A Q&A with John Hornor Jacobs, author of This Dark Earth

Please welcome one of my favorite authors to the blog. John Hornor Jacobs has written Southern Gods and This Dark Earth, and his first young adult novel, The Twelve-Fingered Boy, will be out in 2013!  I got him to dish on that, and more, so please welcome him back to the blog!

John, you’ve written two of my fave books of all time, Southern Gods and This Dark Earth, and Twelve-Fingered Boy is coming in 2013! Will you tell us a bit about it? Help a girl out, I’m squeeeing here:)
The Twelve-Fingered Boy is a young adult novel about a fast-talking juvenile delinquent named Shreve who discovers that his quiet new cellmate in the Casimir Pulaski Juvenile Detention Center has twelve fingers – supernumerary post-axial polydactylism – and also might have superpowers. Soon both Shreve and Jack (the kid with all the extra fingers) are being visited by the mysterious Mr. Quincrux from the Department of Health and Human Services who wants to know more about the boy than any state employee should.

The Twelve-Fingered Boy is an adventure story and, at its root, a dialogue about the nature of brotherhood and the commonality of all mankind. It worries at the problem of the physical versus the spiritual. It’s dark, for a YA novel, but one of the most hopeful novels I’ve written. I’ve recently completed Incarcerado, the second novel in the series.

But other than all that fancy talk, it’s a fast, fun, adventure novel. It’s like Escape from Witch Mountain meets Jumper meets X-Files and they had a baby that then mated with a gibbon monkey, for kicks.

What made you decide to write a young adult novel?
I love young adult novels. From Harry Potter to Delaney’s The Last Apprentice to John Bellairs to Stephen Gould’s Jumper, I’ve always been drawn to the YA novels – probably because I’m not a very mature adult and I’m still dealing with a lot of the issues I’ve had since adolescence. Sad, but true. But also, there’s a honesty to young adult novels that quite often you don’t find in books for adults. Adolescence is a boiling cauldron of confusion, ostracism, rage, sexual frustration, explosive urges, internal conflicts about who you are and who you will become and who you want to be. It’s really one of the most fertile grounds for literature which is why the bildungsroman – the coming of age novel/movie/story – is and has always been so popular.

In the spirit (pun intended) of October, with Halloween just around the corner, what are a few of your favorite scary reads?
1. Salem’s LotStephen King
I read this when I was 17 and my folks were out of town. Alone at home, I kept checking the windows and the locks on the front door.
2. DraculaBram Stoker
This one, I read when I was really young at my father’s urging. We’d watched the Bela Lugosi film – which I enjoyed but didn’t find particularly frightening, so my pops gave me the book. It succeeded frightening me where Bela Lugosi failed.
3. Ghost Story Peter Straub
I love stories where the past comes back to haunt you.
4. House of LeavesMark Z. Danielewski
This is the only book in a long while that seriously gave me the creeps. Like skin crawling creepy. I’d thought I’d become inured to scares – there’s just nothing new out there – but this book and the central enigma in it, seriously affected me. While reading it, I kept having dreams of being lost in a massive house. This book is fantastic.
5. The Rising Brian Keene
When I read this, I had a zombie nightmare. On the run, with the family, fearing my kids would be eaten. Maybe I ate something bad that night, but this book seriously messed up my sleep.
6. A Christmas CarolCharles Dickens
When I was a kid, this book (and the many film adaptations) always gave me delicious chills, especially Jacob Marley. “Mankind should have been my business!”

What’s something that you find particularly terrifying?
You know when you’re walking down stairs that have no back? Like the open steps of a deck? Man I hate those things. Because anyone standing below the stairs – anything – could just reach out and grab your ankle.

I am also not a fan of walking over grates on sidewalks. What if they broke and I fell into the sewer and then an evil spider clown tortured/ate me?

How about movies? Any scary faves?
The scariest movie EVER is The Exorcist. That book is horrific as well. But, shit, The Exorcist terrifies on all levels – visual scares just scratch the surface. In the course of that movie, you begin to believe in malevolent forces.

Do you and your family do anything special for Halloween?
I have young daughters, so we go trick or treating. I don’t usually dress up for a few reasons. At my size, the only costumes I can pull off are sasquatch, Hagrid, or Walter from The Big Liebowski. When I was younger (and slimmer) I had a Darth Vader costume, which was cool, but it was homemade and would look pathetic compared to all the cosplayer’s duds nowadays. So, no. Halloween rolls around, we go to my parents, cook homemade pizza, while the kids run around the rich neighborhood and get the good candy. Rich fuckers have the best candy.

