Category Archives: Guest Post

Colleen Gleason Guest Post and Giveaway!

Victorians, Steampunk, and Séances
by Colleen Gleason

The second book in my young adult steampunk and adventure series, The Spiritglass Charade, has a plot that revolves around a popular Victorian pasttime: séances and spirit-talking. Gathering around a table in a pitch-black room and calling the spirits, usually via a medium, was all the craze—and not just in Victorian England, but also in the United States. In fact, two of the most famous mediums—the Fox sisters (who, by the way, later confessed to be frauds)—were American.

While the first book in this, the Stoker & Holmes series, featured another Victorian interest (Egyptology), I decided it would be utterly fitting to combine my cog-filled, mechanics-driven steampunk world with that of the spiritualism fad. It made a lot of sense, and the more I researched Victorian England, the more I realized how absolutely perfect a fit this was.

Start with the two protagonists in my series—Mina Holmes (niece of Sherlock) and Evaline Stoker (sister of Bram, descendant of vampire-hunter Victoria Gardella). They are so different, I knew they’d approach the idea of attending a séance from completely different perspectives. Mina, of course, would be filled with the need to explain the rapping sounds and ghostly writing on a slate, and Evaline (being a hunter of supernatural creatures) would have a much more open mind and be willing to take whatever comes.

As the book progresses, we shift from the perspective and opinion of one to the other—seeing Mina’s pragmatic point of view, and then understanding why Evaline argues the opposite.

And then there’s the fact that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (who was great friends with Bram Stoker—how’s that for a coincidence?) had a life-long belief in spiritualism and séances. He was fascinated by the idea of the after life and other worldly life, and spent much of his time attending séances. In fact, he and Harry Houdini (who was firmly in the opposite camp, and spent his time debunking spirit-talkers) were very close friends for many years until they had a falling out over this very subject. Doyle strongly believed in the afterlife, and Houdini had spent so much of his life conducting the very tricks false mediums used during their events that he couldn’t believe in it at all—although he truly wanted to.

It made sense to me to feature séances with fraudulent mediums…and perhaps not-so-fraudulent mediums…in this story. I learned about all of the ways the (mostly women) spirit-talkers conducted false examples of spirit-talking—from learning how to crack their toe and knee joints loudly enough to sound like ghostly rapping—to sleight-of-hand tricks to do ghostly writing on slates or table-shifting, etc. Initially, I thought it would be necessary for me to use the steampunk element of fancy gadgets and amazing devices in order to create the effects of a false séance, I soon learned from my research that it wasn’t necessary: the Victorians had it covered with their own creativity and simple mechanisms.

Yet during my research I also found examples of mediums who were never debunked, even through the Society for Psychical Research (directed by Harvard professor and William James)—including Mrs. Nellie Titus and Leonora Piper. (For excellent reading on the subject, try Deborah Blum’s Ghost Hunters.)

So did I “take sides” in the debate in The Spiritglass Charade? Hmmm…no comment from me! Whether or not there are truly ghosts and spirits that talk to people is up to you to decide…


Courtesy of Chronicle Books, I have a copy of The Spiritglass Charade by Colleen Gleason for one (1) lucky winner!

Contest is open to US residents only. No PO Boxes please. To enter, just fill out the form below. Contest ends November 7. I’ll draw a name on November 8, and notify winner via email.


Good luck!

Continue reading Colleen Gleason Guest Post and Giveaway!

Guest Post: Jamie Schultz on Seeing the Future

Seeing the Future
By Jamie Schultz

There are a million stories about seeing the future—speculative fiction is thick with them, and with good reason, since there’s nothing more speculative than cracking open the future and having a look around in there. Arguably, that’s what the word means, at least once you couple it to a great deal of uncertainty. They come in technological versions, magical versions, oblique and direct and everything in between. I’m fascinated with these kinds of stories, in large part because the future is one area of exploration that is walled off to us, which of course makes one wonder about it that much more.

