Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.
Today, JP Jackson – J.P. Jackson works as an IT analyst in health care during the day, where if cornered he’d confess to casting spells to ensure clinicians actually use the electronic medical charting system he configures and implements. At night, however, the writing happens, where demons, witches, and shapeshifters congregate around the kitchen table and general chaos ensues.
Thanks so much, JP, for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
JP Jackson: Literary classifications always mess me up. Speculative or Science Fiction? I’m pretty sure I don’t write Magic Realism, but then Urban Fantasy just doesn’t seem to cut it either. Is this Paranormal? Well, no, not really.
See? I don’t know!
When I wrote my first book, Daimonion, Book One of the Apocalypse, I thought I was writing an Urban Fantasy novel. Okay, sure, it’s about the end of the world, or at least the beginning of the end, so maybe it would be Pre-Apocalyptic with a touch of Dystopianism? But it has Satyrs and Witches, Vampires and ShapeShifters in it. That should make it Urban Fantasy, right?
Then my editor said, “This is great Horror novel!”
And I was all, “WHAT?”
As it turns out, I think I tend to write a bit of a genre mash between Horror and Urban Fantasy. But I find Horror is really subjective. The definition of Horror is to unsettle or disgust. When you read a Horror novel you should be uncomfortable, and that can mean different things to different people. What scares one person, or disturbs them will not affect the next reader.
I think I tend to write stories that are darker than most Urban Fantasy. I’ve had readers tell me, “I had to put your book down for a bit…too scary!” But then I’ve also had a couple of reviews that said, “This isn’t horror!”
In the end I struggle to slap my writing with a classification.
So let’s just call it Dark Urban Fantasy, shall we?
JSC: What is the most heartfelt thing a reader has said to you?
JPJ: I set out to write books for two reasons. First, could I even do it? Could I string together enough words, ideas, images and characters into a believable plot and have it end up as a cohesive unit? Was it possible for me to write a book?
The second goal, after achieving the first, was to see if I could get it published.
The motivation behind this monumental intellectual exercise was to get some more stories out into the world that had positive, affirming LGBT main characters.
When I was growing up, I read a lot of books. I struggled to find anything that had people like me in them. Today’s options are way better, but it can sometimes still be a challenge.
After Magic or Die was set for release, I had a person on Twitter message me. They were very politely asking if my new book would be suitable for a teenager. I had to answer honestly – and to that I stated that the book was LGBT and there were some mature themes. It might not be for every 16 year old, but a more mature individual would probably like it. Best bet would be to have the parent decide whether or not the story was appropriate for them or not.
Turns out the inquirer had “@” their parent. They then told me that they were an LGBT Teen looking for books with people like them as the main characters. “This is the kind of book I want to read – a book that has me in it!”
This was exactly the reason why I sat down to write, and here it was happening right in front of me.
JSC: What inspired you to write this particular story? What were the challenges in bringing it to life?
JPJ: After I had written Daimonion, I quickly got busy outlining Nephalem, Book 2 of the Apocalypse, and admittedly struggling. My Editor from NineStar Press contacted me and asked if I would be interested in writing a short story for one of their anthologies. I declined the invitation because I was so set on creating the second book in the Apocalypse series. But he was insistent. Eventually he persuaded me by giving me a scenario: “Think about a werewolf with Anger Management issues…” Well, that statement alone made me giggle, and then it made me think of a support group with a bunch of magical creatures, each with their own issues, and that was how the group of students formed for Magic or Die. I started writing the short story, but that quickly turned into a full length novel.
What challenge did I have in bringing this book to life? Finding an ending. And even there, I think I failed. I don’t want to get into spoiler territory, but the main focus of Magic or Die is survival. By the end of the novel, the cast of characters find resolution with that issue (not all happy endings, I assure you). So the main story arc is completed.
But one of the motivations in concluding the task at the Centre for Magical Research and Development is to get free so that James Martin (the main characters) can find and save his sister Shauna.
Several times throughout the story, the reader is given glimpses of Shauna’s life, and it’s not good. Shauna makes a lot of bad life decisions, and it’s always been James’s job to help Shauna.
The last scene of the book opens the door for book 2, Blood Rites and Sacrifice, where James gets to help his sister. It’s a huge cliffhanger, which a lot of readers do not like, but at the same time the main story arc of surviving the Centre for Magical Research and Development was wrapped up. So, pass or fail? I struggle with endings.
JSC: What were your goals and intentions in “Magic or Die,” and how well do you feel you achieved them?
JPJ: My goal was to create a world where a small group of humans have magical abilities, and from within that group an even smaller percentage have abilities that are so ‘off the charts’ and uncontrollable that they are lethal. I wanted those people to be real though. I wanted them flawed, but likable. I wanted to create a misfit band of people that had to come together, despite their differences and their insane gifts and end up battling the age old ‘good against evil’ fight.
