Spotlight: Q&A with D. B. Jackson, author of the Islevale Cycle

David B. Coe is the author of more than 20 novels, half of them under the pseudonym D. B. Jackson. His latest series, the Islevale Cycle, began with the release of Time’s Children (which I really enjoyed) last fall. The subsequent volume—Time’s Demon—comes out this Tuesday. If you want, you can find my thoughts on it here. Somehow, I was lucky enough to play host as he agreed to answer a few questions regarding life, liberty, and the release of Time’s Demon.

Also, some other stuff.

  • First off, congratulations on the release of Time’s Demon! This is the second Islevale and your 23nd work published to date. As such, mostly I wanted to focus on your upcoming release, but first—what does it feel like to know you’ve published so many works?

Thank you for the good wishes, Will. And yes, it’s actually quite satisfying to look at the shelf in my office and see that line of published novels. This is a tough business, and there are moments when I focus on the things I haven’t accomplished that I want to—I would love to get to the top of the NY Times Bestseller list; and I would love to win a World Fantasy Award. But the fact is, I’ve survived in publishing for more than 20 years, and I keep on selling books, and that’s really gratifying. I recently figured out that over the course of my career, I have published nearly 3.4 million words. So, I feel like I’m finally getting the hang of this writing thing…

  • When you started writing Time’s Demon, did you expect it to go in the direction it ultimately did? Or did you have it pretty much mapped out from the start?

Time’s Demon, of course, is the second novel in my Islevale Cycle, so in a way I suppose you could say that my work on this second book began back a couple of years ago when I first started trying to conceptualize the entire series. All three of these books (Time’s Children, came out in October; I’m just finishing work on Time’s Assassin (Book 3)) have proven stubbornly difficult to plot and write. I usually like to outline my books, especially with epic fantasy novels, which tend to be sprawling stories with lots of plot threads and characters, and doubly so with time travel, which can be so complicated and mind-exploding. And for some reason, these books would not submit to outlining. I still don’t know why.

I began work on actually writing Time’s Demon in early 2018. But then I needed to do an extensive edit on my first draft on Time’s Children, and the changes I made to that novel forced me to rethink Demon as well. I returned to writing it in the spring of 2018 and finished it late in the year.

So certain things about the book had to change, but I always had in mind this approach to the structure—a continuation of Tobias and Mara’s story, but a deep focus on the other two main storylines: 1) Droë’s transformation; and 2) Orzili and Lenna’s backstory.

  • Who was your favorite character in the series to write?

I really do love all of my characters. That sounds like something all authors say, but there is truth to it. We create these “people.” They are the offspring of our imaginations and our emotional connection to them is deep. I will admit, though, that I am particularly fond of the time demon, Droë. She is capricious and predatory by nature, but also innocent and unsure of herself in certain ways. And her quest to understand the nature of love is one that I think speaks to all of us. Finally, just the fact that she is not human, that she experiences the world from an entirely different perspective, makes her fascinating to me, and I hope to my readers as well.

  • All authors struggle sometimes when writing. From anxiety, depression, or simply connecting with their characters, so many factors go in to being an effective writer. I know in the past you’ve chronicled about some of the challenges you’ve overcome while working on a piece. Did you have any of the same issues while working on this story?

That struggle with outlining the book that I mentioned before was truly difficult. I know it sounds like a small thing. So I had to write the books without planning them out. So what, right? Except that we’re talking about the creative process. I’ll refer you back to how we began this conversation: I’ve written 20-plus novels, and I’ve always outlined them. Some with more detail than others, to be sure—each project brings its own exigencies of process. But to confront these huge, ambitious, complicated books without a concrete sense of how I intended to take them from point A to point B to point C, etc. That was disorienting, to say the least. I spent months trying to work out the outline for book I, until finally my wife suggested that I stop banging my head against a wall and just start writing. That turned out to be good advice. And yet, it made the books a tremendous struggle. My first drafts of all three books were much rougher than my first drafts usually are. With the rewrites of the first book, I literally cut 45,000 words and then added in 60,000.

Now, the books have turned out great. The first book is the best reviewed book I’ve ever written, and I believe the second book is even better than the first. But it really was a fight every step of the way.

  • Anything time related gives me a headache. Pretty much from when my alarm goes off in the morning onwards. How did you manage to keep the events in order while writing a time-based fantasy? Were there any specific challenges?