There are lots of different ways to classify “seeing the future” stories, but one of the most fundamental is by malleability. One branch, dating back to the Greeks and the story of Cassandra, is your basic “the future is fixed, and you are screwed” kind of story. These can be fantastic stories, but they lend themselves to one of two approaches: straight up horror, where everything foreseen comes to pass, and you basically sit back and watch as every terrible portent unfurls itself into an unavoidable series of events; or a sort of ironic approach, where, despite foreknowledge of some terrible event, the protagonist’s effort to prevent said terrible event ends up causing it or proving maddeningly irrelevant. The film 12 Monkeys comes to mind as an example of this kind of story. Massive amounts of effort, and in the end, it all ends up being beside the point. That doesn’t make them bad stories, but that does tend to create a kind of desperate or, at best, ironic fatalism.

In the other main branch, the future can be affected. These are the types of stories that really appeal to me, in part because of their flexibility, and in part because they tend to be less fatalistic. There’s an undercurrent of optimism in these stories that may be bleak, but at least the moral of the story is not that the optimism is fundamentally misguided. A classic example is Stephen King’s The Dead Zone, in which the protagonist sees a terrible vision of disaster befalling the world after a particularly awful politician gets elected, and sets out to stop him, permanently, heedless of the consequences for himself.

Of course, one of the sources of dramatic tension can be playing a guessing game with the audience of which kind of story they’re experiencing—is the future fixed, or not? In Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death or Chuck Wendig’s Blackbirds, much of the tension comes from just this—wondering whether or not the awful thing that has been prophesied will actually come to pass.

This ties in to a crucial element of “seeing the future” stories, something so obvious that there would hardly be a story without it: The would-be prophet always sees something bad. The question is usually, then, whether the bad thing can be avoided, and if so how. One of the more interesting approaches to handling this is in Asimov’s venerable Foundation series. The fascinating thing about this is that the future is “seen” through statistical science, and the prophet, Hari Seldon, not only sees the grim future that looms over humanity, but also sees a better future and a path toward achieving it. That is, not only is the future malleable, but those with enough knowhow can look ahead and figure out how, specifically, to change it for the better. There’s a sort of optimism about the capabilities of technology for leading humanity to utopia, or at least out of the desert, that is fairly uncommon. And, of course, even Asimov and his contemporaries were less than sure that the technological predictions of the future would be universally positive—witness Minority Report and even one of Asimov’s own stories, where a block-sized supercomputer can pick out would-be criminals, a task so depressing it makes the computer attempt to kill itself.

Speaking of the suicidal supercomputer, one of the interesting things about prophecy stories is that viewing the future is almost always regarded as a bad thing for the prophet. In many cases, this is due to the burden of the gift itself—seeing things that the prophet would rather not, or afflicting the prophet with a responsibility to act, a responsibility that is itself a gigantic weight. It can come with other burdens, too. In Wendig’s Blackbirds, the protagonist, Miriam Black, can see when somebody is going to die, and she can’t do anything about it. This ends up having the effect of alienating her from humanity, leading her to a seedy existence between the cracks of society, even without burdening her with additional responsibility. All the way back to the Old Testament, prophets were regarded as having a tendency, if not an outright requirement, to go mad.

Part of the reason viewing the future is typically coupled with dire side effects is, I think, from a not-so-latent fear of the category of things we don’t know, and therefore are labeled, “Things we are not meant to know.” It’s a staple of fantasy and science fiction (and, hell, literature in general) that knowing things we are not meant to know is harmful if not outright fatal. Another reason is likely that of dramatic necessity—any character that knows the future and isn’t somehow crippled by that knowledge would be godlike, and either remove a whole lot of the drama from a story or render it pointless (or at least in any type of story where the future is malleable).

Probably due to a relatively modern suspicion of concepts like destiny, as well as a conscious attempt to avoid lapsing into fatalism (my writing can be dark enough already, thank you) I write malleable futures. In my novel Premonitions, the futures glimpsed by the main character are eminently malleable, and in fact she changes them all the time. The hard part is that, as in reading entrails or listening to the voices of gods on the wind, her visions are difficult to interpret, and in some cases extremely metaphorical. They also tend to crowd out her experience of present-tense reality, if not carefully managed—a callback to those mad Old Testament prophets, and, like those prophets, she lives perpetually in unsteady balance on a knife edge between sanity and insanity. As a result of trying to manage this, she—again, like a mad prophet—has ended up living outside regular society, though in her case, due to the need to pay copious sums for the black market concoction that controls her visions, she has become a criminal rather than a hermit.

