D.B. Jackson: Drawing Inspiration From Short Fiction

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D.B. JacksonA Plunder of Souls, Summer 2014 Blog TourHello, MW!  It is great to be back — I’ve missed being here. [Glances around] The place looks great — you’ve taken good care of it while I’ve been gone.  And now that I’m here, I’m sticking around for a while — I’ll be posting for the next five weeks, kicking off the promotion for A Plunder of Souls, the third book in the Thieftaker Chronicles (which began with Thieftaker and Thieves’ Quarry). The book will be released on July 8, exactly one week from today.

So, let’s get to it . . .

You’ve heard me say it before:  “Write short fiction about your characters. It will help you get a sense of their background and their voice, and it might even result in a sale.”  Or, as in this case, it might lead to an entirely new novel.

A Plunder of Souls has its origins in a single line that appeared in an early draft of Thieftaker. That line mentioned a conjurer whom Ethan Kaille, the conjuring thieftaker who is the hero of the series, had faced in the past. In rewrites, the line expanded to a paragraph, in which Ethan reflects on the conjuring strength of his (at that point) unknown adversary in the first book:

 

Ethan had faced skilled conjurers before, a few here in Boston in the years since his release from the plantation, and one or two from before his imprisonment. Only two years ago, he had tried and failed to bring to justice a speller who killed two merchants and attempted to murder another. The speller, Nate Ramsey, had sought to avenge his father, whom the merchants had cheated out of ship and fortune. Ramsey had been as potent a speller as any he had known; Ethan still dreaded the day when he might have to face the man again.


By this time, as you can see, this other conjurer, Nate Ramsey, who never appears onstage in Thieftaker, has begun to take shape.  But even then, I didn’t know enough about him, or his confrontation with Ethan.

A Plunder of Souls, by D.B. JacksonSo, when this revised draft of the book was finished and had been put into production, I wrote a short story about their encounter. The story is called “A Spell of Vengeance,” and it sold to Tor.com in the fall of 2011. It was published in June 2012, just before the release of Thieftaker, and it can still be found at the site.  I loved writing the story and found in Ramsey a nemesis for Ethan who was very nearly as compelling as Sephira Pryce, the beautiful and deadly rival thieftaker who appears in every Thieftaker novel.  Ramsey was dark and brooding, but also menacing in a fun, swashbuckling sort of way.  And his interplay with Ethan was filled with sardonic humor, an odd sense of camaraderie rooted in their shared conjuring abilities, and, above all else, a deeply rooted animosity. If it sounds like I enjoyed writing the short piece, that’s because I did.  Which, of course, meant that I wanted to play with him more.

When I began to consider what I might do with books three and four in the Thieftaker series, I had two immediate thoughts. The first was that the fourth book had to coincide with the Boston Massacre.  I don’t know yet if there will be more Thieftaker books after these four, and so I knew that if the series was going to end here, I wanted it to end with a bang (pun somewhat intended).  My second thought was that book three was going to be about Nate Ramsey.

A Plunder of Souls is a different kind of Thieftaker story.  Yes, there is history and mystery — the story takes place in the summer of 1769, during what turned out to be a relatively minor outbreak of smallpox.  And it involves grave robbing.  The book also features just about all of the characters readers have come to expect in a Thieftaker book:  Ethan and his lover, Kannice Lester; Sephira Pryce and her henchmen, Nigel, Nap, and the conjurer Mariz.  Janna Windcatcher, Trevor Pell, and Marielle Harper make appearances, as do several historical figures, including Samuel Adams, James Otis, Sheriff Stephen Greenleaf, Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson, and others.

But in other respects, this is not at all the typical murder mystery that readers found in Thieftaker and Thieves’ Quarry. This is a book about personal vendetta. It’s a ghost story. And it has some really kick-ass magic in it, if I do say so myself.  Ethan has lots of interaction with Sephira and her goons, and most of that will feel at least somewhat familiar. But he also is drawn into a deadly new conflict with Ramsey, who has grown stronger and more cunning in the intervening years.  And then Sephira is drawn into the conflict as well (more about this next week, when I write about character), which complicates things with tragic results.

Maybe you can tell: This book was tremendous fun to write. I hope that it will be just as much fun to read.  More in the weeks to come.

For now though, it’s good to see you all again.  And here’s your homework for the week.  Go to Tor.com, if you haven’t done so already, and read “A Spell of Vengeance.”  And then go to your favorite bookseller and order your copy of A Plunder of Souls.

Thanks!

