DB Jackson, aka David B. Coe, was born on March 12, 1963, the youngest of four children who all grew up to be writers. David received his undergraduate degree from Brown University and then attended Stanford University as a graduate student in United States history. His novels include Children of Amarid, volume one of The LonTobyn Chronicle. In 1999, The LonTobyn Chronicle was awarded the William L. Crawford Memorial Fantasy Award by theInternational Association for the Fantastic in the Arts (IAFA). The Crawford award is given annually to the best book or series by a new fantasy author. Thereafter followed the critically acclaimed Winds of the Forelands, five volumes, and Blood of the Southlands set in the same world as Winds of the Forelands. He’s also written Robin Hood, a tie-in novelization for the Russell Crowe film and is a founding member and proud contributor to the Magical Words blogsite, dedicated to the craft and business of writing. The Magical Words crew collaborated on How To Write Magical Words: A Writer’s Companion from BellaRosa Books. His first urban historical fantasy, Thieftaker, released from TOR this year under the nom de plume, DB Jackson.
David and his wife have two daughters and live on the Cumberland Plateau. He can be found online via Facebook, Twitter as @DavidBCoe and @DBJacksonAuthor or via his websites at http://dbjackson-author.com/ and http://www.sff.net/people/DavidBCoe/.
Bryan Thomas Schmidt talks to DB about his career and his exciting future projects.
SFFWRTCHT: Let’s get the big reveal out of the way first. You are the artist also formerly known as David B. Coe, no symbol, correct?
DB Jackson: Yes, that’s correct. No symbol. And as far as my family and my mortgage company are concerned, I’m still David B. Coe.
SFFWRTCHT: What made you decide to use a nom de plume for this new venture?
DBJ: Basically, the decision came down to what’s known in the business as author branding (which, as I’ve said before, is not nearly as painful as it sounds). As David B. Coe, I have written eleven epic fantasies — with alternate-world settings that are Medieval-esque in their weaponry, lifestyle, politics, etc., multiple point of view characters, extended story-arcs (story lines that encompass several volumes), and a certain sweeping, high tone that is fairly typical of that subgenre. I enjoyed writing those books and gained a following of readers who enjoyed reading them.
Thieftaker is a very different kind of story. It is what I call historical urban fantasy. Historical because my book is set in Colonial Boston and against the backdrop of actual historical events (the Stamp Act riots and their aftermath in August 1765.) Urban fantasy because my book also has a strong mystery element, a single point of view character, and a lean, taut style more reminiscent of noir mysteries than epic fantasies. The book is a stand-alone–there will be other Thieftaker books, but each will be a separate mystery.
In short, in terms of content, style and structure, Thieftaker represents a departure from my older work, and so the pseudonym seemed like a good idea, one that my publisher and I agreed upon pretty much from the beginning.
SFFWRTCHT: Did you actually split personalities for this? Just kidding. But seriously, do you put on a different mindset in some way when writing as DB Jackson? I assume switching voices is involved in a way, but how much difference would fans detect between David B. Coe and DB Jackson?
DBJ: Well, as I say, my work as D.B. Jackson is written in a more directed, sparser voice. Again, I would compare it to the noir style one often associates with the mysteries of the mid-twentieth century. But at the same time, it also borrows from the vernacular of 1760s Boston so as to lend authenticity to that historical element. The voice is unlike anything I’ve written before, and in many ways is unique in the genre right now. On the other hand, it is still me writing, and so fans who are familiar with my work might detect similarities in my prose, in my character work, in my plotting. It’s pretty hard to remake completely an authorial voice that has been 17 years in the making. And even if I could do it, I’m not sure I’d want to. I like the way I write.
SFFWRTCHT: Ok, back to some basics, where’d your interest in science fiction and fantasy come from and who were some of your favorite authors (and books) as you developed that passion?
DBJ: I have often said that my interest in the genre started with Tolkien, and I’ll discuss his work in a moment. But when Rad Bradbury died earlier this year, it occurred to me that the first piece of speculative fiction I ever read was “A Sound of Thunder.” The story stayed with me; I still think about it and that first reading experience. And yet, I was so young when I read it that I’m not sure I ever appreciated the impact it had on me. I also remember watching Lost in Space as a kid and just loving it.
