Interviewed by Elvira Sanchez Kisser, Woodburn Public Library
William Ritter is an Oregonian author who has released his debut novel in a series about a investigating duo in 19th century New York uncovering the strangeness beneath the everyday. I had a chance to interview Mr. Ritter about his novel Jackaby and this great characters.
Where the main characters in Jackaby based on or inspired by any one person?
My characters are mostly inspired by people in my life, but not by any one person. Jackaby, for example, has a few of my mannerisms, but he adopted my wife’s zeal for amazing and outlandish lore, along with her spontaneity and adventurous spirit. Elements of my parents slipped in, too—including my mother’s love of books and my father’s knack for experimental cooking. All of the characters have a bit of that!
Is there any aspect of your writing you ﬁnd particularly challenging?!
The hardest times for me are when I’ve already written a draft and I ﬁnd I need to rearrange whole passages. I might decide, for example, that an encounter in chapter twelve would be better in chapter seven. That’s an easy change to make in an outline, but when it’s already a whole book, it requires ripping apart nuanced transitions and connecting thoughts that were never designed to ﬁt. It requires triple-checking the chronology of the scene and keeping tabs on where every character is, what they know and don’t know at that stage, and what their motivation is at that moment. I also have to forget the way it used to be as soon as I’m done, or else I will constantly be trying to make connections that are no longer there. It’s madness.
Jackaby incorporates fun and witty references to everything from Waldo to Doctor Who, was there any reference that you had to leave on the cutting room ﬂoor? Care to elaborate?
I do enjoy tucking allusions all over the book, some glaring and others subtle. A few of the ones
that come up often in reviews are actually just coincidental similarities—and a few of the references that I thought were obvious never get mentioned at all. The names of my supporting characters are almost all drawn from the detective fiction genre, for example, and the names of places are almost all drawn from the history of the supernatural. As for the cutting room ﬂoor?
My city was nearly called Glanville—an allusion that was as clever and meaningful as it was helplessly obscure. In spite of a fascinating backstory, it sounded totally banal and lacked the quirky character that I wanted for my town, so it had to go. I have my wife to thank for the name that stuck, New Fiddleham.
I’ve read from another interview that you “love odd”, what was your favorite “odd” element you incorporated in Jackaby?
I really enjoyed writing “I excused myself to see a duck about a dress.” I love getting to add little lines like that—absolute absurdity delivered with a straight face. PG Wodehouse was a master of that sort of comedy, and he is a huge favorite of mine.
Do you have any reoccurring themes or topics you ﬁnd yourself coming back to in your writing?
The big recurring theme in JACKABY is to be true to yourself, to be proud of the things that make you odd, and to keep your head above all the social stereotypes and nosy naysayers. Books are a reader’s escape, and it’s important to me that the escape I offer is a safe and encouraging one, even if it’s a bloody murder mystery. You’re allowed to be you when you’re in my book.
There is many Doctor Who references throughout the book, which Doctor do you relate to most?
David Tennant in a heartbeat (or two). I am a tremendous fan of the series—but in the interest of full disclosure, none of the apparent references to Doctor Who were intentional. In spite of what the marketing blurb suggests, I never set out to write “Doctor Who meets Sherlock.” I just set out to write the sort of story I wanted to read. It has been pointed out to me that Jackaby wears a ludicrously long scarf, runs around after all manner of monsters, is friends with a
Jenny in the 19th century, and travels with a plucky female companion. While I love the show, I arrived at all of that the long way around. The long scarf is my wife’s (I’m wearing it in my author photo), the monsters come from folklore, Jenny is a nice name, and the 19th century just had the right atmosphere of science and superstition. Jackaby’s companion could just as easily have been male (she was, in an early draft), but the dynamic just felt better with a young woman. The Doctor’s basic archetype is similar at its core to Poe’s Detective Dupin and Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes—both of whom I did draw from intentionally as I developed the voice of my book.
- The Golem and the Jinni—Helene Wecker!
- The Night Circus—Erin Morgenstern!
- The Diviners—Libba Bray!
All three are period pieces that do a great job with the mise-en-scène (a fancy French term for all the stuff they stick in the corners to makes the setting feel real). They all also boast strong female leads, have a dynamic supporting cast, and play with the supernatural in totally different but all marvelous ways. Check them out!!
I hear you have a talent for drawing. Do your drawings affect your writing process and do you have plans of incorporating your illustrations in any upcoming books?
I frequently sketch my ideas long before they become words on the page—it’s a great exercise for getting the creative cogs spinning. I adore the design of the ﬁnal book, though, so unless a passage clearly called for it, I wouldn’t want to muck it up with unnecessary pictures. I might someday include sketches from Abigail’s notebook or something, but it would need to come about naturally.
As a teen, what advice, from an adult/librarian, would have inspired you to write or read more?
Story time. Books speak for themselves. A read-aloud—one with a really good book and an engaging reader—is greater inspiration than any lecture or truism. Being told it’s good for me is rarely inspiring. Broccoli is good for me. Laughing until my cheeks hurt or biting my lip and holding my breath for the end of the chapter… that’s inspiration to read.
BEASTLY BONES, the sequel to JACKABY, is in ﬁnal edits and book 3 is coming down the line.
R.F. Jackaby was really in his wheel well in the ﬁrst book, chasing monsters in his city, but the sequel gives Abigail a chance to be in her own element. Jackaby has some solid strengths, but Rook’s conﬁdence is developing, and she’s ﬁnding she can do more than just orbit around him.
There are a few familiar faces and a handful of new ones. It has been a lot of fun to create.
Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
In the 18th century, if one wanted to view ﬁerce beasts, one might visit London’s Tower Menagerie. Admission could be gained by bringing in a cat or dog to be fed to the lions.
Find out more about William Ritter at http://algonquinyoungreaders.com/author/william-ritter/