to sound so, so holier than thou, but the thing that keeps me writing is exercise and a smoothie. I work out at the gym of the local university (where my wife teaches) every morning for about an hour. Then I come home and have a fruit and yogurt smoothie. And then I get to work. I’m not a coffee drinker at all. I love the taste of it, but I cannot take the caffeine. I’m hyper enough without it. And I tend to drink herbal teas only in the winter or when I’m sick. But the exercise and smoothie make me feel okay about spending hours sitting in front of my computer. Writing is a rather sedentary profession, at least physically, so that active and healthy start to the day is really important to me.
Now, in the evening, when I’ve stopped writing, then I like wine (Australian Shiraz and New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs), dark beer, single malt Scotch, and small-batch bourbon. Usually not all in one night . . . 8. Star Wars or Star Trek?
Are we talking originals or franchises? I love the first Star Wars trilogy (the Luke Skywalker/Darth Vadar ones) from the 1970s and 80s. And I never really enjoyed the original Star Trek with Shatner, Nimoy, and the rest. Too campy for me.
But I have not enjoyed the subsequent Star Wars movies, and I love the more recent Star Trek stuff, starting with The Next Generation, and continuing through Deep Space 9, Voyager, and the new movies with Chris Pine and Zachary Quintos. So, I guess my cop-out answer would be “It depends,” or “I like them both.”
*****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.D.B. Jackson's webpageD.B. Jackson's blogD.B. Jackson's FacebookD.B. Jackson's TwitterD.B. Jackson on GoodreadsD.B. Jackson on Amazon.com