I doubt I’ve added anything to the canon, in terms of the wealth of fantastic “seeing the future” stories we have. I do hope, though, that I’ve drawn on the rich history of these kinds of stories and managed to put my own interesting spin on them.

Author John L. Campbell Guest Post

John L. Campbell, author of Ship of the Dead, joins today to talk about the popularity of zombies…

by John L. Campbell

I was in line at a deli the other day, and the young man behind the counter made a comment about zombies. Always on the lookout for a chance to promote my work, I asked, “Do you like zombies?” He looked at me as if I was slow-witted and said, “It’s 2014, man.”

He’s right. In recent years, zombies have become such an integral part of our culture that the question isn’t, are you into zombies, but, how deep are you into zombies? They have shambled their way into mainstream advertising, video games, film and television, apparel, special edition weaponry and products, and of course, books and graphic novels. These days you can’t throw a stick in the air without it landing on a zombie, or someone who loves them. It’s gone beyond trend and into the realm of phenomena.

As a zombie and horror author, how exciting is it to be in the center of this cultural whirlwind? Zombies have been cool for a long time, and Mr. Romero has sat at the head of the table since he dragged their dead flesh in front of a camera so many decades ago, but they’ve never been as hot as they are now. Why are we seeing such a resurgence in the zombie tale? And why are fans devouring them like never before? Authors tend to be opinionated, so I’ll share some of my own thoughts on the matter.

The attraction to the genre exists on several levels, and appeals to people for different reasons. Some of it is what I call the Video Game Mentality (and that’s not a negative…I love video games, though my system has been disconnected for over a year, since no one is paying me to play Xbox, and for me, it’s a huge distraction from writing.) This attraction involves the ability to kill without consequence or moral question. Who is going to challenge you about destroying mindless predators trying to eat your family?

The next level of appeal is the Everyman Factor. A great deal of zombie fiction, my own included, involves characters who are not super soldiers or trained survivors; they’re everyday folks hurled into extreme situations, and this connects with readers. Perhaps more than any other genre, zombie apocalypse stories compel the question, “What would I do if…?” When I read a Jason Bourne story, I know he’s a highly-trained, professional killer, so when he’s put in peril, I’m confident he can handle it. But what happens when Kyle, the kid who can’t decide if he should stay in college or keep working at the gas station, is suddenly faced with the terrors of surviving ravenous hordes of the undead? Is he smart enough? Fast enough? Will he try to help others, go it alone, or simply give up? This brings a new level of suspense. Also, this is where the reader says to himself, “He was stupid, I wouldn’t have done that.” That’s true engagement.

Freedom rings a bell with readers, and by that I mean the freedom that comes with a zombie apocalypse. No more job or annoying boss, no more commute or worrying about bills, no more longing for the things you cannot have. You can simply take them…if you’re quick enough. It’s about surviving, and we all like to think we’re smart enough to pull it off. (Most of us, myself included, would be wrong, and thus the growing ranks of the undead.)

Finally, there’s the Reset Philosophy. We’re steadily growing disconnected and faceless in our society, becoming drawn into the Horde by technology that makes it no longer necessary to connect with people in person. The velocity of life in general is accelerating, and many people are finding it difficult to keep up, to remain relevant, to have a voice. Confidence in government and corporations is low, fear of foreign and domestic threats is high, and we see aspects of our lives and culture spinning out of control (random violence, hate crimes, economic instability and fears that maybe we’re not getting an honest accounting from the people we’ve elected to positions of responsibility.) An apocalypse hits the stop button, and the survivors are the reset. Will they make the world a better place this time around? Maybe. First they’ll have to avoid being eaten. The central and perhaps most attractive element here is hope, and who doesn’t want that?

No matter how you explain it, there’s no arguing that zombies are back, dominating popular culture, and show no sign of going anywhere. Will they hang in for the long run? Have vampires? Glittering and angst-ridden bloodsuckers aside, they’re still pretty popular.

But zombies are much cooler.

Caragh O’Brien Guest Post and Giveaway!

Recommended Reading by Caragh O’Brien

My tastes in reading run all over the place, from outer space to contemporary prisons, hot and cold. I tend to relish characters who invite me to see the world in a new way. For this list, I’ve limited myself to 7 Young Adult novels I have loved this year and heartily recommend.

