Guest Post:- Jeff Jacobson

What is a ficlet (an extra little story bit) that you’d like to explain?

When I began to lay out the magical system for my book, I wasn’t sure if my witches inherited their abilities, or simply learned them. Nature versus nurture. Both ideas have their pros and cons. I decided to go for a hybrid. My witches inherit their witchcraft, but must go through a process where another witch known as a Guide awakens the legacy in them. After this “popping” process, new witches have to devote a good deal of time to learn how to use their abilities.

The idea of an Echo sprang from this. What if someone has the legacy in them, but isn’t popped? I imagined their latent potential drying up and fading away to nothing. But perhaps for a small percentage of these people a vestige, or an echo, of the craft remains. It might manifest itself in the form of a unique ability, like influencing the weather, or seeing events taking place miles away.


Additionally, I’ve always been drawn to stories of families who pass a certain magical ability from generation to generation. Attracting fortune. Having an affinity with animals. Possessing a knack for telling the future. Perhaps there was a witch in the family’s ancestry, but due to time, and intermarrying, the legacy of the witchcraft became diluted, so that only an echo of the witchcraft remained.


Thus, the idea of Echoes was born. In my series, my witches tend to look down on Echoes as being “witch lite,” or stunted. Imagine the disdain a Michelin-starred chef feels toward a home cook.


However, this can sometimes come back to haunt a witch. They might only consider another witch as a worthy opponent, while an Echo with a unique skill could fly under the radar.


I depict a few of these instances in books two and three, where Echoes are used to gain information about other witches without detection.


I want to write more about Echoes when I finish this series. How about Echoes who have access to a unique ability, but don’t know it? Or don’t know where it comes from? Their skills could fall into the wrong hands. Other witches might pursue them. For those Echoes who are fully aware of their ability, some of them might be dodgy psychics. Others, grifters who are always out to make a buck. And others? Talented surgeons, heads of state, corrupt CEOs.


Talk about the evolution of your character

When I began the initial sketch of my main character and his life, I pictured him living with his mother in a small, fictitious town in the Sierra Nevada foothills on the California-Nevada border, just like where my aunt and uncle used to live. When I moved to Monterey for grad school, I spent several Thanksgivings with them. I loved their small house, the creaky old outbuildings on their property, the several acres they owned, and how it felt like being on a small farm. They were busy year-round, picking fruit in the orchards, tilling and planting, mowing and mulching, canning and preserving. Around Thanksgiving time, most of that work was done, but I sometimes helped them prepare for the winter snows: laying tarp, putting equipment away in the big garage, cooking vegetables that would go into their huge larder.


This is the life I imagined Charlie and his mother Elizabeth living. But unbeknownst to Charlie, Elizabeth hailed from a family of witches she wanted nothing to do with, and chose to raise her son in the foothills as a way to hide out. In order to make this believable, I initially made Elizabeth a meth addict, using drugs to escape from her past and shut herself off from any vestiges of her witchcraft. They lived hand-to-mouth, and Charlie learned to borrow from Peter to pay Paul to keep everything afloat and stay in school. One day, Child Protective Services dropped by, and after a quick assessment, removed Charlie from his home and sent him to live with an aunt in Seattle, whom he soon learns is a witch.


Except, it didn’t work. I don’t have experience with drug addiction, or that level of poverty. I realized that the mother-son relationship I had created felt cliched and cheesy, probably based on one too many ABC Afterschool Specials. I didn’t have the chops to handle the complexity of something like that, and make it read authentically. I knew I would need to do a bucketload of research to pull it off, and I still might not get it right.


One day, after working on it for months, a different idea of a mother came to mind: someone who looked like a young Sissy Spacek, with a quiet strength and a hearty connection to the land, just like my own aunt. A great cook, farmer, mechanic, and an all-around good soul. Unlike my aunt, she would also be cautious of outsiders, always on low-grade alert, owing to her need to spare her son from having contact with her past. This caution transferred over to a shyness and lack of confidence in her son. This new angle felt much more authentic to me, and after that the writing flowed much more easily.


Songs that inspire me when I write:

Years ago I heard Marie Lu, author of the Legend series, mention in an interview that the album Invincible by Two Steps from Hell was her go-to writing music. I listened to it once and became obsessed. I play it on repeat whenever writing first drafts for this series. The only other thing I listen to on repeat is Adagio for Strings, Op. 11, by Samuel Barber, if I need to write something heart-wrenching. I can’t listen to any music when rewriting or editing, however. It distracts me.