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Friday, June 13, 2014

Interview with John Hornor Jacobs (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Twelve-Fingered Boy
(Photo credit: Rick McFarland)

John Hornor Jacobs is a writer who has been flying under the radar for many a fantasy fan. He has written books in varied genres such as YA, Lovecraftian horror & post-apocalyptic zombie ones. His upcoming work The Incorruptibles is a fantasy world mixed in with Roman alternate history and certain wild west flourishes. In this interview, John was kind enough to talk about The Incorruptibles, the world he's created and why he keeps writing in such different genres. Read ahead and find out why you need to check out John's work...

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic. For starters, please introduce yourself, tell us what inspired you to write and describe your journey to becoming a published author?

JHJ: My name is John Hornor Jacobs and I am a writer of novels. As of right now, I have four out and four more slated for release in the coming three years. My books currently out are Southern Gods (Night Shade 2011), This Dark Earth (Simon & Schuster 2012), The Twelve-Fingered Boy (Carolrhoda Labs 2013), and The Shibboleth (Carolrhoda Labs 2014). Most of my books are dark, though I wouldn’t call them “grimdark” nor would I call all of them horror. Even my books that are marketed as horror.

Q] Many writers have a muse, who directs their writing, and others do not seem to be affected the same way. Which group do you fall into? What is your main motivation and source of inspiration? 

JHJ: Muses are fine for people without deadlines. But waiting around for the Muse to show up and whisper into one’s ear isn’t for me. In the beginning of a project, what drives me are the “What if…” questions and the “Wouldn’t it be cool?” brainstorming. Once the project has begun, it’s the characters living in my head and the pregnancy of the plot that keeps me writing.

As I’ve matured as a writer, I’ve slowed down my process some, focusing more on how I say things, my style and voice and tone, than plot (though plot remains important). And at a professional level – it’s kinda mercenary to say this – but money is also dominating factor in motivation. The sooner I produce what I’m contracted to produce, the quicker I get paid. On the real, as all the kids say.

Q] World-building is one of the key ingredients of epic fantasy. With regards to your upcoming fantasy debut, what do you think are the keys to successfully crafting a believable, yet fantastical world? 

JHJ: I think the key to world-building is that is must be a servant to the character’s story. I think a lot of fantasy fans are tired of the tropes of the 70s and 80s where authors spoon-fed them a metric shit ton of backstory, full of evil and magic artifacts and legacies, for the story to work. At least that’s my opinion and worth about as much as opinions do.

My approach to worldbuilding is one of extrapolation – again hitting on the “What if” questions. What if a society very much like Rome (in The Incorruptibles I didn’t try to obfuscate the origin and call it Rume) managed to continue to exist until the point of westward expansion and an industrial age? What if that industry was driven by what I call infernal combustion, energy derived from bound daemons. What would that world be like?

Q] The map (see above) which is featured in The Incorruptibles seems to be a facsimile of the North American continent. Is that coincidental or an intentional move? 

JHJ: Because The Incorruptibles is a fantasy, with western tropes, the country of Occidentalia is a stand-in for the United States. However, this isn’t an alternate history. It’s very loosely analogous. I like to describe my approach to writing “alternate history” as history three steps to the side, two steps back, and dressed in a Halloween costume.

Q] Can you tell us more about the world that the Incorruptibles is set in and some of the series’ major characters? What are curiosities (geographical, mystical, etc.) of this world? 

JHJ: When I first had the idea for The Incorruptibles, it came to me when I was reading a Louis L’Amour western. I’d never read many western novels, save for Charles PortisTrue Grit and Elmore Leonard’s early novels. Elmore Leonard’s westerns read like crime noir novels with horses, and so I wasn’t really prepared for the epic, flowery, good versus evil sensibilities of L’Amour’s style. I kept thinking to myself, take away the guns, and L’Amour would be writing fantasy, there were so many similarities.

So, I thought, what would it be like if early western-writing Elmore Leonard wrote a fantasy?

The curiosities of this world? Did I mention the daemons? There are daemons and lóng (dragons) and vorduluk and chiang-shih and sentient eels that get in your belly. And massive frilled snakes that are worshipped as gods. And fourteen foot tall vicious carnivorous elves.

As for gods there are multiple pantheons, depending on region. I've chucked out the Roman ones and supplanted them with some different ones, some of my own creation, some that have made appearances in my earlier books - my amalgam mythos I loosely refer to as The Prodigium. That pretty much covers it.

Q] In a blogpost, you mentioned a few things about Greco-Roman mythos and worlds in regards to your fantasy series. Can you expound a bit on that aspect and how you utilized it to flesh out your world? 

JHJ: I’m a fan of classical mythology and history, so there are a few referential Easter eggs in The Incorruptibles, (along with Southern Gods).

