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Welcoming The Void
Teri Jacobs
interviewed by Michael McCarty
Teri Jacobs has been kicking at the door of the small press for the last couple of years with her creepy and cutting-edge short stories. Her fiction appeared in a number of anthologies and magazines such as Bloodtype, Nasty Piece Of Work, Divas Of Darkness, Reality's Escape, Dark Matter, Flesh & Blood, Blood Songs, Dark Testament and The Bible Of Hell (from which her story The Darker Deceit has been nominated for the literary Pushcart Prize).
   In June 2002 Leisure Books published her debut novel The Void. This is what the Ohio writer has to say.
Teri Jacobs

For those who are unfamiliar with your first novel The Void, what is the book about?

The Void is a disturbing tale of madness, torture, demons and death. I think Publisher's Weekly best summed up the plot:
   Alternating between the real world and the netherworld of Xibalba, a hellish realm where demons torture unfortunate souls, Teri Jacobs' debut novel, The Void, covers the gamut of gruesome ways to die. And there are many, which this book describes with blood-curdling clarity. There's something special about photographer Leslie Starr, but only the demons of Xibalba and Coatl, the Dark Man who plagues her every step, knows what that something is.
   Determined to bring Leslie's soul to Xibalba, Coatl draws her back to her ghostly hometown by killing those closest to her.
   Ultimately, the book is about being haunted. Haunted by the past, by legend and fate, by the sense of self, shaped of pain and isolation, and by the immaterial and the unimaginable.

One of the most interesting characters in The Void is the Dark Man. What was the inspiration for him? Was there any worry about readers being confused with Stephen King's Dark Man character in The Stand... or the movie Darkman?

The Dark Man, or Coatl as he refers to himself, stemmed from the basic idea of a stalker - a hunter in the shadows. But then, a documentary on ESPionage, where spies clairvoyantly ferreted out enemies and sought secrets, sparked my imagination and, with a twisted mix of shamanism and astral travel, he evolved into a lurker in the mind - into a stalker of dreams who, driven by demented ambitions and by the demands of dark gods, sacrifices the souls of the dreamers.
   I thought it more frightening for a stalker to creep into the mind rather than inside the house. At least in the house, you could pick up a suitable weapon for defence, phone the police, squirrel yourself in the closet or under the bed, or lock yourself in the bathroom, or even flee the house and the intruder altogether. But how can you hide or escape from yourself?
   Until you asked, I didn't have any worries about readers confusing my Dark Man with King's character, or the movie. Honestly, I didn't even consider the term had been used in other places, and the similarity is purely coincidental and in title only. My Dark Man earned this name because of how my heroine saw him, as a man cloaked and hooded in darkness, mystery and danger. No other name would have sufficed.

What was the hardest thing about writing your first novel?

On top of struggling for that 'brilliant idea' and being overwhelmed by scope of how much effort lay ahead, the hardest thing about writing my first book was not writing short stories. I loved writing short stories. It had been all I'd known. At the time, I had begun building a good reputation for myself in the small press and would be walking away from prime anthology and magazine opportunities. But I had to concentrate all my creative energy on the novel - as my dad had taught me, never do a half-ass job.

Do you plan to do a sequel to The Void?

Although I don't have concrete plans to return to The Void, I certainly won't rule out the possibility. Several other ideas plague my imagination, including a venture into a fantasy series, and I'd rather develop these ideas first before continuing on a thread I've already spun.

Was getting your first novel published like anything you expected it to be?

Mostly, except for a few exceptional things that have delighted me into the heavens. Don D'Auria offered me a contract within three months of submitting my manuscript, whereas I had been prepared for a long wait. Thomas Ligotti, my literary idol, agreed to read The Void and subsequently took my breath away with his praise. Other respected writers followed suit.
   Leisure's art department turned out a startling effective cover for such a strange and surreal book. And I had only dreamed of a critical review from Publisher's Weekly. Don warned me not to hold my breath because PW rarely reviews debut paperbacks, but the stars were in my favour. All in all, I've learned a great deal about the insides and outs of publishing a book, and nothing will ever be like the first time.

Women horror writers have been really emerging on the scene. What do you contribute to this? Who are some of the women in horror you admire?

The fairer sex has gone foul. Women have emerged onto the scene with extreme, brutal, gruesome, horrifying fiction, without sacrificing the art and beauty of language. Hopefully I've contributed nothing less than a well-written, riveting, chilling, groundbreaking novel. I am proud to be associated with the women in horror - Lucy Taylor, Poppy Z. Brite, Elizabeth Massie, Yvonne Navarro, P.D. Cacek, Nancy Collins, Mary Ann Mitchell, Charlee Jacob, and Jemiah Jefferson.

Are there any works in progress... another novel in the near future?

I've completed my second novel, Shadow Of Jezebel, but am in the process of style editing for Leisure Books. If everything pans out, then the book will be published next summer. This fall I'll resume working on the third novel (tentatively titled 'Virtu In Flesh'), which has obviously been put on hiatus for the unforeseen editing of Shadow Of Jezebel.

