Five Questions with David Coe / D. B. Jackson

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David Coe, who also writes as D. B. Jackson, is one busy man. How busy? Well, he’s the author of over a dozen novels, with two more on the way. Which ones, you may ask? Dead Man’s Reach, the fourth book in the Thieftaker Chronicles, released a little a week ago (July 21st) from Tor Books, and His Father’s Eyes, the second book in The Casefiles of Justis Fearsson, comes out August 4th from Baen Books.

I thought it would be fun to sit down with David to ask him some questions about his books. Here’s what he had to say.

51Wfg-AVy8L._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_The fourth book in the Thieftaker Chronicles, Dead Man’s Reach, is releasing this month (July 21st, to be exact). Talk to me about the arc of the series. Did it end up following the direction you envisioned early on, or has it changed along the way?

The Thieftaker books came out very much as I had envisioned them. That’s not always the case with my work; the Fearsson series, which I’m working on concurrently, is following a somewhat different course than I’d imagined. But I think the nature of the Thieftaker novels has made the writing experience a bit more predictable. I tie these books closely to actual historical events, and so I have to outline each novel in detail. I’m an outliner anyway, but not always this much. So knowing how the history goes, I also had a pretty good sense of where the series was headed. And from the day I began work on the first Thieftaker book, I knew that I would eventually write a story that coincided with the Boston Massacre. Dead Man’s Reach is that book.

We talk a lot about the changes characters go through, but we have to be careful not to change their core, the part that people fell in love with. In what ways has Ethan changed throughout the series? In what ways has he stayed the same?

Ethan has been a different sort of protagonist for me. He began the series already well along in life — nearing 40 years old, carrying wounds and scars from a hard personal history that included time in the navy, years as a convict, and more disappointments and losses than most people see in a lifetime. He has always had an edge; he’s always been something of a loner. Those things haven’t changed, though I will say that he has mellowed some over the course of the series. Maybe I have, too, as I’ve gotten older, and that’s reflected in his personality. But perhaps the biggest change my readers will see in him is his political evolution. He begins the series as a staunch loyalist, a supporter of King George III and Parliament. But the occupation of Boston (which began in Thieves’ Quarry, the second book in the series) and the subsequent violence, culminating in the Boston Massacre, changes him, pushing him closer and closer to Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty. Readers who objected to his political views early on, and there were many, should be pleased.

51hi2SWd-DL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_You embarked on a new series with Spell Blind, and now the second book in the Justis Fearsson series, His Father’s Eyes, is set to come out on August 4th. It seems to me there are advantages and disadvantages to each subgenre of fantasy and science fiction. What was your favorite aspect of settling down into this new contemporary fantasy about a hardboiled, magic-using private detective?

After writing medieval-esque epic fantasy for the first ten years of my career, and then turning to the historical work, it is really nice finally to be writing in our present-day world. I can use modern colloquialisms in my dialog. I can use any word I want without worrying that it might be anachronistic. I can throw in a little modern profanity. I can use tech, and cars, and stuff like that. It’s been liberating. That’s not to say that I don’t plan to write more epic fantasies and more historical stuff. But the Fearsson books have been tremendous fun.

I’m also writing these books in first person, something I’ve never done before in a novel length work. There is an intimacy to first person point of view that I find incredibly compelling. In many ways, I feel a closer kinship to Jay Fearsson than I have to any other character I’ve written, even though we’re not all that much alike. That element of the books — the voice I’ve found for my narrative — might be what I love about them the most.

In what ways did you have to push yourself in the writing of Spell Blind and His Father’s Eyes?

That’s a good question. I think the answer lies in that first person voice I just mentioned. I’ve needed to make Jay Fearsson into someone my readers will like, will relate to, will believe is real. In other words, I’ve needed to exploit that intimacy I mentioned a moment ago. In doing so, I’ve had to step onto unfamiliar terrain. Jay is a weremyste, a sorcerer who essentially goes insane for three nights out of every month—the night of the full moon, and the nights immediately before and after. Eventually his mind will deteriorate and he’ll be left with permanent psychological damage, which is what has happened to his father. Writing of these moon phasings in first person, as they’re happening, was challenging. I needed to hold on to a shred of Jay’s personality, but I also had to write convincingly of delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, etc.

In addition, I had to create this first person narrator and step into his shoes completely. I didn’t want him to sound like me. I remember at one point having a friend read the first book. She’s a professional writer, too, and more successful than I. She knows all about writing and creating realistic characters. So I found it really gratifying when she came back to me and said, “I totally lost myself in the voice, to the point where I was asking myself, ‘Wait, does David really think this way?’” That was pretty cool, and it told me that I had created an entirely distinct first person narrator.

CoeJacksonPubPic1000Since you were writing a couple of series at once, I’m curious about your process. Were you able to flip between the two projects simultaneously, working on whichever one was giving you the most juice at the time? Or are you someone who has to finish what you’re writing before moving on to something else?

Definitely the latter. I would finish one book and then switch to the other series to write the next volume in that sequence. I think if I tried to switch on and off on a daily or even weekly basis, my brain would explode. There were times, of course, when I was writing one book in one series, and would have to pause to take care of revisions or copyedits or proofs in the other series. That was disorienting enough, thanks very much. But writing in both series at the same time? No way. I know some folks can do that, and I admire them more than I can say. But I can’t.

I will add, though, that switching between the two series on a book-by-book basis has been great. I didn’t get burned out on either series, because after each book I was able to switch gears and work on something different. I loved that aspect of it. It made me want to write in two series concurrently all the time.


David 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 will be 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, 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.