But I didn’t really become aware of fantasy as a genre until I was at sleep-away camp and starred as Bilbo Baggins in a dramatic presentation of The Hobbit. I loved the story, and read the book shortly after. A few years later I read Lord of the Rings, and by then I was hooked. I wanted to read as much fantasy as I could get my hands on. Jumping ahead a couple of years, I read the first and second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen R. Donaldson. Covenant was such an unusual hero — difficult to like, and yet utterly compelling. And upon reading those books, I realized that I wanted to write this stuff for a living.
SFFWRTCHT: Were you involved in fandom as a youth–Cons, costuming, etc.?
DBJ: Actually, no. I had heard about cons and the like, mostly in the context of them being “Trekkie Cons,” and I have to admit that I was not a great fan of the original Star Trek. I know, I know. I’m pretty ashamed of that now. Anyway, so the very first con I attended was Magic Carpet Con in Chattanooga, Tennessee in May 1997, literally a week after my first book, Children of Amarid, came out. I remember walking into the hotel lobby, and there was a guy in full Klingon battle gear and make-up. And he’s pushing a baby stroller. And I thought, “Yes, I have a arrived . . .”
SFFWRTCHT: When did you decide to pursue writing? And did you study formally in school, learn as you went, etc.?
DBJ: Well, I wrote my first novels when I was six years old. They weren’t very good, and my illustrations actually made them worse. But I always loved to write stories. I took a creative writing class in high school — a workshop-style course for which I had to apply in order to be admitted. I loved that class, and I went to college expecting to be a creative writing major. It took exactly one course to change my mind. That was a workshop class, too, but everyone in the class seemed to think that the way to score points with the professor was to tear down the work of other students work. And as the only person writing speculative fiction, I was a frequent target.
I took a different path in college and then wound up getting a Ph.D. in history. But I never lost my love of writing, and after completing my doctorate in the spring of 1993, I had an entire summer before I needed to start sending out applications for academic positions in history. At that point, my wife said to me, “You know, since the day I met you, you’ve been talking about writing a novel. You have five months. Why not see if you enjoy writing fiction?”
So I started worldbuilding, wrote a few short stories, and finally began work on the book that would become Children of Amarid. By the fall, I had five chapters written (long chapters — about 100 pages of prose) and an outline of the rest of the book. I stopped working on the book, but gave it to a friend who had worked in the publishing industry and who agreed to act as my agent. And I started working on job applications.
SFFWRTCHT: How long did you write before making your first sale? Did you start with shorts or novels?
DBJ: Well, I had those short stories I mentioned, but I didn’t think that they were ready for publication. So, I was trying to start my career on a partial novel and an outline. That’s not a tactic I would suggest to aspiring writers today, but at the time it was more feasible. One house turned me down. But in March 1994, I received a job offer to teach U.S. Environmental History at Colorado State University — pretty much my academic dream job. The following day (literally) I received a call from an editor at Tor Books who was interested in buying my novel. I had one weekend to choose my career path. I chose writing, and never really looked back. Only later, talking to other authors, did I realize how incredibly lucky I had been. My path to that first publication was far easier than my meager talents at the time deserved.
SFFWRTCHT: You’re primarily known for fantasy. What drew you to fantasy? And what are the key elements of good fantasy for you?
DBJ: I think that what drew me to fantasy was the scope of imagination represented in those early works I read — Tolkien, Donaldson, Guy Gavriel Kay. Part of it was the worldbuilding — I loved the idea of creating my own worlds where I could shape the history, the culture, the traditions, the politics, etc. I think that the reason our genre speaks so strongly to young readers is that it offers to people who feel constantly that the real world is beyond their control a chance to exert total control over an environment of their choosing. That freedom (or illusion of freedom) is certainly part of what drew me to writing this stuff.
And then I also love playing with magic. I work hard to place limits on my magic systems, to keep them from being Deus ex Machinas for every plot problem. But by the same token, magic changes the equation, it gives power to those who might not otherwise have it. And again, I think this has great allure for young readers and writers.
