MedHum Mondays Book Review: Orphan Number Eight

DailyDose_PosterGood morning and welcome back to MedHum Mondays on the Daily Dose! Today, Review editor Anna Clutterbuck-Cook reporting on a novel that seeks to strike a balance between history, medicine, and fiction: Orphan Number Eight by Kim Alkemade.


Iorphan_number_eight_cvrn her debut novel, Orphan Number Eight, essayist Kim van Alkemade (Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania) seeks to offer readers a glimpse into the multiply-marginalized life of Rachel Rabinowitz. Orphaned in 1919 by the quasi-accidental homicide of her mother by her father, four-year-old Rachel is separated from her older brother and sent to an infant’s home. There, she is enrolled as a human subject in a number of medical experiments, including a radiology experiment conceived and conducted by ambitious medical resident Mildred Solomon. The prolonged exposure to radiation leaves Rachel hairless, a condition that makes her a target of bullying in the Home, and continues into adulthood causing her a great deal of body shame. Decades later, working as a nurse in a home for the elderly, Rachel finds herself caring for the now cancer-ridden and dying Dr. Solomon. The seemingly-fateful encounter prompts Rachel to  seek out a more complete picture of the medical “treatments” she endured as a child. What she discovers shocks and angers Rachel to such an extent she finds herself contemplating revenge.

Orphan Number Eight is written with a great deal of passionate anger about the complex and often ugly history of twentieth century medical ethics — a history that reveals a great deal of what, today, we would consider human rights violations. As an institutionalized child, the fictional Rachel had countless real-world counterparts — orphans, the mentally ill, the imprisoned, the poor — whose socially vulnerable, othered bodies became a testing ground for medical research under circumstances that precluded informed consent. van Alkemade seeks to explore this history and its human cost through the fictionalized account of one such survivor. This decision to use the medium of fiction could have been a powerful narrative choice, yet despite its triumphs, as a reader I came away ultimately unsatisfied.

Warning: plot spoilers after the jump. Continue reading

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Interview with Jessie Ann Foley

fictionreboot2Fiction Reboot Author Interview: Jessie Ann Foley

Welcome back to the Fiction Reboot (with blogger/contributor Keri Heath)! Today we present another author feature: Jessie Ann Foley, whose debut novel, The Carnival at Bray, was named a Printz honor book by the American Library Association. In addition, the novel was named a Best Teen Book of 2014 by Kirkus Reviews, and was shortlisted for YALSA’s 2015 William C. Morris Award. She has had fiction appear in a variety of journals such as The Madison Review, Midwestern Gothic, The Chicago Reader, Great Lakes Cultural Review, and McSweeney’s. She is a native Chicagoan and teaches English at a public school in the city.

Author Bio:

Jessie Ann Foley has loved and lived in Chicago sinceJessie_Ann_Foley-1 she was little. She studied English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and got a Master’s in Secondary Education from University of Illinois at Chicago. A few years later, she attended Columbia College Chicago to earn an MFA in Fiction Writing. During that time, she started teaching English and now teaches at the Chicago public schools. She also freelances and has had work published in several magazines. She lives with her husband in two young children in Chicago, and loves being a mom.

To learn more about Foley, visit her website at or follow her on Twitter at @JAFoleyNWside.

Interview with Jessie

  1. You mention on your website that you always wanted to be a writer. How did you know that this was the path for you?

I think it’s because I’ve always been a reader. Ever since I was six years old and read Little thHouse on the Prairie, I knew this was what I wanted to do. As the Italian writer Carlo Levi said and Cheryl Strayed reiterated in her amazing advice piece for The Rumpus, “the future has an ancient heart.” In deciding what I wanted to do with my life, I chose to do what I’ve always done since I was a kid.

  1. Do you have a writing routine of any kind?

Well, right now my daughters are two months and fifteen months old, so all I can do for now is write when I can. It’s hard, but if I go more than a week without writing, I get rusty, and then a difficult thing becomes even more difficult. That’s why, even if I only have fifteen minutes when both kids are sleeping, I’ll try to at least look at the piece I’m working on. I do a lot of dictating ideas into my phone so that I can come back to them later when I have time. I’ve learned the hard way that I have to write down my ideas as soon as they come to me or they’re gone. I have a terrible memory.

