Thursday, February 8, 2018

Interview with fantasy author J.D. Horn

Author J. D. Horn is here with me today and we’re chatting about his new sci-fi fantasy, The King of Bones and Ashes (Witches of New Orleans).

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.

Welcome, J.D. Please tell us about your current release.
My favorite tagline sums up the story to a T: “Desperate witches, old sins, decadence, and murder.”

The King of Bones and Ashes walks the line between dark fantasy and horror. Not quite urban fantasy, even though it features paranormal events taking place in a real setting. Where most urban fantasy would rely on romance, The King of Bones and Ashes turns to examining familial relationships—what builds a strong family, and betrayals which break down the sense of family. This isn’t to say that I have anything against the use of romance—quite the opposite. It’s only that for whatever reason, I tend return to the theme of family. (And, truth be told, I’m not very good at writing romance.)

The King of Bones and Ashes is an ensemble piece, with three main POV characters, written in close third person. I don’t think it’s an “easy” read, but I hope most readers enjoy it. (You’re never going to please everyone.)

What inspired you to write this book?
I’d been contemplating expanding my Witching Savannah series, by focusing on the down-at-the-heel Duvall family of New Orleans—the Taylors’ cousins introduced in The Line—but that didn’t feel like the right story to tell. I strive to ground my fantasy in the real world, and New Orleans bears too many scars, many of them recent. The question rose in my mind that if the magic of fantasy existed in our world, why wouldn’t witches have prevented the devastation of Hurricane Katrina?  The answer that came to me was that they would have, if they were strong enough to do so. From that I arrived at the premise that magic itself could be dying, and magic’s impending demise might drive witches desperate to maintain their status to commit atrocities. And then I had the image of a young girl watching from an upper floor window as the only world she’d known was washed away. That girl became Alice Marin.

Excerpt from The King of Bones and Ashes:
Despite never having breached this space, Alice knew this forlorn corner was where her father had hidden away everything belonging to their mother—at least everything he hadn’t burned. She’d heard Luc and her father fight over the rightful ownership of what was left of their mother’s possessions.
“Behind here,” Luc said, and Hugo helped him push aside a stack of unlabeled cardboard boxes, a whiff of perfume rising from them. Their mother had left before Alice could walk, and memory, that fickle thing, had betrayed her—she wouldn’t even know what her mother had looked like if not for that single image of the Marin family. And yet, this ghost of the once heady fragrance of sweet olive and gardenia came close to conjuring her mother’s face.
Luc paused, seeming to have caught their mother’s scent as well. But then his face hardened, and he whipped away a sheet that lay over a dozen or so canvases, exposing paintings Alice somehow knew to be her mother’s work.
She would have liked to look more closely at each, but Luc flipped through them, slapping one against the other, taking no care to protect their mother’s art. Alice caught a flash of what looked like an unfinished portrait of her grandfather, then Luc discovered the painting he’d been searching for, pulling it out from the others and turning it so she could have a better look. It was of Daniel, all right. The same cap. The same ginger hair poking out from beneath it. The same sweet but sad look in his eyes.
“Our Daniel believes himself to be a ghost, the unsettled spirit of a young Irishman who died during the construction of the New Basin Canal. But Daniel isn’t a ghost. There never was a Daniel.” Luc paused, maybe to give his revelation time to sink in, or maybe just to see if she’d flinch. She didn’t. Luc seemed satisfied with her reaction. “He’s a magic trick,” he carried on, “a servitor spirit our parents conjured up to look after Hugo and me—so they didn’t have to. Nicholas thought they had more important business to attend to, and mother, well, she did whatever he told her to do, like it or not. Until the day she stopped . . .” Luc’s voice trailed off.
They stood for a few moments in total silence. “Mother,” Hugo said, nodding to confirm Luc’s story, “painted this to help Father visualize Daniel. She didn’t want to. Father made her do it.”
Luc looked up from the painting. “That’s the first step, you see.” His voice sounded scratchy now. “You give a servitor form, one that suggests the traits you’d like it to have, and then you imbue—you know what I mean by ‘imbue’?” She shook her head, so he offered a different word. “You fill it with a sense of self. That’s the glue that helps keep the entity intact. It works best if you give the servitor a tragic past, an injustice it can fixate on. Saddling your creation with a dark secret or two, something it’s ashamed of, something it’s afraid you’ll learn, doesn’t hurt either.” Luc’s light brightened, and he held the painting up, offering her a final look at it.
Alice studied the portrait, her mouth open, her heart pounding. Though she wanted to deny it, it all made sense. Whenever she asked Daniel what his childhood had been like, he couldn’t remember the simplest things. Nothing. Not even if he’d gone to school. If he’d liked candy. If he’d had friends. He could rattle off some memories, mostly historical events, but the stories he told were always the same. Word for word. It was like he’d been given a list of facts to memorize. Facts that would fit what he believed to be true about himself, but nothing to show he’d actually had a life before joining their family.
Alice could feel that the Chanticleer Coven’s magic was, at least for now, nearly exhausted, probably only enough left to ensure them safe passage out of the city. That Daniel still held together at all was testament to how deeply he believed the lie of his own existence.
“Nicholas would’ve probably let him fade away by now,” Luc said, “but then you came along. And mother left . . .” He slid the painting back in with the others and then flung the sheet back over them. He was rough when handling the paintings, acting as if they meant nothing to him. But if he didn’t care about them at all, Alice realized, he wouldn’t have bothered to offer even this flimsy protection.
He turned back toward her and Hugo, fixing her with his gaze. “You see, that’s who our father is. This is what he does. He builds people up. Programs them to his liking, and when they stop being of use, he tosses them away without giving them another thought. Eventually you’ll be one of the ones he throws away.” His eyes shifted to Hugo. 
“You both will.”

What exciting story are you working on next?
Right now, I’m writing The Final Days of Magic, the follow-up to The King of Bones and Ashes and The Book of the Unwinding (out June 2018).

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Honestly, six, going on seven published novels later, I still struggle with this. For some reason the word “writer” carries an emotional charge for me, and brings up all types of issues around self-worth. I like to consider myself a storyteller. “Storyteller” takes off some of the pressure, and shuts my inner critic up long enough that I can write.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
Yes, I do. My schedule shifts as I go along. When I first start a project, I’m working mostly during the day—just like if I were still in an office job. As I get closer to a deadline, then I may end up working all hours. Hmmm—just like if I were still in an office job.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I talk, sometimes aloud, to my characters, asking them of input.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a writer/storyteller.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I think I’m breaking some interesting new ground with this new series. I hope readers will find something fresh, challenging, and entertaining in it.


Thanks for joining me today, J.D.!

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