Lost Prairie and Beyond
I don't want to be the I've got a baby so I'm really busy guy, but alas we are who we are. It's been some time since I've posted here, and a lot has happened since we last chatted. Perhaps first and foremost the third book in the Jackalope Stories saga, The Lost Prairie BBQ is available now. You can order a copy here. Alternatively, for those interested in a signed copy, feel free to reach out through my contact page to work something out.
I want to thank those that have posted reviews for Lost Prairie. I've enjoyed getting people's perspective on this one. I've also been surprised at home many readers identify this one as their favorite in the series so far. I have a soft spot for each entry myself but it's fascinating to hear what really speaks to different readers, particularly those familiar with the series as a whole. To be fair there's a lot going on in this one, so I imagine there's something for everyone, including familiar faces and places from the previous books.
I was also flattered to be spotlighted in Our Mississippi Home. Our Mississippi Home is an online publication that specializes in positive and uplifting news relating to all things Mississippi. I was flattered to participate in an in-depth interview about the books, my influences, and what's next once Jackalope Stories concludes. It's a neat article, which you can check out here.
It's hard to believe that we are now three books deep in the Jackalope Stories series. It seems like just yesterday I was talking to my wife about a boy who spends the summer visiting his grandparents boarding house full of monsters, and whether or not I should try to make it into something. Now I'm currently working on the final book in this series. The whole experience feels surreal, but I wanted to talk a little about what to expect as things begin to wrap up for Chester, the Blacklocks, and all the other familiar characters who've come to feel so real for me, and hopefully you as well.
Without getting too far into spoiler territory, readers who have been paying attention throughout books 1-3 have likely noticed there's often a lot going on in the background of my stories, particularly as it relates to The Auditor and the mysterious villain known as The Man in the Gray Suit. Towards the end of the Lost Prairie BBQ we finally get a brief encounter between these two enigmatic and powerful figures who seem to have been circling each other for some time. This brief but colorful confrontation is essentially a prelude to the final act of Jackalope Stories.
You can also expect to see several familiar faces. For Thin House, Hinderwood, and Lost Prairie I essentially treated each story as a standalone book that could be enjoyed on it's own, but that also contained some treats and Easter Eggs for returning readers. The fourth book is a little different, as it essentially acts as the first true sequel to each of the preceding entries. Kat, Nick, and the Doe Brothers all play big roles, but the main protagonist will be a grown up Finn Anglin who like me has come a long way since that first summer at the Blacklock's boarding house.
I'm excited for you to see the conclusion of what I've been building these last few years. I know endings can be sad, and in the spirit of fair warning this book will, like the others, contain some hardship and tragedy. However, with that being said I really believe I'm crafting something special that those who've been with me from the get go will really find rewarding.
Also, even though Jackalope Stories will be wrapping up, I have no intention to stop writing. I've actually already begun working on another project that's a little different but should be pretty cool, especially for fans of things like Fargo and True Detective. Anyways, I hope to be able to share more details soon. In the meantime I'll be reaching out a little more regularly with new updates on the books, merchandise, and some other cool stuff. Talk soon!
Book Talk, Signings, and Libraries
I had a conversation a while back with family where the question was posed at what point do you feel like a “real” author. Is it actually writing the first book, being published, selling a certain number? When you are approached by your first fan or you see your book on a store shelf does it suddenly register that you have reached professional legitimacy? For me the answer is no.
All of those milestones have been significant and meaningful, but a lot of it still doesn’t feel real. I’m not sure if this is just another case of imposter syndrome or something unique to writers, but it is what is. With that being said with each of these various checkpoints it does seem to become more tangible. I think of myself less as someone who is writing and more as an author. I’ve wanted to be an author since I was a 12, and the hurdle of getting a functional batman suit proved an impediment to my primary career choice.
Believe it or not, I remember the moment I decided that’s what I wanted to do. I was sitting on my parent’s front porch on a rainy Saturday afternoon finishing the last chapter of Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always. The book had been recommended to me by my cool history teacher Mr. Williams, and it was thrilling. It was one of those stories that spoke to everything I wanted in a book. It had mystery, action, and this undercurrent of otherworldliness that made it feel like more was being said than just the surface level plot.
