Welcome, one and all, to another author interview! Some of you may recall me speaking with JP Jackson about his novel Daimonion last year. Well, he’s back with a new book, and I couldn’t resist the urge to probe his mind a little more.
Hi JP, welcome back to the site! When we last spoke, you were promoting your demon-infused novel Daimonion. I was happy to see the book not only get two honorable mentions in the 2017 Rainbow Awards, but to also take the win in the Gay – Alternate Universe/Reality category. Congratulations on that! How did it feel to see your work honored like that?
Hi Matt, it’s good to be back! Thanks for having me again. I have leashes on all the demons this time and they’ve promised not to stain the carpet. I felt bad about what they did last time.
The Rainbow Awards was a lot of fun, but I was a nervous wreck too. I kept checking the webpage to see if the book had garnered any early nominations. I really wanted Daimonion to do well and I was shocked and very humbled to have won in the Gay Alt Universe/Reality category. There were so many good books!
In many ways, for me, that win was validation. A stamp of approval. Maybe I can tell a good story? Like the universe had given me permission to keep telling tales. I needed that. Daimonion was my debut novel and I don’t really have much experience in the publishing/literary world. That win gave me a push to keep going.
Now, today we’re mostly going to be talking about your latest novel, Magic or Die. This book tells the story of an alcoholic, psychic teacher named James Martin who is tasked with teaching five young adults how to control their powers. The catch is that those that don’t learn to control their abilities are killed. It was one such incident that sent James spiraling into alcohol addiction in the first place and left him wanting to walk away from his job. I really love the premise of this one. What inspired you write this particular tale rather than moving onto the sequel for Daimonion?
Funny story…NineStar press, my publishing house, regularly compiles anthologies of short stories from various authors, and usually within a theme. My editor asked if I would consider writing something for the Teacher’s Pet anthology, but that theme really didn’t grab me. And then he said… (Paraphrasing) “Well, it doesn’t have to be about a classroom per se. What about a werewolf with anger issues who falls for his facilitator of an anger management group session?”
And then my brain started whirling and I was like…damn you editor! <Raises fist and shakes it> I actually love him to death, but still…ugh. Plot bunnies!
In Magic or Die there are 5 twenty-something-year-olds, all who have uncontrolled and lethal magical abilities, including a shapeshifting fire wolf with anger issues.
You were kind enough to give me a sneak peak at the opening chapter of the book, and I found that there were a lot of cool things popping up quite early on. First up, James as a protagonist is an interesting one. Yes, he’s obviously at a low point in life, but we’re also given enough to see that he does have some empathy and that there’s a desire to do right still in there. Was it ever hard to balance his early lack of motivation and reliance on alcohol with the underlying character that had been buried by the tragedies that he’d suffered?
Short answer? No, not really. James finds himself thrown back into his old world somewhat by force, although it’s because of his kind nature that he agrees to go back to an environment that caused him a tremendous amount of grief and stress. I think James’s ‘brokenness’ is what makes him so endearing. Because he’s thrust back into a situation he doesn’t want to be in, he really has no choice but to be motivated.
The director of the facility that is holding these 5 young adults has also promised James to help him find his sister. He feels responsible for his sibling, and she’s even more of a mess than James. Poor James is really being pulled in a number of directions.
Euthanasia is a topic that has been heavily debated in the real world many times. As such, I wondered if the subject of euthanizing students who could not control their abilities obviously was potentially going to be a controversial one. I did think that both the concept and James’ reaction to one of his students indicated that we’d likely see the interaction between two opposing views here in terms of the legal justification for the system and the moral reaction. Would that be an accurate assumption here?
I think it’s a brilliant question! I don’t really dwell on whether or not there’s a right or wrong answer to this dilemma. For the students at the facility – it’s their main motivation to get their abilities under control – no one wants to die. For the facility – it’s a means to an end. After all, public safety is more important than an individual life. A sacrifice for the greater good. But for James, it’s a sign that the facility he works for is morally bankrupt. There isn’t much debate between the characters if euthanasia is a good thing or not. From the facility’s perspective, it’s a necessary event. To James and his students, it’s an unthinkable evil. An evil they have to overcome.
I’ll let the readers decide on their own where they sit with it.
James experiencing visions of the student that died was a nice touch in the opening chapter too, as it really illustrates his anguish over the events. The use of such things as a representation of guilt has been a long-time trope in horror fiction. Was this particular instance inspired by any particular title?
To be honest? No. And some people may find this amusing, or perhaps even odd, but I don’t watch horror movies and I rarely read horror books. I love Urban Fantasy, Paranormal, and sometimes the odd Romance, with a dash of general Literary Fiction. I have read some Horror – I loved Stephen King when I was a teenager, and of course Anne Rice, and those two authors have definitely been my inspiration – but I haven’t read anything in that genre in a long time.
Quite frankly, I can’t. The nightmares that are induced keep me up at night for months on end. It’s just not worth the torture.
In the book though, James’s visions persist, and Cody – the dead student, and also James’s ex – have a continual presence throughout the book.
Can we expect James’ five students to all have different powers and abilities, or will there be some cross-overs? What can you tell us about them without getting too heavily into spoiler territory?
