I’m turning the blog over to D.B. Jackson, author of Time’s Children, the first book in the time travel/epic fantasy series called The Islevale Cycle. Time’s Children comes out today from Angry Robot Books! Read the excerpt below.
Welcome, David. Let’s discuss your latest novel.
PS: Let’s get started. Who are your influences?
DBJ: I first fell in love with fantasy at summer camp when I was eleven years old. My parents had told my head counselor that they thought I should try theater as an activity – I guess they thought I was a ham. Okay, they KNEW I was a ham… Anyway, I tried out for this play I’d never heard of and wound up being cast as the lead. A character named Bilbo Baggins in a stage adaptation of something called The Hobbit. By the time the production was done, I was hooked. Needless to say, I started reading fantasy and SF: Tolkien, LeGuin, Herbert – pretty much anything I could get my hands on.
So, obviously Tolkien was an influence. The world for my new series is called Islevale, and the map at the front of Time’s Children will remind people of Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea. That’s intentional. The world is meant as an homage to those books, which have always been among my favorites. Among current speculative fiction writers I would say my biggest influence is Guy Gavriel Kay. I love his work – the power and elegance of his prose, the complexities of his characters and plots, the richness of his worlds. I strive for those qualities in my writing.
PS: What inspired the Islevale Cycle?
DBJ: I find questions of inspiration difficult to answer. So many factors influence the spark and development of an idea. Our imaginations are always firing, and in this case I think the first inkling took the form of Tobias, one of my protagonists, who sort of introduced himself to me one day. “Hi, my name is Tobias. I’ll be taking up residence in your hind brain for the next few years…” The Islevale Cycle revolves around time travel, and I knew immediately that Tobias was a Walker (a time traveler). I also knew (because he told me) that Walkers age in direct proportion to how far into the past they travel. He starts out fifteen, walks back in time fourteen years, and so arrives in the past in the body of a twenty-nine-year-old man, but with his teen emotions and intellect. So when I start dumping all sorts of crap on him, as we writers love to do to our characters, he was already dealing with some stuff.
Now, why did I want to tell this particular story at this time in my life? That’s a more complicated question. I’m a middle-aged guy. I have two daughters who are much closer to Tobias’s age (real and Walking induced) than I am. But I don’t feel all that different than I did when I was young. This is something I’ve discussed with contemporaries. It’s one of the wonders and, perhaps, the cruelties of aging. We still think of ourselves in much the same way we always did, but, of course, we’re old now. Writing time travel as I did offered me the chance to explore this idea in a new way.
And finally, Time’s Children and the other Islevale books, like pretty much everything I write, revolve around the theme of family, and our need to recreate family in the face of chaos and loss and struggle. My wife and daughters mean everything to me. They’re what I care most about in the world, so why wouldn’t I write about those bonds? Lots of people feel the same way, so I think readers relate to stories of this sort. Tobias and Mara, my other main character, are marooned in the past, and forced to hide and protect and care for an orphaned infant princess whose family has been wiped out by assassins. They do so by literally making themselves into a family unit – an act of desperation, but also one of affirmation and love.
PS: What is your writing process?
DBJ: My process is usually pretty methodical, which is another way of saying that I’m kind of boring. I treat writing as a job. I write every weekday, during what one might call “normal business hours,” when I’m alone in the house. Sometimes work spills over into other hours, but generally I try to reserve evenings and weekends for family and fun. I have a nice home office where I do the bulk of my work.
I tend to outline my books ahead of time. My outlines are broad and somewhat vague – I do plenty of my creating in the moment, as I write. Still, I like to have at least some sense of where I’m going with my story.
That said, the Islevale books have been particularly challenging in this regard. Time’s Children, and the second book, Time’s Demon, which I’ll be submitting within the next week or two (publication is scheduled for May 2019), both defied every effort I made to outline them. I’m still not certain why. It may be that with the complexities of time travel, multi-strand plots, and multiple point-of-view characters, they were just too unwieldy to be planned ahead of time. Whatever the cause, this has made my post-writing revisions more intense than usual.
And yet, I think these books are the best I’ve written. Which, I suppose, confirms something I’ve always believed: Every author has his or her own process; there’s no single right way to do any of this. And every project has its own creative exigencies. Different books need to be approached in different ways. Even after twenty-plus years in the business, and twenty novels written, I still find that I need to reinvent my process each time I begin a new story.
PS:Who do you write for and why?
DBJ: That’s a great question. I believe writing – and really all art – is an interactive endeavor. Every person who reads my work is going to bring to it a different set of life experiences, different emotions, a different way of processing information. This is one reason why I go back and read certain books again and again. A few years maturation can make re-reading a novel a completely new experience. The point is, if every reader is different, then it’s nearly impossible to write for “my readers” or “my fans.” I know some people will read everything I write: my agent, my wife, certain friends and colleagues. But they evolve as readers, too. I’ve worked with many editors, and I can’t say that I’ve written for any one of them. That, to my mind, would be a mistake as well.