  1. What draws you to YA literature?

I’ve been a high school English teacher for ten years, and I think being surrounded by kids all day helps you, to some extent, never forget what it’s like to be young. I certainly wouldn’t want to go back to those years, but I still think it’s such a cool age. When you’re fifteen, everything is new and fresh; so much life happens. You really feel the possibilities of your life ahead of you. The process of growing up has inherent drama; it lends itself to good stories.

  1. Your most recent book, The Carnival at Bray, is set in Ireland. Why did you decide to set a novel in this country?

The Carnival at Bray was originally a short story that I published in the Chicago Reader after visiting a forlorn carnival fairground in County Wicklow in 2010. I’m Irish-American, but as Maggie learns in the first chapter of the book, that identity can have very little to do with what it means to be actually Irish, and if I had known then that I was setting myself up for the task of expanding it into an entire novel set in Ireland, I might have made things easier for myself and kept Maggie in Chicago. Luckily, my husband Denis, who is from County Kerry, was a huge help. While I was writing the novel I tortured him with constant, nitpicky questions relating to word choice, slang, and authentic details: What do you call those bales of hale covered in plastic? What is the hurling equivalent of a quarterback? What kind of beverage would a young Irish kid drink if his father took him to the pub? Things like that. If there was a passage that contained lots of dialogue-Eoin’s long monologue about his mother comes to mind-my husband would read it aloud and help me figure out what needed tweaking. I was so nervous for him to read the first draft of the book, because I knew I was going to make ridiculous mistakes. But he was polite enough not to make fun of me.

Thanks to Jessie Ann Foley for taking the time to speak with “Fiction Reboot.”

Keri Heath is a writer and journalist from Austin, Texas. She has written professionally for Austin Fit, Totally Dublin, Austin Woman, and ATX Man magazines. She has also seen her creative work published in NEAT and Straylight magazines, among others. When she isn’t writing, she loves to read, run, and play mandolin. You can view Keri’s work at or by following her @HeathKeri.

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MedHum Monday: Robert L. Brown History of Medicine Collection Revisited

DailyDose_PosterIt’s Monday again, MedHum Monday is happy to reprise an old favorite. Do you know of the Robert L. Brown History of Medicine Collection at the University of Buffalo?  Linda Lohr and Keith Mages skillfully tackle an all to common question in medical libraries — how do we get people to know we are here? Check out their site and blog–and below, read a medical humanities post delivered by Linda and Keith a little over a year ago for the Daily Dose. Welcome back, Linda and Keith!


Established in 1972, the Robert L. Brown History of Medicine Collection is home to rare books, artifacts, and ephemera related to the rich history of medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, nursing, public health and the health professions. The comprehensive monograph collection contains works ranging from 1493 through the 20th century, with an extensive nineteenth century component featuring particular strengths in the subjects of anatomy, surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, pharmacology, dentistry, and oncology. Within the History of Medicine Collection are several special components including the Bonnie and Vern Bullough History of Nursing Collection, the Edgar R. McGuire Historical Medical Instrument Collection, the Homer T. Jackson Collection and historical artifacts from the UB School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Historical artifacts from the UB School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences

Historical artifacts from the UB School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences

Continue reading

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Fiction Reboot Review: Brian Kirk’s WE ARE MONSTERS.

Sammie Kurty (author/contributor), signing in! Today, I’m here to review writer Brian fictionreboot2Kirk’s debut novel We Are Monsters. Brian’s agent, Melanie Meadors, contacted Fiction Reboot and asked if we would review Brian’s work before it hit the shelves. Here’s an inside cover synopsis:

“The Apocalypse has come to the Sugar Hill mental asylum.

WeAreMonsters-2-200x300He’s the hospital’s newest, and most notorious, patient—a paranoid schizophrenic who sees humanity’s dark side.