Q] So far you have written books in diverse genres focusing on southern gothic horror, post-apocalyptic zombies, teenage kids with super powers, etc. What is the reason for the genre wanderlust? 

JHJ: I’m creatively restless and I have no interest in writing the same book twice. Jumping genres has been to my detriment some – with every “debut” I have to jump-start my career – but in the end it allows me to focus on stories I want to tell and not rehash stuff I’ve already done.

Q] To any reader who hasn't read one of your books, how would you convince them to give one of your novels a try and which one would it be? 

JHJ: I’m a terrible salesman – “Hey, what’s it gonna take to get you into a copy of This Dark Earth, fella!?!” Authors often recommend people to read the first book in their series to hook them into the IP. I don’t ever try to do that. If I’m chatting with someone, I get to know what they like and make a recommendation – I simply hope they find something of my work that resonates with them and if they do, they most likely might enjoy my other books, despite the dissimilarities. Online? They can just read synopses on my website faster than I can tell them.

Most of my books are dark. Southern Gods is pretty much a dark fantasy – crime noir meets southern gothic meets cosmic Lovecraftian horror – and is not the happiest of works. This Dark Earth is post-apocalyptic, zombies and nuclear war. The Twelve-Fingered Boy and its sequel The Shibboleth are about broken children with superpowers. All of them, despite the genre trappings, really focus on character, character growth, family, and elemental human emotions coming from flawed, wounded, brave, tragic characters. So if any of that appeals to you, pick one. What’s it gonna take to get you into a copy of The Twelve-Fingered Boy?!?

Q] In the start of your career, you have written standalone stories before going on to a trilogy and now onto a series (hopefully). Was there any specific reason for writing such a way? Were there any other factors like publishers or lit agents that factored into this decision? 

JHJ: I wrote three novels before I had an agent. Two were standalones and one was the beginning of a series. Then I landed an agent and wrote another book – not the second in the series I’d already started, but a new novel in a new series – The Incorruptibles – because I didn’t want to write two books in an unsold series. What if they didn’t sell? I know an author who’s written two mystery novels with a detective and he can’t sell either of them.

Little did I know that within a year and a half my agent would have sold all of the books I’d written and their series. It put me in somewhat of a bind that only now am I coming out from under. In a year and change, I had to write three books which was hard on me. I’m not a fast writer though a lot of people think I am because I sold so many books so quickly.

Q] So far all your books have a strong geographical focus on the American south, what’s the reason for this fascination? 

JHJ: I’m from Arkansas, which is one of the poorest states in the union, and the most illiterate. My location informs my writing, though I’m not slavish about setting books here solely. The Shibboleth occurs in New York and Montana and The Incorruptibles occurs in a secondary world. I like writing about Arkansas and the south because of the hardness of the people and the environment – the heat, the poverty, the desperation. All of that makes for an excellent crucible in which to place my characters. But there’s nothing stopping me from exploring other locales or regions, either in the real world or in my imagination. Someday, I’d like to write a really cold book. Just absolutely frigid.

Q] On your Website, it’s mentioned that you have worked for fifteen years in advertising. How was that experience and did it in any way help you with your writing? 

JHJ: Working in advertising helped me in my writing by showing me that I’d rather write than work in advertising.

Q] What do you do when you aren't writing, what hobbies and proclivities engage you? 

JHJ: I’ve got kids, so we do a lot of stuff together. We all take martial arts classes at the same dojo. We’re lucky to have a lakehouse, and spend time there in the summer. I used to play guitar semi-professionally, but don’t anymore though I still play occasionally on camping trips or at parties. We do lots of arts and crafts and we try to travel when we can. I’ve started bringing my kids with me to conventions because, like kids do, they love staying in hotels and their presence tend to keep me from being too stupid with the drink and late nights.

Q] In closing, are there any final thoughts or comments that you'd like to share with your readers? What can we look forward to you in the future? 

JHJ: Well, I’m glad you gave me the opportunity to answer these questions. This summer, folks in the UK will be able to pick up the first in my fantasy series The Incorruptibles in hardback, trade, and audiobook. Matter of fact, right now you can pre-order it for £1.99 in ebook format, which is a bargain, whatever country you’re in.

Next year will see the release of The Conformity, the conclusion to my young adult trilogy that began with The Twelve-Fingered Boy. It will also see the publication of Foreign Devils the second book in The Incorruptibles series.

I’ve got a secret project that is secret. Super-duper secret. But it will be awesome. And I’ve got a bunch more books planned. Thanks again for having me!

NOTE: Author picture courtesy of Rick McFarland, Ron Wolfe & Arkansas Online. Map and all other pictures courtesy of John Hornor Jacobs.


Mulluane said...

Great interview!

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