The following is a compilation of several blog posts I wrote during the Mega Dark Book Blog Tour in 2013. I realized that I have never posted it myself, so figured now was as good a time as any. I’ve added some recent updates, but the basic concept is the same.
My name is Jess Hanna. Not Jessie, Jesse, Jessy, or any other variation. As I am known to say when someone attempts to give me another name, “It’s just Jess.” It’s a little like saying, “Oh, it’s Hoggle” (Labyrinth reference, for those who may not be familiar with it). The one exception is my Grandmother, who called me Jesser. I was born in Traverse City, a small city in Northern Michigan, but grew up about fifteen miles on the outskirts in the even smaller village of Kingsley. Think Stephen King small, maybe smaller. And yes, it’s everything you would expect from a small town. It has down home charm, fierce community loyalty, and plenty of dark secrets that haunt such places.
I knew from the third grade that I wanted to write. I enjoyed reading and was naturally drawn to stories about the supernatural, fascinated by the idea that something else may exist in a dimension invisible to human eyes. So, early on I created strange little worlds of magic, with creatures great and small, that had something to say to the humans they interacted with. Looking back, most of the stories were quite bizarre, as only an elementary school child’s imagination could conjure up, but perhaps someday I will share them.
As I entered the seventh grade, we moved into an apartment in Traverse City. I suddenly thought I was metropolitan. At that time, it was the biggest city I knew and the prospect of living ‘in town’ excited me. My obsession with the supernatural continued throughout middle and high school. When I was 15 years old, I attended a youth group and surrendered my life to Jesus. I had always believed in the God of the Bible, but He did not become real to me until that moment. The scales of spiritual blindness fell away from my eyes and I truly saw the world as it really was; broken and fallen.
After I got saved, I saw the world with an alarming new clarity. The supernatural things that interested me before now took on a more sinister tone. I found that the majority of it (Ouija boards, the occult, ghosts, aliens, etc.) was intended to lead me away from the truth of God. Don’t get me wrong, I was still intrigued by these topics, but the way I viewed them was no longer with fascination, but as tools of the first enemy.
It wasn’t too far into the future that I stopped writing altogether. While I had an interest in it and felt I had something I wanted to say, I didn’t see it as a viable career choice. I allowed ‘real’ life to crowd out my love of writing. I even stopped reading for many years. Instead, I lived my life the best I could, moving from one unfulfilling job to another. It wasn’t and hasn’t been a terrible existence, but spending a career climbing the corporate ladder was never something I considered appealing.
Everything changed when I turned 32. While floundering with the age-old question of what to do with my life, I felt a strong calling to get back to writing. I hadn’t written anything in so long that I wasn’t sure I could still do it. I tried to push the feeling away, to be practical, but the tug was strong. I knew I was supposed to write, regardless of whether or not I felt the tangible benefit of it in this life. At the same time, I began working in publishing, which seemed like providence.
I also started reading again, and re-read my copy of On Writing by Stephen King. After I finished it, I took his advice and just started writing a bit everyday. Within a few months, I had written the first draft of my first book, The Road to Hell. I was thrilled to just finish a full-length novel, and let that elation carry me until I started the second draft. I found it was hard work, taking what I had written and scrutinizing it with a more critical eye.
It may sound cliché, but when I started writing my first book I found that the entire story took on a life of its own. To be fair, I was sort of winging it, letting the process take me wherever it wanted me to go. It took me to a more interesting place than I first imagined.
As I have shared previously, I wrote The Road to Hell at my kitchen table with an overheating laptop amidst the chaos of five adults living in a two-bedroom apartment. Needless to say, it was never quiet. But I have always been one to have short sessions of intense, focused work while the world is spinning around me.
With the main character, Luke, I purposely made him as average as possible. He worked at a job that bored him and was not passionate about – or even very good at – but he lacked the ambition to change his situation. It was only when he was fired that he truly began to take stock of his life and consider his options. Then the unthinkable happened and his life took a left turn into darkness. After I finished the book, I went through the painful process of editing it about five or six times. It was an extremely challenging experience and I don’t recommend it unless you have a desire for self-flagellation. Still, it was necessary to get the story, consistency, and grammar correct, or at least as close to correct as I could. I even had to do a complete re-edit after it was released and fixed over 2,000 mistakes.
After my second or third draft, I sent proposals to many agents and publishers, which generated some interest, but no bites. After months of follow-ups and searching for someone, anyone, who would publish an unknown author, I turned to self-publishing. That was a difficult journey in its own right, but I learned about formatting my work for ‘The Meat Grinder’ (Smashwords conversion tool), Kindle Direct Publishing, and Create Space. My wife was gracious enough to create the graphics and design my cover. She also kept me from losing my fragile grip on sanity.
