Please welcome author J.D. Horn to my blog. Today, he releases Jilo, the fourth book in the Witching Savannah series. Be sure to check out the excerpt from Jilo after the interview!
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I completed my first—and, as yet, still unpublished novel—twenty years ago. Eighteen years later my novel The Line landed me as an official nominee in the category of best debut author in the 2014 Goodreads Choice Awards. (So if your dream is to become a published author, keep the faith and don’t give up.) I may have only come in 16th place, but considering the competition, I am quite pleased with the result. My books have now been/are being translated into eight languages (Russian, Polish, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Turkish, Romanian).
What or who inspired you to start writing?
I always wanted to tell stories, but it was the Armistead Maupin’s “Tales of the City” series that actually gave me the push to try. His light and engaging way of dealing with complex and often heartbreaking issues inspired me.
Do you outline your books or just start writing?
I start out with a broad summary—basically what I’ve promised my editor I’m going to write—and then sit at the keyboard until the characters tell me what’s really going to happen. If I’d stuck to an outline, Jilo—the titular character of my newest release—would never have made her way into The Line, as she didn’t reveal herself until my fourth (or maybe fifth) run at the book. As I tell my publisher whenever I present them with a proposal, my writing process resembles what happens when you store your carry-on luggage in a plane’s overhead bin. At the other end of the journey you find pretty much what you expect, but the contents may have shifted during flight.
Please tell us about your current release.
Jilo is the fourth book in the Witching Savannah series, but as a prequel, it offers a new window into the Witching Savannah world—a reader doesn’t need to read the other three books in the series to enjoy Jilo.
In The Line, when we first meet the character of Jilo, she is a sharp-tongued, secretive, octogenarian with an axe to grind. Savannah’s foremost practitioner of Hoodoo, coastal Georgia and South Carolina’s equivalent of Voodoo, Jilo presents herself as a frightful and unsophisticated personage. Over the series, as the layers are stripped away, readers come to see Jilo as an intelligent, educated, and highly sympathetic character. Jilo may have captured the hearts and imaginations of tens of thousands of readers, but her biggest fan remains her creator. When given the chance to expand on the Witching Savannah (at the time) trilogy, I didn’t have a single doubt as to which character I wanted to spend more time with, and get to know better.
While the other books in the series (The Line, The Source, and The Void) are contemporary, Jilo covers a period running from 1932 into 1960, shedding light on how the series’ arguably most popular character grew into the beloved, but not to be trifled with, Mother Jilo.
What kind of research did you do for this book?
Research is very important to me. I did a lot of “boots on the ground” research in Savannah when writing the contemporary portion of the series. I’ve even had readers tell me they’ve carried The Line along with them as an ersatz travel guide. I went back again while writing Jilo to delve into the Hostess City’s not so pleasant past, spending many, many hours going through newspaper microfiche, speaking to longtime Savannah residents, visiting the sites of long since demolished buildings and even entire neighborhoods that have been erased from the map.
If you could be one of the characters from any of your books, who would it be and why?
That’s easy. Oliver Taylor from the Witching Savannah series. He’s handsome, never seems to age, can charm people into doing whatever he wants, and he gets away with making the comments I have to keep in my head.
Do you have an all time favorite book?
I do. Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. A beautiful book about love, writing, and a cocktail party thrown by Satan.
If you could meet two authors, who would you pick and why?
If we’re talking living writers, strangely, I kind of, sort of, have met the two writers I’d pick. I bumped into Armistead Maupin on the corner of 18th and Castro in San Francisco back in the mid-nineties, but didn’t have the nerve to say hello. He smiled. I smiled. The light changed.
I’m going to cheat a bit and mention Charlaine Harris and Anne Rice in one breath, as both have been very influential on my writing. I had the chance to say hello to Charlaine at a book signing a couple of years back, and then had the opportunity to gaze at her from across a crowded room when she spoke at the International Thriller Writers’ 2015 ThrillerFest. I also attended the awards dinner at the previous year’s ThrillerFest where Anne Rice was a speaker. So, I’m not besties with either of them, but it was great to get even that close.
Excerpt from Jilo
“Thank you, Pastor,” Jesse’s mama said, placing her hand on his shoulder. Pastor Jones looked at her, Bible still held high, seeming to deliberate whether or not he should shrug her off and carry on. “I do so appreciate you coming out today,” May added in a sincere tone. Jesse knew his mama, though, and despite her calm demeanor, he knew she’d heard enough. The preacher had been given more than enough time to speak of wheat and chaff and wise virgins with well-trimmed wicks. The look on her face was the one she used when placating anyone in authority—usually the buckra, but occasionally one of their own. “We need to be getting the babies and the old folk out of the sun before one of them falls ill.”
The young man searched her face for a moment, then acquiesced. “Thank you, sister,” he said, taking a step back from the head of the grave.
Jesse’s mama smiled again at the preacher. “You go on, now,” she said, dismissing him in no uncertain terms. “We can handle it from here.” Jones lingered for a moment, as if considering whether he should listen, then nodded and walked away from the grave, passing by Jesse and his family on his way to the cemetery gate. He hesitated a moment when he reached Jesse’s daughters, who watched the young pastor with listless trepidation. Opal shifted Jilo, balancing the baby on her hip. Jones reached out to pat Poppy’s head, but then stopped dead at the sight of Jilo, doll-like in her starched white cap and gown. The pastor pulled his hand back slowly and hurried on toward the gate. Silence fell over the group until he was well beyond the boundary.
“Opal,” his mother called. Jesse’s eyes darted to his daughter.
“Yes’m.” The girl startled and straightened to attention at the sound of her nana’s voice.
