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On The Table Read, “the best book magazine in the UK“, author Patricia A. Jackson talks about the inspiration behind her latest book, Forging A Nightmare.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed Patricia A. Jackson about her life and career, what inspired her to start writing, and the story of her latest book release, Forging A Nightmare.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
My name is Patricia A. Jackson. By day, I am a mild-mannered high school English and Creative Writing teacher, and by night, I’m a horse-crazy sci-fi/fantasy writer. My pronouns are she/her. I am a plus-size Black woman with long graying dreadlocks, and I’m usually wearing a t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers (if not paddock boots and spurs).
When did you first WANT to write a book?
In 1978, I was eight years old, wide-eyed and awestruck, sitting in a movie theater watching Star Wars. While the film remains one of my absolute favorite movies of all time, it had one missing element: HORSES! So I went home to correct that by writing my own book.
When did you take a step to start writing?
As mentioned in the previous question, I went home after watching Star Wars and wrote my first novel in a notebook. The story was about a little girl trying to save her galaxy from evil with the help of her magical horses (Who needs the Force when you have a good horse, right?). Each horse had a different superpower and was a different color of the rainbow.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
That was a VERY long time ago. I can’t imagine it took too long. I’m an only child, and I love to daydream. I do remember the book took up an entire spiral notebook. When I tried to read it to my parents, they wanted to know where I had copied it. I instantly cried at the accusation, but my dad explained he thought it was good, better than he would have expected. Still not sure how to comprehend that: a compliment? Or something else?
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
FORGING A NIGHTMARE took three years to come to the world. The story started as a mind-mapping activity for my creative writing students. They were having a hard time opening themselves up creatively. So I played a game on the white board, allowing my thinking process to materialize. When I was done, they all were like: “Miss, are you going to write that? You need to write that.”
I dismissed the idea until one of them challenged me to check out Wattpad. The platform was about to initiate its first ever Online Novella Contest, so I wrote the first 20,000 words of FORGING. It won second place in a field of over a thousand entries. I wanted more. My friend and mentor, Nancy Springer (the Enola Holmes Series) told me I needed to flesh out the story by adding 50K word, if I wanted to sell it. So I got busy and fleshed out the manuscript to 150,000 words.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write Forging A Nightmare?
Cheap therapy! If daydreaming was a diagnosis, I would be terminal! FORGING took me on so many adventures in Hell and on the Vestibule Road, far away from a world that seemed to be imploding. The novel also was a form of rebellion.
I am not a religious person, but I AM a spiritual one. I‘m so fed up with so-called religious people forcing their beliefs on others, particularly nominal Christians. Someone told my mother she was not baptized correctly because a pastor sprinkled water over her head, instead of nearly drowning her in a pool beneath the pulpit. I was like what the hell?! You want me to believe in your ghosts, but your ghosts are fussy about how water is applied for club membership?! <<Hold my beer, my inner child said, it’s time to break shit.>> The person who questioned the validity of my mom’s baptism would eventually tell her that I was going to Hell for writing this book. Yeah, okay…I’ll be sure to invite you to the barbecue!
What were your biggest challenges with writing Forging A Nightmare?
I have always loved epic fantasies that completely immersed me into unique worlds different from the one I live in. I have never read books in the urban fantasy genre. I never wanted to write in the real or contemporary world. If you had told me that I would ever pen an urban fantasy, I would have laughed. So the challenge was writing in the ‘real world’ (New York) for part of the novel and doing it well, while not spending too much time where I was happiest—in the fantasy realm of HELL!
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
I grew up in a world where to be beautiful, you had to be white—blond-haired, fair-skinned with blue eyes. So it was no surprise that Michael originally came to me in this form. Most of my characters fit this criteria. It was what the world had told me was desirable. And that’s how he remained through the first drafts of the book. But Anaba Raines was born unapologetically Black with dreadlocks, fiercely independent, a force to be reckoned with. The book also didn’t get written because she wanted the story to be about her. She did not find Michael worthy of the story or her. This prompted an exorcism of identity for me. I have lived my life as a Black woman in a white world, all white neighborhoods, private schools.