Trail by Fire by Josephine Angelini. In an alternate universe, Salem is run by witches while scientists are persecuted. Lily from our world meets her double, Lillian, and discovers hidden powers within herself. Especially cool: the connections between chemistry and magical medicine are ingenious.

The Gospel of Winter by Brendan Kiely. An altar boy battles with the secrecy, shame, and anger from an abusive relationship with a Catholic priest. Especially cool: the writing is heartfelt and Aidan’s character is vividly real.

Say What You Will, by Cammie McGovern. In this story about a high school senior with CP and her peer helper, a quiet guy with OCD, the two minds of the protagonists completely sucked me in. Especially cool: the play between how Amy thinks, her partly honest typed speech, and how she is perceived by Matthew, who sees her through his own insecurities, is fascinating.

Tin Star by Cecil Castellucci. This pure sci fi adventure takes place in outer space, with a deserted human girl who has to face ruthless and often putrid aliens all alone. The succinct, telling prose perfectly matches the chill and brutality of deep space. Especially cool: Plucky Tula Bane is a heroine for the ages, right up there with Princess Leia.

The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu. In this contemporary story, five high school students tell their perspectives on the accident that killed the high school quarterback, and the girl who supposedly caused his death. Especially cool: the slut shaming invites outrage, and the mean girl is so mean, I’m still mad at her.

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki. This intriguing, nostalgic graphic novel set in the recent past at a shoreline vacation community captures a time when Rose is stuck between the tension of her estranged parents and the charged sexuality of older teens. Especially cool: the drawings are incredibly expressive, as when the flip-flops whisper words of complicated disapproval.

The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson. I hardly know where to begin. This novel is told from the points of view of an escaping princess, a prince who wants to school her, and an assassin who wants to kill her, but when the princess meets the two men, she doesn’t know how their jobs match their names, and neither does the reader. Especially cool: it’s a clever mind game for the reader.


About the Author:
Caragh M. O’Brien is the author of the BIRTHMARKED trilogy and THE VAULT OF DREAMERS, both from Macmillan/Roaring Brook Press. Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, Ms. O’Brien was educated at Williams College and earned her MA from Johns Hopkins University. She recently resigned from teaching high school English in order to write young adult novels.


Courtesy of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, I have a copy of The Vault of Dreamers for one (1) lucky winner!

Contest is open to US residents only. No PO Boxes please. To enter, just fill out the form below. Contest ends October 3. I’ll draw a name on October 4, and notify winner via email.


Good luck!

Continue reading Caragh O’Brien Guest Post and Giveaway!

Kira Peikoff Guest Post

no time to dieauthor pic


Guest Blog: What Happens When Aging is Cured?
By Kira Peikoff

In my new book NO TIME TO DIE (Kensington, August 26th), a young woman has inexplicably stopped aging at the worst possible age—fourteen. She’s actually in her early twenties, and her stunted growth baffles and frustrates her until she finally receives a diagnosis that changes everything. Scientists believe she carries a gene mutation that has turned off her entire aging process—and if they can pinpoint this mutation, they might be able to figure out a way to cure aging in other people, too. Of course this sounds like pure sci-fi to us today, but the truth is that it’s not necessarily far off. Leading researchers into the genetics of aging say that the scientific fountain of youth will be discovered within the next century. So what does that mean for us? Here’s a list of some of the good, the bad, and the not-so-ugly (no more winkles!) of what might happen when aging is cured:

The good:

• You could stay 25 forever and so could your kids, so you and multiple generations of your family could feel and look the same age; you wouldn’t have to mourn the painful passing of your parents and grandparents.

• Nobody would retire at 65 if they weren’t aging–they could just keep working. And why not spend time learning all you can, going back to school for different fields, and having multiple careers?

• You could stop your dog or cat’s aging too so you would no longer have to outlive your best friend.

• Diseases of aging–cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s–would greatly diminish if the body’s parts remained in prime working order.

• Age discrimination would disappear–if you’re older and still in the work force, you’ll still be just as likely to keep your job and get promoted as someone younger because you’re as physically capable; economy could grow tremendously because it’s not losing workers to disease and death as often.

