Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Memory of Freedom—D.B. Jackson

Writing “A Memory of Freedom” was, in many ways, a journey of discovery for me. I have been writing about Ethan Kaille, the lead character in my Thieftaker Chronicles, for a couple of years now. The first book in the series, THIEFTAKER, was finished long ago, and will be released by Tor Books in July 2012. The second volume, THIEVES’ QUARRY is already in production. I have written several other short stories set in the alternate Colonial Boston I created for the Thieftaker series. But while I have known for some time the details of Ethan Kaille’s life, there have been certain elements of his history to which I hadn’t given much thought.

a-memory-of-freedomOne of these was the simple question of how he first became a thieftaker. That was what I sought to figure out as I began writing this short story. I started off with a set of givens: Ethan has served nearly fourteen years at hard labor on a sugar plantation in Barbados for his involvement in a mutiny aboard a privateering ship; he is a conjurer, but he has eschewed spellmaking for years in part because he blames his conjuring talents for his involvement in the mutiny that ruined his life, and in part because he fears being hanged as a “witch,” a fate that befalls many conjurers in eighteenth century Massachusetts; he has returned to Boston broke, disgraced, alone and desperate to find some way to support himself; and while he is embittered by his past and all that he has lost, he has not yet given up his humanity. I also had some faint inkling of the small mystery that would present itself during the course of the story.

But as I started to write, I didn’t know how he would turn his current a-memory-of-freedomcircumstances into a new life, nor was I certain how he would rediscover his aptitude for spellmaking.

Quite often, when working with characters who have become familiar to us, we writers give up planning and outlining, and simply trust that the characters themselves will tell us what we need to know in order to write their stories. That’s what I did with “A Memory of Freedom.” I don’t think I have ever known any character as well as I know Ethan, nor have I ever trusted a character so thoroughly. He didn’t disappoint me.

In the end, his embrace of a new trade and his return to conjuring allowed this tale to mark the transition from his old life to the new one about which I’ve written in other stories.

I should also take a moment to comment on the historical elements of this story and the Thieftaker books. I have a doctorate in U.S. history, and had long looked for a way to blend my fascination with history with my love of fantasy. In the Ethan Kaille stories, I finally have found the perfect vehicle for this combination. The Boston I have created for the stories and books is as true to actual history as I could make it, save for two rather significant historical conceits.

a-memory-of-freedomFirst, while there were thieftakers -- private citizens who recovered stolen items and, for a fee, returned them to their rightful owners -- in England throughout the eighteenth century, and while there were a few thieftakers in cities of the New World early in the nineteenth century, there is no evidence that anyone worked that trade in pre-Revolutionary America. There was no established police force in Boston at this time. The night watch was not an effective crime fighting force, and the Sheriff of Suffolk County had no officers working under his command. So it is quite easy to imagine that thieftakers could have worked the streets of the city. But as I say, there is no historical evidence suggesting that they actually did.

And second, as far as I know, there were no conjurers in the Boston of the 1760s. But I could be wrong about that.

-- D. B. Jackson

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