Interview with Jessie Ann Foley

fictionreboot2Fiction Reboot Author Interview: Jessie Ann Foley

Welcome back to the Fiction Reboot (with blogger/contributor Keri Heath)! Today we present another author feature: Jessie Ann Foley, whose debut novel, The Carnival at Bray, was named a Printz honor book by the American Library Association. In addition, the novel was named a Best Teen Book of 2014 by Kirkus Reviews, and was shortlisted for YALSA’s 2015 William C. Morris Award. She has had fiction appear in a variety of journals such as The Madison Review, Midwestern Gothic, The Chicago Reader, Great Lakes Cultural Review, and McSweeney’s. She is a native Chicagoan and teaches English at a public school in the city.

Author Bio:

Jessie Ann Foley has loved and lived in Chicago sinceJessie_Ann_Foley-1 she was little. She studied English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and got a Master’s in Secondary Education from University of Illinois at Chicago. A few years later, she attended Columbia College Chicago to earn an MFA in Fiction Writing. During that time, she started teaching English and now teaches at the Chicago public schools. She also freelances and has had work published in several magazines. She lives with her husband in two young children in Chicago, and loves being a mom.

To learn more about Foley, visit her website at or follow her on Twitter at @JAFoleyNWside.

Interview with Jessie

  1. You mention on your website that you always wanted to be a writer. How did you know that this was the path for you?

I think it’s because I’ve always been a reader. Ever since I was six years old and read Little thHouse on the Prairie, I knew this was what I wanted to do. As the Italian writer Carlo Levi said and Cheryl Strayed reiterated in her amazing advice piece for The Rumpus, “the future has an ancient heart.” In deciding what I wanted to do with my life, I chose to do what I’ve always done since I was a kid.

  1. Do you have a writing routine of any kind?

Well, right now my daughters are two months and fifteen months old, so all I can do for now is write when I can. It’s hard, but if I go more than a week without writing, I get rusty, and then a difficult thing becomes even more difficult. That’s why, even if I only have fifteen minutes when both kids are sleeping, I’ll try to at least look at the piece I’m working on. I do a lot of dictating ideas into my phone so that I can come back to them later when I have time. I’ve learned the hard way that I have to write down my ideas as soon as they come to me or they’re gone. I have a terrible memory.

  1. What draws you to YA literature?

I’ve been a high school English teacher for ten years, and I think being surrounded by kids all day helps you, to some extent, never forget what it’s like to be young. I certainly wouldn’t want to go back to those years, but I still think it’s such a cool age. When you’re fifteen, everything is new and fresh; so much life happens. You really feel the possibilities of your life ahead of you. The process of growing up has inherent drama; it lends itself to good stories.

  1. Your most recent book, The Carnival at Bray, is set in Ireland. Why did you decide to set a novel in this country?

The Carnival at Bray was originally a short story that I published in the Chicago Reader after visiting a forlorn carnival fairground in County Wicklow in 2010. I’m Irish-American, but as Maggie learns in the first chapter of the book, that identity can have very little to do with what it means to be actually Irish, and if I had known then that I was setting myself up for the task of expanding it into an entire novel set in Ireland, I might have made things easier for myself and kept Maggie in Chicago. Luckily, my husband Denis, who is from County Kerry, was a huge help. While I was writing the novel I tortured him with constant, nitpicky questions relating to word choice, slang, and authentic details: What do you call those bales of hale covered in plastic? What is the hurling equivalent of a quarterback? What kind of beverage would a young Irish kid drink if his father took him to the pub? Things like that. If there was a passage that contained lots of dialogue-Eoin’s long monologue about his mother comes to mind-my husband would read it aloud and help me figure out what needed tweaking. I was so nervous for him to read the first draft of the book, because I knew I was going to make ridiculous mistakes. But he was polite enough not to make fun of me.

Thanks to Jessie Ann Foley for taking the time to speak with “Fiction Reboot.”

Keri Heath is a writer and journalist from Austin, Texas. She has written professionally for Austin Fit, Totally Dublin, Austin Woman, and ATX Man magazines. She has also seen her creative work published in NEAT and Straylight magazines, among others. When she isn’t writing, she loves to read, run, and play mandolin. You can view Keri’s work at or by following her @HeathKeri.