*****
D.B. Jackson is also David B. Coe, the award-winning author of more than a dozen fantasy novels. His first two books as D.B. Jackson, the Revolutionary War era urban fantasies, Thieftaker and Thieves’ Quarry, volumes I and II of the Thieftaker Chronicles, are both available from Tor Books in hardcover and paperback. The third volume, A Plunder of Souls, will be released in hardcover on July 8. The fourth Thieftaker novel, Dead Man’s Reach, is in production and will be out in the summer of 2015. 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.

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15 comments to D.B. Jackson: Drawing Inspiration From Short Fiction

  • A whole book based off the short story on Tor.com? That sounds great! I liked the ending of it. You’re excitement is getting me pumped up for it too.

  • I know I mentioned it before, but I completely agree about writing short stories about your characters. Sometimes, it works as you made it work for a whole other novel. But sometimes, it also can give you incite into a character in your novel that you need to give more poignancy to his or her action. Rogue 5 has a character that needed that treatment. It was a secondary character, but when he did a selfless act, I was asked by a beta why such a character would do it. The character was always tight-lipped with his past to the mercenary captain, so much so that I didn’t even know his past. I ended up writing a synopsis of his past and it gave me a reason why he would act the way he did, plus allowed me to add a scene into the book that let him drop an inkling of his character and past, which made that later scene all the better. It’s something I may write as a full story someday, once Rogue 5 is out. Might even write short stories for each merc in the group, because they all have stories to tell.

  • We’ve missed you David.
    If you want more, David posted at my blog yesterday about setting…
    http://www.faithhunter.net

  • Thanks so much, Mark. Hope you enjoy it!

    Daniel, you’re right — the short story approach can do all sorts of things: give you novel ideas, give you insight into a character or element of your worldbuilding, or just allow you to play with something or someone that may never find its way into a novel. And best of all, it gives you something else to sell!

    Faith, thanks so much, for the welcome back, and for hosting me at FaithHunter.net yesterday!

  • Amy Bauer

    Loved the short story, David!

  • […] Two big posts up today in the continuing Summer 2014 Plunder of Souls Blog Tour.  The first is at Magical Words, the site on the craft and business of writing that I co-founded and still maintain with my friends Faith Hunter and Misty Massey. The post is on the origins of A Plunder of Souls in the short story “A Spell of Vengeance,” which was published at Tor.com in 2012.  You can read the post here. […]

  • […] Two big posts up today in the continuing Summer 2014 Plunder of Souls Blog Tour.  The first is at Magical Words, the site on the craft and business of writing that I co-founded and still maintain with my friends Faith Hunter and Misty Massey. The post is on the origins of A Plunder of Souls in the short story “A Spell of Vengeance,” which was published at Tor.com in 2012.  You can read the post here. […]

  • Thanks so much, Amy!

  • Ken

    Welcome back David!

    I’ve yet to try the short fiction about my characters approach, but I’m definitely going to give it a try. Be sure to thank your publisher for me for deciding to release the next book so close to my birthday (again :)) Looking forward to it!

  • Welcome back, David! I’ll definitely go check out the short story. I’m looking forward to A Plunder of Souls showing up in my mailbox next week.

    I may have to try the short fiction thing and see if it helps get my currently languishing novel back on track.

  • Thanks, Ken. Glad to provide a birthday gift. And yeah, you really ought to try writing some short stuff about your characters. It’s not only productive, it’s helpful as well.

    Thanks so much, Gypsy. I hope you enjoy the new book. And using short fiction to jump start a stalled project is a great idea.

  • Razziecat

    Very much looking forward to this next Thieftaker book. The more you tell us about it, the more intriguing it becomes!

    I second (or is it third? Fourth? ;) ) the idea of writing short fiction about your characters. Beware, you might even find that you like some of the minor characters better than your original MC! Just like when writing novels, my characters surprise me when I put them in a shorter piece; there’s something about having to pack more story into a smaller space that makes your characters yield their secrets. ;D

  • Welcome back, David!

    Any time I try to write a short story, it blossoms into something bigger. So I haven’t managed to write short fiction about my characters yet. Do you have any tips for dealing with this kind of issue?

  • Razz, thank you. I hope you enjoy the book. And yes, I totally agree about short fiction deepening our connections to characters, including minor ones. Thanks for the comment.

    Laura, thank you! I’m not sure that it’s always a bad thing having a short blossom into a bigger piece. I’m a firm believer in the idea that stories and books settle out to the length they are meant to be. So, I would say go for it. But if you really want to limit the scope of a piece, you want to consider the idea that not all fiction requires a full story arc. Sometimes it’s merely a vignette that captures a moment of consequence in a character’s life. Everything doesn’t have to be settled, the way it does in a novel. You can hint at both more to come, and all that’s come before. Once I realized this, it relieved the pressure of having to write a complete arc, and I found myself writing more short pieces. Don’t know if that helps.

  • David, it does – thanks!