Today folks I am really proud to have John Hornor Jacobs over for a chat. John is the author of the excellent novel Southern Gods, review here. John is carrying on the tradition of damn fine authors from The South. Southern Gods has found it’s way into my top ten stories of the year, and I insist i say I insist, you get a copy.
GNOH – Hello John, how are thingswith you?
JHJ- Down south we say, “Fair to middling.” But that would be lying. I’m doingvery well, thank you.
GNOH – Could you tell the readers a bit about yourself?
JHJ– Okay. My name is John Hornor Jacobs, I’m 6’2” tall and could stand to lose atleast forty pounds. Probably more. I’m the father of two awesome little girlswho attend a Montessori school. I’ve worked in advertising as an art director,animator, creative director up until a year ago when I took a job as themarketing manager for an internet company. I am still the creative director ofNeedle: A Magazine of Noir and I’m late producing the latest issue. I play inbands – matter of fact, my big ten piece horn band is opening up the KingBiscuit Blues Festival here in a couple of weeks. I play guitar pretty well,write the songs and sing.
GNOH – SOUTHERN GODS is your debut novel, you’ve got oneparagraph, sell it to the readers.
JHJ– SOUTHERN GODS is a blend of Southern Gothic, crime noir, and Lovecraftiancosmic horror. It’s got blues, phantom radio stations, love, biscuits andgravy, evil books, racial tensions, and snappy dialogue sprinkled liberallythroughout. People seem to like it.
GNOH – How did it feel when you first opened the box containing your author’scopies of SOUTHERN GODS?
JHJ– I felt fantastic, but also a little daunted. What the hell was I supposed todo with forty copies of my novel? It forced me to sit down and work out amarketing plan for myself.
GNOH – And how do you feel now that it has been released on the world?
JHJ– Again, it feels marvelous. There’s no sensation like knowing that one of yourcreative endeavors has been loosed upon the world to cause rampant destruction.
Afriend of mine, Dan O’Shea – a very wise man and brilliant writer – sent me anemail on the first night of my release that summed up perfectly my feelings atthe time. He said:
Bynow, you’re home, you’ve opened the box, pulled out a copy of SOUTHERN GODS,rubbed the cover, cracked it open and snorted in that new-book smell. You’reprobably sitting in your favorite chair, readin’ through the sumbitch just likeyou’d bought it at a goddamn store, which soon enough, folks will bedoing. Probably got yourself a littleglass a something, and somewhere in your mind you’re comparing this moment tothe birth of your kids, and, while you’d never say you love the book more thanyour kids, the fact is you baked this puppy in YOUR oven, you pulled the laborpains, and you think the damn thing looks an awful lot like dear old dad.
Ilove me some Dan O’Shea. It’s the mark of a great writer to perfectlyencapsulate a person’s feelings at any given moment.
GNOH – Things seemed to fall into place when you bagged Stacia Decker as youreditor. How instrumental do you think her input was in getting a properbook deal from a respected traditional publisher?
JHJ– Without Stacia, I would be published by small, even micro, presses. If youwant to publish with traditional publishers – the big six – you HAVE to have anagent. Failing that, you’re just trusting to luck and luck don’t mean shitwithout preparation, i.e. a publishable novel. And even with an agent, there’sno guarantees.
Onthe other hand, now, with Amazon coming on board as a publisher, and theirincredible ability to sell books in massive amounts, the whole gameboard isbeing rearranged. All of publishing is in a state of flux, and when things areuncertain and unsteady, folks usually grab on tight to their pocket books. So,right now is a hard time to get published, unless you do it yourself.
GNOH –What do you say to those authors who don’t think thatyou don’t need an editor?
JHJ- Who neids an eiditor? They jsut slow down the hole writting proces.
GNOH – Did Stacia recommend a lot of rewrites to the manuscript she read?
JHJ- On SOUTHERN GODS, she had more edits than revisions. It was 95,000 wordmanuscript before she took her shears to it and snipped it down to 83,000words. To my critics who claim the book is too short, I say, blame her.
Theonly big rewrite she asked for was near the end, right before the wholeresolution. I don’t know how much I should say here, but there’s a scene wherethe protagonists go to where the baddies are and in an earlier draft there wasa lot more Hastur-possessed corpses running around and mucking up the works.She convinced me we didn’t need it (or them). And by cutting that, it gave it amore thoughtful, pensive lead-in to the conclusion.
Andthen it was edited by my publisher, but they asked for no major rewrites. Just lineedits and word choice changes, some of which I agreed with, some I did not.
GNOH – What do you think makes for a good editor?
JHJ– It depends on what kind of editor you mean. As for a story editor, it’simportant that they grasp your vision, understand common tropes of the genreyou’re working in so they know when you’re going against or with the grain, andthen they need an impeccable sense of pacing, tone, style, and, of course,story.
Asfor a line editor, they need a flawless grasp of grammar, an extensivevocabulary, and – with my books, especially – knowledge of history.
