Guest Post: JD Horn on Location

by Rachel Baker on October 13, 2014

Editor’s Note: Anne Rice made us all believe no other place besides New Orleans could truly be the setting for witches and other paranormal stories. Of course, there is always the old standby, Salem, but if you are any type of imaginative writer, you stay away from Salem; and always give some play to New Orleans as a locale – and with the rich, voodoo magical history, it makes sense.

And that is how I ended up picking up the book, The Line, about a family a witches centered around Savannah – I couldn’t help but be curious. First, Savannah is by far, my favorite ‘Southern’ place. Secondly, the history there is rich enough, and old enough to easily use the area as witchy stompin’ grounds going back through many generations if you wanted; and thirdly, very few of us ever think of Savannah as anything other than Southern genteel – we don’t really see the dark sides, even when the darkness is the story. And last but not least, Savannah seems like she’s crying out to tell her story, not like New Orleans, but in a softer, more subtle ‘look at me’ kind of way. When you roll up on the city limits, she sort of says, “well, hello there. Won’t you come in? Have a glass of sweet tea, and some biscuits and honey? I just pulled them out of the oven. Well, bless your heart, I know you can’t stay forever, but why don’t you come on in and sit a spell – let me tell you a story.”

JD Horn does a great job telling the story Savannah wanted him to tell. His books, The Line and The Source, are great weekend reads that give a really indepth look at Savannah as a location, and as a character. Recently, I was given an opportunity to ask JD Horn, author of the Witching Savannah series, why he chose Savannah as the location for the The Line, The Source and (coming in November) The Void. Here’s his answer:

THE LINE went through several drafts prior to the version published this year. Many of the elements were there even in its earliest incarnations: Ginny’s murder, Mercy’s infatuation with her sister’s fiancé, Wren the assumed tulpa (a magical thought form)—although his not actually being a tulpa came later. And even in the earliest stages of the story, the big reveal, which comes in THE VOID (due out next month) was also planned very early on the drafting process.
The biggest element missing in the first drafts of THE LINE, however, was Savannah.

People have asked me why Savannah and not New Orleans – the home to romance and the paranormal? The reason is that I grew up in Alabama, Georgia and (mostly) Tennessee. I knew I was telling a southern story, but one from my own piece of the south. To me, New Orleans remains exotic; I wanted to tell a story that grew more or less out of the same dirt I did.

I’d been telling everyone that the original setting was to be “Taylors Ferry,” a fictional small town in Georgia that magic hid from those who wouldn’t be welcomed there. (I was living on Taylors Ferry road at the time, and in spite of the reality I faced every day as I drove home, the name still struck me as romantic sounding.) A couple of weeks ago, though, I got a new computer, and while moving over old files I found a few paragraphs of what I was at the time of writing calling “The Sweetwater Witches.” (I’d completely forgotten about these pages.) So call it Sweetwater or Taylors Ferry, the problem with my manufactured village was that it refused to come to life, no matter what name I hung on it.

I spent far too much time poring over the map of Georgia, trying to pinpoint the ideal location for Taylors Ferry. Again and again, my eyes returned to Savannah. I was familiar with the city’s paranormal reputation, having read Margaret Wayt Debolt’s SAVANNAH SPECTERS AND OTHER STRANGE TALES twenty or so years earlier. A big problem I had, though, was that in my mind, John Berendt owned Savannah. His MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL, was nothing short of a publishing phenomenon.

Still Savannah kept calling to me.

Even though my family had once lived as close as Macon, I’d never been to Savannah, so I did a little Google tourism. I soon realized the city offered a turnkey setting that would be much more interesting than my own backwoods Brigadoon. I decided I had to experience the place firsthand to learn if my instincts were correct; so I booked my first trip there. After being in the city for less than a day, I knew my story could take place nowhere else. Still, even then, I had not realized that Savannah would become more than just the setting, it would become a character in its own right.

The idea to have Mercy working as a tour guide reflects the reality of Savannah’s economy, which is built to a large degree on tourism. The idea for the Liar’s Tour came to me when a new tour guide accidently told a story about one location at the site of another.  He knew he messed up. I knew he messed up. No one else seemed to know the difference, so he committed to it and carried on. He was a nice kid, so I figured there was no need to ruin his day. Later that night I realized how much fun it would be to lead a tour where everyone knew you were lying, just to see the outrageous fabrications you would come up with. (Mercy agreed.) The Liar’s Tour provided a fun way to introduce Savannah to those unfamiliar with the city, but it takes on more weight when we return to it in THE VOID. In the conclusion of Mercy’s story, the Liar’s Tour is the key to solving a murder.

Jilo was also born on that first trip. One guide on a ghost tour I took mentioned Hoodoo and its links to the Lowcountry. I thought it would be a nice way to anchor Martell, a Yankee kid I had intended to act as Mercy’s foil, by having him related to a Lowcountry Hoodoo worker. Little did I realize that Jilo would have so much life in her that not only would she eclipse Martell, she’d end up inspiring her own book (coming November 2015).

The yellow fever tunnels really do exist and run from Old Candler Hospital to beneath Forsyth Park, and the boo hag has long haunted the sleep of Lowcountry dreamers.  Of course, the way the tunnels reach into other dimensions is a product of my own imagination that made its way into Witching Savannah. The magical color “haint blue” adorns doors and overhangs. Just a bit east of the city proper lies the beautiful and haunting Bonaventure Cemetery, where both THE LINE and THE SOURCE end—and where THE VOID would have ended had my editors and spouse not threatened to come after me with pitchforks and flaming torches. (But that’s another story.) These things are just a few of the gifts Savannah gave to the series.

Many books and movies are nominally set in a location, but could, without changing more than a line or two, be shifted to just about any other city in the country. My hope is that when someone reads the Witching Savannah series, they feel how essential Savannah is to both plot and character development. Most of the real magic in the Witching Savannah series comes from Savannah herself.

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