Welcome back to this month’s Featured Author Friday! Most people are familiar with the more established authors but this feature focuses on introducing some of our favorite authors that you might not know about. Today we are featuring an urban fantasy writer with an amazing debut novel — Mr. JD Horn! AH and I both loved his first novel, The Line, so much that we knew we had to feature him here. Read on to learn more about JD and his witchy world of Savannah!
Q & A Time with JD Horn
Badass Book Reviews: Welcome, JD! So, how did you begin writing and what made you choose the urban fantasy genre?
JD Horn: Oddly, I began with no plan to write Urban Fantasy. I had intended The Line to be Southern Gothic with strong paranormal elements. The setting was to be “Taylors Ferry,” a small town in Georgia that magic made a near Brigadoon. The witches who lived there used magic to make sure it never made it on to an official map (or satellite photo for that matter), and only those who magic invited ever found their way to it. Taylors Ferry was to be my answer to Charlaine Harris’s wonderful Bon Temps, Louisiana. The problem with the setting I created was that in cutting it off from the real world, I cut it off from any life force. Unlike Bon Temps, Taylors Ferry fell flat.
I struggled to make my manufactured village breathe. I pored over the Georgia map to find the ideal place to plunk Taylors Ferry, only to have my eyes return again and again to Savannah, a city I first became familiar with thanks to Margaret Wayt Debolt’s Savannah Spectres and Other Strange Tales. I was a little leery of attempting to use a city already so indelibly linked to a best seller, John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, but the more I read about Savannah, the more my gut told me I needed to scuttle Taylors Ferry and move the Taylors there. I had already committed to the idea before even setting foot in Savannah. Once I laid eyes on Savannah, I knew the story I wanted to tell could take place nowhere else. Still, even then, I had not realized how much of a role Savannah would come to play in molding The Line. Savannah became more than the setting, it became a character in its own right.
BaBR: What is the biggest challenge to writing a believable fantasy world?
JDH: Grounding fantastical events in relatable emotions. It’s fun to create these crazy scenarios, but then as a writer you have to stop and ask yourself how you would feel—truly feel—in that situation. Sometimes it takes a lot of soul searching, and you have to explore some pretty dark places to find an acceptable emotional equivalent to help you describe your character’s reaction.
BaBR: Who is your favorite character that you’ve created?
JDH: I know it sounds a bit crazy that I am drawn to talk about my characters like real people, but this question feels on par with “Which of your children is your favorite?” It’s a tough one to answer. Often what makes me really like a character me is the degree to which they backtalk me and refuse to cooperate, as it tells me they’re alive. If I were to base my answer on this, I would have a three-way tie between Oliver, Jilo and our own Miss Mercy.
My characters—like their creator—are all deeply flawed. That was intentional. Even the Mercy we meet at the beginning of The Line is prone to a self-centered insecurity similar to what a lot of us experienced at her age. (Well, to be honest, I sometimes still do.)
I don’t believe we live in a world of pure saints and dastardly sinners, and my work reflects my experience that life is filled with a great deal of ambiguity. As the series progresses, readers will find that the world of Witching Savannah is peopled with characters who are capable of bending toward darkness or turning toward the light, often the one move separated by just a few paragraphs from the other. I ask my readers to allow themselves to care for characters who demonstrate equivocal behavior as the layers are peeled back to reveal their true nature.
Still, there is one character who has demonstrated the depth and the strength to handle anything I toss out at her, and that is Ellen, Mercy’s beautiful, whoring, alcoholic aunt. If I could choose to meet any of my characters, it would be Ellen, if only because she deserves the chance to slap me cross-eyed. Is she my favorite? That I cannot say—my other kids may be listening.
BaBR: Can you give us a peek into your writing space?
JDH: A bit cluttered, but functional. Nice daylight basement space.
BaBR: Are there any occupational hazards to being a writer?
JDH: Yes, sitting too much.
BaBR: What would you say are the most important attributes to remaining sane as a writer?
