Welcome to a special edition of the Fiction Reboot! Today is the first of a two-part series by D. B. Jackson (find part 2 here). He will be sharing about the process of blending history and fantasy in a Boston than wasn’t (but*could* have been). Some of the challenges that face the intrepid author also face the historian–after all, when reading our history, we are in storied territory!
D. B. Jackson
D.B. Jackson is also David B. Coe, the award-winning author of 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.
“Warp and Weft: The Blending of History and Fantasy”
By D.B. Jackson
Ethan Kaille, the hero of my Thieftaker Chronicles, is a conjurer and thieftaker living in pre-Revolutionary Boston. He once served in the British navy, where, during the War of the Austrian Succession, he fought in the Battle of Toulon as a sailor aboard the Stirling Castle, a seventy-gun ship of the line. In THIEVES’ QUARRY, the second Thieftaker book, which will be released by Tor Books on July 2, Ethan investigates the murder by magic of nearly one hundred sailors and soldiers aboard the HMS Graystone. The Graystone, a fourteen-gun sloop-of-war, is part of the British fleet that has carried more than a thousand men to Boston from Halifax to occupy the city and tame its obstreperous citizenry.
The novels of the Thieftaker Chronicles are historical urban fantasy: they blend historical fiction, mystery, and fantasy, and so by definition they demand that I interweave historical and fictional elements in my narrative. Let’s examine that first paragraph again: Ethan Kaille is a fictional character. There were no thieftakers in Boston in the 1760s, though there were thieftakers in some European cities at that time. There were also no conjurers in Boston, at least not that we know of. But the Stirling Castle was at Toulon during the War of the Austrian Succession, and Ethan’s experience aboard the ship was fairly typical of that of actual sailors in His Majesty’s navy. The occupation of Boston, in September and October 1768, did, in fact, begin with a British naval presence in Boston Harbor, and among the ships anchored there were several sloops-of-war. Following a tumultuous summer of rioting, soldiers previously stationed at Halifax were carried down the coast on more than a dozen vessels in response to Governor Francis Bernard’s plea for military support. The Graystone, however, did not exist; I created the ship, as well as the sailors and soldiers it carried, so that I could kill them in my book.
The greatest challenge I have faced while writing the Thieftaker novels has been finding a balance between historical verisimilitude and narrative power. I want the historical elements of my books to be as accurate as possible; I also want my fictional elements to be compelling, to flow smoothly and build to an ending that leaves my readers breathless and hungry for more. And I want the combination to be utterly seamless. My readers should be unable to discern where fact ends and fiction begins. Ethan Kaille should seem as at home in 1760s Boston as Samuel Adams, and Adams, in turn, should fit in to my fantasy as believably as any other character.
In a larger sense, I want the history and the fiction to transport my readers to a place unlike any they’ve read about before, be it in novels or in historical texts. I am not trying to recreate a Boston that was. That Boston doesn’t have thieftakers or conjurers. It doesn’t have Ethan Kaille. Rather, I seek to introduce those who read my books to a Boston that could have been, one in which reality and fantasy blend into something entirely new.
The best way I can illustrate what I mean is to offer a glimpse into the world I have created for the Thieftaker novels. What follows is a brief excerpt from THIEVES’ QUARRY. The occupation has started already, as has Ethan’s inquiry into the dark fate of the Graystone’s crew. Ethan has just come from a violent encounter with a possible suspect in the killings, and is now returning to the Dowsing Rod, a tavern owned by his lover, Kannice Lester… (Continued in Warp and Weft, Part 2)
Return tomorrow, for part two and an excerpt from the sequel!