GNOH – Did you ever consider going the self publication route, in the timeleading up to the publishing deal? Or did you have enough faith in yourwriting, and new it was more a case of finding the right publisher, rather thanany publisher?
JHJ–I did, actually. I think every struggling writer has that urge. It was hardfor me when I’d attend conventions and I’d go to panels where there’d be a lionof the horror or fantasy genre at the same table as some self-published author.I’d just sit there outraged, both for myself and for the veteran. It was hardto come to grips with the fact that I was just some schmuck in the crowd withthree or four manuscripts under his belt and no publications. I’d think, “Ifnothing has happened for me by next year, I’ll just publish this motherfuckeron my own.”
GNOH – In my review I rave about other Southern Writers, you are from the Southaren’t you?
GNOH – So why do you think there is such a rich tradition of Southern writing,especially Southern Horror?
TheSouth is oppressive in many ways. The heat, the social systems, the economy,the lack of education. From this environment, a lot of angst, self-doubt,guilt, terror, shame and fear grows. Those of my fellow Southerners who are literary minded, we have a lot ofmaterial to work with. Personally, most of my novels deal with theoppressiveness of family and station – it’s a subject my agent has pointed outruns through all of my books.
Andthere’s a tendency in the South to lionize our literary figures – WilliamFaulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Harper Lee, Tennessee Williams, William Gay, CormacMcCarthy, Charles Portis – all these figures cast long shadows and we’re alwaystrying to get out from under them, to make our own name. Maybe. It’s a thought.
GNOH – As someone whose only exposure to The South is through film and books,is there really a strong culture of politeness, or is this a racial stereotype,much like the mean Scotsman?
JHJ– No, not really. I guess if you go to Dallas, or Atlanta, or any other largeurban center in the south, you’ll get your share of rudeness, but politeness isabsorbed with mother’s milk. I was drilled at a young age to say “Yes, ma’am”and “No sir” invariably. My mother instructed me on the proper way to answer aphone, introduce myself at parties or to strangers, and how to introduceothers. By example, I learned to alwaysoffer guest comfort, something to eat or drink. “A firm handshake and a look inthe eye.” “The first day at school is the most important! You must look nice!The impression you make today will follow you through the rest of your time atschool!” These are real quotes from my mother and father. I went to Cotillion.My sister was a debutante. It’s really like that down here.
Onthe flipside, it’s really easy to turn politeness into another form of disdainfor your fellow man. People can use it as a shield to keep from truly engagingwith another person. It’s often the root of passive aggression. So that kindasucks.
GNOH – Music and its power to move plays a big role in thenovel, how important is music to you? And are you a fan of the blues?
JHJ– I am a fan of the blues, though I like all sorts of music. I’ve been asemi-professional musician for more than twenty years and played gigs all overthe South. So it’s very very important to me. My daughters pose questions to melike, “If you had to be blind or deaf, which would you choose?” I choose blindmore often than not, and imagine myself some modern day Milton dictating my day’swriting.
GNOH – The book has been getting some rave reviews, and alot of established authors have been talking about it. You must be overthe moon?
JHJ– Honestly, I’m very humbled by the reception SOUTHERN GODS has received. Tohave your friends tell you what you’ve done is good is one thing, but to getpraise from people you’ve read and admired is a whole ‘nother ball of wax, asmy father might say. To have the praise of real authors who know how hard it isto do, and fight the same fight, that is the most wonderful thing aboutbecoming an author.
GNOH – Have you ever consider getting a T –shirt printed with “The John HornorJacobs “ printed on it?
JHJ – Um…no. I’m proud of myself andconfident in what I do, but I couldn’t ever do that.
GNOH – How would you describe your writing style?
JHJ– That’s hard to describe, honestly. With each book I’ve written, I’ve trieddifferent things, different voices. SOUTHERN GODS was simple andstraightforward, but THIS DARK EARTH jumps around between different POVs withdifferent voices and styles – there’s even an epistolary chapter. THE TWELVEFINGERED BOY is a first person, present tense novel told from the point of viewof a fifteen year old. THE INCORRUPTIBLES is first person, past tense, and it’s180º from the one I wrote before it. So, I can’t really lock down my writingstyle.
Ido have a tendency to go into “poetical” prose, if left to my own devices, butI’ve become a good self-editor. I only do that now where the story merits it.
SOUTHERNGODS is pretty straight-forward. Raymond Chandler, Donald Westlake and othernoir writers influenced me during the writing of it.
GNOH – This has been one hell of a year for you? Did you ever feel like justgiving it up and sticking with the day job?
JHJ– Not really. It’s been a great year for me, book contract-wise. Thirty yearsago if I’d had all the book deals I’ve received this year, I would’ve been ableto quit my dayjob, easily. There’s just not that much money in publishing,anymore, as the whole world is discovering. And I’ve got two kids at privateschool, a mortgage, two cars. I ain’t coming off my lifestyle. But damn, itwould be fantastic to be a full-time writer. That’s just not in the cards forme for many years and then only if I get lucky. Which means, I need to focus onwriting the best damn novels I can to increase my chances of getting lucky.
