Get to Know John Hornor Jacobs, Six Bridges Featured Author

Tell us briefly about your book.
A Lush and Seething Hell is a duology of short novels. It was a finalist for the Shirley Jackson and World Fantasy Awards, and it’s an exploration of art and to a certain extent the sort of madness that trauma can bring to artistic pursuits. Both stories feature artists, found documents, mise en abyme storytelling. The spiraling descent of stories within stories within stories.

What motivated you to write it?
Many things, really, and probably too many to name. But for the first, the novella The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky, I had been interested for years in South American literature and poetry – Borges, Neruda, Bolaño, Lihn, and many others – and how American interference in their countries led to U.S.-backed dictatorships. I was heavily influenced by the darkness infusing Bolaño’s masterpiece 2666 and felt it wandered occasionally into horror, but also had many of the dynamics of cosmic horror. From there, the story came out in a mad rush in one month, I sent it to my agent, and we polished it quickly and sent it out; around a month after I typed The End, we had multiple offers from amazing publishers. We went with HarperCollins because they wanted a companion novella for a bigger book and deal, and I had something that had been percolating around in my hindbrain for years. I immediately began and within three months had finished My Heart Struck Sorrow, which is a story of an ethnomusicologist working at the Library of Congress who has unearthed a trove of old journals and acetates of one of his predecessors (loosely based on John and Alan Lomax) who was obsessed with the lost “infernal” verses of the song “Stagger Lee.”

What kind of research went into your book?
Exhaustive research, since both stories are historical fiction. I read enough historical nonfiction and fiction written in and from the same time periods that I was writing about so that a sort of cumulus formation of setting and details gathered in the vault of my mind and precipitated during the writing.

What was your favorite part of writing this book?
Money. I’m being glib (and a little serious). It was a great validation of my work when it was optioned for television and I received emails from numerous people telling me how much it affected them, which is often gratifying, or famous names you would recognize emailing to ask if the rights were available.

What are you reading now?
Just finished Dan Chaon’s Sleepwalk and immediately went and bought Ill Will and devoured it. I’m re-reading The Shining of course, even though our talk will be about the movie. Just started Sarah Hall’s The Electric Michelangelo, since I love her stories, and mein gott im Himmel, that woman can write. I tend to write research heavy books – my current one is a nautical horror adventure – so my desk is always cluttered with non-fiction. I’m looking at A Ketch Called Tahiti by John Stephen Doherty and the classic The Long Way by Bernard Moitessier right now as I write this.

What does it mean to you to be promoting your book as a local author?
Publishing years are like dog years. I’ve been doing this for twelve? No, thirteen years now. It feels like a century. My fiction has been published in Playboy magazine and prestigious literary journals but to most people locally, I’m just some horror author, if they know who I am at all. So, my gaze tends toward larger cities, more interested, if not greener, pastures. I am, as all the kids say, stoked to be a part of Six Bridges Book Festival, though, and I’m glad it’s here!

Are you excited to see any other authors at the Festival? Who/why?
I’ve kind of been a bit myopic since the pandemic – working from home, masking up, and keeping to myself – and I’m ashamed to admit I don’t really know who the other authors are. I should probably go look at the website…

I’m back. I’m friends on Twitter with Eli Cranor but have never met him and it seems he’ll be there promoting his debut novel. Look forward to meeting him. I went to college with Brooks Blevins and it’s always great seeing him and hearing about what he’s doing.

Are there any parallels between your books and the film chosen this year: The Shining?
Hey, that’s a great question and one I’d not considered before. Yes! There are! In A Lush and Seething Hell, both stories feature an artist or academic’s descent into a kind of madness brought on by found works of art. In The Shining, the supernatural forces gathered at the Overlook Hotel cause Jack Torrance to fall into insanity and a kind of possession.

I’ve recently read about some inconsistencies in the movie (things in the background moving, pouring whiskey instead of bourbon) that some think are mistakes but others attribute to Kubrick’s attention to detail and believe to be an intentional part of the movie. What are your thoughts on this?
People often toss around the word “perfectionist” when they really want to say “good taste” or “high standards,” you know? But from what I’ve learned, Kubrick was truly a perfectionist. Everything that came on the screen was considered carefully, even down to the labels in the storage rooms and what those might signify. I’ll go over quite a bit of this in my talk, but yes, I do think they were intentional. The real trick is interpreting what Kubrick was trying to say about things.

As a writer, do you relate to Jack at all?
LOL, yes, I do relate to parts of Jack more than I probably should as a writer. You could consider The Shining as an external manifestation of the story that Jack should be writing but is instead projecting: you begin having a conversation about the artistic process and its sometimes maddening frustrations and its allure, e.g., creepy sexy gross lady in the bathtub, its ghost bartenders offering you ghost booze when you’re a recovering alcoholic.

Hot take: who goes crazy, Jack or Wendy?
Your question is the real hot take, though. Jack OR Wendy? Why not both? I feel like Jack drags Wendy to the brink of madness, which mirrors some of the, er, unethical ways that Kubrick treated Shelley Duvall, who was also traumatized by the experience. As were many of the actors. Kubrick’s methods are often disturbing, and sometimes people use the genius approbation to dismiss bad behavior. I don’t know if Kubrick was a genius; I’ll stick with the term “perfectionist” and leave it at that. He did leave behind a body of exceptional work in his wake, but also quite a bit of human wreckage.