You are friends with two British writers Simon Clark and Tim Lebbon. Do you have any stories about the two you can share? Any comments you'd like to make about their writing?

I count another British writer as a friend as well - Graham Joyce. He made the most memorable first-meeting impression as he petted my suede miniskirt. He's such a gregarious, incorrigible, irresistible fellow (who quotes Shakespeare no less), and I am in his debt for the time he, an award-winning author, spent teaching me, an unknown writer, the art of self-editing. His work is quite impressive, not as sparse as he'd lead you to believe, definitely rich in character and theme, as worldly, mysterious and intelligent as the man behind the words.
   Towering one and a half feet above me, Simon is the genteel giant. I predict he'll be a horror giant in the future. His novels evoke a sense of dread in the reader, something that rarely occurs anymore - at least in me.
   I read Blood Crazy with rapt fascination and a racing heart, and it drives me crazy to know how little time he spent producing this scary first novel. I hate him (stated with a very big grin). Other than his novels and friendly manner, I love how silly Simon can be. He once demonstrated to a group of us at lunch how little sandwich flags can look like alien antennae as he twirled them at his temples.
   But watch out for Tim. He once twirled me upside down and then accidentally dropped me on my head. No accident though that he's a rising star. With his dense, thoughtful, savoury-chewy prose, he has been compared to Ramsey Campbell and Arthur Machen, but he is a great storyteller in his own right. And someone I'm very glad to count as a good friend, even if he does forget his strength and his balance. He's fun no matter.
   In the last few years, these three talented and amusing writers have shared their advice and experience within the publishing industry with me, and I value their support.

You recently attended the Bram Stoker Awards in New York. For the British genre fans that couldn't attend - could you give us the low-down on ceremonies and festivities?

Kicking off the Stoker weekend, Barnes & Noble hosted a mass author signing on Friday afternoon, and fans had the opportunity to catch favourites like Jack Ketchum and Doug Clegg with pen in hand. My first signing for my first book went extremely well, with only one copy left. Dallas (Ketchum) led us astray briefly, but after righting our ways, we returned to the hotel and joined the party mixers. Editors, agents and writers caroused with drink and crudités and lively chatter, the mood contagiously jovial and relaxed. Camera bulbs flashed and popped. Everyone, whether posing or not, was smiling and laughing. And such ended the first day of the Stoker weekend.
   Saturday morning offered a variety of choices: readings, discussion panels, H.W.A. business meeting, and the bar lounge. Anticipation charged the air, and sombre, reflective expressions masked the faces of the finalists present. Early evening ushered in the cocktail hour. Women had donned pretty faces and dresses, and men normally seen in jeans sported suits and even ties. It looked as if the event would be glamorous. And such began the banquet.
   Waiters served a mixed green salad with peppery vinaigrette, followed by either a hearty vegetarian dish or chicken with a mushroom sauce, green beans and twice-baked potato, and finished with famous New York style cheesecake with a dollop of strawberry glaze. The food, as with every Stoker Award banquet was delicious. But even more delicious was the ceremony presentation.
   A Native American opened with a chanted prayer - different yet enlivening. Doug Clegg, Linda Addison, and Gerard Huoarner heralded the ceremony with touching speeches and fun-loving jibes, and I have never been witness to a more entertaining award event. The awards had been blessed with honour and heart. Thanks to Monica O'Rourke (author of Suffer The Flesh and publisher of Catalyst Books), Gina Osnovich (editor of Scars, the NYC charity anthology) and all other volunteers for putting together a spectacular weekend!

Do you think of what happened on 11 September 2001 in New York and around the country has had an impact on horror? Is the impact still being felt or is in waning?

Of course, there has been an impact on horror - the events and times in which the writers live directly affects literature. Contrary to popular belief, writers do not live in a dream world (we only wish we did). I can't say what the impact has been or will be, but I did hear after the terrorist attack that sales in horror increased. No matter what happens in the world, we want to escape our reality. Nothing will impact that.

You are very vocal about censorship. What is it about this cause that you are interested in?

Under the condition no reasonable laws will be broken, I believe in the freedom of self-expression. Censorship stands one step away from thought-control, and the more we allow others to determine and regulate our courses, actions, choices and expressions, the closer we enter into a totalitarian state. Paranoid? Perhaps, after all I am a horror writer and can imagine the world if we give up our choices and voices...

Would you consider some of your writing erotic horror? What is the secret of writing good erotic horror?

Some of my writing contains erotic elements, but I don't write for the sake of sex, or for the sake of gore. The secret to good erotic horror is the same for any good fiction: intriguing characters, strong plot, theme and style of writing, and the ability to draw the reader into the fictional universe. Writing itself is a form of seduction, and, with erotic writing the focus becomes titillating not only the mind and imagination but the body as well. The secret to drawing a reader into an erotic scene stems from an understanding of desire and the sexual beast. It also helps if you're a dirty-minded flirt.

Have you any last words?

Beyond inherent talent and luck, three things will bring success to a writer - what I call the P-traits: passion, persistence and perspiration.
visit Teri Jacobs' website
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