Today’s Featured Author – J. D. Horn

Today I welcome my first author of 2018 – J.D. Horn – to my blog. His latest book, The King of Bones and Ashes, will be released Tuesday, January 23. Be sure to check out the excerpt after his author interview.

Interview

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a Wall Street Journal bestselling author. My first published book, The Line, came out in February 2014, and earned me a spot as as an official nominee in the category of best debut author in the 2014 Goodreads Choice Awards. Three other titles (The Source, The Void, and Jilo) have been published as part of the Witching Savannah series. The Witching Savannah series has now been/is being translated into eight languages (Russian, Polish, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Turkish, Romanian). I have also had one standalone novel (Shivaree) published. Shivaree is kind of my ugly baby. Not nearly as popular as the other books, but in my opinion either ties with or comes in second to Jilo as my best published novel to date. Fingers crossed that The King of Bones and Ashes outdoes both.

I’m married, have two step-daughters who both graduate from law school in 2018, and I’m the proud pet father of the world’s most wonderful Chihuahua. He was a rescue boy who rescued me. (Adopt, don’t shop.)

How much of yourself, your personality or your experiences, is in your books?

I’m going to use a quote from the great television writer, Agnes Nixon, to answer this one. “The Great and the Least, The Rich and the Poor, The Weak and the Strong, In Joy and Sorrow, In Tragedy and Triumph, You are ALL MY CHILDREN.” (sic)

My characters are all on some level reflections of me, even if the relationship is limited to my aspiration to share a character’s better qualities, or my battle to keep from giving in to their worst.

Have you started your next project? If so, can you share a little bit about your next book?

I’m currently working on the final round of edits on The Book of the Unwinding, second book of the Witches of New Orleans series, and writing the first draft of The Final Days of Magic, the third in the (so far) trilogy. Writing a trilogy is a bit like juggling. In the first you hope to catch attention by throwing the balls high into the air. The second, you’re keeping them in motion, and the third you have to catch them all without dropping any. The Book of the Unwinding feels like a good “bridge” book between the other two, progressing the story, but taking it in hopefully unexpected directions. Three minor characters from the first book become huge players in the second.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Dreams can come true, but it may not feel the way you expected it would when they do.

Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?

No. At least hardly ever. I get critiques from a team of trusted professionals, and I do the best work I can. I know I am neither the best nor the worst writer ever, regardless of what a five or one-star review might say. That being said, my publisher forwarded me Publishers Weekly’s and Booklist’s reviews. You darn well know I read those.

Did you base any of your characters on real people?

Rarely. The character most solidly based on a real person appears in the new Witches of New Orleans series,  Nathalie Boudreau rises from a minor character in the first book to a lead in the second. I’ve borrowed several characteristics from a woman I used to know way back in the 1990s. Nathalie’s inspiration was, and hopefully continues to be, as tough as nails, but as sweet as sugar.

Oh, but that may not be quite true. It all depends on whether you count cats as people. If you do, then Sugar Caissy wins. I based the character on our beloved, departed Sugar. I know it may sound goofy, but trust me, Sugar Caissy is one of the major characters and helps drive the plot. It’s actually been wonderful writing her as a dramatic heroine, as it’s made me feel like I have her back on some level. Got to give her a tenth life, if you will.

Did the story turn out the way you planned from the beginning? If not, what change happened that you didn’t expect?

I’m going to borrow from the answer I gave when we were discussing Jilo. 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. 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.

One of the characters, actually the first POV character we encounter, came out nothing like I’d intended. Alice Marin had secrets, and she made me dig deep until I discovered them.

Excerpt

Lisette Perrault

Just over the blonde’s shoulder, through the window, Lisette caught sight of a familiar head of closely cropped gray hair. Her father, Alcide Simeon, came weaving down the sidewalk, threading his way through the throng of tourists, stopping and bowing theatrically before a young girl, stepping into the street and ceding the sidewalk to her and her parents. The girl’s father reached down and swooped the girl up into his arms as a car horn blared a warning at Alcide. The driver swerved around him, and he stepped backward onto the uneven sidewalk, stum­bling but righting himself. The glint of something silver in his hands caught Lisette’s eye.

Lisette’s father did not take drugs. He did not touch drink. Always said he’d watched too many of his buddies lose it all down those roads. But here he was, stumbling toward the shop. Still, seeing her teetotalling father drunk was a lesser shock than the sight of the strange instrument he carried. Bessie was his “brass belle,” the horn such a familiar sight that it seemed an extension of her father’s hand. Seeing him with this new horn cradled in his hands made her feel like she’d caught him car­rying on with a strange woman.

“You’ll excuse me for a moment,” she said without looking at the women. “You all just keep on looking around as much as you would like.” She stepped around the counter and brushed past the blonde. She grasped the door handle, and, walking through the bell’s protest, slipped out to the street.

She strode up to her father, whose lips tipped into a smile as he threw his arms wide to welcome her.

“There’s my baby girl,” he said. “I was just coming by to see you.”

She stopped just beyond his reach, and his stupid, drunk glee faded—but only a touch. For the first time in her life, she felt ashamed of him. “Why are you all lit up?” she said, her hands on her hips, unin­tentionally mimicking her mother. “And what are you doing with that horn? That isn’t yours.”

“Oh, it’s mine all right. I bought it special this morning.” He raised it to his lips and ran up a quick scale, ending with a flourish.

She held her stance and narrowed her eyes. “Special for what?”

His head jerked and his eyes widened in genuine surprise. “You haven’t heard?” He turned to a passing stranger. “She hasn’t heard!”

She stepped forward and grabbed his forearm. “No, she has not heard,” Lisette said, her words breathless, angry, “but she is standing right here in front of you, so maybe you should get busy with the telling.”