• You wouldn’t have to stop dressing super hip and fashionable for your age because the latest styles would always look good on your young body; no more anti-aging products in your morning beauty routine. Goodbye fine lines and crow’s feet!

The bad:

• Massive population growth that could challenge existing infrastructure, at least at first.

• Ethical dilemmas over who gets to use the aging drug: should money play a role? Should government? A possible public health battle could erupt.

• People might be forced to stop having as many kids if population got out of control.

• Resources like food, clothing, and medicine might be stretched thin to accommodate the skyrocketing demand.

So after weighing the pros and cons, what do you think? Would you want to stop aging? Leave your answer in the comments!


KIRA PEIKOFF is a journalism graduate of New York University who has written for The New York Times,,, Psychology Today, The Daily News, The Orange County Register, Newsday and New York magazine on a wide range of subjects. She published her first book, Living Proof, in 2012 and has worked in the editorial departments of New York publishing houses. She is currently at work on her third thriller, freelancing for major media outlets and attending Columbia University’s Master of Science program in Bioethics.

Tessa Gratton Guest Post and Giveaway!

The Strange MaidCreating a Story Arc for a Series
by Tessa Gratton

There are different kinds of series:
– Those that are big stories broken up into pieces of a whole, where no part stands alone and you need all of them to complete the story. Examples are traditional high fantasy trilogies like Lord of the Rings or Star Wars.
– Those composed of single stories that follow after each other, each complete to itself, with reoccurring main characters. Examples are the Die Hard movies or almost any murder mystery series, like the Stephanie Plum Mysteries.
– Those with interconnected stories, where each story stands alone, but there’s an overarching narrative that builds from story to story. Examples are the current Marvel movie franchise or Kristen Cashore’s Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue series.

Each sort will be plotted very differently (aside from the fact that different writers would plot the exact same book differently).

I happen to be a reverse-plotter, in that I plot last when I plot at all. Sometimes I don’t even plot until I’m revising a seat-of-the-pants draft. I reverse-engineer my plot to suit the greater needs or character and theme and world. To me, plot is the most malleable element of a story. World and character matter more to me, and plot comes from the interaction of a character with her world. I can shift plot elements as easy as rewriting 40,000 words. It’s harder for me to entirely rewrite an element of world building or change my character’s intrinsic nature or motivations.

The United States of Asgard falls into the third of the above categories. I wrote The Lost Sun as a stand-alone novel originally. By the time I was finished, I knew I wanted to sell it as a series if possible and write more stories. The world was so big, and I was so excited by the possibilities, I had to write a few more novels set there.

In order to put together my proposal, I needed to choose the sort of series it would be. I knew three things:

1) I did not want to write another book from Soren’s POV because his character arc as a young adult was finished.
2) I DID want him to be an important player in the other books.
3) I love romance trilogies where each book has a complete romance, but you revisit the heroes of the previous novel in every new one.

The world of USAsgard really works on two main plot layers already: the plot involving the teenage protagonists and the plot involving the ancient gods who think decades and centuries in advance. It was relatively easy to break the series down onto the same levels. Each individual book would stand alone with regards to the narrator’s plot and character arc, but the series as a whole would have a meta plot revolving around the goddess Freya, who sees the future and meddles in the affairs of humanity to direct Fate as she sees fit.

Initially I pitched USAsgard as a 5 book series. I knew The Lost Sun was book 1, and I knew exactly who the narrator for book 5 would be and what her conflict was. The series was plotted very much like the Avengers movies: 4 introductory stories with new, (hopefully) compelling and sexy and fun characters, culminating in the 5th book where they all come together to save the country.

Every book was meant to be its own story, but there were elements and Easter eggs, hints and subplots that were quietly building up to the finale. Take those elements out and the story wouldn’t suffer, but with them it creates a complicated, inter-connected series.

In the end, there are only 3 novels in the series, which was my own creative decision. It wasn’t because the series was unwieldy or unsupported, it was because I realized when I began write book 3 that it was time for the character and plot I’d intended for the finale, and I wasn’t desperate to tell the stories in the original books 3 and 4. Or at least not so in love with them that I could dedicate a year of my life (minimally) to them. The things that drew me to those stories were themes and toothy ideas to explore in the series world, and those themes and ideas shifted in my imagination to other projects and other worlds. What I needed the United States of Asgard for was the book 5 story, because it’s about faith and godhood and love and fate: things The Lost Sun and The Strange Maid are also about, but the original books 3 and 4 were not.