I think I did that. And the reason I think I had success was because everyone who reads the book attaches to at least one of the characters. One person identifies with Annabelle, the shy and terrified girl whose demons possess her and want to do terrible things to her, whereas the next reader is begging me for more information on Chris, the elemental shapeshifter whose anger and temper riles his powers up into a maelstrom of destructive energy. And besides, who wouldn’t like a raging fire wolf shapeshifter?
Personally, I loved my two main characters, Isaiah and James. Isaiah who breaks all the rules of the magic world and James, an empath who is haunted by his past. The relationship the two of them develop is slightly taboo, but sweet and charming.
Everyone has a favorite, and that to me meant that the characters were real.
JSC: What pets are currently on your keyboard, and what are their names? Pictures?
JPJ: We have two Chihuahuas. They will be 10 years old in November, and they cause all sorts of trouble! They help with the spellcasting and demon summoning used in researching my books.
Jalisco is our boy, he’s about 8 pounds, brindle coat and he loves to snuggle. He’ll cuddle up with anyone. He just wants to be loved and be pet. He hates being in trouble.
Canela is our girl, she’s a tiny 3 pounds, fawn coloured and she’s all attitude. We brought her home from Mexico – she’s not a rescue, but we had to work really hard to get her to be trusting and loving. I don’t think she knows she’s a dog. She’s definitely a princess.
Canela is above, she’s usually stacked on top of Jalisco.
That’s Jalisco ‘helping’ write.
Canela loves to dress up and she gets excited when we bring out her many outfits.
JSC: What other artistic pursuits (it any) do you indulge in apart from writing?
JPJ: Not sure you’d call it an ‘artistic’ pursuit, but I also hybridize African Violets. You can see most of my hybrids (which I register with the African Violet Society of America) on my website: https://www.freewebs.com/creaturegardens/
I also have a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Creature-Gardens-426265670888622/
All of my hybrids have “Imp’s” as the first part of their names. It’s fun to search on Google for my plants and see they are grown all over the world.
Here’s a few pictures.
This one is Imp’s Berry Smash
This one is Imp’s Fortuitous Fancy
And this one is called Imp’s Pink Eye. It’s an interesting type of African Violet with a mutated flower form called a “wasp” flower.
JSC: If I were a Hollywood producer about to put your book on the big screen, who would you want me to cast as the leads? Why? And can we have pictures to drool over?
JPJ: This is really a tough question! I use Pinterest and Tumblr to collect images of people who I think would make interesting characters. So I have images that I can attach to each of these characters from the book – images that elicit certain feelings and notions from me, the author. As an interesting side note, I’ve had a few people see the photos I use for inspiration and say, “Wow, that’s not how I pictured ____________ at all!” I think everyone develops their own image in their head of what characters look like.
Can I choose an actor to go along with each of these? Sure, but I’m not sure they’d fit with my image of who my characters are…but let’s try. Also, I’m totally going for looks here, not whether or not they can play the role – after all they are actors, they should be able to do it, right?
James Martin (the protagonist and teacher): played by Ryan Eggold Photo source: pagesix.com
Miriam van Allen (antagonist): played by Glen Close
Photo Source: TheGuardian.com
Isaiah Dannenberg (student: the magical misfit): played by Chris Pine (but would have to be much younger, and fully bearded.)
Photo source: JustJared.com
Annabelle Smith (student: the demon possessed): played by Dakota Fanning
Photo Source: Indiewire.com
Chris Sanderhill (student: shapeshifting fire wolf): played by Ronald Epps
Camila Rodriguez (student: extreme psychic): played by Gina Rodrigues
Photo Source: HollywoodReporter.com
Ning Chiu (student: elemental and demon possessed): played by Wu Jia Yi
Photo Source: Twitter account @fung_nine
JSC: What meds are you supposed to be taking?
JPJ: I have Ulcerative Colitis. For those who don’t know what that is, it’s an auto-immune disease where my immune system thinks my Colon (the last part of your intestinal tract) is the enemy and attacks it. The result are inflammation, ulcerations, gut pain, discomfort and bloating. Most days are okay, some days are terrible.
Your colon is responsible for absorbing water, salts, vitamins and micronutrients. Kind of important, but mine is pretty scarred from all the inflammation and ulceration that occurs. I don’t digest things the same as other people, and that means that I have to take handfuls of pills every day to decrease any irritation along with extra vitamins to make sure that I get all the nutrients I need. There’s also a handful of foods that I steer clear from because they give me grief.
Once every eight weeks, I go to an IV clinic and am administered an IV drip for 4 hours. The drugs I receive at this specialized clinic lower my immune system (making me immune compromised) so that my body doesn’t constantly attack my colon.