Luckily he’s in good hands. Dr. Eli Alpert has a talent for healing tortured souls. And his protégé is working on a cure for schizophrenia, a drug that returns patients to their former selves. But unforeseen side effects are starting to emerge. Forcing prior traumas to the surface. Setting inner demons free.

Monsters have been unleashed inside the Sugar Hill mental asylum. They don’t have fangs or claws. They look just like you or me.”

About Brian Kirk:

LBD_3071_BW_2-300x214I’m a writer of dark fiction. My stories have appeared in several magazines and anthologies. And my debut novel, WE ARE MONSTERS, was released in 2015. Feel free to contact me to discuss a current project, or just to chat. Don’t worry, I only kill my characters.

Twitter: @Brian_Kirk

REBOOT Review: (By Sammie Kurty)

We Are Monsters is a well-packed book, concluding in just under 1,000 e-reader pages. The novel is filled with extensive detail, well rounded, colorful characters, and enough medical jargon to make me believe I am reading about real life psychiatrists. At first, We Are Monsters may seem to be your average hospital drama, but do not be fooled! The finale makes a thrilling climatic turn (However, I don’t want to give out any spoilers!), showing just how horrifying the human mind can be.

The narrative follows the lives of Dr. Eli Alpert, the head psychiatrist at Sugar Hill Mental Asylum and Dr. Alex Drexler, Eli’s second in command.  Alex is an up and coming talent in the mental health world, testing a new drug that could change the world of medicine forever. Eli, on the other hand, prefers to practice natural and meditative techniques for treating mental illness.  For the first two-thirds of the book, we learn about Alex and Eli’s back stories, providing explanation towards their actions as “all hell breaks loose” in the asylum.  The novel emphasizes the two doctors’ moral struggles, questioning how they should treat the mentally ill: like normal people? Like children that need to be watched? Or like specimens used to improve our world?

While I enjoyed most of We Our Monsters, I have some qualms with the novel.  While I understand the importance of setting up the characters’ back stories, the novel does have a slow start.  There are multiple characters introduced and fair amount of escalating drama in the asylum, but I was left confused and unsure of the central plot line.  Second, the story takes a sharp 180 degree turn by the third part of the novel.  Although the conflict that takes place (again, no spoilers) is later explained by rational psychology, the characters encounter an event that seems supernatural. They risk their lives and sanity to save the hospital, learn to understand the importance of teamwork, and learn the consequences of not coping with your past “demons”. At this point in my reading, it felt as if I was reading a completely different book, but with the same characters. After I finished the novel, I flipped through the chapters again. I noted a few small foreshadowing scenes hinting towards the conflict, but all in all, I never expected outcome anything like the ending of We Are Monsters. After reading a realistic fiction piece for 800 pages, it left me confused.

Having said that, third part is my favorite.  The characters come full circle in their journeys and learn to humanize the mentally ill, showing that even those deemed “normal” can be haunted and traumatized.  And, I’ll admit, I have a bias for thrillers.

All in all, Brian Kirk threw a powerful first punch with We Are Monsters. I’m looking forward to reading Brian’s future work. Let’s see what creepy things he can come up with next!

We Are Monsters was released through Samhain Publishing on July 7, 2015. You can pick up a copy at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, iTunes, and Samhain Publishing.

About the Contributor:

sammieSammie Kurty is an English major in her junior year at Wittenberg University and a contributor to Fiction Reboot. She is a proud member of Sigma Tau Delta, the International English Honors Society. Sammie has been passionate about writing all her life and is about to complete her first novel, Sapphire Lake, a project she has worked on for three years. When she isn’t writing or reading, you can find her practicing makeup artistry or riding roller coasters. Twitter: @Shamtakee

Posted in Reboot Review, The Fiction Reboot | Leave a comment

Dead Man’s Reach Reboot Review

FictionReboot2Welcome to the REBOOT REVIEW–the book review portion of Fiction Reboot | Daily Dose! Today’s review is of D.B. Jackson’s Thieftaker 4: Dead Man’s Reach. 

