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. 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 the search begins, Liz stumbles upon a horrifying secret about the place she calls home. In this town, for generations, children have gone missing. All of them Black. All of them girls. Against the backdrop of a ticking clock, she must find this missing girl and ensure that no more are taken before she herself is lost to the horror of her town’s dark past.
Erin E. Adams recently spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing her debut novel, JACKAL:
What attracts you to this book’s genre?
I love mysteries because of their ability to take difficult themes, moments, or events apart and put them back together. By doing this, mystery, thriller, and suspense allows the reader to see the world in a new way. Additionally, when it comes to horror, my favorite aspect of the genre is that it’s a space where readers are encouraged to be uncomfortable. Combining the two genres creates a space for compelling storytelling. I love using genre to get closer to uncomfortable questions and observations about our society.
What was the biggest challenge this book presented? What about the biggest opportunity?
The biggest challenge of this book was structure. In revision, many aspects of the book were fighting for attention, and all of them were important. Once I decided to really focus on my protagonist, Liz, and her story, everything else locked into place. The biggest opportunity was also in the structure! Once I had Liz’s story solidified, I was able to weave in other elements. Because the structure was sound, these moments give the book a multi-layered effect that I really love.
Was there anything new you discovered or that surprised you as you wrote this book?
Absolutely! Setting the book in my hometown, I had so much lived experience that I initially only did research to make sure I had exact details like dates, etc. Like a slowly simmering pot, I’d add in a few things every now and then as I wrote. Then my research led to something juicy. Without giving too much away, one research session uncovered something that changed a good portion of my book. Just like the fictional events of the book, I found a historical event that had been covered up over the years. Of course, it had to go in the book!
What authors or books have influenced your career as a writer, and why?
There are so many, but three authors have consistently carried me throughout my life as a writer. They are Octavia Butler, Agatha Christie, and R. L. Stine. Butler showed me that I could write any world I wanted, and that genre was a tool to better display reality. Christie taught me the power of a mystery and that sometimes all you need to create suspense is another point of view. Through Stine I learned that horror is fun, and writing should be visceral; if the reader can’t smell the scene, it’s not detailed enough. And you don’t need a lot of words to accomplish this! The right details stick with you.
Erin E. Adams is a first-generation Haitian American writer and theater artist. She received her BA with honors in literary arts from Brown University, her MFA in acting from The Old Globe and University of San Diego Shiley Graduate Theatre Program, and her MFA in dramatic writing from NYU Tisch School of the Arts. An award-winning playwright and actor, Adams has called New York City home for the last decade. JACKAL is her first novel.
To learn more about the author and her work, please visit her website.