It’s a pain (all the puns intended) but it’s necessary to stay healthy.
I’m very fortunate. Even though I have a painful, chronic, auto-immune disease, I’m still healthy enough to maintain a regular life with a daytime job, some hobbies, and travel extensively with my husband of 20+ years.
JSC: Would you visit the future or the past, and why?
JPJ: The future. Didn’t even have to think about that. I’ve never been much of a history buff, and although I’m not always great at learning technology, I love the advances it brings. So, I’d like to travel way off into the future and see where mankind has gone, what developments we’ve achieved, and how the world is a better place.
Our planet is so damaged by human activity right now, and the current political climate is teetering on war and disaster – and many countries around the world have a long way in treating all peoples equally (read: Human Rights). But I have to remain positive and believe that the human species has a bigger capacity for love and tolerance, and to treat others with respect and dignity, than we do to hate and lord over others with power.
I want to see the future to witness the utopia I know we will one day achieve.
JSC: How does the world end?
JPJ: ‘This is how the world ends,
Not with a bang, but a whimper.’ T.S. Eliot
Well, after my last question, I’d like to believe that we will manage to save the planet until it eventually is swallowed up by our sun.
But if I put my pessimistic hat on…wait, it’s a little tight…ugh…okay…then here’s what I see:
The human race’s propensity for greed and power over takes our ability to love and nurture. From that, chaos erupts. Countries war with one another all over the globe, primarily for resources, as the climate changes and weather patterns become violent and destructive. Many coastal cities are destroyed. Migrating masses of populations move to areas that quickly become overpopulated. Disease takes hold and multiple pandemics erupt. Governments lose control of their people and society as we know it crumbles.
Except for a small handful of people. A small group of educated elite that have secretly been developing a Plan B.
As Mother Nature rages to take back her planet, the world’s human population declines steadily, leaving only pockets of survivors left in a harsh world that is ripping itself apart in order to rebuild itself again.
That secret group of the world’s elite? They leave the planet, having created man’s finest space exploration vessel. They leave a volatile environment, in hopes of finding a new home where the Human Experiment can start all over.
And now for JP’s new book: Magic or Die:
James Martin is a teacher, a powerful Psychic, and an alcoholic. He used to work for the Center for Magical Research and Development, a facility that houses people who can’t control their supernatural abilities, but left after one of his students was killed, turning to vodka to soothe his emotional pain. The problem is he still has one year left on his contract.
When James returns to the CMRD to fulfill the rest of his contract, he finds himself confronting the demons of his past and attempting to protect his new class from a possible death sentence, because if they don’t pass their final exams, they’ll be euthanized.
James also discovers that his class isn’t bringing in enough sponsors, the agencies and world governments who supply grants and ultimately purchase graduates of the CMRD, and that means no profit for the facility. James and his students face impossible odds—measure up to the facility’s unreachable standards or escape.
One: Call Back
“YES, MIRIAM. YES, I know. I know it’s been over a year. I’m not sure I’m ready.”
The knuckles on my hand cramped from clasping my cell phone in a death grip. I glanced at my watch. This conversation had gone on too long. In the span of two minutes, Miriam had managed to exhume memories and history I wanted buried and forgotten. I sucked in a short breath as nausea surged like a tsunami of fear. Its behemoth wave washed bile against the back of my throat.
I slumped down the stained and weathered wall of the coffin-sized studio apartment I reluctantly called a home. It wasn’t a bad place to live, except for the cockroaches I found on a daily basis. I’m sure they considered it a veritable paradise. Absentmindedly, I toed an old pizza box near my foot while listening to Miriam. One of the insects scampered across the matted Berber carpet.
Cody. A pale ghostlike face flashed before me. His hair, the exact colour of fall fallowed fields, hung listlessly over one eye, as blood trickled out of the corner of his mouth. His chapped lips parted, asking me, “Why?”
I ignored the vision. Well, ignored wasn’t the right word, more like boxed it up with a heavy rock and pitched it into the abyss of my mind with all the other terrifying nightmares.
“I know. I owe you, yes. I’m just not sure—” I crawled over to the upended crate being used as a coffee table, grasping for my last pack of smokes. I lit one, enjoying the soothing crackle of the tobacco as it ignited, and then inhaled deeply.
Ah, yes. Hello, nicotine, my demon friend.
Miriam continued blithering while I half-heartedly listened to her soul-sucking voice. She was demanding my presence.
“What? You mean, tomorrow? Miriam, I don’t think it’s a good idea.” I drew in another steady stream of the toxic smoke. It burned my lungs as the addictive chemicals flooded through my body. I really need to quit. Scraping together the smallest ounce of courage, I attempted to defy her. “No, I can’t.”