Reviewer: Tabatha Hanly



I had read good reviews of the previous Theiftaker novels, and was expecting a good read, but as all overly-prolific readers know, there is a big difference between a book you can finish in a week, and one you really loved and are going to recommend to your friends. For me, what tipped Dead Man’s Reach beyond the rank of “a good enough book” was the realism and unpredictability I found in the details of this historical fantasy novel.

Yes that’s right—the apt detail work in a book about magic. (Or rather, conjuring—sorry Mr. Jackson.) One cannot describe the plot of this novel without copious uses of words like “magic” “witch” or “spells” but neither could one describe it without “Revolutionary War” “Boston Massacre” “winter” or “girlfriend.” It took witchcraft, historical knowledge, and believable characters to make Dead Man’s Reach the book it is. And to establish any of those elements, it took good writing and good detail work. For me, all of this was established and I was won over with one line on the first page.

With the single line “Every breath produced a billow of vapor, rendering his concealment spell all but useless” the author told me much that I needed to know about this world: that magic exists, that it’s not perfect, that the protagonist can use it, that he is outside, and that it’s damn cold! On the first page this line convinced me that D.B. Jackson knew what he was talking about; he could integrate history, fantasy, and plot seamlessly throughout the novel, without forgetting the little details. These characters, the first page hinted, and the rest proved, would be human enough to identify with and squishy enough for their fights to be thrilling, and therefore unpredictable enough to be interesting. Of course Dead Man’s Reach’s details did more than recognize the misery of a northern winter, they built real characters and believable events. The protagonists’ romance was long-established when I first butted into it, and so it was not built on magic moments of chemistry or grandiose gestures of the early stages of a fictional romance, it lived on the small details of a couple who talk over their dinners, who have silent-treatment spats, and who need to report in once in a while when they are fighting evil wizards so the other person doesn’t worry. You know, normal couple stuff. The details of the world and its characters made the Theiftaker world believable and interesting. The structure of the adventure kept me reading at a pace which was really not good for my housework.

The book follows Ethan Kaille and his friends (and his enemies) through the streets of pre-Revolutionary War Boston. While the street surfaces are flooded with lobsters, a much more insidious enemy lurks…somewhere in the city. And yet the Revolutionary War is much more than window dressing for Dead Man’s Reach. Jackson integrated details of the actual British occupation beautifully, showing how prevalent it was in every day of the characters’ lives, and making it an integral element of the plot. And well, really he had to. Can you imagine running through the crowded city cutting your arm and casting spells, trying to stop an invisible evil force without a few of the hundreds of soldiers at least noticing? And so it is with the tense and suspicious background that Ethan Kaille must face an invisible enemy intent on starting a war, destroying the city, and tearing Ethan Kaille apart personally.

As an incurable ending-guesser I was pleasantly surprised to never know what was going to happen next. Throughout the entire adventure, as I followed the theiftaker and his friends through pre-revolutionary war Boston I was curious to find out what was going to happen, and afraid that each favorite character might be the next to go. I never knew what step Kaille was going to take next, what magic he would, or could, employ in his cause. I was genuinely worried throughout the book that he would get arrested for witchcraft and have to watch his nemesis take over from a barred window, or worse yet that he would get caught up in Adams’ cause and find himself trapped in a bloody confrontation between the revolutionaries and the British “lobsters.” I worried that Ethan’s friends would desert him when they found out he was different. I worried about a lot of other things too, and many of them came true, but I’m not going to be the one to tell you which—though I will mention that there is a rumor this will be the last book in the series.

D.B. Jackson’s Dead Man’s Reach was a fun read start to finish with believability in its magic, accuracy in its history, and real suspense in its adventures.

Dead Man’s Reach will be available on July 21st.

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Medhum Monday: Embracing Digital History with How Medicine Became Modern

index What was it like to be sick 50 years ago? 150 years ago?
What medical innovations most changed American lives?
How did Cleveland rise to importance as a medical city?
In other words:
How did we get here?

We at the Dittrick Medical History Center and Museum received some excellent news last week! In collaboration with design partners and funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, we present: How Medicine Became Modern, an innovative new way to explore the artifacts, people, and stories behind the great innovations of our age!