Yes, writing time travel will give an author fits. Part of it is the complexity of following multiple time lines, and that I found challenging but fun. It’s not all that different from writing multiple plot threads in different parts of an imagined world, which I have done before with other epic fantasy series. The harder parts of time travel books involve the anachronisms, the implications of playing with timelines, and the fact that if characters can move through time they can render pretty much any plot point irrelevant. They get an endless supply of do-overs. And so the biggest challenge for me was coming up with a time travel “system” that made time travel rare, that limited how often my characters could go back and mess with my plot points. I did that by exacting a heavy cost for my time travel. Time travelers are rare and the “between” through which they pass to go back in time is harrowing and harsh. More to the point, though, for every day my time Walkers go back, they age that amount. If they go back a year, they arrive a year older. And when they return to their rightful time, they age another year. So, they can’t time travel too much without spending chunks of their lives. That keeps the complications and do-overs to a minimum.

  • What can we expect from the series looking forward?

Well, the initial draft of the third and final book in the series, Time’s Assassin, is written, and I obviously don’t want to give away a lot. But I can tell you that all the plot threads are tied off in the end. All the answers you’re after as a reader—What happens to Tobias and Mara and Sofya? What will Droë do with herself after her transformation? What will Orzili and Lenna do to ensure that Sofya never comes to power?—all of those questions will be answered. There are moments that will be difficult for my readers—really difficult. And there will be others that will make them cheer. In the end, though, I expect that fans of the series will be satisfied by the conclusion.

  • This is the sixth book I’ve read by you under the name of D. B. Jackson (to go with another four under David B. Coe). May I ask, why did you decide to use this pseudonym for this series?

So the D.B. Jackson pseudonym originated with my Thieftaker Chronicles, which I wrote for Tor beginning in 2012. I had just finished my third epic fantasy series for Tor, which together accounted for eleven novels, and I was making the switch to historical urban fantasy with Thieftaker. The folks at Tor were concerned about my branding. They felt that people knew me as a writer of epic fantasy and would expect that same thing with the new series if they saw my name on the cover. So they had me write the books under a different name. I was fine with that. Now since Thieftaker, I’ve written two series: The Case Files of Justis Fearsson for Baen, as David B. Coe, and the Islevale books for Angry Robot as D.B. Jackson. Baen asked me to write the Fearsson books under my own name, because they felt that their fan base, in the part of the U.S. where I live, would know me by that name and would be more inclined to find the books. Angry Robot chose to have me write the Islevale series as D.B. Jackson, because they saw that the critical response to the Thieftaker books was good, and they wanted that reputation behind the new series.

Frankly, I don’t care too much one way or another. I have fans under both names (and most people know that both names are me, although every now and then I come across someone who has NO idea) and I have a good reputation critically under both names. The bottom line is this: I get to write stories for a living, which is the best thing in the world. The rest is unimportant.

  • Last question: I’ve got to ask. I really have to. I’m a big fan of your Thieftaker and Justis Fearsson series; is there a chance we’ll be seeing anymore of those, or are they shelved for the foreseeable future?

Well, there is a Thieftaker short story collection—Tales of the Thieftaker—that came out from a small press a couple of years ago. And I’ve had another Thieftaker short story come out since then. So Thieftaker is certainly still ongoing. I haven’t done a novel in a while, but I fully intend to return to that world. And I plan to write more Fearsson, too. I love the Fearsson books. In many ways, they are more dear to me than anything else I’ve written. So I would expect that I will go back to both in time. I may have to self-publish them or go with small presses, but I’ll do more.

  • Thank you so much for your time! I know you’re probably really busy with the release date for Time’s Demon so near at hand and I really appreciate any time you were able to spare.

My pleasure! Thanks so much for the questions and for hosting me on your site!

一旁

A few quick things before we wrap this up. First off, a big thanks to Angry Robot for help in setting this in motion! If you haven’t heard of them—well first off you should feel very foolish. While not the biggest or most popular publisher out there, they rep good stuff. I’m a big fan of the Islevale Cycle, but The Legend of the Duskwalker (specifically Three) by Jay Posey is probably my favorite series they’ve released. Anyway, you can check them out on twitter or their website if you’re in the need for something to read.

David B. Coe is the author of 23 published works (22 novels, plus the Tales from Thieftaker novella omnibus). These include the LonTobyn trilogy (which won a Crawford), the Winds of the Forelands pentalogy, Blood of the Southlands trilogy, The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, the novelization of Scott’s Robin Hood (the one with Russell Crowe), and Knightfall: Infinite Deep (a tie-in with the Knightfall series on History Channel).

David has a Ph.D. in U.S. history from Stanford University. His books have been translated into a dozen languages. He and his family live on the Cumberland Plateau. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.

