Young Adult Festival

What: Presentations from YA authors Jeremiah Franklin, Elliot Reed, William Ritter, Connie King Leonard and Kristina Bak. Authors Nancy Fischer and Shea Ernshaw will also attend to discuss and sign copies of their YA books.

When: 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 16

Where: Roundabout Books, 900 NW Mt. Washington Drive, Suite 110, Bend

Cost: free

Contact: or 541-306-6564

A setback in William Ritter’s teaching career had a positive side. It led to the author and teacher’s popular young adult series, “Jackaby.”

Ritter, a high school language arts and mythology teacher, started his first teaching job in 2011 in Salem. He was excited about a new forensic investigation-style class he was developing with a fellow teacher that combined classic detective fiction with the science involved in solving cases. But before the class could begin, he was laid off due to budget cuts.

Ritter’s research for that ill-fated class inspired the New York Times bestseller “Jackaby,” which evolved from a short story into a novella, first, then expanded into a full-length novel and a series.

“I was staying at home caring for my then 1-year-old, but the ideas from that class kept whirring around in my head,” Ritter said. “I would wake up in the middle of the night with ideas and I just couldn’t let go of them.”

Described by fans and reviewers as a mashup of “Sherlock Holmes,” “Doctor Who” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” the stories are set in the fictional town of New Fiddleham, New England, during the late 1800s. Adventurous young British woman Abigail Rook is hired as the assistant to eccentric detective R. F. Jackaby. Her intelligence and attention to ordinary details are a perfect complement to Jackaby’s ability to see supernatural beings. Ritter manages to combine humor, horror and history with taut pacing as the pair find themselves in the middle of cases involving serial killers, ghosts, shape-shifters, murderous monsters and the mythical underworld.

Now living in Springfield and still teaching part time, Ritter will discuss his writing at the Young Adult Festival on March 16 at Roundabout Books in Bend. The festival will also feature six other YA authors: Jeremiah Franklin (“Dark Tomorrow”), Connie King Leonard (“Sleeping In My Jeans”), Kristina Bak (“Nowever”), Nancy Fisher (“When Elephants Fly”), Shea Ernshaw (“The Wicked Deep”) and Elliot Reed (“A Key to Treehouse Living”).

When he began working on “Jackaby,” Ritter wasn’t thinking about genre and didn’t set out to write a young adult novel, so the story doesn’t shy away from some darker content and language. R. F. Jackaby is an adult whose age isn’t clearly specified, and the central character of Abigail didn’t exist in the initial manuscript. Instead, the narrator was a nameless male whom Ritter confessed was something of a lazy author version of himself.

“I had read ‘In Cold Blood,’ by Truman Capote, and had the idea for an invisible narrator that readers can envision themselves in the place of,” Ritter said. “But it turns out that undeveloped central character was pretty boring.”

His editor suggested making the narrator a woman, since the story didn’t have any strong female characters.

“Abigail, as she became, was a much more compelling narrator,” Ritter said. “Having a hero overcoming monsters is fun, but having a hero overcoming monsters and also overcoming prejudices and misogyny at the turn of the century was much more interesting.”

Ritter chose to set his stories in the late 1800s because it was a period of great scientific advancement, but also an era when superstition and the occult were booming.

“Edison and Tesla were doing things that were amazing and felt like magic to people living then,” Ritter said. “But Ouija boards and mediums were also incredibly popular. At the same time, there was a huge skepticism with people who wanted to debunk these things and the scientific method was becoming more established. So it made it fun for me to work in those details as I was writing.”

While he tried to be accurate with the history, science and technology he incorporated into the stories, Ritter took more liberties with his use of language. He wanted the dialogue and exposition to feel and sound convincing but also remain accessible to readers.

“I had to find that balance between keeping it authentic and keeping the pacing going,” he said.

When he began expanding “Jackaby” from a novella into a novel, Ritter had the story arc for a multibook series in mind. But he intentionally wrote that first book so it could stand alone, since he didn’t have a book deal and had no idea if he would have the opportunity to publish more.

But Ritter secured an initial contract with Algonquin Young Readers for two books: “Jackaby” released in 2014 and “Beastly Bones” in 2015 (plus a novella, “The Map,” also released in 2015). The success of those books led to “Ghostly Echoes” in 2016 and the final book in the series, “The Dire King,” in 2017.

“Jackaby” fans can look forward to Ritter’s next novel, “Changeling.” Due out in July, it is the first installment in a new series set in the “Jackaby” universe but with a different cast of characters.

“It’s about two boys growing up together — one the biological child of his human parents and the other a changeling who was spirited into the family by goblins,” Ritter said. “The boys are raised together by mistake, and it’s about learning to love and trust one another in spite of differences.”