Since the first moment I saw the cover of Jackaby I became obsessed with this book and my need to read it. My expectations soared with the comparison to the shows Doctor Who and Sherlock and I couldn’t wait to get a copy and read. Because of Jon (Scott Reads It) I was able to get an advanced copy from BEA and I’m so pleased to say that I ended up loving this book, especially the characters. Ritter has created a cast that I’ll not be forgetting anytime soon as well as a strong plot that incorporates the supernatural with an old fashioned detective story.
I am giddy that today I have the author, Will Ritter, here to answer my questions about his debut novel. Thank you Will for joining us today.
What drew me originally to Jackaby was the stunning cover and that tag line, “Doctor Who meets Sherlock” I am a huge fan of both series so I was sold immediately upon seeing the comparison. Are you a fan of both or either series yourself and were either an inspiration for your writing Jackaby?
Thanks very much! I am a huge fan of both—and I’ll add Supernatural to the mix as well, because it’s another easy and frequent comparison. All three feature characters who are fun but flawed, who are bluntly direct but not always transparent, and who have very clunky relationships with their counterparts—yet whose relationships feel all the more meaningful for their roughness. These character dynamics definitely appeal to me, but the parallels in Jackaby were not intentionally inspired by any one source. Mostly I was trying to write someone who saw the world in a different way than everyone else and unabashedly embraced the ways that made him weird and special.
I do love Doctor Who, which balances the quirky and irreverent with the somber and profound, and that’s a balance I tried to hit in Jackaby. I hadn’t discovered Sherlock or Supernatural before writing my first draft, but I became a fan while in revision. For those two, I was more influenced by their source material. I read the Sherlock Holmes mysteries (and his predecessor, Poe’s Dupin), and I studied mythology and folktales from around the world… and then I just played around and made them my own. Archetypes are fun! I love what the shows’ writers do, because I can tell they’re the same sort of story nerds that I am. I didn’t aim to write “SuperWhoLock,” but I love those comparisons, because they’re all doing such an amazing job at accomplishing exactly what I hoped to achieve.
I couldn’t help but picture Jackaby meeting the 10th Doctor and how that meeting might go. Do you think Jackaby would work well with any of the past Doctors?
Ha ha! I jumped into Doctor Who during David Tennant’s run, and he’s absolutely my Doctor. It was not intentional, but it makes me happy that Ten is the Doctor Jackaby is most often compared to. Should they meet, I imagine there would be a great deal of speaking rapidly, many raised eyebrows, and very little respect for personal space. Ten would probably check his sonic and say “What?” a lot, and Jackaby would cock his head curiously and make indelicate comments about the Time Lord’s aura being bubbly and bluish, but tinted with the guilt of eradicating his species. Brooding. Then tea and Jammie Dodgers.
I read that you dreamed up Mr. Jackaby while up at night with your newborn son. Could you tell us a bit about that time of your life and what about the late night hours had you thinking of the supernatural?
I had just finished a year of teaching high school, including a Mythology class I loved. Teaching electives, much like writing books, is a wonderful excuse to immerse yourself in subjects that you find intriguing, and I had dug up far more than I ever got a chance to share with my students. My mind was whirring every day, and as the year wound down I was also fantasizing about teaching a mystery/detective fiction class the following year—which sadly never happened. Summer hit, and instead of high school kids, I was in charge of an almost-1 year old. Infants are great, but they’re not exactly mentally stimulating. The wheels didn’t stop spinning just because I was on make-funny-faces and don’t-let-the-baby-eat-dirt duty, so there was a lot of daydreaming going on. The middle of the night was the worst, because I would wake up, he would fall back asleep, and my head would refuse to shut off while I was staring at shadows. That’s where I was when I met Jackaby.
You incorporate many mythological creatures into this story. Could you tell us about the research you did and what the oddest/surprising thing you learned was?
A lot of the research I did was simply built into years of being a folklore nerd. Most of the casual references are from legends I encountered long before I ever considered writing a novel, but I definitely enjoyed picking up new ones along the way. My wife is a terrible enabler. She loves fantastical beasts as much as I do, and will send me details of creatures she finds. Between us, we’ve collected bookshelves worth of folklore of all sorts. One of the oddest (and I do love odd) is the Chedipe, an obscure monster from India who can assume the shape of a tiger with just one human leg. I enjoy the impracticality of the construction. I can’t imagine she was a terribly graceful runner.
