“Daddy, Where Do Historical Urban Fantasies Come From?” (or Why It Took a Geek Like Me To Write Thieftaker)
“Hi, my name is David, and I’m a Geek.”
[Geek Chorus] “Hi, David.”
“It’s been over two years now since I last tried to pretend in public that I wasn’t a geek. [Smattering of applause.] At this point, even if I were to try that again, it really wouldn’t work. See, I’ve got this new book out — Thieftaker, book I of the Thieftaker Chronicles — and, well, only a geek could have written this book. It pretty much screams geek to anyone who sees it or hears about it.
“The book began with an idea that came to me after I read a footnote in a history book. [A chorus of groans.] I know, I know, but it was a really cool footnote. [More groans.] Right. Not helping matters. Let me explain, though. The book I was reading was Robert Hughes’ THE FATAL SHORE, a comprehensive survey of Australian history that begins with the country’s founding as a British penal colony. And so it also touches on the history of English law enforcement. The footnote described in some detail the life and career of London’s most famous and notorious thieftaker, Jonathan Wild.
“Wild was little more than a criminal himself. He had several toughs working for him who were responsible for much of the thieving that occurred in early 18th century London. They would bring the stolen goods to Wild who would sell the most valuable items and return the rest to their rightful owners — for a fee, of course — as if he had recovered them from the thieves. Not only did he build an empire for himself out of the profits he made, but he became a hero of sorts among London’s elite, who thought him a bulwark against rampant criminal behavior.
“Upon reading about Wild, I realized that I wanted to write a book about thieftakers, and wanted to have a character like Wild as the nemesis for my lead character, who would be an honest thieftaker. I took the liberty of making the Wild character into a woman named Sephira Pryce, and I made her rivalry with my protagonist, Ethan Kaille, the central conflict of the book (and, I expect, of every book that will follow.) By making her influential and powerful, I made life tough for my hero, which is always fun. And by making her a woman, I brought a crackling sexual tension and energy to their relationship. All of which is very cool. But all of which began with that footnote.
“Are there other ways in which my inner geekiness shines through in this book? How much time do you have? Even my magic system has geeky origins. Because THIEFTAKER is set in Colonial Boston in the 1760s, on the eve of the Revolutionary War, I needed to make the paranormal elements of my story blend with my historical setting. Fortunately for me, pre-Revolutionary Boston had its own supernatural tradition. The Province of Massachusetts Bay had seen witch scares going back nearly a hundred years. In Salem, not far from the city, nearly one hundred and fifty people were jailed as witches in the spring of 1692. Twenty were executed. And during the 18th century, fear of witches continued to result in scares throughout the colony. In Thieftaker, conjurers and witches are not the same thing. Witches are the stuff of myth; preachers rail against witchery and black magick in writings and sermons. Conjurers, on the other hand, are real. But fear of one is conflated with the other, and so Ethan and other conjurers must keep their abilities secret, lest they be hanged as witches..
“I also had Geek Moments again and again while I was researching Thieftaker. In particular, I discovered a couple of research gems that had me doing my best Snoopy dance in the middle of my office. The first I found while trying to write a description of King’s Chapel, Boston’s oldest Anglican church, which figures prominently in Thieftaker. I was able to find references to the church’s exterior, but found almost nothing about the interior. That is, until I struck gold in the form of a document that turned up on the fourth or fifth page of an internet search. An architectural firm had recently started renovatations on King’s Chapel, and had put a summary of their work online. They gave detailed historical descriptions of the structure’s interior, specifying the location of windows and columns and the type of wood used for the pews. They even provided bore-test results on the walls, which revealed the paint color for different time periods, including the 1760s. Suddenly, I knew exactly what the Chapel’s interior looked like.
“My second golden discovery also grew out of my need to write a physical description, this time of a person. Sheriff Stephen Greenleaf, a recurring character in the Thieftaker books and stories, was Boston’s leading law enforcement official in the 1760s, when the city had nothing resembling an organized constabulary. He managed to keep the peace, though he had no police force or soldiers at his disposal. I knew he had to be a formidable figure, but I had no idea what he looked like. I did several internet searches, scoured my bookshelves, went to the local university library, searched interlibrary loan — nothing. Until finally, while online, skimming through an old text, I found not just a description, but a pen and ink drawing. I remember gaping at my computer screen. There was the man himself, staring back at me. Broad face, strong hook nose, pale widely-spaced eyes: I’d actually imagined him that way, but seeing him for myself was magical.
“These moments of discovery and revelation — the footnote, the ease with which my paranormal elements worked with my historical setting, the renovation document, the drawing of Greenleaf — were like manna from heaven for a geek like me. And they confirmed for me something that I already knew: I like being a geek. In fact, I love it. Building historically accurate backdrops for my books, developing characters, piecing together narratives, creating believable magic systems — these are my passions, even if they seem pretty geeky to those looking in from the outside.
“So, yeah, my name is David, and I am a geek. And I’m proud of it.”
D.B. Jackson is also David B. Coe, the award-winning author of a dozen fantasy novels. His first book as D.B. Jackson, Thieftaker, volume I of the Thieftaker Chronicles, 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.
Note for Bitten by Books readers:
We are trying something new for our contests to see if it works out better for you and for us! I am sure many of you have seen the Rafflecopter widget on other blogs. If you have any trouble PLEASE email me at email@example.com do not post in the comments because I probably won’t see it. The only mandatory action is the first one which of course is your Name and Country as usual. All others are optional. Also, you can post as many comments and questions as you like. You can by pass using the widget at all, if you don’t want to enter the contest. The ONLY way to enter this contest is by using the Rafflecopter widget. It will add up all your points and save all of your data for me. So, the good news is you don’t have to count points or keep track anymore!
•¸¸.•*¨*•☆ •¸¸.•*¨*•☆ •¸¸.•*¨*•☆ •¸¸.•*¨*•☆ •¸¸.•*¨*•☆ •¸¸.•*¨
Learn more about D.B. Jackson below
Read reviews of the author’s work here.
•¸¸.•*¨*•☆ •¸¸.•*¨*•☆ •¸¸.•*¨*•☆ •¸¸.•*¨*•☆ •¸¸.•*¨*•☆ •¸¸.•*¨