JDH: Oh my goodness. You think I’m sane. Okay, I’ll roll with that.
I was thrilled when The Line recently passed 2,000 reviews on Amazon. It’s amazing to me that so many people have read my book, let alone cared enough to take the time to post their thoughts. Still “review land” can be a dangerous neighborhood for a writer to wander around in. The best advice I have received along these lines is to realize that reviews—the good, the bad and the meh—are intended for readers, not for the author. For this reason, I do my best to avoid reading reviews.
I also consider it important to get outside every day into the real world, away from the little worlds I’ve created in my own head. I think it is also essential to have a network of other writers to turn to, other folk who are sharing experiences much like your own.
BaBR: What do you consider your biggest success? Your biggest failure?
JDH: So far I suspect I have seen neither. Watch this space.
BaBR: And finally, do you have any favorite books or authors?
JDH: The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (Ginsburg translation). Armistead Maupin and his Tales of the City series. Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman. Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Charlaine Harris and her Sookie stories. King’s The Shining. Straub’s Ghost Story. H.P. Lovecraft (whose mythology I found very influential, and whose Brown Jenkin gets an affectionate shout out in The Source). Steinbeck’s East of Eden and The Grapes of Wrath. Can’t forget Rice’s The Witching Hour.
All About The Author
J. D. Horn was raised in rural Tennessee, and has since carried a bit of its red clay in him while traveling the world, from Hollywood, to Paris, to Tokyo. He studied comparative literature as an undergrad, focusing on French and Russian in particular. He also holds an MBA in international business and worked as a financial analyst before becoming a novelist. He has race bibs from two full marathons and about thirty half marathons. He and his spouse, Rich, and their three pets split their time between Portland, Oregon and San Francisco.
The Line is his first published work.
Bring On The Books!
The Witching Savannah Series
JD Horn’s debut urban fantasy series featuring an intriguing take on witches that is set in Savannah, Georgia
Move over, Sookie Stackhouse—the witches of Savannah are the new talk of the South. Bold, flirty, and with a touch of darkness, debut author J.D. Horn spins a mesmerizing tale of a family of witches . . . and the problem that can arise from being so powerful. As Charlaine Harris’ series winds down—and as Deborah Harkness’ series heats up—Witching Savannah is new contemporary fantasy that will be sure to enchant new readers.
Mercy Taylor, the youngest member of Savannah’s preeminent witching family, was born without the gift of magic. She is accustomed to coming in a distant second to the minutes older, exquisite and gifted twin she adores. Hopelessly in love with her sister’s boyfriend, she goes to a Hoodoo root doctor for a love spell. A spell that will turn her heart to another man, the best friend who has loved her since childhood.
Aunt Ginny, the family’s matriarch, would not approve. But Mercy has more to worry about than a love triangle when Aunt Ginny is brutally murdered. Ginny was the Taylor family’s high commander in the defense of the bewitched line that separates humankind from the demons who once ruled our realm.
A demon invasion looms now that the line is compromised. Worse yet, some within the witching world stand to gain from a demon takeover. Mercy, entangled in the dark magic of her love spell, fighting for her sister’s trust, and hopelessly without magic, must tap the strength born from being an outcast to protect the line she doesn’t feel a part of…
In this riveting contemporary fantasy, Horn delivers the full betrayal, blood, and familial discord of the best of Southern gothic.
Graceful trees and historic buildings fill Savannah, Georgia, but beneath the city’s Southern splendor, its supernatural roots run deep. The members of local witch families grace the society pages…when they’re not secretly protecting their magical work from dark forces.
Savannah resident Mercy Taylor may now be in control of the South’s most powerful family of witches, but she’s struggling to master her newfound magic. Pregnant with her first child and still reeling from a heartbreaking betrayal, she just wants to be able to use her supernatural abilities without accidentally destroying dishes or blasting the doors off buildings.