A wraithlike hand, desiccated and fragile, inched its way across my shoulder and gripped my tense neck muscle. Its sharp nails dug into my flesh. Its bite, a warning.
Cody’s lifeless lips brushed my ear, sending cold shivers skittering across my back. Eruptions of goose flesh covered my neck and shoulders. His voice was a memory and a sound I would never forget.
“Don’t do this. You’ll kill me again.” His icy breath whispered to me.
Another box, a bigger rock, another addition to the pit of despair in my head.
“No,” I replied to one of Miriam’s inane questions. “There’s an Arcane too? I’ve never been good with them. They creep me out. No, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that. Shit.” Miriam had just described a scene for me. My flesh turned buggy, as if I had chiggers nesting and burrowing deep into my skin. “Oh god that’s gross. It’s also not a good sign.” I pointed uselessly at the wall, waving my finger, trying to make a point to the caller. “I never took the exam for the third class.” Miriam had asked if I’d kept up my licensing. I instantly felt guilty. I should have done it years ago. One thing was becoming evident from the conversation—she needed my help. Help only I could give.
“All right, maybe, I think I can. Consult only. Do you hear me, Miriam? Just a consult.” I had tried desperately to stay the hell out of this. I wasn’t ready. I didn’t want to go back there. “What time? Yes. I’m pretty sure. Miriam—” A thousand reservations ran through my mind, a wild stampede, unbridled, laced with dread and fear. “How many? How many in this class?”
The question sat like the world perched on my shoulders. The higher the number, the bigger the world, the more responsibility, an undeniable possibility of…
“Five! Are you kidding me? I can’t do five. No. No! It’s not possible.”
She was out of her mind.
“Yes, my sister is still on the streets. You know that’s close to blackmail, right?” I stubbed out the cigarette. The lacquer of smoke in my mouth tasted like I had just licked the bottom of an ashtray, and it was suddenly very hard to breathe. Why do I smoke again?
“Fine. Tomorrow. Yes. Ten a.m. Yes, I’ll be there. What do you mean dress appropriately?”
I looked at my cell phone, disgusted as the call ended.
I flipped the device onto the floor as if it had burst into flame and branded the conversation into my hand. I snorted. Like, I’d forget.
Stretching around to the other side of the crate, I grabbed blindly for a bottle I hoped was there. By all the gods’ great divine gifts, it was. And it still had liquid in it. In fact, it was surprisingly half-full.
I tipped the vodka bottle back, allowing its burn to strip away the cancer stick’s smoky film inside my mouth.
Swaying back and forth with my eyes closed, I tried to drown out the endless voices in my head. The words inundated my impending thoughts of doom and failure, and I could feel the chaos and panic mounting. Steadying myself and regaining my mental capacities, I gazed out the window. It was dark already and only six, early evening at best. Yay for daylight-savings time and late fall in Canada. Lights from the downtown cityscape lazily twinkled and danced before me. It should have been a pretty sight, but the darkness always seemed too oppressive, like a shroud. And I knew better. Things lived in the shadows.
I took another swig from the clear glass bottle. The burn hit my throat and disintegrated the bile that had crept up there.
Five very gifted students.
I rubbed the stubble covering my face and took yet another nip. Except it wasn’t a quick sip, it was a good one. A long one.
The window acted like a mirror, and my image reflected against the backdrop of the city skyline. I looked like shit. My short brown hair had cowlicks; thank god I kept it close. But the rest? No wonder Miriam instructed me to clean it up. The shirt I was sort of wearing was only half buttoned and stained in several spots. I had no pants on, but the pair of tighty-whities, which weren’t exactly white anymore, or tight, were ripped and showed more flesh than they were supposed to. Jesus.
How did my life get here?
Five young people had no control of their gifts.
And I had a sister who was lost out in the sparkle-light of downtown’s darkness, up to who knew what, and doing it with god only knew who, mired in her own addictions.
I glanced around my shit-hole apartment, wondering what the fuck I was going to do.
J.P. Jackson works as an IT analyst in health care during the day, where if cornered he’d confess to casting spells to ensure clinicians actually use the electronic medical charting system he configures and implements.
At night, however, the writing happens, where demons, witches, and shapeshifters congregate around the kitchen table and general chaos ensues. The insurance company refuses to accept any more claims of ‘acts of the un-god’, and his husband of almost 20 years has very firmly put his foot down on any further wraith summonings in the basement. And apparently, imps aren’t house-trainable. Occasionally the odd ghost or member of the Fae community stops in for a glass of wine and stories are exchanged. Although the husband doesn’t know it, the two Chihuahuas are in cahoots with the spell casting.
J.P.’s other hobbies include hybridizing African Violets (thanks to grandma), extensive traveling and believe it or not, knitting.