My second book, Adverse Possession, is my ‘haunted house’ story. I think every author of supernatural thrillers is obligated to tell their own version of the things that go bump in the night. As far back as I can remember, I loved the classic haunted house story. Mr. Boogedy (which aired on the Wonderful World of Disney in the 80s) was one of the movies that got me started. His vacuum of doom was truly terrifying. As I grew a little older, I moved onto young adult ghost stories like Wait ‘Til Helen Comes and The Shining. Ok, The Shining was not exactly young adult reading, but I had been tackling Stephen King since the fifth grade. While some movies in the haunted house sub-genre are strictly guilty pleasures, such as the remakes of House On Haunted Hill and Thirteen Ghosts, my absolute favorite is Poltergeist. Anyone who reads Adverse Possession is sure to find some similarities between the Forresters and the Freelings, along with some differences.
The problem with most of these stories, in my humble opinion, is that they don’t get close to the truth about the source of these otherworldly darlings. Many are spooky fun to be sure, but they left me feeling hollow and the outcomes were less than victorious. (Spoiler Alert) A good example is when the character Tangina declared the house in Poltergeist to be clean and in the next scene the whole thing was sucked into another dimension. It was a jarring twist, no doubt, but the Freelings never got close to the truth of what caused their agony in the first place, and continued to suffer at the hand of those same monsters over the course of two more movies. Some would say the audience suffered as well. What I wanted to do is write a thrilling story that revealed the truth about these entities, as well as how to get rid of them for good.
Writing Adverse Possession was a labor of love. I applied the knowledge I gained from my first go round with The Road to Hell, and had a lot of fun writing it. I even enjoyed editing it, even though I went through it at least seven times. As with my debut novel, I sent it out to agents and publishers who nibbled, but didn’t bite. Though frustrated with the lack of response, I self-published once again.
A while back, I saw a news story about a man who went into a home improvement store and tried to cut off his arms. He survived, and so did his arms, but it got me thinking. What might be someone’s motivation for trying to harm themselves in such a material way? And that was the beginning of the short story, If it Causes you to Sin. I forgot about the macabre news story as I was in the middle of writing a book that I had to finish (which has been shelved pending further revision) until I was asked to pen a possible entry into the Untold Podcast hosted by fellow-author, pastor, and producer extraordinaire, Nathan James Norman. He does a fantastic job performing radio-type dramas that are released at least once a month. And his dramatic work on my story is chillingly stellar.
I managed to get the first draft of the manuscript just over the 3,000-word limit and then let my wife read it. She hated it. She thought it was well written, but felt the overall message wasn’t clear. After a few heated discussions (see arguments), I decided to take some of her advice and re-write the whole thing. Lo and behold, my re-write was just under the 3,000-word limit. Now that’s what I call divine intervention!
That time, I didn’t bother submitting the short story anywhere to have it published. I did it myself, with the graphic art for the cover provided by my talented wife (without whom I would be hopelessly lost), and offered it for free as a sample of my work. About a year later, I was presented with the opportunity to be involved with The Crossover Alliance, which was intended to be a community of authors pooling their talent and resources into a central location for those seeking to write or read edgy Christian speculative fiction. Shortly afterward, The idea was floated to make The Crossover Alliance a publishing entity to provide a home to works that don’t quite fit into the narrow mold of mainstream Christian fiction. If it Causes You to Sin is included in the first short story compilation, The Crossover Alliance Anthology Volume I, along with my short story Spellbound.
So what about my plans for the future? Well, I fully intend to continue writing. Adverse Possession has been fully revised and will be re-released October 27,2015, published by The Crossover Alliance. The book I wrote and shelved before writing If it Causes You to Sin is about night terrors and sleep paralysis. I might revisit that story one day, if I find the inspiration to take it to the next level it needs to be truly great. I have also finished the second draft of an alien abduction story that gave me cold sweats researching and writing it. Another short story, The Reflecting Pool, about the blindness of love and its terrifying consequences, will be featured in The Crossover Alliance Anthology Volume II, due to release in December, 2015. I am also in the beginning stages of writing a stand-alone sequel to The Road to Hell.
Perhaps I am following the familiar path of similar authors, but I don’t care. I plan to follow the inspiration wherever it leads and I know these stories are going to be fun to write, edit, and read. It helps that I’m writing the kinds of books I want to read myself, but I hope you will join me as I continue exploring the darkness to fully expose the tactics of the first enemy with the ultimate goal of crushing his head beneath my feet.
For anyone considering writing a book, I have no other advice than to just do it. It is the most frustrating, gut-wrenching, scream-inducing, and ultimately rewarding thing you could ever do. I learned so much over the course of bringing this book to life and would not trade that experience for anything. The words in my head bled onto the page and have now traveled the world, and for that, I am grateful.