Book 5 became book 3, and the middle book – The Strange Maid – is its own meaty, complicated middle. I’ll be publishing 3 novellas in the next year based on some of the lost stories and characters, but I’m very happy with the choices I made.

I’m not a plotter, so although I had a skeletal over-arching plot for my entire series, 80% of it was scrapped by the time I finished writing book 2. Someday when I write an honest-to-god high fantasy trilogy I will be must less laissez-faire about series plotting.

Thanks for having me, especially if you read all the way to the bottom here!



Courtesy of Random House Children’s Books, I have a copy of The Strange Maid for one (1) lucky winner!

Contest is open to US and Canadian residents only. No PO Boxes, please. To enter, just fill out the form below. Contest ends August 15. I’ll draw a name on August 16, and notify winner via email.


Good luck!

Continue reading Tessa Gratton Guest Post and Giveaway!

Excerpt and Giveaway: The Little Green Book of Chairman Rahma

herbert blog tour

The Little Green Book of Chairman Rahma Excerpt
by Brian Herbert
Reprinted with permission from Tor Books.


For the environmental health of the American continents, all inhabitants who survived the Corporate War will be relocated onto densely populated human reservations, with the remaining land slated for either collective farms or comprehensive greenforming, returning it to the pristine beauty of nature. As part of his historic Edict 101, our beloved Chairman Rahma Popal has announced, “Anyone who resists will be dealt with severely. He will be recycled.”
—government news flash, March 17, 2043

THE NUCLEAR-POWERED TRUCK flexed its long body around highway turns without slowing, its air whistle keening to ward off wild animals. Inside the passenger dome sat a man and a woman in complementary uniforms—his forest green and hers black, with peace symbols on the lapels. They held hands and gazed out at the sun-mottled trees of autumn, bearing leaves that were a spectacular array of golden-brown hues. This was an old road, bumpy from decay and debris, having fallen into disuse because of the mass exodus of population in the last two decades. It was the year 2063 in the New England Conservancy, and soon there would be no more need for this route.

Ahead of the vehicle and behind it, police cars created a security zone, their strobe lights flashing and fender-mounted weapons glow-ready, while a Greenpol aircraft flew low overhead. For years there had been attacks by disaffected Corporate elements against GSA assets, and the Chairman had ordered extra precautions to secure his valuable equipment and personnel. Greenpol was the special police force he had created, with divisions to stop eco-criminals, prosecute other crimes, and bodyguard his person.

Presently the big armored truck slowed and turned onto the rough, weed-encrusted surface of an abandoned parking lot, where it screeched to a stop. Outriggers shot into position and adjusted for the uneven surface, leveling the great machine mounted on the chassis. The two passengers, both eco-techs, exited the dome and stepped onto a wide turret platform on the vehicle. They secured their stylized, owl-design helmets and dark goggles, then grabbed hold of safety bars. Other crew members rushed to their stations, to operate the complex equipment and monitor the results. They wore black trousers, jackboots, green jackets, and shiny green helmets.

Continue reading Excerpt and Giveaway: The Little Green Book of Chairman Rahma

D.B. Jackson Guest Post


“Making Historical Fantasy Lasagna,” by D.B. Jackson

There were no thieftakers in Boston in the 1760s. There were no conjurers in Boston at that time, either.

Which means that from the outset, my historical fantasy series, the Thieftaker Chronicles, is based not on historical fact, but rather on huge fallacies. Yet, as I have written each book in the series, starting with Thieftaker (Tor Books 2012), and continuing with Thieves’ Quarry (Tor Books, 2013) and my latest release, A Plunder of Souls, which is to be released tomorrow (yay!), I have gone to great lengths to get my historical facts right. Why would I do that? Why strive for accuracy when the books are founded on two conceits that overwhelm every other fact I might find?

Because those fictional elements, and the historical details that act as counterweight to them, are both crucial ingredients in what has been a successful series. Let me explain.