Today I own a signed first edition now and It’s still a favorite. I also wonder why on earth no one has made a movie adaptation. It seems like something that was tailor made for Guillermo Del Toro, just saying. Anyways, that book sent me down a rabbit hole that led to Neil Gaiman, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, and others. I also knew when I turned that last page that one day, I wanted to write something that made someone else feel the way I did.
That moment would not have been possible without my local public library. At the time and for most of my childhood, my library was the Oak Grove Branch of the Lamar County system. I can’t tell you how many stacks of books I carried out of that building and into places like Narnia, Terabithia, Castle Rock, and Green Town. Myself and countless other young readers owe so much to these sanctuaries of literacy, and it’s a debt we will likely never be able to pay back.
My tab still continues grow in adulthood, because I have been asked to participate in something really cool. This month I’ll be conducting a book talk and signing at the same library in Mississippi that got me started on this journey almost twenty years ago. You can find the information on the flyer below.
It’s still tough to feel like this whole thing is real, but events like this are truly special. As a writer that appreciates the circular nature of storytelling, there is something about this that feels significant. I don’t know if I would say that I’ve reached that mythical point in the journey where Authorship feels natural, but it’s a big step. For those fans and friends in the Hattiesburg area I hope to see you there, and for those young readers who might one day go on a similar journey, thank you for allowing me to be a part of your experience, and good luck.
A couple things...
Hey everyone! I apologize for the long delay in posting here or updating the website. There has been a lot happening personally as well as on the jackalope stories front. I won’t bore you with the details on the personal side of the house. Instead I’ll just leave this here…
Anyways, I did not create this post just to share baby pictures or blame this recent change in my life for the lack of updates. I wanted to first thank all my readers for the support on my most recent book. The Hinderwood recently celebrated six months on the market and I’ve been really pleased with the sales and positive reviews. As a reminder if you’ve, had a chance to read the book already, it would really help me out for you to leave a review or rating on Amazon or Goodreads if you haven’t already.
The Hinderwood is the same way, although instead of a child’s relationship with his parents and grandparents, it examines the relationship between a teenager and his younger siblings. The book is built on my own thoughts and feelings regarding being a brother. I’m the oldest in my family, and most of the experiences that I built those thoughts and feelings on happened when I was older; as such, it felt necessary to age up the reading level from the Thin House. Though as I type that I’m uncomfortable, because I never felt like I was talking down to my audience in book one, instead I tried to write a story, that could be appreciated regardless of age, that just happened to have a child protagonist in the vein of books like Coraline, The Night Gardener, and The Book of Lost Things. Nonetheless it’s hard to argue that The Hinderwood has some more intense moments.
But again, that was part of the point. In order for me to be sincere as an author my work has to be rooted in something meaningful (to me at least). So while I can see why some would have expected The Thin House to be the first in a series akin to The Magic Tree House or the Boxcar Children, that was never my goal. Each book in Jackalope Stories will be centered around a type of relationship that was critical at different stages in my life. As such that also means the stories will get a little more mature as we go on. I think this will ultimately allow my readers to come to the world of Jackalope Stories at different points in their own lives and always take something away from the experience.
I’m sharing this because I’m excited about what comes next. I’m currently in the editing phase of book three, and I can’t wait for you to see what we have in store. Readers of both The Thin House and The Hinderwood will have noticed an ongoing story building across both books, and that continues in a big way in the third entry, which will hopefully really set the stage for the finale. I don’t want to give too much away yet, but I will say the next one is a bit special in the relationship it explores. You see book three is a love story. One with Jackalopes, ghostly boxing matches, Haitian Voodoo, well dressed assassins, and the best barbecue on this side of eternity.
I can’t wait for you to check it out...Also here's one more for good luck.