Museums nationally and internationally are reaching new audiences—while retaining and engaging present ones—through the medium of digital technology. The Philadelphia Museum of Art presented inter-actives for Treasures of Korea; the Field Museum of Chicago showcased a 3D exhibit about Tyrannosaurus bones; the British Museum of London installed 3D touch-activated Explorer Tables allowing virtual autopsy of a mummy. More locally, the Cleveland Museum of Art opened the award-winning Gallery One.

Now, the Dittrick Museum embarks on a project to make history come to life through a 10ft by 4ft interactive digital wall–a place where visitors can “handle” artifacts (rotating BC-Logo_LGand zooming), and more importantly, a place to engage with the human stories behind them. Partnering with Zenith Systems and Bluecadet, and supported by NEH’s Museums Libraries & Cultural Organizations grant, How Medicine Became Modern will go live in 2017!

Exhibit Details:

  • 6Free-standing 10ftx4ft wall in the main gallery
  • Ability to zoom, rotate, interact with artifacts
  • Links to the stories behind artifacts/Access to interactive game-play
  • Four lenses into medical history:


 Want to hear more?

How would something like this work? Why would a museum want to take part in digital mediums? The 225th anniversary of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia Historical Medical Library (also the parent body of the Mütter Museum) asked these very questions in 2013. The answer? Museums and libraries must see new ways of engaging the public–and of building community. As I say in an essay for H-Sci-Med-Tech, History—far from being lost in the past—is by these means coming out to meet new friends. The story of medicine’s past offers something valuable to medicine’s future, a new way of interfacing between worlds that is both physical and digital, then and now. We enter the story through these public spaces, and through digital mediums, medical collections around the world are beginning to reach beyond them as well. What we see is a convergence of exhibit, interaction, and digital outreach.

A Practical Example from the Project:

The history of medicine offers much more than static displays or old tech. Each object, from a cast of Joseph Lister’s hand to a full-scale working x-ray machine, tells a tale of personal tragedy and triumph, of success and failure, of hopes and dreams.

Take, for instance, the phrenology bust. Sleek, smooth–replicas are attractive enough to show up on end-tables and mantle pieces. But what’s the story? It’s about Diagnosing by the Bump!

Franz-Joseph Gall (1758-1828), proposed that different functions, such as memory, language, emotion, and ability, were situated in specific “organs” of the brain. These portions of the brain would grow or shrink with use, and the changes would appear as bumps or depressions on the skull. Called Phrenology, the practice of “reading” the bumps supposedly allowed a practitioner to assess different abilities and personality traits. Does that make sense? What might our own phrenological assessment look like? The digital display allows the viewer to see a chart with interactive sections of the brain. Why not do your own “reading”?

William Cowper. 1737. The anatomy of humane bodies
William Cowper. 1737. The anatomy of humane bodies

But that’s not the only story. Phrenology resonated with the American Dream. Johann Kaspar Spurzheim (1776-1832) arrived to begin a speaking tour, and found a very willing audience. Why? It fit the “American Dream” idea of rising from nothing, emphasizing the ability to train the mind and attain social mobility. In other words, despite the bumps you were born with, we could all get better, a kind of rags-to-riches idea very popular even today. One of Cleveland’s own doctors had his “head examined”—Jared Potter Kirtland. On the other hand, phrenology and it’s sister pseudoscience physiognomy had a dark side; they privileged one race, one class, and one sex. Not exactly a “dream” of equality. (And for the record, Kirtland did not apparently agree with the reading; the booklet has his marginal notes!) The digital display offers the visitor a window in time; they can see the images and texts (and hand written notes!) while learning about larger ethical dilemmas.

Phrenology was later abandoned and its practitioners were attacked as charlatans and fakes. Even so, phrenology helped to move psychological understanding forward in two important ways: 1. it suggested that different parts of the brain did different things and 2. It demonstrated that individual effort could be just as, if not more, important than biological inheritance. The take-away? Through digital means, the visitor doesn’t just see the bust in a cabinet. Instead, he or she can look at it closely, from all angles, and then walk through time.

