Jackal, the debut novel by Erin E. Adams combines mystery, horror, and suspense
Author Interview + Book & Author Info + Author Pet Corner!
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A young Black girl goes missing in the woods outside her white rust belt town. But she’s not the first—and she may not be the last. . . .
A PHENOMENAL BOOK CLUB PICK • “A heady, page-turning, all-too-relevant reinvention of the return-to-home horror story—truly gut-wrenching and frightening.”—Paul Tremblay, author of A Head Full of Ghosts and The Pallbearers Club
Liz Rocher is coming home . . . reluctantly. As a Black woman, Liz doesn’t exactly have fond memories of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, a predominantly white town. But her best friend is getting married, so she braces herself for a weekend of awkward, passive-aggressive reunions. Liz has grown, though; she can handle whatever awaits her. But on the day of the wedding, somewhere between dancing and dessert, the couple’s daughter, Caroline, disappears—and the only thing left behind is a piece of white fabric covered in blood.
As a frantic search begins, with the police combing the trees for Caroline, Liz is the only one who notices a pattern: A summer night. A missing girl. A party in the woods. She’s seen this before. Keisha Woodson, the only other Black girl in Liz’s high school, walked into the woods with a mysterious man and was later found with her chest cavity ripped open and her heart removed. Liz shudders at the thought that it could have been her, and now, with Caroline missing, it can’t be a coincidence. As Liz starts to dig through the town’s history, she uncovers a horrifying secret about the place she once called home. Children have been going missing in these woods for years. All of them Black. All of them girls.
It’s your turn.
With the evil in the forest creeping closer, Liz knows what she must do: find Caroline, or be entirely consumed by the darkness.
To purchase Jackal at various outlets, click the following link: Penguin Random House
Jackal Author Interview — Erin E. Adams
Jackal combines horror and the supernatural with a thriller. How did the story come to you?
I’ve always loved a good mystery. That is something my mother instilled in me from a very young age with her love of mysteries, thrillers and procedurals. Growing up, I realized more than being fun, as a genre, mysteries have the ability to alter how we see the world. Usually something gets broken apart and the mystery puts it back together. I always knew I wanted to write one.
Digging into real life, I became fascinated with urban legends. So often they’re rooted in real world anxieties or issues. Occasionally, they highlight a broken system or problem in a community. The story is a way of coping. It is a way of explaining the unexplainable.
All of the above started to solidify into the story that would become Jackal right after the 2016 election. Essentially, when I returned home that year, my hometown looked different and not just because of time. Returning home I realized that the conflicts brewing in my hometown had always been there, I’d finally grown enough to be able to name them. In naming them, I was horrified. So, made my own legend to try to explain the unexplainable.
What would you like readers to know about Liz Rocher?
Love her for her flaws.
I never wanted a person fully calm and in control at the helm of this story. There is such pressure to make Black women protagonists perfect. How many times have we seen the descriptors of “Black”, “strong” and “warm” women? How many times do Black women have to save the world and while being the perfectly supportive best friend? When do we get to be messy?
If people can love Gillian Flynn’s Amazing Amy, they can love Liz. At the start of the book, Liz is at her breaking point. Her homecoming is for her best friend’s wedding. It’s also for her to reconnect with herself. If she doesn’t get some grounding, her life will fall apart. That is where she starts the novel. That is the person who is being asked to solve this mystery. As the story unfolds, both the missing child’s and Liz’s lives will be on the line.
Tell us about Johnstown, Pennsylvania:
It is my hometown and I have a very complicated relationship with it.
It is a fascinating place. The history is incredible. From the flood, to mountains, to the industries, it is a very distinct slice of Americana. It is a town that truly values hard work. It values it’s history.
As I revised Jackal, I set it in a place that was suspiciously like Johnstown. I’d sprinkle in a few specifics here and there until it became distracting. An early reader said they’d spent an afternoon linking together all the clues I’d left to the setting. It’s such a distinct place. Why not just set the book there?
You graduated from the MFA program run by the Old Globe Theater and the University of San Diego (a program I worked for many years ago). Tell us about your journey as an actor:
How much time do you have?