The concept of the series isn’t terribly complicated. Ethan Kaille, my hero, is a thieftaker — a sort of eighteenth century private detective — and a conjurer. Each book in the series revolves around a crime he must solve and a related historical event leading to the Revolutionary War. That’s it. I mean, obviously there is more to each book — character relationships, the twists and turns one would expect from a good mystery, knife fights and magical battles, and walk-ons by several key historical figures from the period. But at a conceptual level, the series is fairly simple. That’s part of what I love about writing these books.

My challenge as the author of the thieftaker novels, is to blend my fictional and factual elements in such a way that my readers cannot tell where one ends and the other begins. I have to make Ethan and his fellow characters seem like natural citizens of 1760s Boston. Their speech can’t be completely of that time, because if it was they would be barely comprehensible to a twenty-first century audience. But I can put in rhetorical flourishes and conversational quirks that will identify the spoken word as being of that period in our history. And I can offer details about clothing, food, weaponry, tools, transportation, etc. that place the stories firmly in the late-colonial period.

But still I am left with those two conceits: thieftakers and conjurers.

Thieftaking was an actual profession, although it was far more prevalent in Europe, making only a brief appearance in early nineteenth century America. But thieftakers tended to find work in the absence of established professional law-enforcement. And in the 1760s, Boston had no police force to speak of. The city did have a sheriff — Stephen Greenleaf, who is a recurring character in the Thieftaker novels and stories — but he commanded no police officers and only had under his authority a small cadre of night watchmen who were mostly incompetent and as likely as not to be corrupt. Boston in the 1760s was a fairly lawless town. In other words, while the city had no thieftakers, conditions there were ripe for the profession to arise.

As for conjurers, I am not going to get into a debate here as to whether there is historical precedent here or elsewhere. Rather, I will keep my discussion limited to people’s beliefs, and as evidenced by the tragic executions in 1692 of twenty so-called “witches” in Salem, Massachusetts and surrounding communities, the people of the Province of Massachusetts Bay certainly believed in witchcraft and black magick. So when I developed my magic system for the thieftaker books, I came up with something that would involve the drawing of blood in a form of sacrifice, communing with spirits (Ethan and other conjurers have spirit guides who help them access their power), and speaking in tongues, in this case Latin incantations. The conjurers in the Thieftaker universe live in constant fear of being hanged as witches, and as a result their magic feels like something that could be endemic to that time and place.

With respect to both thieftaking and conjuring, I sought to use historical circumstance to mitigate my historical inaccuracies. Put another way, while I knew I wasn’t recreating a Boston that actually was, I tried to create a Boston that could have been.

And that brings us to the lasagna. Yeah, you knew we’d get there eventually. My friend, Faith Hunter, one of my co-founders (along with Misty Massey) of the Magical Words blog site ( likes to compare writing a novel to making lasagna. As she points out, when you make lasagna, you don’t put all the cheese in one area, and all the onions and garlic in another, and all the pasta in yet another. That would be pretty awful. Instead, we blend it all together to make something that is delicious throughout. In the same way, we don’t offer our readers blocks of characterization and then blocks of plotting and then blocks of worldbuilding. We interweave all of our narrative elements to create a novel that flows smoothly and that tells a complete tale from beginning to end.

Adding the historical element to the analogy, I wouldn’t want to isolate my historical ingredients any more than I would one of the other ingredients. But more to the point, just as we build a lasagna in layers, I try to write the Thieftaker books the same way, sprinkling the fictional on top of the historical, on top of the fictional, on top of the historical, and so on. The result is something so completely integrated that separating what is “true” from what is “made up” becomes all but impossible. It’s not just that the flavors and textures are blended, but also that they are transformed into a whole that is both different from and more than its component parts.

As with any metaphor, the lasagna-as-book analogy isn’t perfect. But it does get at an essential truth of writing: As with cooking, the ingredients and process are equally important in determining the ultimate success or failure of the final result. Poor quality elements will doom a project, as will slipshod execution. Which is why we strive for excellence in both.

And now, all this talk of lasagna has made me hungry. Buon appetito!

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.


Courtesy of Tor Books, I have a copy of A Plunder of Souls for three (3) lucky winners!

Contest is open to US residents only. No PO Boxes, please. To enter, just fill out the form below. Contest ends August 1. I’ll draw names on August 2, and notify winners via email.


Good luck!

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