Johann Heinrich Oesterreicher. 1879. Atlas of human anatomy
Johann Heinrich Oesterreicher. 1879. Atlas of human anatomy

Better yet, the visitor can walk through the body—through anatomies and flip books of fugitive sheets (where each layer reveals more of the anatomy underneath). So much of our fragile history remains out of reach for visitors–but digital humanities/history projects can do much more than show the item itself. It can open up that artifact as a window into another time, another place.

We look forward with great anticipation to bringing this digital history/digital humanities project to life–the human story behind medical history: “How Medicine Became Modern.”



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Fiction Reboot Presents: An Interview with DB Jackson/Thieftaker

fictionreboot2Welcome back to the Fiction Reboot (companion to the Daily Dose)!

Have you ever wondered how authors make historical fiction “work”? Or better, how do fusions of fiction and fact come together? From works like Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell to Dan Brown’s re-envisioning of the past, books offer us a taste not just of what “was” but what “might have been.” One of my favorite genres, steampunk, does the same. It plays with our sense of reality. But the authors of such works walk a careful line. At last year’s World Fantasy Conference, I listened in on a panel of historical fiction authors as they discussed their ethical duty to the past. Today, I am happy to feature one of those panelists: David Coe, or D.B. Jackson, author of the Thieftaker series. Taking place in Revolutionary Boston, the story mixes fact and the fantastic for a magical realism circa 1776. Thank you, David, for answering our burning questions!

DEAD MAN’S REACH is available now! Order today!


  1. The Thieftaker series combines fantasy with historical fiction. What inspired you–and more specifically, is there anything about the Revolutionary period in America that lends itself to magic-making?

I was originally inspired to write the Thieftaker Chronicles by something I read about the rise of thieftakers, private investigators operating in the absence of established police forces, who recovered stolen goods for a fee. In particular, I read about Jonathan Wild, a corrupt, ruthless thieftaker who operated in London in the early 18th century, and who was responsible for most of the thefts he “investigated.” Upon reading this, I knew that I wanted to write about thieftakers. My idea was to create a character based on Wild who would be the nemesis for my honest, magic-wielding, thieftaking hero. That character became Sephira Pryce, the lovely, dangerous nemesis for Ethan Kaille.

200DeadMansReachI chose to set the books in 1760s Boston because the city lacked an effective police force, and so could well have been someplace where thieftakers might flourish (though there is no historical evidence to suggest they actually did). It was also the center of pre-Revolutionary political unrest in North America, and I thought it would be a rich source of story ideas. And, to get to your second question, Boston, and the Province of Massachusetts Bay in general, saw “witch” trials and scares throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Given the history of witchcraft in the region, it seemed the perfect setting for a magical story.

  1. The magic in Thieftaker is much more than wand-waving; it’s physical, bloody, even sacrificial. Could you briefly describe the methods to the unfamiliar reader? What about this kind of magic made it right for the story world?

There are actually several “parts” to my magic system. First, every conjurer, including Ethan, has a spectral guide who appears whenever a conjurer casts a spell. These ghosts grant the conjurer access to magical power, which dwells at the boundary between the living world, and the realm of the dead. Second, every spell must include an incantation, spoken in Latin, which shapes that power and gives it purpose. And finally, every spell has to be fueled by some sort of offering. For the weakest spells — illusion spells mostly — a conjurer might use water or fire as a source. Stronger spells — those that shape matter in some way, like healing spells, or conjurings that can shatter glass or rend wood — require a more substantive offering, taken from some living thing. A conjurer might use grass, or leaves from a tree. Most often they use blood, because it’s readily available, and because it is the most powerful living source. The strongest spells require the taking of a life — human or some other animate creature. These conjurings are dark, even evil, and most conjurers stay away from them.

I created this complicated magic system with the intention of making it blend with my world. As I mentioned a moment ago, my books are set in a time and place in which people still feared witchcraft. Spells require that my conjurers commune with spirits, speak in tongues, use blood sacrifice. All of these appear in contemporary accounts of what witchcraft looked like, and so all contribute to the conflation of conjuring with “witchery.” Thus, in addition to all the other trials and tribulations I throw at my hero, he also lives in constant fear of being hanged or burned for witchcraft.

