Setting plays a big part in my writing. I'm currently working on the sequel to The Thin House, which takes places in a fictional version of my mom's hometown, where I spent a lot of time as a kid. I'm excited to introduce the world to Opossum Trot Mississippi, but today I want to talk about the setting of my recent book. The Thin House is set in Abita Springs Louisiana. Abita is a real place, and my one regret about the book is not taking more time to discuss it. Like many of my favorite places, Abita is small, rural, town with a giant personality.
Abita Springs was first settled by Louisiana pioneers in the 1800's, but was first discovered by the Choctaw Indians who were drawn to the area by it's mineral springs and Artesian wells. They called the place "ibetap" which means fountain. There is a legend that one of sons of the first settlers married a Choctaw princess named Abita. The couple supposedly moved to nearby New Orleans where the princess fell gravely ill, and wasn't responding to any treatments. The legend states that by returning and bathing in the healing mineral waters of "ibetap" she was miraculously healed.
Another thing that's still there today is the water. There is a fountain near the center of town where locals and visitors call fill up jugs of the water to take with them. I can't speak to the validity of it's healing nature, but there is a noticeable freshness that is very nice. My wife and I top off our water bottles whenever we pass through.
Today the town boasts a handful of very pleasant restaurants, The Abita Brewery, and fascinating places like the Abita Mystery House, a museum for folk art, old arcade games, odd collections, and general weirdness. Side note when my wife and I first visited the place we found this really strange looking gray cat that led us through the entire exhibit, and i'm still not sure if it was staged somehow or if we almost stumbled into Narnia. I highly recommend stopping in and exploring if you have the chance. Totally worth the $4 admission.
Abita has an almost otherworldly quirkiness that is palpable from the moment you first drive into town beneath a hollow of massive oaks, with hanging curtains of Spanish moss. There are strings of Christmas lights in the trees that give the community an even more magical vibe at night. It's truly a special place. I knew when I first started building The Thin House that it needed to be nestled away in the rural edge of Abita Springs. I challenge anyone who read the book to take a visit and see if you can't feel some of the eccentric warmth that I tried my best to capture in The Thin House. There's a reason my wife and I now live just a couple miles away.
The hardest thing about being an independent author is easily the marketing. I love the actual writing, and as I've said in the past I really love working with artists. While I enjoy talking about my book, particularly with fans, I don't like doing so in a way that doesn't feel organic. This is probably why I cannot make twitter work.
So, I'm trying to be creative when it comes to finding ways to share my story with potential readers. Since we are still pretty much in quarantine, I've been unable to go around to libraries and books stores, and conventions are not really an option. However, I recently had a really cool opportunity. I was asked by a teacher to help with a virtual creative writing class for 5th-8th graders. It was a great experience and allowed me to talk about my book and some general thoughts on story crafting.
I thought I'd share the video
Now before anyone rips on me, I am very aware I'm awkward on camera. And sometimes off camera...But besides allowing me to speak about my book, I really thought this was a great opportunity to share what humble insight I have into the writing process. Particularly as it relates to my last point in the video.
I always had this idea that writers were just born with almost magically infinite supplies of creativity, and being an author essentially meant tapping into this inspiring force of imagination and writing what comes out in an almost prophetic way. Now to be clear some people are just born with great imaginations, but the reality is creativity is a skill that can be learned. In the video, I compare it to a muscle that can be strengthened with regular use.
Furthermore, creativity alone won't get you that far. Being able to come up with a great idea is wonderful, but crafting that idea into story, much less a book requires a hard work and discipline. I say all of this to drive home the fact that if you want to be a writer you can be. It's a matter of consistent effort more than anything else. I find that truly encouraging. I hope you do too.
"The Wild Card Bandits" Created and owned by Teo Skaffa.