The key elements of good fantasy come down to three things for me. First and foremost — and to me this is the key to good literature of any sort — strong character work. Characters, from protagonist down to the most minor person in the story — should have depth. They should seem alive to the reader. And those who carry the narrative — major heroes and villains alike — should grab the heart. I like to draw characters in shades of gray. I want my heroes flawed and my villains sympathetic. Because real people are complex. Second, those settings I mentioned, whether created entirely from an author’s imagination or borrowed from history or the contemporary world, should transport readers. They need to be rich, multi-dimensional, sensual in the truest sense of the word. And finally, the magic should feel as real and natural as any other element of the world. It should not only be cool, it should also blend with other story elements so that when readers encounter that magic they are totally willing to accept it.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you usually start with characters or plot?
DBJ: It really depends on the project. I have started books with both. Ideas come to me in all forms. Thieftaker started with a character and an idea. I read about thieftakers in a history book and knew that I wanted to write a story about them, and then built my lead character’s nemesis — the lovely and dangerous Sephira Pryce — on the basis of a real-world thieftaker named Jonathan Wild. But my Winds of the Forelands series, a five book epic fantasy, started entirely with a plot idea. I really can’t generalize.
SFFWRTCHT: Your first trilogy, The LonTobyn Chronicle, won the Crawford Award for best work by a new author. Congratulations. It must have been an incredible affirmation to get such high praise early on. Where’d the idea for that trilogy come from? How did such early accolades help you/your career?
DBJ: Thanks. It was incredibly affirming, and that was probably the most important thing about it. Yes, it got me some attention and helped my sales. It also made my publisher see me as something more than just another mid-list fantasy writer. But most of all, it made me believe in myself. I think just about every writer I’ve ever met suffers from some level of self-doubt, of what many writers call “impostor syndrome,” the notion that somehow we lucked into those writing contracts, and pretty soon everyone in the world is going to realize that we’re just hacks who don’t deserve to be published. I was no different, and though to this day I have moments of that kind of doubt, the Crawford gave me a good deal of confidence. I almost felt like Sally Field saying “You like me; you really like me!”
The idea for that series actually started with my magic system, and a “What if?” question. I’m a long-time birdwatcher, and I especially love birds of prey — hawks and owls. So I wanted to create a magic system in which my mages drew their power from a psychic bond formed with avian familiars. And then I wondered, how would a mage in such a system make himself immortal and all-powerful, and what would happen if he did? Three books later, I had my first trilogy.
SFFWRTCHT: Wind of the Forelands, Blood of the Southlands and various others followed, all with TOR. How’d you come to be with Tom Doherty and do you see it advantageous to have done so much work with the same publisher throughout your career? It seems unusual these days.
DBJ: I suppose it is unusual. The simple (and somewhat glib) answer to your question is that I wound up with Tor because a Tor editor liked my first series, and Tom was willing to take a chance on a young, inexperienced writer whose work was a little rough, but whose passion was unquestionable. My first series did well, and so Tor was willing to stay with me for the next couple of series. And I was fine with that. I love writing for Tor. They have been very good to me over the years, and have been incredibly supportive of Thieftaker.
The biggest advantage in being with Tor all these years lies in the fact that I’ve written all my books with the same editor. He and I have become close friends and we have a terrific working relationship. He knows my work so well, and has helped me become a far more accomplished writer than I was all those years ago when I first started out. I wouldn’t trade that rapport for anything, and I am certain that working with someone who is so familiar with my habits, good and bad, has helped me turn out a better product for my readers.
SFFWRTCHT: You also seem to have a penchant for what you and I would call “Chihuahua killers”–thick fantasy tomes. Do you see any advantage in the fact that the Thieftaker books so far are half that size?
DBJ: Well, I think in part the change in my novel length has been dictated by the market. With only a few exceptions, everyone is writing shorter these days. Also, urban fantasies tend to be shorter than epics, and so writing to that length seemed the natural thing to do. But yes, there is an advantage. I like this leaner style. I think that writing shorter, being more economical with my prose, has made me a better writer. And I can write a Thieftaker book in less time than it took me to write those early Big Fat Fantasies, so I am being more productive. I like that, too.