Though many supernatural things occur throughout the novel the setting felt very realistic. As far as I can tell, New Fiddleham is your invention; but it still felt like a plausible town and very much a part of the 1800s. Can you tell us the process of creating this world?
New Fiddleham is fictional, as are the surrounding towns, but I did work hard to make them feel real. I was perpetually editing out anachronisms and working in little period details wherever I could. I surrounded myself with visuals of 19th century streets and buildings and people. Boston, in particular, wound up influencing my vision of the city, as did period pictures of my own West Coast hometown, Portland, Oregon. More than realism, though, I wanted a town with character. The town is not built with perfectly defined districts and a logical street grid. It grew up on top of itself, the way towns do, so it is frustratingly illogical sometimes. Streets might overlap at odd angles or meander off and change names after half a mile. Much of this is borrowed from Portland, where occasionally, just to get from one major highway to another, you need to take seven turns through residential neighborhoods, cut across an abandoned factory floor, and say a secret password while spinning donuts in the middle of a corn maze.
Probably my favorite location was Jackaby’s home and place of work. Your descriptions of each floor and room were so vivid I felt that the house was a character. Did it naturally develop as you wrote or did you have a clear image prior?
I wanted the house to feel like an extension of Jackaby—unique, and full of strange contradictions that function as one form. It needed to be a chaotic workplace that also felt like a safe, comfortable home, one where all of the mismatched residents could come to roost (some more literally than others). To this end, there were things I knew well in advance—like Jackaby’s mad laboratory or the beautiful library—but other elements just popped into existence halfway through a sentence. I would sometimes finish a line and say, “Huh. I guess there’s a duck pond on the third floor. Okay.” Some of my favorite bits added themselves, and it was my job to stay out of the way and let them grow organically.
Abigail and Jackaby are both such intriguing characters. Together they are the perfect balance of fantasy and realism. I felt that Jackaby’s character in particular has so much history and backstory behind who he is. Can you tell us anything about him not included in the book?
Thank you so much. I have grown very fond of them, and yes, there are piles of history about each that are not in the book. Some of it is being intentionally withheld, and other bits very nearly made it in, but were just nixed for pacing. There is an insufferably smarmy schoolboy named Tommy Bellows, for example, who has been inserted and removed multiple times, but remains in my mind as a part of Rook’s schooldays before she ran away. As for Jackaby—there is a lot kept intentionally in the shadows. He has had adventures prior to Rook, and he had a life before the sight came to him. I COULD, for instance, tell you a great deal about the seer who came before him, including some of the sad, sweet details of how her powers came to be passed to Jackaby. As a fellow Doctor Who fan, however, I’m sure you can appreciate… spoilers!
Immediately upon finishing Jackaby I ran to Twitter to verify that you had plans to continue this series. I would be distraught if Abigail and Jackaby’s adventures were over. Thankfully, you replied that there will be more. Can you tell us how many books are planned?
Nope. Not out of secrecy, but because it is difficult to imagine writing myself out of their lives forever with a definitive ending. I do have solid arcs in mind, the smallest seeds of which are already planted in the first book. I am definitely slated for one sequel with Algonquin Young Readers (Editor Elise Howard has been the story’s Fairy Godmother in so many ways). Following that sequel, I have at least two more books envisioned before I will have crested one particularly grand arc. Maybe someday I’ll get sick of their shenanigans and chuck Jackaby over my own version of Reichenbach Falls… but even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle couldn’t keep his detective dead forever. I’m looking forward to following Jackaby and Rook on many more crazy capers, and hopefully more adventurous readers like yourself will come along.
Glad you enjoyed Jackaby—and thanks so much for having me on MFAF
And…did you notice that the Doctor Who art was done by Mr. Ritter? So, not only can the man write an amazing story he can draw as well.
Since Jon and I both ended up loving this book so much we wanted to share both our posts with you. Over on Scott Reads It you can find a guest post from the Will Ritter about Doctor Who.
And I also have a signed hardcover to give away to one of my US readers (I’m so sorry my International friends. I really wish I could afford shipping)
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