10 Questions with John Hornor Jacobs
The only novelist currently working that I can compare John Hornor Jacobs to is Joe R. Lansdale. Not so much because of the tone of narrative voice, but because of the diversity of storytelling and sheer production. Over the last several years, Jacobs has published a short story collection, Fierce as the Grave; the cthulhu-tinged gothic horror novel (and my favorite horror novel of the past decade), Southern Gods; the zombie apocalypse novel, This Dark Earth; two YA superhero novels (is the YA superhero novel a new genre?) The Twelve-Fingered Boy, and its sequel, The Shibboleth; and the forthcoming epic fantasy/alt-history, The Incorruptibles. And even though Jacobs would probably deny it, the man is most definitely on a creative roll.
What was the first story you ever wrote, and what happened to it?
In the late 70s and early 80s, my dad would terrorize me with talk of nuclear destruction — and movies like The Day After didn’t help. I was always frightened that at any moment I’d see a flash of white in the sky and then be vaporized. I would fantasize about building a bomb shelter, drawing sketches — and even went so far as to begin digging one out in our backyard until my mom stopped me when she discovered what I was doing. That’s how the Cold War had us then. There wasn’t a day I didn’t think about a nuclear holocaust. I hated thunderstorms because when lightning would flash, I’d stay awake fearful each flash of light was a hydrogen bomb exploding in our atmosphere. God, I was a fucked up kid, now that I think about it.
Not surprisingly, the first story I wrote was a post-apocalyptic tale about a guy who has to fight radioactive mutant wolves. I think my mom still has a copy of it somewhere. I’ll ask her if she still has it and if she does, I’ll scan and link.
When you sold your first piece of writing, how did you celebrate?
When I received my first advance check for Southern Gods, I took my family to St. Louis and we got a suite at the Park Chase Plaza. I hired a babysitter through my friend Erik Smetana and I attended Noir at the Bar with my wife while the kids swam in the pool and gorged themselves on sweets and movies. Frank Bill, Matt McBride, Dan O’Shea, Jed Ayres, Scott Phillips — got to meet and read with all those fine folk. Good times.
Tell us about your process: Pen, paper, word processor, human blood when the moon is full... how do you write?
Last few novels, I used Scrivener. I’ll loosely outline a book with simple plot points — scenes really — and nothing more, print it out, and then start writing on my computer. I don’t long hand anything other than maybe a first draft of an outline.
For a year or so I was a full-time writer (my agent sold quite a few books all at once and I had to quit my job to write them), so I had all the time in the world to waste thinking about writing and not actually writing. A writer will go to any length to protect his or her writing time, and then find thousands of ways to squander it. I am the same.
As for process, I write the book straight through, beginning to end. I don’t write out of order, that seems a way for me to screw everything up. Continuity, development of tone and atmosphere, style, voice — all of those things, for me, come from a linear trudge through the narrative. An accretion of narrative, like congestion of the heart. YMMV. I try to get at least 2000 words a day but now I’m back at a rather demanding day job, if I get 1000 words I’m okay with that. I am, however, late delivering a book and have edits due but my boss doesn’t care and seems to want me to work late evenings. Pushing back hard on that score.
What's the biggest mistake you've made as a writer?
Gods, that’s a hard one. Probably not being fearless enough in my style or story. And I’ve acted like an idiot occasionally at conventions and to people.
Writing mistakes? I’ve committed them all. Everything they tell you not to do. Somehow I’ve managed to still get published.
My wife tells me that I need to write longer books. That they’re too short. She likes lots of description of everything and I’m pretty terse when it comes to slathering on the details. So, that’s not really a mistake, but it’s something I’m trying different now, letting the “camera” linger a little longer on the world, the characters, their internal dialogues.
I’m totally not going to tell you the biggest mistake I’ve made. This is the Internet, man. It’ll follow me for the rest of my life.
Which fictional character would you most like to have a drink with, and why?
Madame Bovary, if you know what I mean.
What kind of catharsis did you achieve from your latest work?
Kidding. The last book I finished writing was the last book in my young adult trilogy. All the characters went to their fates and some of that was hard because I’d been living with them for so many years. It was a bitter-sweet process, truly, but not so bitter-sweet that I didn’t give each character what he or she deserved. In wrapping up a trilogy, you have to evaluate each character, each story arc, and see if you’ve fulfilled the promise of them by the end. Each character needs a fitting end that only that character could have. I think. I could be wrong. Probably am.
Where do you buy your books?
WordsWorth Books in Little Rock is my go to indie. I also tend to buy nice candles for my wife, mom, and sister there. The women in my family love some nice, high-dollar candles. Voluspa and shit. But they tend to move a lot of copies of The Twelve-Fingered Boy, and so I drop in every couple of weeks to sign stock and usually end up buying a book or something.
I’ll hit Barnes & Noble when I want to check out graphic novels or my kids want a larger selection. I buy books at Amazon.com, too, when I need something that I can’t find in a local store. I’m not finicky about where I buy. Maybe I should be.
How do you handle a bad review of your work?
I care too much about crap like that, so if I can determine it’s a bad review in the first few sentences, I’ll stop reading. I don’t need to have my testicles stomped every time someone dislikes my books. Of course, those reviewers are idiots, anyway.
Except when they’re not. And that’s when it really sucks.
I try to remember that the more negative reviews one gets the more exposure a book has — that you’re reaching audiences that don’t normally fall in your genre/subject “wheelhouse” — but it’s hard when the reviewers are especially nasty. There are some reviewers that take much pleasure being shits about the whole deal.
What's the worst advice you hear authors give writers?
All advice is good advice. All advice is bad advice.
Everyone’s process is their own, and everyone’s art is subjective, so the real pursuit of every writer is to figure what works for them, what doesn’t, and how to get to THE END. It’s mutable and liquid, the process, and will change from project to project, so we’re always considering how we’re doing something. And because we’re writers, we tend to write about our process — the Internet is full of advice. We pick and choose things that work for us. Some are process related. Some are stylistic. Some focus on macro-structure, some are pure micro focused, dealing with diction on a sentence to phrase level. Every book you read will shift your internal equilibrium one way or another and show you different ways of achieving the end.
Because every writer’s process is so personal, it’s important you’re open to all advice but possessed of enough confidence to disregard that which doesn’t work for you. You know the advice to not use adverbs? Tell that to J.K. Rowling. Her work’s rife with it — I’m sure she loses sleep thinking about how her style isn’t up to snuff.
You’ve tackled a wide range of genres as a storyteller — from gothic horror and apocalypse fiction to superheroes and epic fantasy/alternate history in your latest novels. What other genres do you want to write? Do you see yourself ever writing hard science fiction or a crime novel?
I think my next book will be a big Southern novel, straight fiction, no genre elements. Just dysfunctional families over many generations. I’ve got a massive historical fiction novel I’d like to write, and the idea for a crime novel. And more genre works. I’ll just have to see which strikes my fancy once my plate is clear. I should, probably, keep writing in fantasy because those books are lucrative and jumping from genre to genre means I have to reboot my career with each new book — maybe that’s my biggest mistake, hmm — but I’m creatively restless so that probably won’t happen. But I won’t say never. If The Incorruptibles is successful as I hope it will be, I’ll write more books like it to solidify my reputation in that genre, rather than reboot.
Hell, I don’t know what I’m gonna do until I do it. I’ll let you know then.
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