You can find him on twitter, facebook, or his own website.

And just in case you missed it, Time’s Demon will be released on Tuesday, May 28.

完了

Book Review: Time’s Demon – by D. B. Jackson

Islevale Cycle #2

Fantasy, Time Travel

Angry Robot; May 28, 2019

504 pages

4 / 5 ✪

I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Time’s Demon is the second in the Islevale Cycle, proceeding the events of Time’s Children. It began with a very unexpected character, at a very unexpected time. It ended with an unexpected result, following a series of rather unexpected events. At first I thought it marked a departure from the initial book, as neither Tobias nor Mara appeared for the first third or so. But then they did, and the story proceeded. In an unexpected, if not… unpredictable manner. Let me say plainly: I couldn’t predict the turns this story took. If I had (which, I tried; I always do), they would’ve been wrong. All in all, Time’s Demon was quite an entertaining read, though if one started into it hoping to immediately continue the adventure that had just left off, they would be disappointed.

This marks the tenth book I’ve read by David B. Coe, including 6 under the pseudonym of D. B. Jackson. So, there’s that. Cool, huh? Instead setting the scene this time, here’s the official blurb:

Fifteen year-old Tobias Doljan Walked back in time to prevent a war, but instead found himself trapped in an adult body, his king murdered and with an infant princess, Sofya, to protect. Now he has been joined by fellow Walker and Spanner, Mara, and together they must find a way to undo the timeline which orphaned the princess and destroyed their future. Arrayed against them are assassins who share their time-traveling powers, but have dark ambitions of their own, and the Tirribin demon, Droë, whose desperate quest for human love and Tobias leads her into alliances which threaten all of Islevale.

Time’s Demon presents another slow build, in some ways even more than that seen in the first. The hook is set and baited early on, as it was in the prior tale, but this is populated with different characters than before. Characters with their own wants and needs (and backstories), that were under utilized in the previous book. Again, it’s important to note that Tobias, Sofya and Mara will return—and that the heart of the story still very much revolves around then.

And yet, their story, while entertaining, furthers the overarching storyline very little. And so we exit Time’s Demon little further than when Time’s Children left off. That’s not to say the book accomplishes nothing. Instead, the storylines are pushed off to other characters—in particular Droë, a Tirribin notable in the first entry. Actually, her story was good enough in this that it distracted me from the lack of progression in Tobias and Mara’s tale. Until writing this review, even.

In my opinion, it was the characters of Time’s Children that made it such an entertaining read. Not only does Demon continue this trend, but builds upon it. In addition to Mara and Tobias’s backstory—as well as a new character I won’t spoil—Droë adds an unexpected element to the story. Until this book, demons (Tirribin, Belvora, Shonla, Arrokad) are viewed mostly as savage and conniving beasts, excepting maybe the rogue elements like Droë or Teelo, who still fed on humans, but occasionally interacted with them as well. Droë’s adventure wrecks this all. I mean, yeah, half the demons still eat people, but it turns out they are much more complex than I’d thought before. Additionally, the dynamic between Sofya and Tobias (and Mara) has changed—as the princess is now an infant—but not so much. It were her interactions with Tobias that sold the first book for me. While in this one her role is reduced somewhat (due to the influx of other characters’ POVs), she still represents an important member of the cast.

Time’s Demon capitalizes on the successes of Time’s Children with strong characters, immersive world-building and superior dialogue. While the expanded cast of characters did push some of my favorites from Book #1 aside for a third of the text, their arcs were more than entertaining enough to keep me ingrained. The second Islevale book does little to further the plot from the first, however (with the murdered royal family, walking back in time and such). And yet Droë’s adventure stole the show, giving anyone more than enough reason to read Time’s Demon. If you liked the first one, you’ll enjoy the second.

Time’s Demon comes out later this month. Hopefully you’ll stay at this emotional “want-to-read” level until then! YEEEEEEEAAAAAHHHH!!!

Book Review: Time’s Children – by D. B. Jackson

Islevale Cycle #1

Fantasy, Time Travel

Angry Robot; October 2, 2018

515 pages

4.5 / 5 ✪

Time’s Children was one heck of an entertaining read—especially on the heels of another bit of time travel fiction—a time travel fantasy that was an interesting bit of genre-cross that I’d not experienced before. As always, Jackson’s writing is lovely; attaining a classic fantasy feel while painting a vividly colorful world full of deep and insightful characters. This is my 9th book by the author (4 as David B. Coe, 5 under the pseudonym D. B. Jackson) and I have to say, he hops around quite a bit between genres, doesn’t he?