SFFWRTCHT: You’re back with TOR for Thieftaker, the first of a new cycle. And you’ve completed two books and are seeking to contract for at least two more you said. Did you plan it as a series? How many books are planned in the series?
DBJ: I did plan it as a series, though as a series of stand-alone mysteries. Each story is set against the backdrop of a different historical event leading toward the American Revolution. So Thieftaker is set at the time of the Stamp Act riots. The second book, Thieves’ Quarry, coincides with the occupation of Boston by British troops in 1768. I am hoping to contract two more books sometime this year — one set during a smallpox epidemic in 1769, and the second at the time of the Boston Massacre in 1770. Ultimately, I hope to write beyond those two — I love my characters, particular my hero, Ethan Kaille, and his rival in thieftaking, Sephira Pryce. And while the books stand alone, the events of one book ramify through those that come later, so the characters grow and change as the series progresses.
SFFWRTCHT: I know you’ve done short stories with the protagonist Ethan Kaille. But I also saw an interview where you said the idea actually originated with the antagonist, Sephira Pryce. Tell us about how the idea for this series and world came about?
DBJ: It actually began back in 2005, when my wife and I were making plans for her year-long sabbatical in Australia. (She’s a biologist and college professor — way smarter than me. Than I. Whatever.) I was reading Robert Hughes’ history of Australia, The Fatal Shore, which begins with a discussion of Australia’s role as a penal colony for England. And in discussing British law enforcement, Hughes wrote about thieftakers, in particular London’s most notorious thieftaker, Jonathan Wild. Wild built an empire for himself by having men in his employ steal from wealthy families. He sold those goods that were most valuable and then returned the rest to the rightful owner, collecting a finder’s fee for doing so! He not only made himself rich, but he also gained a reputation among the elite as a brilliant fighter of crime, since he seemed capable of recovering almost everything that was stolen in the city!
And upon reading about Wild, I thought “I want to write about thieftakers!” And I decided that I wanted to have a Wild-like character as the rival and nemesis for my hero, who would be an honest thieftaker. I turned this nemesis into a woman, which added an electric sexual tension to their rivalry, but otherwise Sephira is basically Boston’s own Jonathan Wild.
SFFWRTCHT: Set in the Colonial Era, pre-Revolution, the book really has a noir/urban fantasy feel. Was that part of the inspiration?
DBJ: Yes. After writing eleven epic fantasies, I was ready to try something somewhat different. But I didn’t want to give up on fantasy and magic altogether, so writing urban fantasy seemed to be the answer. And as an aside, I should mention that I also have a couple of contemporary urban fantasies that I’m working on and hope to sell soon. So this is more than a one-off deal. I really love urban fantasy — I love reading it and writing it. That noir style is tremendous fun, as is blending my fantasy with a mystery element. I have always wanted to write mysteries, and finally being able to do that, while also mixing in my love of fantasy and my long-time interest in history, has been great. In a way, I feel like I’ve always been meant to write Thieftaker stories, and only just now got around to it.
SFFWRTCHT: I understand that Thieftaking was an actual profession in Colonial times? Is that true and how’d you come to learn of it? Plus, what is a thieftaker?
DBJ: Well, let’s start with the definition of a thieftaker. A thieftaker is sort of the 18th century equivalent of a private investigator. They were freelancers who were hired to recover stolen goods. They received their fees upon completion of their assignments, and they tended to exist in places where there was no established constabulary. Once professional police forces appeared, people no longer needed thieftakers. Now as it happens, there were no thieftakers in Colonial America. That is a historical conceit of the series. Thieftakers worked in English cities throughout the 18th century and into the 19th in some places, and they appeared briefly in some North American cities in the early 1800s. But they were not actually in Colonial Boston, or any other Colonial town, as far as I know.
SFFWRTCHT: You’ve incorporated magic into a very historical setting and still very much, to my mind, captured the historical era and feel well in both setting, dialogue, and characters. It would be easy to say your degree in history made that simple, but I get the feeling it’s harder than it looked. How much research did you do and how do you approach research? Do you do the bulk in advance? Research what you need for the story?