What’s next for you? Anything else you’d like to share about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
Nothing that I’ve not already touched on. The Twelve-Fingered Boy will be out next February, and Incarcerado and The End of All Things will follow in consecutive years. I have to write The End of All Things so that will be on my plate soon, once I get back my editorial notes on Incarcerado.

I have one other book, The Incorruptibles, which is the start of a new series. It’s a weird mashup of all the stuff I like. It’s an alternate Roman history/fantasy/western/demonpunk thingy. After a few near misses at publishers, it’s out on a wide submission right now and – fingers crossed – we’ll sell it this year, or the next. Maybe. But it’s my baby and I want to see it well taken care of.
Keep up with John: Website | Twitter
Pre-Order The Twelve-Fingered Boy: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound

About The-Twelve Fingered Boy:
Fifteen-year-old fast-talking Shreve doesn’t mind juvie. He’s good at dealing contraband candy, and three meals a day is more than his drunk mother provided. In juvie, the rules never change and everyone is the same. In juvie, Shreve has life figured out.

So when he’s assigned a strangely silent and vulnerable new cellmate, Jack, Shreve takes the younger boy under his wing. But all Shreve’s plans and schemes unravel when he discovers Jack is different. For one thing, Jack has six fingers per hand. For another thing, he just might have superpowers.

Soon Jack has drawn the attention of the cellblock bullies as well as the mysterious and chilling Mr. Quincrux—who claims to be from the Department of Health and Human Services. But when Shreve feels Quincrux invade his mind and shuffle through his darkest memories, he knows Quincrux’s interest in Jack is far more sinister. Mr. Quincrux means to take Jack away. For what purposes, no one knows.

But Shreve has another plan: escape.

About John (via his website):
John Hornor Jacobs has worked in advertising for the last fifteen years, played in bands, and pursued art in various forms. He is also, in his copious spare time, a novelist, represented by Stacia Decker of the Donald Maass Literary Agency. His first novel, Southern Gods, was published by Night Shade Books and shortlisted for the Bram Stoker Award. His second novel, This Dark Earth, will be published in July, 2012, by Gallery/Pocket Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. His young adult series, The Incarcerado Trilogy comprised of The Twelve Fingered Boy, Incarcerado, and The End of All Things, will be published by Carolrhoda Labs, an imprint of Lerner Publishing.


  1. Thanks, Kristin.

    I’m curious about something, John. A fair number of your “contemporary class” of first and second time novelists have gone the series route. (Or have wanted to) You, on the other hand, seem to be eschewing that idea. Why so?

  2. I might not have been clear. While SOUTHERN GODS and THIS DARK EARTH are standalones (kinda I mean, I have more stories to tell in both worlds) I am going the series route. THE TWELVE-FINGERED BOY is the first in a trilogy, to be followed by INCARCERADO and THE END OF ALL THINGS. And THE INCORRUPTIBLES is the first in a series as well (more news on that series at a later date).

    But my first two books were standalones, true. In many ways, those two books are journeyman pieces, where I taught myself how to write. SOUTHERN GODS was the very first book I wrote and THIS DARK EARTH was the second. This might seem strange but I only started writing seriously in November of 2007 – the National Novel Writing Month. That’s where I wrote the first half of SOUTHERN GODS. I’ve written five books and a passel of stories since then. I’ve been very lucky to have almost all of what I’ve written published or slated to be published.

    After SG and TDE, I made a conscious decision to start a series because publishers want them, I wanted to try my hand at a longer more ambitious narrative, and I wanted the security (and pressure) of having a contract that would bear fruit over time, if that makes any sense.

    Like Robert McCammon says, your early books are your learning process put on display for the world to see. I didn’t want to start with a series until I thought my writing was up to the task.

  3. I’m currently reading THIS DARK EARTH, things have only just fallen apart, and she has only just located her son. This is such a fun book. It really sucked me in. I love the idea of reading other books from the same world. Apocalyptic books are amazing speculative fiction, because as a reader everything is centered on what is happening on such a tiny section of the world. It’s fun trying to imagine how these events affect the rest of the county- world.

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