Fiction Reboot Presents: An Interview with DB Jackson/Thieftaker

fictionreboot2Welcome back to the Fiction Reboot (companion to the Daily Dose)!

Have you ever wondered how authors make historical fiction “work”? Or better, how do fusions of fiction and fact come together? From works like Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell to Dan Brown’s re-envisioning of the past, books offer us a taste not just of what “was” but what “might have been.” One of my favorite genres, steampunk, does the same. It plays with our sense of reality. But the authors of such works walk a careful line. At last year’s World Fantasy Conference, I listened in on a panel of historical fiction authors as they discussed their ethical duty to the past. Today, I am happy to feature one of those panelists: David Coe, or D.B. Jackson, author of the Thieftaker series. Taking place in Revolutionary Boston, the story mixes fact and the fantastic for a magical realism circa 1776. Thank you, David, for answering our burning questions!

DEAD MAN’S REACH is available now! Order today!


  1. The Thieftaker series combines fantasy with historical fiction. What inspired you–and more specifically, is there anything about the Revolutionary period in America that lends itself to magic-making?

I was originally inspired to write the Thieftaker Chronicles by something I read about the rise of thieftakers, private investigators operating in the absence of established police forces, who recovered stolen goods for a fee. In particular, I read about Jonathan Wild, a corrupt, ruthless thieftaker who operated in London in the early 18th century, and who was responsible for most of the thefts he “investigated.” Upon reading this, I knew that I wanted to write about thieftakers. My idea was to create a character based on Wild who would be the nemesis for my honest, magic-wielding, thieftaking hero. That character became Sephira Pryce, the lovely, dangerous nemesis for Ethan Kaille.

200DeadMansReachI chose to set the books in 1760s Boston because the city lacked an effective police force, and so could well have been someplace where thieftakers might flourish (though there is no historical evidence to suggest they actually did). It was also the center of pre-Revolutionary political unrest in North America, and I thought it would be a rich source of story ideas. And, to get to your second question, Boston, and the Province of Massachusetts Bay in general, saw “witch” trials and scares throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Given the history of witchcraft in the region, it seemed the perfect setting for a magical story.

  1. The magic in Thieftaker is much more than wand-waving; it’s physical, bloody, even sacrificial. Could you briefly describe the methods to the unfamiliar reader? What about this kind of magic made it right for the story world?

There are actually several “parts” to my magic system. First, every conjurer, including Ethan, has a spectral guide who appears whenever a conjurer casts a spell. These ghosts grant the conjurer access to magical power, which dwells at the boundary between the living world, and the realm of the dead. Second, every spell must include an incantation, spoken in Latin, which shapes that power and gives it purpose. And finally, every spell has to be fueled by some sort of offering. For the weakest spells — illusion spells mostly — a conjurer might use water or fire as a source. Stronger spells — those that shape matter in some way, like healing spells, or conjurings that can shatter glass or rend wood — require a more substantive offering, taken from some living thing. A conjurer might use grass, or leaves from a tree. Most often they use blood, because it’s readily available, and because it is the most powerful living source. The strongest spells require the taking of a life — human or some other animate creature. These conjurings are dark, even evil, and most conjurers stay away from them.

I created this complicated magic system with the intention of making it blend with my world. As I mentioned a moment ago, my books are set in a time and place in which people still feared witchcraft. Spells require that my conjurers commune with spirits, speak in tongues, use blood sacrifice. All of these appear in contemporary accounts of what witchcraft looked like, and so all contribute to the conflation of conjuring with “witchery.” Thus, in addition to all the other trials and tribulations I throw at my hero, he also lives in constant fear of being hanged or burned for witchcraft.

  1. You create a very real fear in the audience that this time the protagonist(s) might not actually make it out OK. How do you balance the thrill of an adventure tale, the centrality of all of the characters, and the suspense of the action sequences?

Thank you. That’s kind of you to say. I want my audience to fear for my characters, so I’m glad to hear that you were worried! I’m a big believer in the power of point of view. I believe that the narration of a point of view character is, in many ways, the most powerful tool a writer has at her or his disposal. When POV is handled well, the intellect, senses, and emotions of the protagonist inform everything the reader experiences. Put another way, Ethan’s fear, anger, love, hate, frustration, confusion, etc. insinuate themselves into your emotions.