DBJ: Thanks. I appreciate that. I did a tremendous amount of research, reading historical monographs, as well as whatever primary source material I could get my hands on. I wanted to steep myself in the history of Boston, of Colonial politics, of the specifics of Stamp Act crisis, and anything else I needed to learn. I began with general reading, based on recommendations from a friend who teaches in the history department at the local university where my wife teaches. Then I began to jot down questions, things I knew that I wanted or needed to know before I could start writing my story. These questions, invariably led to secondary and tertiary questions. But that was okay, because with each set of new questions, my focus grew finer. I could feel myself zeroing in on the sort of details that would make my setting come to life for a 21st century audience. I did much of this up front, before writing, so that I could make the actual writing go as smoothly as possible.
That said, I obviously encountered new questions and problems as I wrote, so my research was ongoing, even through revisions. I tried to find details that would enhance my setting, my character work, my narrative, but I was also conscious of not wanting to overwhelm my reader with too much information. I didn’t want to resort to data dumps, and I didn’t want the book to read as a history textbook. In the end, my biggest challenge was not finding the details I needed, but rather figuring out which tidbits to use, and which ones to leave out.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you outline or pants it? (I suppose this would affect the approach to research as well.)
DBJ: I outline but my outlines tend to be rough and cursory. I seek a balance. I like to have signposts laying out my major plot points, so that I always know where I’m going. But I also like the spontaneity that comes from “pantsing” and so I keep my outlines vague enough that I feel free to let my characters assert themselves and, within reason, take the narrative where they choose. I don’t always get the balance right, but that’s okay. I can always adjust an outline if I stray from it too much. But I like to have some direction as I begin a book or series.
SFFWRTCHT: Tell us a bit about conjuring and the magic system of the novels. How does it work? Did you base it on any particular system or idea? What are the rules?
DBJ: The magic system I’ve created draws upon four different elements. First, all spells must be invoked in Latin, either aloud or silently. I chose to use Latin, because I liked the idea of tying conjuring in some small way to the religious traditions of the time, and most of the Christian denominations at the time still used Latin masses. Second, all spells must be fueled by something. The weakest spells can be fueled by one of the natural elements — air, water, earth or fire. These castings, called elemental spells, tend to be illusion conjurings or other non-physical spells that do not act on actual matter. Stronger spells are sourced in blood, or in something else from a living creature or thing (hair, leaves or bark from a plant, etc.) The strongest spells demand the taking of a life. These are almost always dark spells. The third element is the conjurer him or herself, and the fourth is a ghost, usually an ancestor of the conjurer, who allows the conjurer to access the power that dwells at the boundary between the living world and the realm of the dead.
I wanted to create a magic system that was complex, that demanded something of my conjurers. And I wanted it to be something that, to the untrained eye of my characters’ contemporaries, could be confused with witchcraft. Because the conjurers in the Thieftaker universe live in a time when witch scares still occur and so Ethan and others like him live in constant fear of being hanged as witches.
SFFWRTCHT: Some of your fantasies use multiple POV characters but this time you chose to just tell the story through Ethan’s eyes. What challenges did that create? Did you consider 1st person rather than 3rd for purposes of capturing the noir feel? Do you plan to do the same in the other Thieftaker novels?
DBJ: I chose to make Ethan my lone POV character because I was writing a mystery, and I wanted the clues to unfold for my readers in the same way and at the same pace as they do for my “investigator.” Of course the challenge of this lies in giving my readers enough information to understand what is happening. In this kind of book, it’s absolutely crucial that my readers identify with my narrator, and that’s one of the reasons I took such care to make Ethan a complex, interesting and sympathetic character.
As to your question about first or third person, I have to admit that I struggled with this. If I had written essentially the same story in a modern setting I would have used first person. But with all the historical information I had to convey, I felt that the story worked better in third person. Having a first person narrator explain historical phenomena would have felt awkward. Shifting to third person created just enough distance between reader and narrator to make those explanations feel more natural.