But when Mercy’s long-presumed-dead mother suddenly returns, begging Mercy to keep her presence under wraps, the witch wonders how many secrets her family is hiding…and who she can really trust. And when the danger around her intensifies to deadly levels, Mercy knows she must discover the truth behind her family’s magic—before it destroys her.
The second book in J.D. Horn’s Witching Savannah series, The Source casts a thrilling spell.
Coming June 3rd 2014
Ready for some Taylor Family Gossip?
BaBR: We really enjoyed your fresh take on witches and the amount of research you put into the characters and the world you created. For example, you used the Golem as a tool for the other witches to communicate which is a very intriguing use of this particular creature. What kind of research did you need to do to create the world of Witching Savannah?
JDH: I am so glad you liked Emmet. The character count explodes when we move into the part of The Line where Ginny’s successor is to be selected. I wanted a way to include the nine other loyal witch families without introducing nine more characters at that point. As with Jilo, Emmet began to write himself, so I decided to have the power of the line turn him into a “real boy” as Mercy later says. As an integrated personality, he plays a major role in The Source and The Void. (A bit of trivia, “emet” means “truth” in Hebrew, and in some golem stories, this word is written on the golem’s forehead. This is where Mercy came up with the name “Emmet.”)
As far as research goes, I read a lot about Savannah, its history and its hauntings. (James Caskey’s Haunted Savannah, Tobias McGriff’s Savannah Shadows, and Murray Silver’s Behind the Moss Curtain all helped shape the Witching Savannah series.) There was also a lot of “boots on the ground” research too, including tours with Shannon Scott and others. (If you can’t make it to Savannah to do a tour in person, you can find Shannon Scott’s fascinating “America’s Most Haunted City” video on Amazon.)
Still, I cannot honestly say that outside of Hoodoo and boo hags, much research went into The Line’s more fantastical elements. Instead they grew out of the synthesis of a lifelong interest in mythology and the paranormal. Erich von Danikan and Zacharia Sitchin folded into H.P. Lovecraft, Dionne Fortune and Alistair Crowley. Ancient Aliens and Coast-to-Coast AM blended with “Dark Shadows,” “The Night Stalker,” and “The X Files.” I had all kinds of arcane anecdotes and conspiracy theories bumping around in my brain for years just itching for a chance to come out.
BaBR: Jilo is one of our favorite characters. We really did not know what to expect with her, or whose side she was on. Was she modeled on anyone in particular?
JDH: I’m not quite sure where Mother Jilo Wills came from. I had not even intended on her being a character in the series. I had originally envisioned Martell Burke, Jilo’s great-grandson, playing a much greater role in The Line. He and Mercy were to become unlikely friends while working to get to the bottom of what happened to Ginny. That would have made for a very different book! During my first research trip to Savannah, though, I was reminded of Hoodoo, the magical system that is the Low Country’s response to New Orleans’s Voodoo. I remembered how much flavor Minerva lent to Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, so I got the inspiration to link Martell to Hoodoo just to give the story a little more Low Country feel.
I read a book on Hoodoo and did a bit of research on the Gullah people, its practitioners, and their language. I had intended to make reference to Jilo at the point where Adam first mentions Martell to the Taylors, and that was to be the full extent of her role. But then she started talking to me. “Jilo, she know this story. She tell you what happen.” The words hit me from nowhere, and rather than calling to have my medication adjusted, I ran with it. The odd grammar. The insistence on speaking about herself in the third person. Jilo took root and spread out forward and backward throughout the entire story. She had so much life in her, that Martell began to disappear from the landscape. So I wrote exactly that. After Martell is wrongfully accused of Ginny’s murder, Jilo helps him escape by turning him invisible. Even though Martell is hanging out with Jilo at the end of The Line, we don’t “see” Martell again until well into The Source.
BaBR: Mercy’s character undergoes a lot of change from the beginning of The Line to the end of that book. What can we expect of her in the new book?