There’s a little bit of cross-over. In my world there are three main magic classes; Elemental, Psychic and Arcane (people with demons possessing them). But there’s a fourth class as well, but it’s the ‘dirty class that no one talks about.’ James falls into the Psyche category, but so do two of his students. However, each person tends to default to their ‘go to ability’. Even though there’s cross-over, no one’s truly the same.
Do you have a favourite character in the book? Who is it and why?
Oh yes, Isaiah. Isaiah breaks all the rules. It’s generally assumed that if you have abilities, then you belong to the class that represents your talents. You also won’t have powers from any of the other classes. Isaiah has talents in all three classes. Plus he’s vulnerable at times, cocky at others, and a furry little pocket bear. Well, he’s lithe and wiry, maybe more of an otter than a bear. He stole my heart.
The premise has a lot of potential in terms of setting up a number of different things, including action, metaphysical talk, and even perhaps some body horror. What sort of balance of styles can readers expect with this book?
Well, I think readers are still going to find that this is fairly dark – like Daimonion – but I don’t think there’s the same amount of doom and gloom as my first book. There’s action, yes. There’s a few scenes with metaphysical talk – helps to set up the rules of this alternate reality. But the fact that Arcane magicians have demons residing within them gives this story some gruesome and dark moments.
As much as my first book was Urban Fantasy/Horror, I think I would place Magic Or Die in the Paranormal realm, with some side dishes of Horror and maybe some Romance for dessert.
The opening chapter also mentions James’ sister, who is currently on the streets. Will she play a big part in the novel, or James’ arc?
She’s one of the main motivating factors for James, in this book. Not the only one though, but she definitely has a heavier influence towards the end of the story. A large impact. Like, life altering.
Is Magic or Die set to be part of a series like Daimonion, or is this a completely enclosed tale?
You know I don’t think I’m capable of writing a book that isn’t a series. This is definitely a series. The next book is already planned out. I’ve tentatively called it Blood Rites and Sacrifice. It’s going to focus in on two things: that dirty fourth class of magic, also known as Sanguimancy, and then a good chunk of the book will be devoted to James and Isaiah’s developing relationship. The other characters from Magic or Die are also there too, but not as prominent.
The book is published by NineStar Press, who you have now worked with on multiple projects. What is it about the publishing house that makes you want to stick with them as a home for your work?
I’ve been so happy with NineStar. They’ve been nothing but supportive and patient. And I like the fact that they are a publishing house that is dedicated to publishing and promoting LGBTQA+ fiction in all the different genres. I wish I had had that kind of a resource when I was growing up.
Given the positive response to Daimonion, did you feel any pressure in terms of maintaining quality with Magic or Die, or did moving to a different tale help alleviate that?
Did telling a different story alleviate the pressure of writing another book? Oh hell no, if anything, I needed Magic or Die to be better. I wanted to see my skill increase. I asked my beta readers who had read both stories which they liked better. All but one of them said Magic Or Die is a better story. So, I hope it does as well or better than Daimonion. The real pressure now is to get busy and write and finish the second books in both series! And again, I’m going to strive for nothing less than perfection from those projects. Every time I do this (sit down and write a book) I want to make sure I’m getting better at it.
Both books have more than a touch of magic to their setting. What is it that attracts you to the fantastical, and horror in particular?
There’s something beautiful about magic. And at the same time, it can be our undoing. I absolutely believe in magic, the fantastical, and miracles. But we don’t really understand it either. And when you don’t understand something, it can be dangerous. For all the potential magic has, the likelihood that it will backfire is much bigger than we’d like to admit. I like the possibility of it all, and I can let my imagination go wild. Most of all, I find things that hide in the shadows to be most interesting. Fairy Tales have evolved into these lovely stories about light and love. Originally, the Fae were tricksters and just as likely to eat you as they were to offer assistance. And everything had a price. Sometimes that price was too high.
I love that. I love morally grey characters. James – our alcoholic teacher – is troubled. He does things most of us would never do, and yet, he makes no apologies for it. In the book we see him second guessing some of his actions. He knows that his choices are messed up.
But, aren’t we all a little like that?
With two novels and a few anthology appearances under your belt, have you learned anything that would be useful to new authors just starting out?
Always strive to be better. Don’t get lazy. Collect people who love your work, but who will tell you their honest opinion of it. Don’t get an ego. Learn that sometimes what you thought was the best written sentence ever, is crap and needs to be edited. LISTEN TO YOUR EDITORS. Revise. Grow. Be Better.
What’s next for you? Do you have any more projects on the horizon?
So many! And not nearly enough time. I’m part way through writing Nephalem: Book Two of the Apocalypse, and I’ve got plot bunnies running all over the place for Blood Rites and Sacrifice, Inner Demons #2, and I have no idea who will win out first. But there are lots of words to write!
Do you have any final message for readers? Where can they go to find out more about you? Feel free to link to anything you want.
I love hearing from my readers. I don’t bite, my demons might, but I don’t. Come stop by and say hi any of the following places!
Tumblr: http://canuckbear88.tumblr.com/ (18+ please)