It was a collaborative experience, and Teo was incredibly intuitive. I found the process to be similar to my own writing, where you start by essentially building the skeleton of a story and gradually put meat on the bones. I can't tell you how exciting it was to see the artwork begin to take shape, but to give you a sense of where we came from I thought it would be fun to share some of the different stages which you can see below.
It was wonderful seeing this world I spent so much time developing come to life visually. Teo's use of atmosphere and textures helped really nail the ethereal warmth and folksy charm I wanted to permeate The Thin House. I was very fortunate to work with someone so talented, but also so accommodating and hardworking on my first book. There was a lot of formatting and re-formatting that was necessary to submit the story for publication and Teo always brought solutions. I truly can't imagine delivering a product of this quality without him.
I'm currently working on the second and third book in the Jackalope Stories Saga. Ever since Teo created The Thin House cover, I've been eagerly anticipating what he comes up with for future corners of the world in which I spend an increasingly large amount of time. Even when he isn't working on projects with me, Teo is always creating something worth viewing. I highly recommend you check out more of his work on his website.
Visual art plays a big part in my writing either directly or as inspiration, and I hope to share more of these spotlight articles in the future. Until next time!
A note for family and friends wanting to be helpful. Amazon will not post reviews from people that are clearly related to me. So if your last name is Nickens, I recommend posting on Goodreads. I also recommend avoiding statements like "I know Jake from..." That said, I feel confident in my writing, and I welcome all feedback. Please be honest and help paint an accurate picture for those considering The Thin House.
For anyone wanting to skip the fuss and purchase a shirt today, they are available now on the Merchandise page. They come in five different colors and feature our logo, designed by Teo Skaffa. This will be the first of a couple Jackalope Stories related T-Shirts so check back periodically to see the new merchandise.
I have been overwhelmed by the support The Thin House has received on it's release week. It's beyond exciting to finally share this book with others. When you've had a story pounding around your brain for years, it's a special kind of catharsis to share that world with others. Unfortunately, in the case of many of you who ordered print versions of the book, it will probably be a couple of days before you can actually start down the rabbit hole. To make things better while you wait, I thought I'd write this special post that comes with something very valuable: The greatest biscuit recipe of all time.
As I've said before I grew up immersed in Southern culture. This means that I also grew up around amazing food. Cooking and sharing meals together has always been a big part of my family's world, and I've been blessed to witness the works of some true masters of the craft. I would put my parents, and extended family's food up against anyone, any day. When it comes to dishes like Jambalaya, Gumbo, and Red Beans and Rice, I am spoiled forever. I wanted to capture this in my first book. I wanted a character who was not only an artist with food, but who also used cooking to communicate love.
That is where the character of Eleanor Blacklock started. Many of you who have begun the story are becoming acquainted with Eleanor, and I hope you can feel her warmth. In the Thin House one of staples at Eleanor's table is her homemade biscuits. These become a favorite dish for some very important characters. I want you to experience them. So for those of you brave enough to try, I give you Eleanor's Biscuit Recipe:
Freeze butter until solid. Using a cheese grater, shred the butter into the 2 ½ cups of self-rising flour, and gently mix. Chill flour and butter for 10 minutes. Once chilled make a hole in the center of the bowl of flour and butter and pour in the cup of buttermilk. Taking care not to over mix, stir the ingredients 15 times or until evenly mixed. Spread some flour on the counter or a non-stick surface and turn out the mixture. Using a rolling pin roll the dough until about 1 ½ inch thick then fold it over on itself. Repeat this process four times this will make your layers. On the fifth time once the dough is folded use a drinking glass with flour dabbed around the top to cut out your biscuits, but make sure to press the glass down straight as opposed to twisting. Repeat the roll and fold method as needed until as many biscuits as possible have been cut from the dough. Place biscuits on a baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper. Place biscuits in rows so that they are as close as possible.
Bake at 450 for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. While biscuits are still warm on the baking sheet, lightly brush butter across the tops. Allow to cool for five minutes before removing from the baking sheet. Best served with Honey.