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An interview with Thieftaker Chronicles author David B. Coe @davidbcoe

Posted on July 24, 2015 by

CoeJacksonPubPic1000David 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.

Meanwhile, under his own name, David writes The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, a contemporary urban fantasy from Baen Books. The first volume of this series, Spell Blind, debuted in January 2015. The newest book , His Father’s Eyes, comes out on August 4.

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.

You have a couple of releases this summer. What can you tell me about them?

Yes, I have two books coming out under two different names, in two series, from two publishers, which is all a bit odd. The first, which came out on July 21 is Dead Man’s Reach, the fourth volume of the Thieftaker Chronicles, a historical urban fantasy that I write for Tor Books under the name D.B. Jackson. The series is set in pre­-Revolutionary Boston and features a conjurer and thieftaker (sort of an 18th century private detective) named Ethan Kaille. Each book is set against the backdrop of some key event leading to the American Revolution. The action in this newest one coincides with the Boston Massacre.

The other novel coming out this summer is called His Father’s Eyes. It’s the second installment in a contemporary urban fantasy called The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, which I write under my own name for Baen Books. Jay Fearsson, my hero, is a weremyste. He’s a runecrafter, who can cast a variety of powerful spells. But every month, on the full moon and the nights immediately before and after, he goes temporarily mad, even as his power grows. Eventually the cumulative effect of these moon phasings will drive him permanently insane, as they have his father, who’s also a weremyste. As the title of the new book suggests, the relationship between Jay and his dad is central to the story, which also involves, a failed terrorist plot, a series of ritual killings, and an encounter with a werecoyote who lives in a single­wide trailer.

So two series, two identities . . . Does that get confusing?

200DeadMansReachWell, I’ve been known to sign the wrong name in the occasional book, but other than that, not really. The two series have certain things in common ­­ both protagonists are conjuring investigators, the books in both series are stand­alones loosely linked by my character arcs, and both rely on certain urban fantasy tropes: the ghostly spirit guide, the noir voice, the powerfully ambient setting.

In other ways, though, the books are very different. In part because one is historical and the other is contemporary, the narrative voices are quite distinct. And from a writing perspective, each story presents unique challenges. So it turns out that when I’m writing as D.B. Jackson, I feel very much immersed in that world, and the same is true when I’m writing under my own name. Plus, shifting between the two keeps my writing fresh.

Urban fantasy is sometimes thought of as a subgenre dominated by female authors writing female protagonists, and yet here you are writing two series in the genre, both featuring male heroes. Why go that route?

I was aware of the dynamic. There are a few prominent examples of men writing about men in the field ­­ Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden books, of course; Kevin Hearne’s Iron Mage series; Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim novels. But they do seem to be the exceptions, and I can name so many female authors doing terrific work in urban fantasy: Kim Harrison, Laurel K. Hamilton, Patricia Briggs, Faith Hunter, C.E. Murphy, Kat Richardson, and many more.

One of the reasons I chose the D.B. Jackson pseudonym when I first started writing UF, was that I wanted to use a gender­neutral pen name. It used to be that women in fantasy and SF had to “disguise themselves” by camouflaging their names as I have. Today, in a welcome turnabout, it’s us guys who have to do that, at least in this subgenre.

But I also think that there is room in urban fantasy for all of us, male and female. I try to draw my heroes as honestly as I can. I make them well­rounded. They have a dark side, they have a sensitive side. They can act like typical guys, but they can also be tender, loving, vulnerable. In short, they’re not “male characters” so much as they’re people. And I surround them with strong female characters ­­ colleagues, rivals, love interests ­­ who are realistic and balanced as well.

Tell us a bit more about that. You are writing in two distinctly different time periods, the colonial era and the present ­day. Do you find that you need to treat your female characters in the two projects differently in order to make the books realistic?

Without trying to be glib, the answer is both yes and no. Yes, in that I make ALL my characters a bit different in the Thieftaker books. They speak differently, they have different sensibilities, their day­to-­day concerns are not the same as ours. In order for those books to ring true, I have my characters speak in something that approximates an 18th century lexicon (while still making their dialog decipherable for a modern audience), and I make them behave and dress in ways that are appropriate to their time. So, for instance, my female characters all wear dresses. (Except for Sephira Pryce, Ethan Kaille’s rival in thieftaking, who wears breeches and a waistcoat, as would a man working in the streets. I’ll get to Sephira in a moment, because she is a special case.) In the same way, I do not have women in positions of political power, because there were no women in such offices in the 1760s.

But in other ways, the women in the Thieftaker books are every bit as strong and independent as women in the Fearsson books, and this comes as something of a surprise to some people. The fact is though (putting on my hat as history Ph.D.) the strict circumscribing of women’s societal roles, something we generally associate loosely with “the past,” was a nineteenth and early twentieth century phenomenon. Women in the eighteenth century had far more freedom, socially, sexually, economically, than their counterparts a century later. And so having Kannice Lester, a young widow who is Ethan’s love interest, own and run a tavern is perfectly legitimate historically. Janna Windcatcher, another tavern owner, is also black and free, which makes her somewhat unusual, but my no means anachronistic in pre­-Revolutionary Boston.