When I organized the first Jackalope Stories Fan Art Contest, I didn't really know what to expect. I hoped to get a wide a range of participation, but you never know how these things will go. I'm pleased to say I am overwhelmed by the number and quality of submissions, and I want to sincerely thank everyone who took the time to create a unique piece of Jackalope Stories artwork. It's amazing to see this world come alive through so many different creative lenses.
As I mentioned previously, I want to showcase every submission on the website. However there are two special artists who in addition to having their work highlighted will receive prizes. Without further ado the two winners of the first Jackalope Stories Fan Art Contest are Emilee Barton and Addyson Humpherys!
While all the submissions received were great and brought a smile to my face, these two in particular did a phenomenal job of both capturing the feeling of the books and bringing a unique perspective to the subject matter. Thank you so much Emilee and Addyson, and I hope you enjoy your prizes. It was honestly very difficult to choose two winners. We got a plethora of amazing, thoughtful, and pleasantly spooky pieces submitted and I'm excited to share them all with you now.
In addition to the submissions, above I wanted to put a special spotlight on two other entries. There were two pieces of art submitted by two different individuals to whom I owe a sincere thanks. The first drawing was created by Jacob Havard. Jacob is a teacher at George County School District in Mississippi and has been fan since the early days of Jackalope Stories. He's also been hugely supportive in promoting the books and this contest among students. I owe the success of Jackalope Stories to fans like Jacob, and I'm hugely jealous of his artistic ability!
The last entry I wanted to highlight is one that will now be hanging in my house! I'm fortunate enough to have a very talented family capable of generating artwork across a range of mediums. This includes my Mother-in-Law, Monica Moore, who was kind enough to create a wonderful painting of The Thin House. If you look closely you can see the shadowy form of Ms. Abigail.
Thanks again to all the amazing artists who participated. It's humbling to see so many creative takes on the world of Jackalope Stories. As for our two special winners, your prizes are on their way and please be sure to share a picture for the blog when they arrive. Take care and talk soon!
Jackalope Stories Art Contest
First of all I want to sincerely thank readers for the early support on The Hinderwood (available here). The sales have been very positive and I highly encourages those who are finishing up to leave a review or rating on Amazon and Goodreads. It's always nice to hear what y'all think, and more reviews=better analytics. But again, thank you all and I can't wait to show you where the story goes from here.
But today I want to talk about something else. We are closing in on a year since The Thin House released, and especially now that we have the second entry in the saga available, I'm hearing from more and more fans of the world, I'm continuing to build out. I've been trying to think of something special to do to celebrate. Specifically, I want something that will also allow fans to engage in a tangible way. I'm pleased to say I think I've come up with something pretty cool.
I'm officially announcing the first ever Jackalope Stories Fan Art Contest! To enter, participants just need to send an original work of art (in any medium) to my email firstname.lastname@example.org. The art needs to feature a scene or character from either The Thin House or The Hinderwood. Every entry will be featured on the website, but two special winners will receive an Amazon gift card and a Jackalope Stories T-Shirt. The contest runs now through the end of March, and I'll announce the winners in early April. Also feel free to consult my very impressive flyer.
Everyone is welcome to participate. However, I want to especially encourage students and classrooms to participate. So any teachers wanting to help facilitate this, please feel free to contact me for a discounted classroom copy of either book or anything else I can do to help. I can't wait to see what everyone comes up with! Talk soon!
Opossum Trot and Beyond
When I was a kid, I pictured being an author as this almost magical experience not too dissimilar from a Jedi using the force. I imagined writers as artistic figures who were are able to tap into this ambiguous creative spirit that flowed through their body and onto the page. I thought inspiration could be triggered by small things, but once struck would burst from my brain like a hidden reserve of oil.
The reality is much less sexy. Inspiration definitely plays a part in the process and there are scenes I've written that seem to appear almost fully constructed (See Ezekiel's fight with Eden's dad in The Thin House), but 99% of writing is a lot more like playing with a Rubik's cube. You have a general idea of what is should look like and you spend a lot of time shifting and moving pieces to make it fit just right. Editing and rewriting play a much role in delivering a finished book, than I ever would have guessed. Particularly in the later stages, which is where I find myself.