  1. You create a very real fear in the audience that this time the protagonist(s) might not actually make it out OK. How do you balance the thrill of an adventure tale, the centrality of all of the characters, and the suspense of the action sequences?

Thank you. That’s kind of you to say. I want my audience to fear for my characters, so I’m glad to hear that you were worried! I’m a big believer in the power of point of view. I believe that the narration of a point of view character is, in many ways, the most powerful tool a writer has at her or his disposal. When POV is handled well, the intellect, senses, and emotions of the protagonist inform everything the reader experiences. Put another way, Ethan’s fear, anger, love, hate, frustration, confusion, etc. insinuate themselves into your emotions.

On one level, of course, my readers know (or at least think they know) that everything will turn out all right in the end. They don’t believe that I’m going to kill off Ethan, and they probably assume that those closest to him are safe as well. But they’re subject to the power of Ethan’s emotions, and ETHAN doesn’t know any of those things for certain. He thinks he could be killed at any moment. He fears for the safety of Kannice and Janna, Diver and Henry. It’s his emotions and uncertainty that bring suspense to my action scenes. I do everything I can to make his reactions as real and visceral for my readers as possible. I like to say that point of view is the nexus of character and plot. It’s the place where character and adventure meet to create suspense.

  1. Some of the characters which intrigued me most were the less central ones, like his fellow conjurers. Can you tell us a little about how you go about creating these characters who are only briefly shown, but still have strong and interesting personalities?

On one level, this comes down to doing my homework. The characters to whom you refer may be minor, but I still want them to have depth and dimension. So I take time to give them a history, to create a personality to go with the name and face. I don’t spend as much time on them as I do on Ethan, Sephira, and Kannice, but I spend more time than one might think. My readers may not ever learn all that I know about them, but the weight of their backgrounds is conveyed in the narrative, and makes them seem real.

And again, point of view plays a role in this. To Ethan, all of these people are living breathing people. So his response to them, his observations, the rapport he shares with them, all combine to make them seem more believable to my readers.

  1. I was very surprised (as a first-time Thieftaker reader) to realize that Kaille was not strongly on the side of the Revolution. What made you decide to pull back from the perhaps more expected approach of backing the Revolution from the beginning and make Kaille so mistrustful of the men we now know as the nation’s forefathers?

I spent a good deal of time developing Ethan’s character, filling in his background, coming up with a detailed personal history. He’s an ex-convict, a former navy sailor, the son of a naval officer. He’s also somewhat older than most fantasy heroes — in his mid-forties by the time of the action in DEAD MAN’s REACH — and so is more set in his ways than the younger men who tended to gravitate to the Sons of Liberty. It probably sounds odd, but given everything I knew about him by the time I’d completed this process, I couldn’t make him anything but a loyalist. You’re right: Making him a patriot would have been more expected, and also more convenient. But he essentially told me he was a loyalist, and I had to respect that. I’ll also admit that it makes him a more interesting character, and his political conversion, which takes place over the span of these four books, complements the emotional elements of his character arc.

  1. Rumor has it this is the last novel in this series–how do you, as an author, know when a story-arc has arrived at its finale? Will there ever be more?

I hope there will be more Thieftaker novels. I have ideas for more. We have to see how this last book does commercially. Frankly, after writing four Thieftaker books in four years, I’m ready for a break. I’ll come back to Ethan and his adventures eventually, but for now I have other projects in mind.

And I think that answers your question to some extent. I knew while writing DEAD MAN’S REACH that I was ready to move on to something else. I love the book — I think it might be the best I’ve ever written. But I also could tell that if I’d had to write another Thieftaker novel right away, it would have felt stale, to me and to my readers. I trust that instinct, and I looked for ways to tie up some of the plot threads that run through the series, to give my readers and my characters some sense of closure. There is room still for more mysteries, more thrills, but there is also a feeling of resolution.


CoeJacksonPubPic1000David 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, was 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, came 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.


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