In the end, then, I write for myself. Over the years I’ve found that if I love something I’ve written, the public reaction to it is pretty good. If I feel something isn’t my best work, reaction from readers and critics tends to dovetail with that opinion. Robert Frost said, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” I think, in part, he was talking about process – we need to struggle, and we need to give our characters and narratives some room to grow and change in ways we might not expect. But I also think he meant that what affects us as artists in the moment of creation will also affect those who receive and experience our work. So I write for me, and I discover along the way, and I love my job that much more for doing so.
PS: What is your ideal date? (sorry, that one is from Miss Congeniality)
DBJ: Love it. My perfect date will probably seem a little boring to most people (I sense a trend in some of my answers…), but that’s okay. I have been with Nancy, my wife, for nearly thirty years, and she remains my love and my best friend. Our perfect date? Probably a spring night, before the weather turns too warm. She’ll get home from work and we’ll cook together – maybe Mexican food, maybe something a bit more exotic: Thai or Indian. And we’ll open a bottle of wine (a peppery red California Zinfandel or a Marlborough region Sauvignon Blanc) and catch up on our day, on work, on conversations we might have had with one daughter or the other. After dinner we’ll sit on the porch and watch the fireflies come out and listen for owls and whip-poor-wills. Nothing fancy. Nothing too exciting. Quiet, close, easy, steeped in three decades of love and friendship.
Thanks so much for hosting me, Patrice. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you!
Bio: D.B. Jackson is the pen name of fantasy author David B. Coe. He is the award-winning author of twenty novels and as many short stories. His newest novel, Time’s Children, is the first volume in a time travel/epic fantasy series called The Islevale Cycle. The book will be released by Angry Robot Books on October 2. The second volume, Time’s Demon, will be released in May 2019.
As D.B. Jackson, he also writes the Thieftaker Chronicles, a historical urban fantasy set in pre-Revolutionary Boston. As David B. Coe, he is the author of the Crawford Award-winning LonTobyn Chronicle, which he has recently reissued, as well as the critically acclaimed Winds of the Forelands quintet and Blood of the Southlands trilogy. He wrote the novelization of Ridley Scott’s movie, Robin Hood, and, most recently, The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, a contemporary urban fantasy.
He is also currently working on a tie-in project with the History Channel. David has a Ph.D. in U.S. history from Stanford University. His books have been translated into a dozen languages.
Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/DBJacksonAuthor.
21st Day of Sipar’s Settling, Year 633
The between spat him out like chewed gristle.
Naked in the cold and dark, he dropped to his knees, shivering, sucking at precious air. Another Walk, more years added to a body already abused by too many trials and too many journeys through time.
He clutched his chronofor in stiff, frigid fingers and braced his other hand on the courtyard stone. Fear lifted his gaze, despite the droop of his shoulders, the leaden fatigue in his legs. Torches flickered in nearby sconces. Stars gleamed in a moonless sky. He saw no soldiers, no assassins. He heard not a sound.
Had he arrived too early? Too late?
He fought to his feet and turned an unsteady circle to get his bearings before heading to the next courtyard and the castle arsenal. No soldiers here, either. Panic rose within him like a spring tide. Within the armory he found a stained uniform in Hayncalde red, as well as a musket and ammunition. He didn’t see any boots that would fit.
He pulled on the uniform and loaded the weapon. He took extra powder, paper, and bullets – habit born of years on the run. But he knew he wouldn’t have a chance to use them. This night would end in one of two ways. In neither scenario would he get off a second shot.
As he left the armory, he noticed what he had missed earlier. A body lay in the grass a few paces off the stone path. A woman with a gaping wound across her neck, and a bib of blood glistening on her uniform. A few paces on, he spotted a second dead guard on the other side of the path. Both from Hayncalde, both killed with stealth. Not too early then, perhaps in the very teeth of time.
He hurried on to the hall, bare feet slapping on stone. Nearing the archway that led into the back corridor, he heard the first explosion rock the west gate. Voices rose in alarm and anger. Bells pealed from the castle towers. Moments now. He stole through shadow and candlelit passages, only pausing when he reached the door.
Another explosion, not so distant, but also not the one he awaited. Inside the hall, men shouted. A baby cried, and his heart folded in upon itself.
He gripped the musket, readied himself. One last explosion made the stone beneath him shudder and buck. His cue.
He kicked the door open, stepped through.
Bedlam. A haze of smoke. And the one he sought. He shouted the man’s name and raised his weapon to fire.