The most unusual character is Sephira, who as a thieftaker and, essentially, a criminal, steps farthest from any examples I have found in the historical record. Honestly, I’m fine with that. Yes, I took a liberty with her, but she is such a fun character I really don’t care.

Having Ethan’s rival be a woman ­­ brilliant, ruthless, kick­ass, beautiful, overtly sexual ­­infuses their interactions with a crackling energy, and gives incredible power to all of my plot lines.

The one thing I did in the Fearsson books that I didn’t do in the Thieftaker series was have openly gay characters of either gender. In The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, Jay’s closest friend and former partner on the police force is Kona Shaw, an African­-American woman involved with Margarite Santos, a lawyer in the D.A.’s office. The reason I don’t have openly gay characters in the Thieftaker novels is that I didn’t know how to address the issue in a historically accurate way. Reliable records on the position of gays in colonial society are pretty hard to come by.

In every other way, though, the distance between the female characters in the Thieftaker books and those in the Fearsson books is far less than some might expect.

What’s up next for you after this summer’s releases?

Layout 1There’s still one more Fearsson book in the pipeline: SHADOW’S BLADE will be out next May. And I have been collaborating with Faith Hunter, author of the New York Times bestselling Jane Yellowrock books on a crossover project that combines her universe with the Thieftaker world. We released a novelette earlier this summer and we’d both like to write more in that mash­up world.

But aside from that, I’m not sure yet. I have an idea for a new epic fantasy, but it still needs a lot of prep work before I’ll be ready to write it. So I suppose I’ll be diving into that when the summer’s over.

_______________________________

As you can imagine, twice the number of pen names means there’s a whole lot of David B. Coe to be had on the Internet! As David B. Coe, he’s got a website, blog, Facebook page and Twitter feed, as well as an Amazon author page.  Then as D.B. Jackson, he’s also got a whole other separate website. Enjoy!

 

Three good things, surprise Thursday edition

Posted on July 23, 2015 by

photo by Kelly Robson

photo by Kelly Robson

Tomorrow I have another author interview coming up on the site, this one with David B. Coe, who has a book out this week and will tell you all about it tomorrow! So today I am having an early go at the three great things posts I’ve been (somewhat) getting up on Fridays, to celebrate the random and not-so-random sources of joy in my week.

What’s tricky about this is that I’ve already bibbled a bit about the awesome run to the African Lion Safari and Niagara Falls, and getting to reconnect with dear friends in the process.

What else happened? Here’s three things:

One: Lovely people have been offering up bouquets of support for various projects. A relative texted me this morning, just to let me know he’d pre-ordered A Daughter of No Nation, for example, and a couple of friends are reading the third book in the trilogy, The Nature of a Pirate, to let me know if the plot cogs in the mystery are 1) sufficiently mysterious; and yet 2) not overly opaque. One of them mentioned diving into a second read a week later, which is above and beyond the call and much appreciated; the other wrote me out of the blue to quietly hint he’d love a shot at the unpolished manuscript, even though it’s been taking me a hundred years per page to read his current novel. The last couple of rounds of notes-from-editors on some of my upcoming stories have been insightful, too. Good readers make the sausage tastier.

People are wonderful, in other words, and I am incredibly blessed.

Two: As I was teaching this week, I came up with the following analogy, which I think holds up even without the conversation that sprung it, and which I can probably turn into a whole essay at some point.

Making up POV as you go is as valid as any kind of pantsing, but at some point you will have to decide who’s telling your story. Once you do, you’ll know how the narrative voice will handle your various characters’ names. Once you know that, you can clearly establish how each character generally refers to the others, and be consistent from there.

Imagine being a professional driver of some (improbably) generic stripe. Imagine that each morning you get up, go to a parking lot, and get to choose between driving an ambulance, schoolbus, limousine, hearse, taxicab, an armored car, a catering truck… you name it. The thing you do with your day is, arguably, more or less identical: you’re operating a motor vehicle. But which of the vehicles you choose–an apparently simple and innocuous decision–is going to determine whether you’re spending the day surrounded by preschoolers or rushing to the scene of an accident.

In all of the above cases, weaving all over the road is unprofessional. But choosing a vehicle at random and then trying to figure out if you’re transporting a coffin or picking up Robert DeNiro at the airport… one could argue that it’s a bit outlandish.

Figuring out which POV you’re going to use to drive the story isn’t innocuous. Don’t underrate it.

Three: My good friend and teaching guru Linda Carson teaches a color course at Waterloo University, which means among other things that she has one of the coolest boards on Pinterest. She asked me to do her an Instagram favor this week, and a side effect of that was that I found out about this. Human ingenuity in the pursuit of cool beauty makes me happy. I expect this will make you happy too.

Lions and rhinos and bats, oh my!