Time’s Children begins the Islevale Cycle, a fantasy world set upon a world of sea and islands, in which certain individuals—known as Travelers—combine their natural abilities and golden, specialized devices in order to cheat the natural order. Spanners use their sextants in order to traverse great distances in but an instant. Crossers use their apertures to move through solid matter. Walkers can move back and forth through time by means of a chronofor. Of these three, Walkers are the rarest and most sought after, due to their ability to change the course of events. Each of these powers comes with a price, however. Never did learn the weakness of Spanning. Huh. Crossers that encounter metal in their passage return with horrible injuries or can suffer death. And Walkers suffer the time they travel twice (meaning, if a Walker were to travel back a year, and then return, their body would have aged two years in that time: one year to go back, another to return).

Tobias Doljan is a Walker, training at the Traveler’s Palace in the north sea. Days before his 15th birthday, he is summoned to the court of Mearlan IV, ruler of Daerjen. Leaving his home for court is a daunting task, but one Tobias is excited about. Yet in doing so he gives up much. The camaraderie of his peers, or anyone his age. An interesting friend—a Tirribin, a time demon, which preys upon humans’ years in order to live (if you’ve seen any Stargate Atlantis, they’re pretty much the wraith, except in the bodies of children). And budding love in the form of another initiate, Mara. And yet Tobias is excited for court life. More than excited, even. It’s something he’s been working his whole life for. And yet, within days of reaching Daerjen, it might all be over.

Daerjen is in the middle of a war, a war that isn’t going well. The monarch has exhausted all his options—all, but one. Something only a Walker might do. For if he can travel back, Tobias can prevent the war altogether. But there is a huge problem. Due to the very nature of Walking, the toll it inflicts on Walkers, the Traveler’s Palace limits the length of time Walkers are to travel to no more than two years. Any more, and the Walkers are told to refuse their employer, that the contract is voided, and to return home. And yet Mearlan asks anyway. He asks Tobias not to go back one or two, but fourteen years.

This establishes an interesting (if horrifying) concept. Should Tobias Walk (Spoilers: of course he does) he would essentially triple in age by the time he returns home. He’d be a 15-year old boy, stuck in the body of a 43-year old man. That’s just… ludicrous. And yet, to prevent a war, Tobias acquiesces. And yet, after his Walk back, nothing goes to plan. Mearlan is assassinated along with all his court, Tobias’s chronofor is destroyed, and Tobias is forced to flee with the last of the monarch’s kin—his infant daughter, Sofya.

The premise of this book was what first caught my attention. I mean, Tobias coming to terms with the fact that he’s doubled in age, that he’s a boy in the body of a man—is fascinating. And horrifying. Not to mention that he now must caring for an infant. Not to mention that she’s the sole heir to the throne. And that everyone in this new time is hunting for them. And that Tobias can’t return to his old (um, future) time. And it’s how he handles it that makes Time’s Children completely worth reading.

My favorite part of this book was actually his dealings with Sofya. The Sovereign’s daughter was 16 when Tobias first met her, but it’s the 2-year old princess that steals the show. Because she acts like a two-year old. She lives, she laughs, she loves—and she poops. Plus, she can’t talk. And she doesn’t understand a good many things that are happening. I figured she’d be little more than a prop in baby-form. And I was wrong. And that’s just awesome.

I did have a couple issues with Time’s Children. One was a lot later in the story, so as not to spoil anything… I’m just going to say it involved time paradoxes, and the decision of when and when not to travel back. The other, actually, is the first chapter. More specifically, what happens in it, and what doesn’t happen in the rest of the book. I hate it when a book gives us a teaser about something that will happen later on, but then doesn’t ever get to that point. Now, I assume that this scene—where someone, presumably Tobias, is back trying to prevent the war or assassination or something—will occur later in the series. Or, is supposed to. But I don’t KNOW that. And unless David B. Coe has FINISHED writing all the other Islevale books, HE can’t know that either. Sometimes, a scene like this will get edited out. Sometimes, the story will simply move in a different direction. A lot of things can happen. Too bad too; I kept expecting the point to crop up and was disappointed when I reached the end and it hadn’t.

All in all, Time’s Children is an excellent read, providing a new and unique premise then proceeding to execute it well. The characters stole the show for me; the character arcs and growth, but especially the interactions between Tobias and baby Sofya made this a book I could not put down. And while an unsatisfying conclusion held it back from being a solid 5 stars, Time’s Children is a must read—and probably the best book I’ve read so far this year.

Its sequel, Time’s Demon, comes out on May 28, 2019.