Last year I hosted my friend DB Jackson on his blog tour coinciding with the release of his first Thieftaker Chronicles novel, THIEFTAKER. I’m delighted to interview him again this year as book two, THIEVES’ QUARRY, lines up to hit the shelves.
Mea culpa: this time I haven’t read the book, although I have a copy. But I *do* have a spare copy of THIEFTAKER to give away, so that’s gotta make up for something. I’ll send the book to a random commenter on this post (after verifying said commenter doesn’t already have it :)).
1. You’re writing urban fantasy with a historical setting and a male lead, neither of which is entirely regarded as the done thing. We talked last year about writing historical UF; this year tell me about writing a male lead in a subgenre that’s often considered a girls’ club.
I want to say that it wasn’t something to which I gave a lot of thought, but that wouldn’t really be true. Beginning with the gender-neutral initials at the start of my new pen name, I have been considering my place in the Urban Fantasy market from the start. It used to be that women in fantasy and SF had to disguise their gender 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 as you say, the bigger leap is having a male protagonist. I believe that in many ways the factors that led me to make my lead character a man are also the factors that make it an easier choice than it might otherwise seem. Ethan is a complex character, and not at all your typical macho hero. He is an older man — as an 18th century man on the verge of turning forty he is approaching middle age. He has been a sailor in the British navy, a ship’s mate on a privateering vessel, a mutineer, a convict, and now a thieftaker. To maintain the historical accuracy of the series, I couldn’t give a woman that sort of resume. It just wouldn’t work. But as I say, these elements of his personal history (and the fact that he’s a conjurer) also make him more interesting than just another guy who can fight and solve crimes. He’s different; he bucks tradition in many ways. He’s definitely not a typical hero, and those idiosyncrasies help to make him someone who will draw the interest of readers.
The other thing I did to make this work was give him a female nemesis. The Thieftaker books do have a kick-ass female character; she just happens to be Ethan’s arch rival in thieftaking, Sephira Pryce (ed: Sephira rocks. I absolutely love her character!). Without Sephira, I think that Ethan would have been a tougher character to sell. But their interaction — their enmity, their repartee, the sexual tension between them — makes him (and her) that much more compelling.
2. The naming of cats is a delicate matter–or is it? How do you choose character names? Do they carry weight and meaning, or do you just take what you hit when you throw a dart at a baby names book?
I tend to be pretty picky about my characters’ names. And for the Thieftaker books in particular I have been meticulous in assigning names. My world is populated by a number of real-world historical figures, with names like Ebenezer Mackintosh, Stephen Greenleaf, and Elisha Brown. And so when I choose names, I need to make certain that they blend in, that they don’t set off any anachronistic alarm bells. Quite often I will peruse the indexes of my historical texts and cobble together names from what I find there. Using this technique I have come up with names like Cyrus Derne, Christian Tanner, Ezra Corbett, and others that sound like they belong in 1760s Boston.
I will admit though, that I am also often driven by what just sounds good. I’ll hit upon a name and then use those same indexes and my baby names book to make certain that the name won’t stick out in a bad way. Sometimes I’ll be trying to name a minor character and will come up with a name that I like so much I have to set it aside for someone more important. I have a whole file filled with names like that.
3. Between D.B. Jackson and David B. Coe, you’ve written quite a number of books. Ever killed off anybody you later wished you hadn’t? Has it ever come as a shock to you when a character has died?
I have not yet killed off a character and then wished I hadn’t. But I have narrowly avoided that a few times. In my Winds of the Forelands quintet, there was one character who I just KNEW I had to kill. She was crucial to the plot, and her death would have had so many powerful implications that I thought I had no choice in the matter. But I didn’t kill her. It wasn’t that I wimped out or just couldn’t “pull the trigger,” as it were. Instead, it was that I did so many horrible things to her and she survived so much, that I realized my readers would want to tear my head off if, after all that, I killed her anyway. I talked to my agent about it, and she agreed. So she survived the series.
In my LonTobyn trilogy, I killed off a character who I totally loved. Killing him might be the hardest thing I’ve ever done in a book. But I know that it was the right thing. He had to die to make the book work. That was tough, though.
And yes, there have been a few times when I killed someone in the course of writing a scene, and then sat back in my chair and thought “Holy crap! Where did that come from?” That happened a couple of times in Winds of the Forelands, and also in the Blood of the Southlands trilogy. Each time it’s happened, though, I’ve known immediately that it was the right thing to do.
4. Do you have anything (specific and deliberate, as in, you went forth as the writer and said “Ethan Shall Have This Aspect Of Mine”) in common with Ethan, the lead of the Thieftaker Chronicles?
For the most part, Ethan and I have very little in common. He has led a painfully difficult life and has been scarred — emotionally and physically — by his misfortune. But there are a couple of small things we have in common that were deliberate on my part.
He is very choosy about the ale he drinks, preferring a pale brew that comes from Kent, England (or at least did in the 1760s). I’m the same way, and happen to love India Pale Ales.
We also have similar senses of humor, which probably comes as no surprise to those readers of the Thieftaker books and stories who have met me. He is slower to laugh than I, and he doesn’t reveal his humor very often. But when he does, it’s a lot like mine.
And, more significantly, he has been through a couple of career changes in his life, which was actually far less common in the 18th century than it is now. But I have been through a few professional chapters, too, and so I was able to draw upon those experiences in writing about Ethan’s efforts to settle into his life as a thieftaker.
5. And to round off the questions with something completely unrelated to writing… in last year’s interview you ‘fessed up to being a birdwatcher (which, I should note, is not likely to get you derision in these parts: I know a surprising number of them). What’s your most recent lifer? And do you have a particular favorite of any of the birds you’ve spotted? Is there one you’d go to great lengths to see?
Ah, a question after me own heart . . . Yes, I am a keen twitcher, and have been, literally, since I was seven years old. My brothers got me started, in part because they needed someone with them who was stupid enough to wade into thickets of brambles and flush that little brown job that they had glimpsed but failed to identify. In any case, the obsession that was born way back then has remained with me ever since. I don’t have a particularly impressive life list (500+ in North America; 900+ worldwide) but I love it, and I’m pretty good at it. I ought to be after all these years.
My most recent lifers were seen while I was in Florida this past spring. I picked up several birds, including a Snail Kite and a Limpkin, which is as goofy a bird as you could ever hope to see. I love hawks and owls — and I based my magic system for the LonTobyn books on them — so those would probably be my favorites. The Swallow-Tailed Kite, which I first saw in Florida several years ago, and the similar Brahminy Kite, which I saw in Australia in 2006, might be at the top of my list. I also love the North American wood warblers — tiny, brilliantly colored songsters. The Canada Warbler was the bird that first caught my imagination and made my brothers’ hobby into my passion.
And I would do just about anything to see a Great Gray Owl (which is the North American equivalent of Europe’s Lapp Owl) (ed: hah! a great gray owl is probably the only owl I’ve seen in the wild! they’re native to the Kenai Peninsula, where I grew up! :)).
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 will soon be available in paperback. The second volume, Thieves’ Quarry, will be released on July 2, just in time for the July 4th holiday. 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.