So as a respite from the formatting and back and forth with printing services, I thought it may be therapeutic to take a break and share a little more about what comes next in The Hinderwood as well as future books.
Readers of The Thin House noticed that one of the strongest relationships in the book is between Finn and his Grandparents Ezekiel and Eleanor Blacklock. Eagle eyed fans may have also noticed that the story is dedicated to grandparents. I've said in earlier posts that I grew up in a Southern storytelling culture that was largely established by my parents and grandparents. When I wrote my first book I wanted to capture the feeling I grew up with of a young boy who is thrust into this world of elaborate and colorful mythologies.
Some people expected the second book to continue on this theme, and to basically see the continuation of Finn's story. I can honestly say that was never the plan. I envision Jackalope Stories as three separate, standalone (if overlapping) stories that are all ultimately tied together in an "event style" fourth book that serves as my bookend to the world I first created with Thin House.
That said, each of the three standalone stories is really founded on a type of relationship and a different stage in my own life. Thin House was my childhood relationship with grandparents and parents; whereas, The Hinderwood is my adolescence and my relationship with my younger siblings. I had a lot of readers ask about the parallels from my personal life that worked their way into the first book, and I've said before that good writing is personal writing. I expect this to intensify with book two.
My siblings spent countless summers and weekends exploring the town and vast networks of trails my grandfather and great uncles cleared through the pine forest surrounding all the rural homes. It hasn't changed much since I was a kid, and it still has a magical quality that is hard to articulate. When I started considering the setting for The Doe Brother's story there was no other possibility. It was easy to picture Jack and Jimmy walking the quiet country roads and doing odd jobs for crazy old guys like Buford and Cash, who are based lovingly on my great uncles.
I actually first visited Opossum Trot as a writer when working on a comic book a couple years back. The comic didn't work out, but the quirky town has been stewing in the back of my mind for some time now, and I fully intend to go back not only for Hinderwood but for other future projects as well.
Readers may remember Opossum Trot from The Thin House. I actually mentioned the Opossum Trot Funeral Home in the chapter introducing The Auditor. It's no coincidence that book two follows one of the otherworldly bureaucrat's other files, and I think it's safe to assume you will see more of him throughout book two and three. In many ways The Auditor is the glue between the stories and his story is a big part of what I have planned for the finale in book four.
Anyways, I hope you're as excited as I am. I feel like I've been hanging out in Opossum Trot for years now, and I can't wait for you to do the same. Talk soon!
New Book Announcement
I have been waiting for this day for some time. In my experience, writing fiction that hasn't been shared with anyone is learning to live with voices in your head and elaborate invisible worlds that no one else visits. If you do your job right this imaginary world doesn't always feel so imaginary. You can clearly envision the geography, local flora and fauna, and the overall vibe of this place that exists in your head. Not only that, but the citizens of this fictional place become more and more real until you can almost hear them bickering, laughing, and vying for your attention. This phenomenon intensifies until you reach a point where you have to do something about it, or see a therapist.
So to put off having to set up an official appointment with my father-in-law, it's time for a new book. I can now officially announce that the second book in the Jackalope Stories series will be released on February 19th. To celebrate, I would like to reveal the completed cover for The Hinderwood which you can see below.
As I mentioned, The Hinderwood is the second installment of The Jackalope Stories Saga, but much like The Thin House it can be read as a standalone story. However, readers from my first book will appreciate a continuing sub plot that will frame future books and lead to a final story that will tie everything together in a conclusion that's been several years in the making. In the coming weeks you can check back here for more teasers and character spotlights in advance of our February release, but for now check out the back of book summary below. Talk soon!
When Jack and Jimmy Doe left New Orleans to live with a new guardian in Opossum Trot, Mississippi, the brothers thought they would finally live out a normal childhood—at least by their standards. They expected unfair fights with schoolyard bullies, hard work with ornery neighbors, and an endless supply of terrible though well-intended cookies.