SFFWRTCHT: As a historian, we all find ourselves drawn toward various periods. Was this era the focus of your historical studies? What eras do feel most drawn to?
DBJ: Actually it wasn’t. My work was in 20th century history — New Deal to be precise. But when I read for my general exams, I found myself fascinated by the late-Colonial and Revolutionary periods. There was so much happening then politically and socially, there were such cool ideas being bandied about by those who would found our nation — it was incredibly fertile ground for study. If I had it to do over again, I might well get my degree in Colonial history instead of the modern stuff. I still do like New Deal history as well as post-WWII studies. And, like most Americans, I am fascinated by the Civil War, as well as by the period of Western expansion. At heart, I remain something of a history geek.
SFFWRTCHT: Is it harder or easier for world-building to use an existing historical setting?
DBJ: Hedging here: both. On the one hand, I can set something in, say, Colonial Boston, and already my reading audience is filling in some of the ambiance on their own. They can see the clothing and tricorn hats, they know the technology level, they even understand something of the politics. That all makes it a bit easier than trying to create all those traditions and customs from scratch. On the other hand, people already know something about the period, and so I have to be very careful. Even in creating a magic system or introducing something like thieftakers, I have to make certain that historical conditions make those things believable. I want to blend my history and fantasy, and so being able to use the historical fear of witches to lend legitimacy to my magic system made all kinds of sense. And writing about thieftakers only worked with my decision to place this in Colonial Boston because, as it happens, Boston had no real police force in the 1760s and 1770s. It was a fairly lawless place. Had that not been the case, the whole premise of the series would have fallen apart. Worrying about stuff like that makes using real-world settings more complicated.
SFFWRTCHT: What, to your mind, is the key to good alternate history? What are the pitfalls for writers in attempting to write this subgenre?
DBJ: I think that the biggest pitfall for authors of historical fantasy or historical fiction, or alternate history, is the worry about historical authenticity. Where do we draw the line between writing fiction and writing history? How do we reconcile our historical conceits — and really, any fictional story is going to have at least some — with our quest for accuracy? The key to me in writing Thieftaker was that I never attempted to re-create the Boston that was. Rather, I sought to create a Boston that could have been. That gave me the freedom to weave in my fictions with the facts I found in my research, and to create a magical system and a network of thieftakers without worrying that I was going to be criticized for historical inaccuracy. The best alternate histories and historical novels, in my opinion, strive for authenticity rather than absolute accuracy, and are unabashed in their desire to emphasize narrative and character over fact. We have to remember that in the end we’re telling a story, and that story has to take precedence. I’m not saying that authors should be cavalier about getting stuff right; just that they should know when getting most stuff right — rather than all of it — is good enough.
SFFWRTCHT: What did you struggle with most and least in writing this book?
DBJ: I think the hardest part of writing the book was balancing, on the one hand, my desire for authenticity in the way my characters expressed themselves and, on the other hand, my desire to capture that noir style and to make my characters understandable to a modern reading audience. If I had been truly accurate with my use of language, syntax, and even spelling, Ethan and my other characters would have been nearly indecipherable. I didn’t want that. I wanted to capture some essence of the 18th century vernacular. But I also wanted my readers to relate to Ethan, and I wanted the book to read like an urban fantasy. That was a challenge throughout the writing of the first and second books, and also the short stories I’ve written.
The easiest part of the book was probably building the dynamic between Ethan and Sephira. I had envisioned it from the start, and it just flowed beautifully, coming out just as I had hoped it would.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you use Scrivener or other “writing software tools”? Write to music? Any rituals?
DBJ: I do use Scrivener, but mostly as a database for my character files and all the online research I do. For my word processing I use a mac-based program called Nisus Writer Pro, which I love because it is similar to Word Perfect, the program on which I cut my computer teeth. I write to jazz and instrumental bluegrass. I can’t write while lyrics are playing, and so I have to have instrumental stuff. And I find that classical music, which I love otherwise, confines me creatively. There is something about the improvisational quality of jazz and bluegrass that frees me up and helps me write.
My one real ritual is that I go to the gym first thing every morning and work out before I write. That makes it easier for me to sit in front of a computer all day.