On one level, of course, my readers know (or at least think they know) that everything will turn out all right in the end. They don’t believe that I’m going to kill off Ethan, and they probably assume that those closest to him are safe as well. But they’re subject to the power of Ethan’s emotions, and ETHAN doesn’t know any of those things for certain. He thinks he could be killed at any moment. He fears for the safety of Kannice and Janna, Diver and Henry. It’s his emotions and uncertainty that bring suspense to my action scenes. I do everything I can to make his reactions as real and visceral for my readers as possible. I like to say that point of view is the nexus of character and plot. It’s the place where character and adventure meet to create suspense.

  1. Some of the characters which intrigued me most were the less central ones, like his fellow conjurers. Can you tell us a little about how you go about creating these characters who are only briefly shown, but still have strong and interesting personalities?

On one level, this comes down to doing my homework. The characters to whom you refer may be minor, but I still want them to have depth and dimension. So I take time to give them a history, to create a personality to go with the name and face. I don’t spend as much time on them as I do on Ethan, Sephira, and Kannice, but I spend more time than one might think. My readers may not ever learn all that I know about them, but the weight of their backgrounds is conveyed in the narrative, and makes them seem real.

And again, point of view plays a role in this. To Ethan, all of these people are living breathing people. So his response to them, his observations, the rapport he shares with them, all combine to make them seem more believable to my readers.

  1. I was very surprised (as a first-time Thieftaker reader) to realize that Kaille was not strongly on the side of the Revolution. What made you decide to pull back from the perhaps more expected approach of backing the Revolution from the beginning and make Kaille so mistrustful of the men we now know as the nation’s forefathers?

I spent a good deal of time developing Ethan’s character, filling in his background, coming up with a detailed personal history. He’s an ex-convict, a former navy sailor, the son of a naval officer. He’s also somewhat older than most fantasy heroes — in his mid-forties by the time of the action in DEAD MAN’s REACH — and so is more set in his ways than the younger men who tended to gravitate to the Sons of Liberty. It probably sounds odd, but given everything I knew about him by the time I’d completed this process, I couldn’t make him anything but a loyalist. You’re right: Making him a patriot would have been more expected, and also more convenient. But he essentially told me he was a loyalist, and I had to respect that. I’ll also admit that it makes him a more interesting character, and his political conversion, which takes place over the span of these four books, complements the emotional elements of his character arc.

  1. Rumor has it this is the last novel in this series–how do you, as an author, know when a story-arc has arrived at its finale? Will there ever be more?

I hope there will be more Thieftaker novels. I have ideas for more. We have to see how this last book does commercially. Frankly, after writing four Thieftaker books in four years, I’m ready for a break. I’ll come back to Ethan and his adventures eventually, but for now I have other projects in mind.

And I think that answers your question to some extent. I knew while writing DEAD MAN’S REACH that I was ready to move on to something else. I love the book — I think it might be the best I’ve ever written. But I also could tell that if I’d had to write another Thieftaker novel right away, it would have felt stale, to me and to my readers. I trust that instinct, and I looked for ways to tie up some of the plot threads that run through the series, to give my readers and my characters some sense of closure. There is room still for more mysteries, more thrills, but there is also a feeling of resolution.


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, was released on July 21. Under his own name, he writes The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, a contemporary urban fantasy from Baen Books. The first volume, Spell Blind, debuted in January 2015. The newest book in the series, His Father’s Eyes, came 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.


Blood, Magic, and History–D.B. Jackson’s Thieftaker series

fictionreboot2Today we welcome David B. Coe/D.B. Jackson, back to speak with us about his latest release: the heart-stopping fourth novel in the Thieftaker series!


Blood, Magic, and History–By David B. Coe/DB Jackson.

On February 22, 1770, a mob of young men staged a demonstration in the town of Boston, as they had on several occasions in the weeks and months leading up to that day. The protests were intended to intimidate and publicly shame loyalist merchants who had been importing goods from England for sale in the colony in violation of nonimportation agreements (an 18th century term that basically means “boycott”) organized by leaders of the Patriot cause. On this morning, they converged on the shop of a merchant named Theophilus Lillie.