Posted on July 21, 2015 by

imageThe first person I met when I went to university orientation, back in 1985, was Christina: a voracious reader, Henry VIII aficionado and fellow theater geek who joined the student newspaper the same day I did. We laughed, we learned, we did a bunch of shows… and, in the fullness of time, we eventually graduated. Due in part to the mixed miracle that is Facebook, we have remained connected.

Xtina came to Toronto with her husband Scott last weekend, and by way of celebrating Kelly’s birthday took us on Sunday to the African Lion Safari in Cambridge. Ontario friends, I am surprised that it was a couple of Alberta kids who told us there were lions, omg lions, within easy driving distance. To say nothing of the rhinos.


We rounded out the day with a quick run to the Devil’s Punchbowl and then went on to the Vegas-for-families tourist explosion that is Niagara Falls. The splendid natural impressiveness of all that falling water did, once again, transcend the horror of the crowds and the tourist tack.

(I will note for the record that Niagara Falls has the most sewerific Starbucks bathroom I have ever seen. Scott will back me up on this, so you don’t need a photo.)

The full photo set is here.

Three Awesomesauces, Kelly’s Birthday Edition

Posted on July 17, 2015 by

IMG_2509The first and most incredibly awesome thing about this week is that today, Friday the 17th, is my brilliant wife Kelly’s birthday. Do you want to give her a present? You do? Why not read up one of her recent stories and Tweet the living heck out of how amazing you thought it was. Kelly’s handle is @kellyoyo and I guarantee enjoyment. Try “Waters of Versailles,” creep yourself out with “The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill,” or get the newest Asimov’s Science Fiction (August 2015) and read “Two Year Man.”

Meanwhile, I will note that the MCU is celebrating by giving us Teeny Tiny Paul Rudd in a super-suit. Which is, all things considered, pretty swell of them. And our yoga sensei Juan got us to sing her Happy Birthday while we were all in dolphin pose, so total strangers did serious core singing. There’s a high bar here! Just sayin’.

Second good thing, and another request, actually: one of the many wonderful people we got to hang out with at the enormous literary lovefest that is Readercon was Asimov’s editor Sheila Williams, and she happened to mention that the most prominent reviews on the Asimov’s Kindle page are complaints dating back to the magazine’s initial electronic launch, all complaining about technical issues that are now resolved. These reviews have gotten enough “Yes, this is helpful!” thumbs-ups that they’re at the top of the queue. Consider giving ’em a bump down. They’re not helpful anymore; they’re about the past.

Third good thing, with no strings attached: I got to experience the true and abiding smugness that comes of swanning up to the Porter flight crew at our Boston departure gate, and asking if we could get on an earlier flight. We could? Would that cost us more dough? No? And would we still be able to sit together? Yes! This got me adoring goggle-eyes of admiration pretty much all the way home.

Of course, I was able to do this because the “earlier” flight was delayed, but then so was the one we were meant to take. So really I got us home when we meant to be there, instead of two hours after the fact. Still. So savvy. I should teach classes in opportunism. Or something.

Bonus thing: I am 99.9% sure I saw three wild turkeys on a lawn when we were zooming past an office building on the Burlington highway. Turkeys!! Sadly, no pictures.

Wisdom of the Pinternets

Posted on July 16, 2015 by

alyx babyWhen we were recently in Boston, we ended up tooling through Whole Foods in search of fruit, yogurt, airplane snacks and the particular kind of entertainment that comes of briefly staring at things you would never seriously consider buying. Among these were some slogan-y fridge magnets, including one that seemed like it could be my new national anthem: Let Go or Be Dragged.

This, at first glance, seemed like a kinder-gentler revision of an attitude I sometimes find myself holding, which might be characterized as Get Out of My Way Before I Set You on Fire.

I do not like to feel impeded. Oh, I know–who does? I’m not a special snowflake in this, though I may be more than usually mulish about plowing on regardless once I’ve decided on a goal.

Anyway, we got back to the fabulous Oasis Guest House, where the WiFi was free-flowing and delicious, and I decided to pin the expression. Upon googling the phrase, I found it’s credited as being a Zen proverb. This presumably means that it doesn’t necessarily arise from the I and my flamethrower are coming through now, thanks place, as I had initially assumed.

I decided I was okay with that, and that I could hold the one reading but maybe strive for the other, and so I pinned it. And damn if Pinterest didn’t then offer up all sorts of other peace & luv bon mots. Of which I did genuinely like a few:

You can’t fix yourself by breaking someone else seemed kind of pertinent to some of the things I’ve been talking about lately.
What you allow is what will continue is something I mean to think about. It’s not bad, but there may be a kernel of victim-blaming there.
Fall seven times, stand up eight, on the other hand, has that Karate Kid can-do spirit we all know and love.

What are your mantras and how well do they hold up to overly critical scrutiny?

Here’s the Boston photoset. I’m still curating, a little, but it’ll give you the general idea. https://flic.kr/s/aHskfCerFP