SFFWRTCHT: What’s your writing time look like—specific block? Write ‘til you reach word count? Grab it when you can?
DBJ: Once I am back from the gym, I write pretty much all day. Maybe 9:30am to 5:00pm, with a brief break for lunch. I treat writing like a regular job, and that way am able to keep my evenings and weekends open for family stuff, hobbies, things like that. I shoot for a certain word count, usually 2,000 to 2,500 words per day. That’s not as fast as some writers I know, but it’s fast enough for me, and it allows me to polish as I write, which is something I’ve always done. So it takes me a bit longer than some people to finish a manuscript, but when my first draft is done, it’s pretty clean.
SFFWRTCHT: What’s the best and worst writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
DBJ: The best advice I ever got came, ironically, from the teaching assistant in the college creative writing course that I hated so much. She was the one person in the room who really knew what she was doing (and I include the professor in that statement), and she told me “Don’t retreat into rewrites. Keep moving forward and finish your book. You can revise later, when you’re done.” That’s great advice, and I repeat it whenever I speak with aspiring writers. Finishing books is hard. Revising a finished book is far easier. So move forward; don’t retreat.
As for the worst advice, that might be a line I once read in a book about writing. The author basically said (I’m paraphrasing) “My job as a novelist is to tell lies, and to make those lies so convincing that you the reader accept them.” This is probably a matter of semantics, but I just hate that analogy. As a novelist, I don’t tell lies. I tell stories. To me there is a huge difference. I’m not trying to deceive. I’m trying to get at the truth through tales about people.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you have any plans to do science fiction?
DBJ: I have written one science fiction story. It was published at SciFiction, the SciFi Channel’s fiction market, which was edited by Ellen Datlow, and which folded several years back. The story is called “The Christmas Count,” and can be found now on the David B. Coe website (www.DavidBCoe.com). It’s actually a fun story, one of which I’m still quite proud. I could see writing more science fiction, but I’d probably have to learn something about science first. I should maybe talk to my wife about that….
SFFWRTCHT: I also would be remiss not to ask a bit about Magical Words and how it came about?
DBJ: Magical Words began several years back at a writing conference. I had spent a great weekend teaching writing, and at a party near the end of the conference met fellow fantasy author Faith Hunter, author of the bestselling Jane Yellowrock books, who is represented by my agent. Faith and I hit it off from the start. Meeting her was like discovering that I had another sibling. We decided then and there that we wanted to work on something together, and since both of us had just worked the conference and had such a good time teaching, we hit upon the idea of establishing a website devoted to the craft and business of writing and geared toward aspiring writers. We brought in Misty Massey and C. E. Murphy and launched the site in January 2008. It has since grown to include more than a dozen different writers on a regular or semi-regular basis, and, as you mentioned, it has even spawned a book: How to Write Magical Words: A Writer’s Companion.
SFFWRTCHT: What benefits, besides friendships with your partners, have come to you from reaching out to help fellow authors like this?
DBJ: Truly, helping aspiring writers and working with my Magical Words colleagues has been its own reward. But there is also so much to be learned about craft from teaching it to others. I find that when I break down part of my creative process in order to write a post for the site, it almost always winds up teaching me something new about my own approach to writing. Sometimes I discover inefficiencies that I can fix by following my own advice. Sometimes I realize that I’ve been doing something kind of cool or helpful all along and was entirely unaware of it. But invariably, my work for Magical Words helps my own work.
SFFWRTCHT: What future projects are you working on that we can look forward to?
DBJ: I have a few irons in the fire right now. I have written the second Thieftaker book, but I still need to revise it. I expect to get a revision letter from my editor in the next month or so. I have two contemporary urban fantasies, one of which needs a bit of polishing, and one of which needs a major rewrite. I have a middle grade book that I need to finish and revise. Plus I have two more Thieftaker books that I hope to contract soon. As soon as we have the contracts, I’ll start writing them. And I have ideas for a few more Thieftaker short stories. So I have plenty to keep me busy.
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince(2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Books For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Lost In A Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on World Encounters and Space & Shadows: SpecNoir with coeditor John Helfers, both forthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.