Welcome to part 2 of a Fiction Reboot special edition (find part one here)! Yesterday D. B. Jackson spoke to us about the process of blending history and fantasy. Today we reveal an excerpt! Did you miss part 1? No problem–find it here.
“Warp and Weft: The Blending of History and Fantasy”
By D.B. Jackson
(From June 6th) …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:
He had expected to find the mood in the Dowser subdued. Most of those who enjoyed Kannice’s ales and chowders also tended to share her political leanings. This should have been a sad day for them all. But upon opening the tavern door, Ethan was buffeted by sounds of celebration. The great room was packed with men and more than a couple of women, all of whom were laughing uproariously and singing “Jolly Mortals Fill Your Glasses.” As Ethan stood in the doorway, Tom Langer, one of Kannice’s usual crowd, climbed onto a table and straightened with some great effort. He raised his tankard, spilling ale on his shoes and shouted, “God bless Elisha Brown!”
“Elisha Brown!” came the answering cry, followed by more cheers and renewed singing.
Kannice stepped out from behind the bar and put her fists on her hips. “Tom, get down from there before you fall and dent my floor with your skull!” But even she was grinning.
Tom looked at her sheepishly and climbed back down.
Kannice turned and spotted Ethan in the doorway. She canted her head to the side, grimacing and shaking her head. She walked over to him and reached up to his swollen jaw, wincing.
“What have you done now?” she asked.
Ethan shrugged. “I found a man I’d been looking for.”
“Well, aren’t you the clever one,” she said archly. She smiled to soften the words. “Come on, I’ll get you some food and a maybe a raw steak for that face.”
“The food will be enough, thank you,” Ethan said, letting her lead him to the bar. “What’s all this about Elisha Brown?”
Kannice’s eyes danced. “He and a bunch of others are living in the Manufactory on Treamount. When the British commander ordered him and his friends to give up the building for the regulars, he refused. Barricaded himself inside. He’s in there still.”
“And the regulars?”
She waved a hand. “Oh, some are on the Common, others are in Faneuil Hall and the Town House. A few are back down at the wharves.” Her grin returned. “But they’re not in the Manufactory.”
“That’s a dangerous game to be playing with the British army,” Ethan said.
She sobered. “I know,” she whispered, so that only he could hear. “But it’s given people here in town something to celebrate.”
Ethan, Kannice, and Tom Langer are all fictional characters, and the Dowsing Rod is a made-up tavern. Elisha Brown, on the other hand, was real, and his refusal, on behalf of his fellow tenants in the Manufactory, to vacate the premises so that newly arrived troops could be billeted there, made him an instant folk hero. Rather than evict Brown and the others from the building, British commanders avoided an open conflict, and did indeed send their men to Faneuil Hall, to the wharf, to the Common, and to the Boston Town House. “Jolly Mortals Fill Your Glasses,” was a popular song at the time, and I imagine that there were plenty of drunk Bostonians singing it in publick houses throughout the city that night.
This is a small scene. More important events come just before it — Ethan’s beating at the hands of the possible suspect — and just after it, as he continues his inquiry. But once more I have tried to combine fictional and factual details to make the transitions among my historical and imagined narrative threads so smooth as to be unnoticeable. The actual world of Elisha Brown exists side-by-side with the fictional realm of Ethan, Kannice, and my other characters. There is history here, and there is magic. There are British regulars, as well as thieftakers. The tale that unfolds tells of the occupation, and also of a ship’s complement of men murdered by a conjurer’s spell.
In the end, our stories are about our characters, who guide readers through our narratives, sharing their perceptions, their beliefs, their emotions. The seemingly disparate elements of the Thieftaker series — the meticulously researched historical details on the one hand, and the magic systems and imagined scenes on the other — are held together by the people who populate the hybrid setting I’ve created. To be specific, my efforts to create a compelling backdrop for my novels all come back to Ethan, my point of view character, with whom I started this post. He is both a product of his make-believe, magic-infused world, and a citizen of Colonial Boston. To him it seems perfectly natural that he should be casting spells one moment, and butting heads with Samuel Adams and James Otis the next. He accepts these odd juxtapositions; they make sense to him. And so, as he narrates his tale, weaving together the warp and weft of history and fantasy, they make sense to my readers, as well.
Thank you, David, for sharing with us!
Want to know more about D. B. Jackson and the world of the Thieftaker?