The night before, vandals, many of them no doubt now gathered in the street outside the store, has smeared the windows of Lillie’s establishment with tar and feathers. With the coming of morning, they had placed signs outside the building identifying Lillie as a violator of the agreements and an enemy of “liberty.” If their demonstration had followed a course similar to that of previous protests, the morning might have ended with the store vandalized, and Lillie beaten or tarred himself.

But on this day, a second man entered the fray. His name was Ebenezer Richardson, and as much as the patriots in the street disliked Lillie, they hated Richardson even more. He was an outspoken critic of Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty, an opponent of the nonimportation movement, and a suspected informer for the despised Customs Board. When Richardson tried to drive off the mob and tear down the offending signs, the mob turned on him. Richardson barely made it to his nearby house in one piece. But rather than remaining safely barricaded within his home, he continued to bait the young men, and finally appeared at a window with a musket in hand. Many in the street pelted the house with rotten food, snowballs, and stones. And, perhaps, predictably, Richardson responded by firing his weapon into the crowd.

He had loaded the musket with what was known as swan shot, and one of the pellets lodged in the lung of Christopher Seider, the eleven year-old son of German colonists. Several surgeons, including the renowned Joseph Warren, struggled to save the lad, but to no avail. Seider died that night.

The boy’s death marked the beginning of a spiraling cycle of confrontation and violence in Boston that culminated twelve nights later, on March 5, 1770, with another shooting, this one on King Street in front of the Customs House. That second shooting, which resulted in five deaths and a half dozen injuries, has come to be known as the Boston Massacre.

51Wfg-AVy8L._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_Why the history lesson? Because these events, beginning with the Seider murder and ending with the massacre, bracket the fictional narrative in my most recent novel, DEAD MAN’S REACH, the fourth and (for now) final volume in the Thieftaker Chronicles, the historical urban fantasy I have set in pre-Revolutionary Boston. In all of the Thieftaker novels I have tried to blend historical and fictional narratives in a way that feels both seamless and coherent. Seamless in that I want it to be as difficult as possible for my readers to determine where history ends and my fiction begins. And coherent in that I also want those two narratives — the real and the fantastic — to interact, to seem mutually causal, so that one feeds the other.

In no book in the series was this a more challenging or daunting task than in DEAD MAN’S REACH. The other Thieftaker novels (THIEFTAKER, THIEVES’ QUARRY, and A PLUNDER OF SOULS) all took place over the course of a few days. In combining my story lines with the historical record I had a limited number of events that I needed to pull together. The near fortnight that separated the first shooting from the last included a public funeral for Chris Seider, several confrontations and brawls between British soldiers and the citizenry of Boston, and even a massive blizzard that nearly crippled the city. I didn’t want to ignore any of these events. On the contrary, I made every effort to work them into the fictional plot that drives the action in the novel.

The result is, I believe, the finest work I have done to date. As I relate them, the events leading to the Boston Massacre now have a distinctly magical element, and my story, which revolves around a sorcerous war between my conjuring hero and a canny, powerful villain, would seem to have profound historical ramifications.

I have a Ph.D. in history; I take my history very seriously and I work hard to bring a level of historical authenticity to my fictional work. I will admit to feeling a bit odd about using an event as solemn and significant as the Boston Massacre in this way. But I take equally seriously my responsibilities as an author of fiction. My readers expect me to entertain them, and, at least in part, that means convincing them that the story I’m telling could be real. Hence the need for historical accuracy. And hence as well my desire to blend the various elements of the narrative — fictional and historical — as thoroughly and persuasively as possible.

The Thieftaker series, and this novel in particular, works because as I combine actual events with fictional ones, I also place my point of view character right in the middle of the resulting story. He becomes a guide for my reader; he doesn’t just witness history, he also responds to it on an intellectual and emotional level. He watches the shootings happen. His magic contributes to the violence. The lives at stake in the battles playing out in Boston’s streets are those of people he knows and loves. In this way, he becomes the bridge between the real and the unreal. Or, to put it another way and make use of an analogy I used earlier, he is the thread that tightens that seam, rendering it all but invisible. Because in the end, though he is a product of my imagination, his horror, his grief, his rage mirror the emotions of the men and women who actually lived through the violence of 1770.


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 earlier this week, on July 21. Under his own name, he writes The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, a contemporary urban fantasy from Baen Books. The first volume, Spell Blind, debuted in January 2015. The newest book in the series, 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.