My novella, “The Number Thief” is out now on the Amazon Kindle store. The story first appeared in The Magazine of History and Fiction in July 2020.
Like my other recent stories, “The Number Thief” features great new cover art from Die Welle Design:
I’m also doing a giveaway to celebrate its release: It’s free today and the next few days (March 1-4) on the Kindle store. So, tell your friends and grab a copy for yourself!
IMPORTANT NOTE: You don’t need a Kindle device to read the story. All you need is the Kindle App downloaded onto your PC, Mac, or phone (or even onto your Kindle, if you have one!) If you have an Internet connection and a device, you should be able to download and read this story anywhere in the world.
And if you do get it, please, please, please leave a short review (good, bad or indifferent) when you’re done on Amazon or Goodreads!
The Story Behind the Story
After I published “The Ghul of Yazd” I was thinking about whether its protagonist, Yusuf, was worthy of another tale. I definitely thought he was, but wondered if others felt the same. Then one day I was checking the Comments on my blog and I saw this:
Kimberly Hernandez February 26, 2015 — 1:43 am
I read your piece in Strangelet [Journal] and completely fell in love. I was curious if you would be revisiting the character. He seems too brilliant and dynamic to only have one adventure.
Well, that made my day. I commented back and thanked her. Then, I really got to turning over in my head what Yusuf’s next adventure might be.
The Big Board in the Sky
You use numbers every day, but you probably never think about their culture and history. When you balance your checkbook, or leave a tip, or check the time, you’re using numbers. And for a lot of the world you’re using some sub-group of Arabic numbers. Except, they’re not Arabic. Not originally. They’re actually from India. They came to Europe by way of the Arab world, so the name stuck in the Western world. Until that time, Europeans were using the ancient and cumbersome Roman numerals. Romans numerals are difficult to add, subtract, multiply and divide in–and percents are practically impossible. The “Arabic” numbers are an innovation that would revolutionize the Western economy, global trade and the world.
I am the son of a mathematician (Crazy! But it happens.). When we were kids there was a big poster entitled “Men of Modern Mathematics” that hung on the biggest wall in our living room. [It was ALL MEN, by the way! I don’t remember a single woman on it. This list was from 1966, sort of the height of the Mad Men Era, so even Emmy didn’t make the list.] It covered the years from 1000-2000 and was cut into two panels, one framed up high on either side of the room. Anyway, the years 1000-1500 were pretty sparse, but right there in the middle of that bleak time was a thick entry from one guy: Fibonacci. So, like I do, I filed that away in my memory.
So, there I was years later thinking about a new tale for Yusuf, something for him to get involved in, the troublemaker. Something based in his time period (the early 1200s). And somehow, Fibonacci popped in my head. I don’t remember how. Either I was reading something, researching something or he just popped in there. So, I brought up his Wikipedia entry and learned that he was one of the main guys involved in the translation/conveyance of Arabic numerals to Europe in…the early 1200s. That got me sitting up straight. So, I read his whole biography and learned about his book, the Liber Abaci.
Turned out, when he was young, Fibonacci lived in a Muslim port town in what is now Algeria named Béjaïa where his father was a diplomat of the Republic of Pisa. Now, that was interesting. What if…What if that’s where the young Fibonacci first saw and learned about the Arabic numbers? What if…somehow he got tangled up with some Muslim adventurer/philosopher named Yusuf?
I had my protagonist and my antagonist, and my setting, too. …The plot quickly fell into place after that.
Best Rejection Ever
Writing ain’t easy. After research, writing, editing, we have to submit the piece. I feel many editors didn’t get it or know what to do with this piece. The rejections started piling up, I began to get dejected about it. One day, I got another rejection from another editor and glumly opened it up. And here’s what it said:
Darius Jones, you’re killing me.
This is one of the most delightfully written, interesting pieces I’ve read this year. Your writing shines and your research is fascinating. Alas, I’m going to have to send it back to you. I just don’t feel that the speculative element is quite there and intrinsic in the telling of this piece. It reads now as brilliant historical fiction, but it’s just not for this publication at this time.
I sincerely hope I will see more of your fiction in the future. Do keep us in mind for your work…
I thanked that editor. And if you’re out there now, I thank you once again, R—. This is the only rejection letter I’ve kept in my Acceptance pile to this day.
That rejection put a fire in my belly. Let the editors not get it—one way or another I was going to get this story published. So…The rejections came and went. To be honest, they piled up. I was getting a bit discouraged, but it was alright.
Then, finally, one day, I got an acceptance letter. This time from The Magazine of History and Fiction. They were going to publish it. I accepted and it went live a couple of months later. Yusuf was back in business.
And now, I’m putting it out on Amazon Kindle so you can find it easily and people all over the world can read it.
So, there you have it. How my bizarre mathematical-adventure story, my mythological retelling of how the Arabic numbers came to Europe made it into the world. Your world, and mine.
So, check it out.
And fellow writers, don’t give up!
[UPDATE MARCH 2, 2021]: My Dad called from Math Central and wants you all to know that in addition to Emmy Noether, Hypatia was a famous female mathematician. Although, I’ll note she came too early to be included on the chart listed in this post since it starts in 1000 A.D.]