But one Halloween night, Jimmy convinces his older brother Jack to break through the chains and locks on a wooden shed behind the town mortuary. By the time Jack rubs the blinding light from his eyes, Jimmy is already gone, stolen away by a pale hand with sharp, yellow nails. While Jimmy struggles against his ravenous captor, Jack can only give chase into a strange world—taking every risk necessary to find his lost brother before time runs out.
Because once spirits in the Hinderwood forget their purpose, they fade… or they feed.
Welcome to Opossum Trot
So first off I know it's been a while since we've had an update here, and I apologize for the lull. However, the reason for the lack of blog posts is that I've been hard at work on a range of projects that will be coming your way sooner rather than later. You'll notice I said projects as in plural. I can't say much about one of them, besides make sure you keep your eye out around here on Halloween. But I wanted to take some time today to tell you a little bit about a larger one coming your way in 2021.
The support for The Thin House has been exciting, and I'm happy to announce that you will be able to visit the world of The Blacklocks, The Auditor, and Chester the Jackalope again, and quite soon. I can officially share that the sequel, Hinderwood will be released in 2021.
Hinderwood will take place in the eccentric town of Opossum Trot Mississippi. I first created Opossum Trot as a setting for a comic book that I worked on a couple years back. It's based loosely on the town of Liberty, Mississippi which is where my mom's family is from. I weave a lot of family stories and characters into the fabric of this fictional town, and I'm excited to welcome you. Opossum Trot is a special place not only in the Jackalope Stories universe, but also as a setting for future books not involving Chester and company.
The story will follow brothers Jack and Jimmy Doe. Their adventure begins when a Halloween dare involving the local mortician and his mysterious cellar goes horribly wrong. The Doe's will need all the help they can get as they're pursued by a relentless predator called The Needlebone Man, and readers from The Thin House can expect to see some familiar faces. I hope you join Jack and Jimmy on this otherworldly odyssey featuring undead coyotes, consecrated baseball bats, and high stakes chess matches.
As we get closer to release, I'll share some teasers and background information on some of the characters and places. For now be sure to follow me on Facebook and Instagram, and check back here regularly for updates. Talk Soon.
What Comes Next
Last week I was talking to a friend who recently finished The Thin House, and they asked a question that has been on my mind for quite some time, "What are you going to do next?" I've gotten variations of this question pretty much since the release of the first book. This particular query is thrilling to me for a couple reasons. The first and foremost being, I'm tremendously excited about where we go from here. The truth is, I have been since long before The Thin House was released.
Many of my readers have admired the artwork on our home page. The image was created by Kurt Chang and features fan-favorite character from the first book, Chester the Jackalope, toiling away at a typewriter in a warm and inviting library. Many have commented on the eclectic details of the setting, and noted Easter eggs from the book, including Ezekiel Blacklock's gun belt, a plate of Eleanor's biscuits with honey, and the brass-knuckles from the werewolf fight. However, there are a lot of other specific and unusual items in Chester's library that don't appear in the book, at least not the first one.
Some noteworthy details in the art include, a hand-carved baseball bat, a marble chess piece, and a sleeping pit bull. There are others as well. The inclusion of these objects was a conscious and planned decision to nod at what lies ahead for Jackalope Stories. The plan has been in place for some time, and if you enjoyed The Thin House I think you will be pleased with where we go from here. Without spoiling anything, I wanted to talk a little about what you can expect.
When people ask or make predictions about the sequel, the common assumption I'm confronted with is that the next time we visit The Thin House will be for Finn's second summer with his grandparents, and that the series will largely follow his growth as he spends more and more time with Ezekiel, Eleanor, and the guests at their boarding house. This is a nice idea, but while I can appreciate series like The Boxcar Children, that is not where we are going.
Though The Thin House has a young main character, I never intended my book to be a children's book necessarily. I've got another post where i'll discuss maturity levels in my writing, but for now I will simply say that some of the most intellectually stimulating books are told through the lens of a child's perspective, and that's where I wanted Jackalope Stories to begin. Throughout the course of future books in this series, the protagonist(s) will get older much like my readers. Furthermore the series will not be a Finn's Adventure of the Summer serial. I've got something slightly more ambitious in mind.