“You bring your sister on up here,” Jesse’s mama instructed. “Bring Jilo to me.”
Jesse felt Betty tensing beside him. “You stay right where you are, girl,” Betty said, wagging her finger at Opal, who seemed nearly split in two by her desire to please both her nana and her mama at the same time. “What you need my Jilo for?” Betty took a few steps forward. Jesse couldn’t help but notice that she had moved toward his mother, ready for confrontation, rather than toward her baby, ready to protect.
He knew there was no need to protect Jilo from anything that was going to happen here, so while Betty geared herself up for a shouting matching with his mama, he stepped back and approached the girls. “Let me have her,” he said with a nod to Opal. Her face relaxed in gratitude as she handed the baby over.
Jesse took Jilo in both hands and shifted her into the crook of his arm. He leaned his head over to plant a kiss on her round cheek, then reached out and ran his thumb over Opal’s cheek as well. Over the sound of their mama’s indignant shouting, Jesse winked and said, “Your daddy has the best girls in the whole wide world; you know that, don’t you?” A smile curved on Opal’s lips, and she blinked once before nodding her response.
“And you, my little flower?” he said, turning toward Poppy, who scurried up to him and hugged his leg. He patted her head. “I love my girls,” he said. “All three of them.” When Poppy released him and slid back next to Opal, he closed his eyes for a moment before turning to face the scene unfolding behind him.
“And I,” Betty said, waving her finger in his mama’s face, “am not gonna have my babies take part in any of the old woman’s Hoodoo. You hear me?”
“Jilo,” his mama replied in her calmest voice, even though the angry set of her mouth and the crease that lined the center of her forehead told Jesse she was anything but relaxed, “is the last born. You want to be good and clear of the old woman”–her head rocked in indignation–“then we need to pass Jilo over the coffin.”
Jesse had almost reached his mother’s side when Betty caught sight of him. She pushed roughly past the mourners who didn’t have the sense to part between them like the Red Sea at the wave of Moses’s staff. “Gimme the girl.”
Jesse took a step backward and placed his hand over the back of Jilo’s little capped head. “It’s our way.”
“It may be your way, but it ain’t my way, and she’s my child.” Betty now stood within spitting distance of him, her chest and shoulders heaving. She flung out her arms, grasping at the linen of Jilo’s gown.
There was no way he was relinquishing the girl to those clenched and angry hands. “She’s my child, too.” For a moment, Betty’s face froze. Then her eyes narrowed, and she tilted her head. Her lips parted, readying to speak the truth that his cousins had been whispering behind his back, the truth his gut already knew. The truth that his own heart told him was the greatest lie of all. But then she stopped. Her tongue darted out of her mouth and licked her lips instead.
She gestured with a wide wave of her arm that included him, his mother, the casket, and the baby. “All right, y’all heathens go right on ahead. Y’all do what you need to do.” She spun around and stomped off, heading toward the gate.
Opal and Poppy started to take off after her, but their mother swung her hand back, signaling for them to stay put. Jesse could read the worry and confusion on their little faces from a hundred paces. “You come up here with Daddy and Nana,” he called to them. They hesitated, keeping an eye on their mother’s receding back. “Come on,” he said and urged them forward with a wave of his free hand. The two girls joined hands and walked forward with some lingering trepidation.
Jesse’s mother positioned herself on the opposite side of the coffin. He shifted Jilo off his shoulder, taking her in both hands. She gurgled with laughter, a bit of drool falling from the side of her mouth. Her black eyes twinkled with such love and intelligence, so much soul. It was like she’d already lived a thousand lives, and held every secret of the universe in her chubby, damp hands. He pulled her in close and placed a kiss on her forehead, then reached her over the casket to his mother.
His mama’s calloused, yet gentle, hands brushed his. As he let Jilo drop into her grasp, his ears were met with a loud pop, and his eyes registered a flash of bluish light. Everyone stood there gaping in silent amazement. Jilo squealed happily and reached her chubby arms across the void of his nana’s grave toward him, a joyous mystery playing in her eyes.
1950s Georgia: King Cotton has fallen. Savannah is known as the “beautiful woman with a dirty face,” its stately elegance faded by neglect, its soul withering from racial injustice and political corruption.
The dark secrets of Savannah are intertwined with the story of the young Jilo Wills who rises to become a legendary part of the most powerful family of witches in the South. The origins of the famed Taylor witch family finds its roots with Jilo’s great-grandmother and her grandmother, both who used their sorcery to influence the city’s power brokers. The two matriarchs, however, die before they can provide Jilo with a solid education in the magical arts. In desperation to make a quick buck, Jilo takes advantage of the family’s reputation and her scant magical knowledge to create a “Mother Jilo” persona. But soon, Jilo is forced to accept the full weight of her legacy when it becomes clear she is the one that the mystical witch world has been waiting for. Jilo becomes the unbreakable link between the past and future witches of Savannah.
In this standalone introduction to one of the Witching Savannah series’ most vivid and beloved characters, readers are swept away by the resourceful and determined Jilo as she comes of age, strives to master formidable magical skills in the face of overwhelming adversity, and forges her strange destiny against the turbulent backdrop of the civil rights struggle in the American South.
About the Author
J.D. Horn was raised in rural Tennessee and has carried a bit of its red clay with 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. Along with his spouse, Rich, and his furry coauthors, Duke and Sugar, he divides his time between Black Butte Ranch, Oregon, and San Francisco, California. Previous titles in the Witching Savannah series are The Line, The Void and The Source.
You can find out more about J.D. Horn’s series on his website.
Jilo can be purchased on Amazon.