He looked at her, his lips drawing into a thin line. Then his face loosened, and he began to laugh. “Celestin Marin,” he said, his eyes twinkling, “is finally dead. Funeral’s day after tomorrow.” He winked at her. “Gonna be a band and all. This tin horn and I are gonna join in right before they cut the bastard’s body loose,” he said and laughed. “May end up a devil of a second line.”

“Celestin wasn’t a musician. Why would anyone throw him a jazz funeral?”

Her father didn’t respond with words, but a wide smile crept across his lips.

“You did not . . .”

“I sure did. I arranged the whole thing. How the hell else do you think it could happen?” He wagged the offending horn at her. “Just rang up a few friends. Charles Delinois made up a little white lie for me about how Marin was a secret donor for years to a charity to keep music in schools, and how it’s the least we can . . .”

“You lied to Vincent,” Lisette cut him off, regretting it before she could draw her next breath. It was ridiculous. Even after twenty-five years, the mere thought of Vincent darn near took her breath away . . . like someone had kicked her hard in the gut. She loved her husband. She loved the family they’d made together. Still, it hurt to speak Vincent’s name. It hurt like hell.

“Yeah. I reckon I did a bit,” her father said, sobering, Lisette could only surmise, from having witnessed the expression on her face. “The boy ate the story right up. Seemed kind of hungry for any kind words about his defan papa.”

“Vincent’s a good man. You’ve got no reason . . .”

“Vincent’s a Marin.” Her father’s jaw stiffened, the mirth in his eyes turning to hatred. “Reason enough.”

“You were friends once, all of you. Mama and you and the Marins.” She hoped her words would summon a happy memory for him, but he remained stock-still and silent. “All right,” Lisette said. “So how about you tell me why. What do you get out of this parade?”

The smile returned to his face, but it had come back cold and cruel, making him look less like the father she knew and loved. He held the horn to his lips and blew a few bars of the “Cross Road Blues” before lowering the horn. “I’m gonna play that son of a bitch’s soul right into hell.”

Lisette felt her jaw drop. It took her a moment to find words. “What kind of fool nonsense are you talking?”

“It isn’t nonsense,” he said, clutching the trumpet to his chest. “You aren’t the only one who learned a thing or two from your mother. Gonna use this horn to blow his soul straight to the lowest pit of hell, then I’m gonna toss it in the river. Make sure it never gets played again. Would be too dangerous to let it fall into innocent hands afterward.”

Lisette raised her hands to her temples. She shook her head. This could not be happening. Her father really couldn’t think himself capable of speeding another man’s descent into the fiery pit. She’d come so close, so many times, to telling her father that she no longer believed. That she knew none of this, not the vèvès, not the candles, not the gris-gris bags—especially not the table of premade ones at the shop now marked down to $19.99 each—was real. She’d only held her tongue out of respect for him and her mother’s memory.

Dropping her hands, Lisette glanced back over her shoulder at the shop. She almost gasped, sure she caught the image of her mother mov­ing behind the vèvès painted on the windows. No, that could not be. It was just a creation of her mind—more fodder for her next therapy appointment. Blinking the apparition away, she turned back to her father. “Listen, Daddy, even if you could . . .” She stopped herself, choosing her words more carefully. “Even if you do know how to do what you’re planning, what good would it do? What happened with Mama and Mrs. Marin was so long ago.”

“Maybe to you, but not to me. To me, it still seems like yesterday.”

“But, Daddy, Celestin didn’t have anything more to do with it than you or I . . .”

“Oh, he had something to do with it all right. I know it.” Tears brimmed in his eyes, and he pounded on his chest with his free hand. “I know it in here.”

What harm can it do? Lisette thought. Might even do him some good. Do all of us some good. Bury this damned animosity between the families once and for all. Lisette looked up at him. Patted his chest. “All right, Daddy. You do what you need to do.” She leaned in and kissed his cheek.

As she pulled back, she noticed his eyes were reddening. His bot­tom lip began to quiver. For a moment, she wondered if the storm had passed, but then he raised his chin, his expression hardening, defiance growing in his eyes. “You could help, you know.”

She traced her hand down his arm. “No, Daddy,” she said, turning, heading back toward the shop. “I really couldn’t.”

Book Blurb

Magic is seeping out of the world, leaving the witches who’ve relied on it for countless centuries increasingly hopeless. While some see an inevitable end of their era, others are courting madness—willing to sacrifice former allies, friends, and family to retain the power they covet. While the other witches watch their reality unravel, young Alice Marin is using magic’s waning days to delve into the mystery of numerous disappearances in the occult circles of New Orleans. Alice disappeared once, too—caged in an asylum by blood relatives. Recently freed, she fears her family may be more involved with the growing crisis than she ever dared imagine.

Yet the more she seeks the truth about her family’s troubled history, the more she realizes her already-fragile psyche may be at risk. Discovering the cause of the vanishings, though, could be the only way to escape her mother’s reach while determining the future of all witches.

Author Bio

J.D. Horn, the highly praised and bestselling author of the Witching Savannah series, now debuts a new contemporary fantasy series, Witches of New Orleans. A world traveler and student of French and Russian literature, Horn also has an MBA in international business and formerly held a career as a financial analyst before turning his talent to crafting chilling stories and unforgettable characters. His novels have received global attention and have been translated in more than half a dozen languages. Originally from Tennessee, he currently splits his time between Central Oregon, San Francisco and Palm Springs with his spouse, Rich.

You can find out more about J.D. on his website or Facebook.

You can check out a trailer for The King of Bones and Ashes here and pre-order it on Amazon. (The book comes out Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018.)

#NewRelease – JILO by J.D. Horn

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!

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.

Book Blurb

Horn-Jilo-19825-CV-FT-V11950s 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

JD HORNJ.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.