I started acting in high school. In college I majored in Theatre and Literary Arts with a focus in Playwriting. Upon graduation I dove right into acting. I did the Acting Apprenticeship with the Actor’s Theatre of Louisville. I moved to NYC for a year. Then I went to the Old Globe program to get my MFA in classical acting.
After that, I moved back to NYC where I’ve been ever since. I was working and auditioning consistently pre-pandemic. I started writing again because I got sick of hearing “no”. Rejection is a way of life for actors. You have to figure out a way to handle it. I handled it by writing. I said “yes” to myself.
Instead of writing scripts, I found myself writing stories and creating worlds using prose. I know a lot of writers who started as actors. When you break it down, the two art forms are very similar. As an actor you are embodying a new point of view and living imaginary circumstances. Writers do the exact same thing. I’m continually delighted by how often my training as an actor helps me with character work in my writing.
In addition to writing novels, you write plays. How does that experience and process differ for you? What remains the same?
Plays are a totally different beast. When you write a play, you are creating a blueprint for someone else to follow. You might not even be in the room when they follow it! You have to leave detailed enough instructions that still allow space for other creators to come in and tell the story. If you leave too much space in books, the story becomes confusing and unfocused. Novels exist on paper. Plays exist in the air between the performers and the audience.
For me, creating a play requires a lot of writing without a destination. I write so many scenes and monologues just to learn about the characters, or to define how they sound. So many pages of my plays never make the final draft. When it comes to writing novels, there is more planning involved. I still write to learn about my characters and story, but I always have a destination in mind when I write a book. I might not know exactly how I get there, but I always know where I’m going.
What remains the same is sinking into the characters and pursuing truth. Both mediums demand those things. Often times, when I get stuck I’ve either stopped listening to my characters or have shied away from the truth.
What are you working on now?
Currently, I’m in previews for my Off Broadway playwriting debut, Ink’dWell.
The play follows Kendra as she returns to her childhood home on Martha’s Vineyard upon learning her brother has died. While searching for the truth about his passing, she finds herself tormented by a childhood ghost story. As the mystery behind his death is unraveled, she discovers that he was drowning in much more than water. The ghost story, paired with her grief, begins to impact her relationship with her family and to the ocean itself.
It opens 10/5/22 at 59E59 Theaters. We run until 10/16/22.
If anyone is in NYC, come check it out. I’m also deep in book two! It is a totally different book from Jackal. This one is more of a domestic horror.
Think, “the call is coming form inside the house”. Two Haitian sisters encounter a mystery involving Haitian mysticism and spiritual deaths. Still honing the pitch on this one, so stay tuned for more details soon. It’s been a TON of fun to write.
Words of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers:
This is very hard to do, but there is great value in learning how to engage with art without judgement. It is so easy to pile on criticisms when reading. While it’s valuable to be able to name what isn’t working, it is just as valuable to allow a story to happen.
Judgment can blind you to things worth learning from. Also, engaging without judgement can be very helpful when revising your own work. There is a such thing as over editing and it’s hard to spot if you don’t learn how to make your inner critic take a backseat.
Author Pet Corner!
I have a little Boston Terrier/Gremlin named Thisbe.
She is seven years old.
She loves to hike and roll around in the grass.
Thisbe requires morning belly rubs and ear scratches.
She is a total snuggle bug and the good-est pup ever.
Erin E. Adams — Author of Jackal
I’m a first-generation Haitian-American who grew up in a small mountain town in Pennsylvania.
My written work traffics in the worlds of myth, tales of fantasy, horror, and science fiction. (Yeah, I’m a genre lady!)
When it comes to acting, I’m a classically trained professional, who loves New Plays, difficult texts, and challenging the “American Canon”.
There are so many people who are made to feel invisible, purely because they don’t fit the stories told about them. My work as an artist strives to widen that narrow narrow foot path.
To learn more about Erin, click on any of the following links: Website, Instagram, Twitter & Facebook
Elena Taylor/Elena Hartwell
Silver Falchion Award Finalist, Best Investigator 2020
Foreword INDIE Award Finalist, Best Mystery 2020
The Foundation of Plot, a Wait, Wait, Don’t Query (Yet!) guidebook.
Header image by Felix Mittermeier on Pixabay.