Thursday, September 29, 2011



SOUTHERN GODS, John Honor Jacobs

It was October, 2007, and I was a thirty-seven year old bookworm who owned over two-thousand books including a first edition copy of William Faulkner’s Sanctuary and Light In August (both missing dust jackets) plus over sixty five of Rex Stout’s seventy five Nero Wolfe novels, not to mention beaucoup horror, fantasy, crime and mystery, and non-fiction books.

But I was thirty-seven and nearing the midpoint of my life if not lost in a wood and stuck in a dull and drudging job at a company owned by a cult (yeah, a cult – you’d think it would’ve been more interesting, but it wasn’t) and spent my days doing timeline animation, design and programming in Flash – remember Flash? The fucking iPad killed it. Now I’m a marketing manager – I saw the signs and got out, but I wasn’t happy about it. Actually, there’s still a soft place in my heart for Flash, since I spent so much of my life learning to master it. And I was damn good, too. Anywho.

Sucky job working for cultists. October, 2007. I start thinking about my old dream of becoming a novelist. I dug up some of the stories I wrote in college and re-read them. Hey, these weren’t too bad, I remember thinking. But I wanted to write a novel. Something bigger. So I head out to Barnes & Noble and bought a couple of books on novel writing, because, you know, that’s what you do. You don’t sit your ass down at the typewriter or legal pad or computer and start writing, you go look for someone to tell you how to write because we’re a generation of people who can’t think for ourselves, maybe, or maybe not. Some can, and I’m not claiming I’m one of them, though. So, in the How To section, I find a couple of books on writing, Lawrence Block’s Spider Spin Me A Web, which is a good ‘un, and NO PLOT? NO PROBLEM! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days.

I read NO PLOT? NO PROBLEM! in about the time it took me to drive out to B&N and pick it up. In a nutshell, it’s the official guide to pimp the NATIONAL NOVEL WRITING MONTH, or, for the initiated, NaNoWriMo, which occurs every November.

Here’s what Chris Baty, the author of No Plot? No Problem! posits: the faster you write, you access parts of your brain you don’t normally access. If you can burn through 50,000 words in a month – the length of a short novel, say The Catcher in the Rye or Of Mice and Men or John Rector’s The Grove – you’ll write a bunch of crap, yes, it’s true, but you’ll also write some stuff you can use and you’ll gain a confidence and mastery you didn’t have before. For more experienced writers, you’ll have a fire lit under your ass and a big hunk of novel at the end of November. But watch out for the tryptophan.

So I joined up, and I did it, completing the challenge. I wrote 50,000 words toward Southern Gods that November and by March of 2008 – or thereabouts – I had finished it. AND HOLY CRAP I WROTE A NOVEL! 94,000 words of pure unadulterated John Hornor Jacobs bullshit on a page. I printed that motherfucker out. It was a stack of paper ten inches high. But that wasn’t cool enough. I went to Lulu and made a book and sent it to myself. When it came, I hoisted it up like a monstrance holding the eucharist and presented it to the missus, who praised me to high heaven but didn’t ask to read it and I didn’t offer. We both knew my newly found authorial confidence was as brittle as Arkansas ice.

In the following year, I revised and rewrote parts of it seven times because seven is the mystical magical combination of both four and three, the best of all numbers, and I workshopped it on the Online Writers Workshop (or Oww!) and I took it to Borderlands Press Boot Camp and workshopped it there. Of all of those workshops, I took maybe 5% of the advice I received because in the end, it didn’t work for me. Or the source of the advice was suspect. Way I figured it is, don’t take advice from writers who can’t write their way out of a paper sack, and most workshoppers are workshopping because they can’t. Exceptions, there are always exceptions, but as a general rule I think it holds true and I’ll stand by it.

Anywho, I started shopping it around to small presses, but more importantly, I immediately began writing This Dark Earth. I wrote it - novel #2 - in seven or eight months and then I immediately began The Twelve-Fingered Boy. I wrote it in four months. And then I landed an agent, who began selling them.

And here we are.

There’s so much more to it all than just saying, “I wrote that and that and this” and it took me X months. But in the end, telling you about how I’ve read countless books on the Southern experience, read Suetonius and Herodotus and Livy and Ovid and Caesar, that I read books on the history of the Catholic church, researched border blasters and the history of blues and rock-n-roll and Memphis, studied WWII and our battles in the Pacific and at Guadacanal, read journals of Marines doomed to die, learned about radio stations and recorded conversations of my father and his friends reminiscing about seeing Elvis play the Silver Moon in Newport, Arkansas, or buying whiskey in backwoods tonks and cold Coca-Colas from rollin’ stores, those converted school buses that travelled around the country-side as mobile general stores, tricked out with a genny and loaded with nails and lard and flour and salt and the staples of a country existence, but cold Coca-Cola first and foremost, the liquid the South was built on; how I went to Stuttgart and England and looked at the buildings and breathed the air Bull breathed, or would breathe (that same rarified air I’d been breathing all my life, full of water vapor and diesel exhaust and the whine of a trillion mosquitos) and then in that desperate November, performed some bizarre trick of mental distillation and converted all those disparate, wildly varied subjects into the burning alcohol of the novel. I discerned some bright filament running through them all and threaded the needle of my narrative with it. All that becomes too hard to truly convey. So, I resort to just saying, “I wrote Southern Gods in five months. You should do NaNoWriMo.”

You write and write and write and eventually you’re done and the world creeps back in. But for the time you’re burning it out, it’s all you, your world, your characters, your love and hate and desires all spilling out onto the page. There’s nothing like it and you can’t know how it truly feels until you’ve done it.

So stop waiting. November is just a month away. Get your house in order, kiss your wife and kids and pet the dog. And write.



David Cranmer said...

GODS is nothing short of terrific and I enjoyed reading how it all started.

Charles Gramlich said...

I should do it with a novel I've already got started. I guess we'll see.

Alexander said...

Great post – I’m going to Tweet about your blog.

Anonymous said...

Patti - Thanks for hosting John.

John - Thanks for sharing your story. I really like your underlying message. Just keep writing. Just write. I wish you much success.

Laurie Powers said...

Great post - Although I shiver whenever I think of doing NaNoWriMo, this is a good example of doing it and then taking your time reworking it later. Inspiring - thanks.

Kieran Shea said...

This is inspiring. BTW, Patti...the music pier survived.

Unknown said...

Southern Gods is one of the best horror novels I've read in years. Great to read how it came about.