JDH: A lot more change. When we first meet Mercy, she is the spoiled princess living in her familiar world where all her stars are fixed, but The Line is only the beginning of Mercy’s “hero’s journey.” Admittedly, I don’t follow the customary order of the steps in Joseph Campbell’s “monomyth,” and I invert the implied significance of a lot of the points when they do arrive, but make no mistake, my goal with Mercy was to tap into deep mythical currents. The hero’s journey is all about transformation, and Mercy will be transformed. If I have done my job right, the reader, too, will leave the series somewhat transformed by Mercy’s experiences.
On top of that, near the end of The Line, Mercy learns that she is expecting. She no longer has the luxury of being the most important person in her own life. I’m probably wrong on this, but I suspect Mercy may be the first pregnant UF heroine. I hope so, ‘cause I think that would be incredibly cool.
BaBR: We loved the Liar’s tour of Savannah. What a great idea! Have you ever thought of doing a virtual Liar’s Tour for your blog?
JDH: Thank you! The idea for the Liar’s Tour came to me by happy accident. A new tour guide inspired me when he flubbed and told a story about one location at the site of another. I realized he could be making things up, and the group would be none the wiser.
The idea of a virtual Liar’s Tour is brilliant, but it was a bit tougher coming up with entertaining lies for the Liar’s Tour than it might seem. I am a southern boy, but had never been to Savannah until I started researching it for The Line. I had to familiarize myself well enough with Savannah’s historic core to know enough to lie about it. I keep hoping that if the series catches on, though, the natives will take over, and one of the tour companies will want to create a real Liar’s Tour.
What I love about the Liar’s Tour is that even though it fades away from the surface in The Line, it serves as the underpinning for the entire series. There are hints as to what I mean by this in The Source (Witching Savannah #2), but I don’t think readers will understand until the end of the trilogy (The Void, coming October 28th). I hope everyone experiences a satisfying “aha” moment when we get there.
BaBR: We were a little thrown off by the main character’s name at the very beginning of the book because we have been reading the Mercy Thompson series for so long. We did settle in with her quickly and that other Mercy was soon forgotten. Did you have any specific reason for naming your character “Mercy?”
JDH: I’m afraid there is no hidden significance behind the choice. I just love the name. If I had ever had daughters, I would have probably named them Mercy and Hope. That being said, there is a magic in naming. Mercy, the character, grew into her name. With a different name, she might well have been a different personage.
I am exceedingly happy that I was ignorant of Mercy Thompson until my book was sold, otherwise I might have felt compelled to go with a different name. (I know, I know. I’ll give you the address to the cave I was living in if you’d like. There are some wonderful paintings on the wall. Also, Ms. Briggs, if you ever see this, please don’t hate me for being the natural born fool that I am.)
BaBR: Is there any chance we might get a prequel novella or short story showing Peter’s interaction with Jilo when he went to her for the spell?
JDH: Be careful what you wish for. I have been contemplating—er, I mean Jilo has been pushing for—a prequel that would be much more than a novella. If the trilogy does well, I can see a prequel centered on Jilo, showing how she grew from a soft-hearted, educated, scientifically-minded young woman to the callous Hoodoo Queen whom Mercy encounters in Colonial Cemetery. Oh. Jilo just told me she doesn’t like being called callous. Yes, there is some life in this story.
BaBR: Will we learn more about the witch families that abandoned the line in The Source?
JDH: Yes and no. We don’t encounter a whole slew of new characters, but we learn a lot more about Erik’s family. What Mercy learns about her own heritage spins the story off in a (hopefully) fresh and unexpected direction. And I can’t say more than that without getting into spoiler territory.
Does Witching Savannah sound like your kind of series? We are offering up one Kindle e-book copy of either The Line or The Source for one lucky reader! You must be able to accept Kindle e-books but otherwise, this giveaway is open to all readers. You get to choose whether you want book #1 or book #2! Use the rafflecopter below for your chance to win. Contest ends at midnight on May 30th 2014.
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