Like most of my character's I have a lot of affection for Finn Anglin. He's based largely on a younger version of myself learning from the prominent adults in my childhood. We will see him again in the course of upcoming books, but he will not be the main character again until the last one. When I planned out the four stories that I hope to write in this series, the primary goal of The Thin House was to build a sandbox. Put another way, I wanted to create a world with fertile ground in which to harvest exciting, and earnest stories.
The second and third book, both of which are far along in their development, will take place in the same world as The Thin House. You will see familiar characters, places, and an overarching sub-plot that I hope will pay off in a big way as we approach the end. However, each book will be a standalone story that can be read and appreciated with or without the benefit of the rest of the series. I don't want to get into major spoilers, but I will say if you want a peek at what the series will be, pay close attention to Chapter Six of The Thin House.
I recognize this may not be what some expected, but as the person who's spent the most time in this world and with these characters I'm very excited for you to see what lies ahead. If you enjoyed The Thin House, if the characters felt meaningful and interesting, I believe you will be pleased with the next couple steps in this journey, more so than something as formulaic a Finn's annual adventure.
I'm on track to release the second book in early 2021. I'm looking forward to sharing information and previews over the next couple months. The Thin House will always hold a soft spot in my heart, but that world is about to get a lot bigger. Our next stop will be Opossum Trot Mississippi. I can't wait to show you around.
Comics and Milestones
A pretty cool milestone took place this weekend. A store agreed to carry my paranormal YA book. This particular store isn't the first to pick up my book, I've been fortunate enough to have a couple commercial distributor orders for The Thin House. The reason this specific store is special is because of what it is, I.e. my local comic shop.
I've said before on here, that I'm a pretty big comic fan. I grew up on my dad's old silver age comic books. My earliest memories were mostly X-Men, Thor, The Justice League, and my all time favorite, Batman. Besides these treasures, I also devoured anything I could get a hold of at used bookstores, and local libraries. I still remember the triumph of discovering the entire run of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's The Long Halloween at a flea market, and getting all thirteen issues for ten bucks.
I really didn't understand the joy of a great local comic shop until I was an adult. I found my current shop shortly after I returned from my missionary service and started college. I'd read about a then rising writing talent named Scott Snyder who was about to start a run of Batman comics with one of my favorite artists, Greg Capullo, and I wanted to experience it as a monthly subscriber. My search led me to a store that at the time was called Comics and Stuff. Now, eight years, two owners, two locations, and a name change later it is still my local comic shop.
I still keep a list of subscriptions at what is now Bombshell comics even though I no longer live in Hattiesburg. I do this because it's an awesome store, with great customer service, that has made accessing illustrated storytelling so special. This store and the management over the years have not only provided the comics I was looking for, but also introduced me to whole new worlds of stories including Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ottley's Invincible which is now one of my all time favorite series.
When I released my book, one my personal goals was to get it in Bombshell Comics. Not because I necessarily expect to sell a ton of copies there, it's a comic shop after all. But anyone who has had a regular relationship with a business for years knows it evolves into something special. Particularly with a local comic shop, once you make the New Book Wednesday trek for the hundredth time you start to realize you're part of a community. I've been part of a great one for eight years, and I was delighted when the owner Jarred Howze said he'd carry a couple copies of The Thin House.
I can't sing Bombshell's praises enough. Over the years I've participated in midnight release parties, Free Comic Book Day, and several other fun events. The staff is courteous and knowledgeable. They regularly host artists, cosplayers, and other special guests. Even during Covid-19 they are doing everything they can to safely support the needs of customers like me. I highly recommend a visit.
No matter how successful The Thin House becomes, this particular milestone will always be special. There's something awesome about my book having a home at my local comic shop. Bombshell Comics and Stuff is located in Hattiesburg, MS on Hardy Street.
You can find them on Facebook and Instagram or check out their Website at Bombshellcomicsonline.com
My name is Jake Nickens. I'm a husband, dog owner, and Author of The Thin House.