I rode horses in a sport where very few people looked like me. I had never appreciated or accepted my true identity. James Baldwin said, “You have to decide who you are and force the world to deal with you, not its idea of you.” Anaba forced me to do that. I was Michael Childs, and Michael was Black. That’s when all the pieces of the novel clicked into place.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
There are a lot of folks in the world who think their way of thinking, worshipping, and living is the only way. They look down on others and cast judgment on those who dare to live outside of those boundaries.
But then, there are radicals who will not just frown at you. They will harm or kill you for living your life. Those are the Grigori. They believe they are honorable, adhering to duty, but anyone who tarnishes their honor, just by existing, has no place and must be eliminated.
What is the inciting incident of Forging A Nightmare?
(If I skip the Prologue with its gruesome murder scene?) In the first chapter, Michael shows up to investigate a ritualistic murder dressed in his jousting gear. “…a Black man, dressed in medieval ensemble, he received more than a fair share of strange looks from pedestrians…” The victim’s tongue has been removed, her eyelids cut off, and she’s laid out with the mutilated skin of her back displayed like angel wings.
What is the main conflict of Forging A Nightmare?
The external conflict of the book is Michael Childs, FBI Special Agent, investigating a brutal series of murders in New York. After the third homicide, he gets his first clue into who might be responsible and commits himself to stopping them before more innocent people are killed. The internal conflict is Michael coming to grips with his unusual heritage as a Nephilim and his estranged relationship with his father. Anaba helps him keep it together on all fronts.
Did you plot Forging A Nightmare in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
Pantsers for the win!!!! Outlining does not work for me. It stifles my creativity. Beautiful, undiscovered passages become mundane and boring as they get cataloged. Creativity should be a glorious adventure, risky, perilous, and mostly unpredicted.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Forging A Nightmare need?
I made four to five passes through the book on my own while I was looking for a literary agent. When I signed on with my agent Sara Megibow (KT Literary), she sent me to manuscript book camp where I cut 30,000 words from the manuscript. When the novel was purchased by Angry Robot, UK, I got to work with Rose Greene, a freelancer editor, whom I love dearly. She’s awesome!
The next round of edits came with Acquisitions Editor Gemma Creffield and was more laser-focused to tighten the plot and the prose. From there, I had to answer to a few items from the proofreader and then the novel was ready to run. It’s quite a process, but every quest is fraught with some misadventure.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Trust and believe in your muse, your inner 8-year old. It’s the same voice that warns you to stay out of the basement on Halloween night or sends you running into the woods after fairies. Mine has a name, whom I share with close friends, and she’s a Sith Princess. I never leave reality without her. She is Han Solo and I am her Chewbacca. She shows me scenes (usually out of order), whispers dialogue, and curates the list of imaginary friends to invite to our playground.
My advice: Get the hell out of her way and let her play. Your first draft is unicorn vomit with one purpose…to exist. Leave the critic behind and jumped down the rabbit hole. Once the rough draft is done, then the work can begin. Until then, don’t let your critic send the inner child to a creative coma.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I just finished THE NIGHTMARE HITMAN, a stand-alone novel based in the same Nightmare universe. The protagonist, Marquise, is a Nightmare forged to serve the Gorgon queen Euryale, a fallen angel. To repay his own debt, he works as a hitman, assigned to track down and retrieve souls when their infernal contracts come due. One night, he bumps into Selma Williams, a hotshot lawyer looking to solve the 20-year old cold-case murder of her parents. Hampered by deliberate attempts to cover up the truth, she’ll need a miracle to bring the perpetrators to justice. A miracle or a wily Nightmare.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
I am quite proud of FORGING A NIGHTMARE. Finally breaking into traditional publishing with a novel of my own has been a dream come true. It was worth every drop of blood, sweat, and tears because at some point I became so committed to the process that surrender was no longer an option.
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