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.
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
Fun fact about me, the adults of my childhood were correct when they told me I watched too much TV. But for better or worse that's how I was as a kid, and it's how I am as an adult. I love TV and movies, and though sometimes I struggle to remember the names of people I meet at work, I can easily rattle off quotes from Nick-at-Night, the cast of obscure movies like The Terror (1963), and the plot of just about every episode of Batman The Animated Series (as well as every other Bruce Timm show).
I love old stuff like The Twilight Zone (Sterling) and new stuff like...The Twilight Zone (Peele). Whether we are talking about mysteries and detective shows like Fargo and Justified, horror like Stranger Things and The Haunting of Hill House, Sitcoms like Superstore and Brooklyn Nine Nine, or animation (looking at you Bob's Burgers) I'm in. To give you a sense of the wide net of my veiwing interest, during the quarantine I've polished off the following:
Before we get to the actual cast, let's talk format. I'm a big fan of mini-series, and I feel like that is the most natural way to tell a visual story for The Thin House. I wrote the book so that each chapter was almost a self-contained story, so you could almost do an episode for each chapter. So ideally we are looking at something like a Netflix single season mini-series. Also, technically The Thin House rides the line between middle grade/young adult fiction, but I like to think I wrote in a mature voice that could be appreciated by an older/family audience. So, I wouldn't really see this as a children's show/series, more like something tonally close to Umbrella Academy or Locke and Key.
Now, without further adieu let's look at my cast:
So there you go. This represents a dream scenario, the reality is that any of these actors in these roles would be awesome (Especially Jeff Bridges as Ezekiel, I mean come on) I am also prepared to defend these castings with examples if necessary. Anyways, I want to hear what you think on this one. Who do you see in these roles?
I am sincerely grateful for those who have left reviews so far on Amazon and Goodreads, and as a way to encourage more, I have previously mentioned a raffle. Everyone who has submitted a review so far is already included. In addition, anyone else that leaves honest feedback for The Thin House on Amazon or Goodreads will be entered into a raffle. The winner will receive a free T-Shirt. I'll be doing the drawing when we reach 20 reviews on Amazon, and I'll announce the winner here on the website.
A note for those wishing to participate. Amazon is very particular about the reviews they post so if a member of your family has already left feedback you will most likely not be posted. In this case I recommend using Goodreads instead. And of course, I really want honesty here. I'm not encouraging anyone to leave feedback that doesn't accurately reflect your opinions on the book. I hope to be announcing a winner soon! Best of luck!
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.
Hello everyone! I'm proud to announce that The Thin House is now available in both digital and print. Furthermore in it's first week The Thin House has been ranked in the Top 100 Children's Scary Stories on Amazon. I really appreciate the support so far, and I look forward to hearing what some of you think once you've had a chance to read the story. I'll be sure to share the reviews on the book's page where you can also purchase a copy if haven't already. Thanks again and I hope to have some more updates soon.