Asan author, you have to talk about writing a lot and it’s easy to get distractedand start talking about the vagaries of publishing but in the end it alwayscomes back to this: write the best novelyou can. There’s nothing more you can do than that. Everything else is justa detail. Your work has to be the best it can be and everything else just flowsfrom that. And god help you if you’re just phoning it in BEFORE you getpublished.
GNOH- There is a wonderful acknowledgement at the start of SOUTHERN GODS to JoeHowe, of Dead in The South. It must have been great having someone whoseknowledge and love for the genre is so great backing your corner?
JHJ– Well, Joe was a very early reader and supporter of SOUTHERN GODS and he’salways given me unvarnished, well-reasoned advice, across the board. Hisknowledge of horror (and almost every other subject) is encyclopedic (thoughtI’m convinced he’s really quick to jump to the Googles, too). I’m really luckyto have his acquaintance and friendship. He’s liked some of my books, and likedothers less, but he speaks with a clearvoice and I listen to what he says as if it’s gospel. Most of the time.
GNOH – You also have THIS DARK EARTH being published by Gallery/Simon& Schuster next year. It’s a zombie novel if I’m not mistaken, sowhat makes your zombies different to those already out there?
JHJ– Absolutely nothing. They’re Romero zombies. Shamblers. However, the storyisn’t really zombie-centric, if you will. It’s more about the survivors of therise of the dead and the limited nuclear war that occurs in response to deadoverrunning the cities. While SOUTHERN GODS is horror, THIS DARK EARTH is moredystopian science fiction with horror elements. The real bad guys in TDE are,as always, other people. We truly are a monstrous species. Making most of thepopulation become mindless zombies is, in some ways, a kindness because itreduces their evil to instinct. But breathers, living human beings are far morefrightening.
GNOH – This year has also seen you sign a deal for your YA novel THE TWELVEFINGERED BOY, can you tell the readers a bit about this novel?
JHJ– THE TWELVE FINGERED BOY is the story about a juvenile delinquent namedShreve, who’s incarcerated in the Pulaski County Juvenile Detention Center forBoys. He’s a slickster – he deals candy to the other inmates (because he hasn’thad the time to move up to drugs) and he’s a smart ass. But his whole world isturned upside down when he’s assigned a new cellmate whom, he discovers, hassix fingers to a hand. And who might also have a deadly power he can’t control.When the mysterious Mr. Quincrux appears claiming he’s from the Department ofHealth and Human Services and who’s very interesting in Jack, Shreve’s twelvefingered cellmate, all shit breaks loose. They have to escape.
GNOH – Was this active decision to write a young adult novel, or was itsomething you just fell into?
JHJ– It was an active decision. I’ve always loved YA novels, even before they hadthat moniker. Since I was a kid, I’ve loved John Bellairs and as I grew older,I realized that these tales of teens have such a universal appeal because,well, we were all teenagers, once. Except for Joe Howe. He went from 12 to 40.
GNOH – How did the challenges of writing THE TWELVE FINGERED BOY differ tothose of writing your more adult novels?
JHJ– It’s interesting that people think that there’s some constraint on writingYA. You can deal with sexual issues, violence, abuse, neglect, addiction,homosexuality, what have you. The only constraints are that whatever yoursubject – say, a boy loosing his virginity or a girl dealing with rape – itcan’t be written gratuitously. And, you can’t write from a remove – no adultsremembering and reminiscing about their childhood. The protagonists have to bein the shit – totally involved – at thetime of the telling of the tale. Immediacy.
Also,because teenager have incredibly sensitive bullshit detectors, you have to beas honest as possible and DO NOT MORALIZE.
GNOH – How concerned are you with being pigeon-holed as a horror writer?
JHJ– I’m not too concerned about it. I’ve sold three books outside of horror, andif THE INCORRUPTIBLES sells as a series – which everyone seems confident itwill – it will firmly establish me as more than a horror author.
GNOH – Can you tell us about your association with Needle Magazine?
JHJ– I am the creative director there. It means, I design the cover, layout allthe stories and pretty much dictate how the magazine looks. As I said earlier,I’m late on getting it out.
GNOH – Do you think that your work with Steve Weddle, has helped your ownwriting in any way?
JHJ– My talks with Steve have definitely helped me. He’s a constant source of knowledgeand inspiration. Other than being a fantastic editor and co-conspirator, he’san amazing writer to boot. His as yet unreleased country noir collectionCOUNTRY HARDBALL is going to knock a lot of people on their collective asses.
GNOH – So what do you do to relax?
JHJ– The usual. Play with my kids. Play my guitar. Watch movies. Grill meats anddainty bits cut from the dead bodies of animals. Drink booze. Travel toglamorous and faraway locales.
GNOH – What does the future hold for you John?
JHJ– I don’t know but I damn sure hope it includes a sandwich. I’m hungry as hell.
Southern Gods is available in most good high street stores, as well as on line please click the links below and treat yourself to one damn fine novel