By Klara Gomez
Spring-heeled Jack, the nineteenth century monster who haunted the dark alleys of suburban England and prayed on women, has been reimagined by author Jennifer Caress in her novel The Return of Spring-heeled Jack. Historical accounts that date back to the 1830’s describe this ghostly devil as a well-dressed, well-spoken gentleman with no regards for the treatment of women, with some of his victims succumbing to lifelong mental illnesses. But what happens to Spring-heeled Jack once he’s pulled out of his setting and epoch and placed in the midst of twenty-first century America? Could he have the same dreadful impact on Alice, a modern-day woman who’s transitioning through a mid-life crisis and is growing tired of being a fixture in a man’s world?
It’s all very unexpected for Jack, who finds in Alice an improved reflection of himself. His old tricks fail as he attempts to manipulate her, realizing eventually that a change in tactics is called for if he’s to work with her. And that’s one thing he must do, for Alice has an internal compass pointing towards the objects that will help him reach his goal—to open the Virginia Dare Door. Through a series of terrorizing events, Jack brings Alice to question her value and pushes her to claim an internal power she hadn’t noticed before. From Jack she learns that our reality is only a small fraction of a multi-dimensional universe, filled with magic and possibilities, ready at her grasp. All she must do is rely on her intuition. The stakes are high as Alice becomes trapped in a grisly surreal war against Jack. Although not by choice, Alice must work alongside the clawed hands, goggle-eyed monster that once tried to harm her; the two of them bringing out the best in each other.
I’ve known Jennifer Caress for two years now. After reading her first novel, The Return of Spring-heeled Jack and many of her short stories, I am convinced she is one of the best undiscovered talents out there. By “undiscovered” I don’t mean she doesn’t have an established readership, but an author of her caliber should be exposed to a bigger audience. With that intention in mind, I decided to reach Jennifer and ask her a few questions regarding her novel, her creative process, and her current projects. Our conversation takes place through a video call.
Hi, Jennifer, thanks for agreeing to this interview. As you know by now I’m one of your biggest fans. Even though I’d like to ask you a million questions about your short stories, today, for the sake of this interview, I’m only going to ask you about your debut novel, The Return of Spring-heeled Jack.
By all historical accounts Spring-heeled Jack is a monster who targets women. You keep the tension throughout the story using this well-documented trait of his. As we read, we can’t be sure what Jack will do next; but once he is joined by Alice, the toughness in her brings out a different side of him. You managed to give Jack human traits that make him fascinating and very likeable. Would you mind telling us a little bit about the research you did on this English urban legend and how you came up with the idea of bringing him to the twenty-first century and putting him side by side with a tough-as-nails woman like Alice?
Growing up my dad had a Reader’s Digest collection of supernatural stories and Spring-heeled Jack was in there, he had maybe half a page, but it was still so incredibly fascinating. No one could tell about this guy. I mean, was he human, was he an alien, was he the devil? Nobody knew, other than that he could leap over eight feet tall fences and jump on the rooftops. So I kind of read about him all throughout my life and every time he came up I thought he was brilliant. I didn’t really do any specific research in writing this because I knew it wouldn’t be worth my time since I was going to make most of it up as I went along, anyway.
One of the first scenes in this story is a woman washing the dishes and she sees this black figure juggling over this really tall fence, and she’s like, “Nah…” and that kind of happened to me. It was obviously just a shadow but, as a writer, your imagination is saying, “What could it have been? Not just a shadow! Wait, it’s Spring-heeled Jack. What’s he doing in my backyard?” So I had to make up: Why is he here? Why is he in the Twenty-first century? I was halfway through in a very rough first draft before I realize why he’s even here and how he was able to come here to our century.
As far as bringing him together with Alice… Alice was her very own story for a long time but it was going nowhere. I knew that she could connect to inanimate objects in an emotional way, and I knew that she was in her own mind most of the time. The whole story was about her working at an antiques store and she found that certain objects had certain vibrations. And that’s where the story ended. I sat on that story for two years and I’d ask, “Where is this going? What is this doing?” Then I’d work on the Spring-heeled Jack story and I’d ask the same thing. And then one day, Ta-da! Duh, bring them together!
Tag a Novelist: Jennifer Caress Presents Her Novel, The Return of Spring-Heeled Jack
Well, it’s genius. I really like their dynamic together.
Me, too. You know, they never actually like each other. To me they have a very sibling relationship where a lot of the time they don’t actually care for each other at all, but they’re very bonded in a way that they’re still very loyal to each other. And I think by the end they’re just incredibly fascinated by one another and that’s what keeps them together.
I appreciated the pacing you set throughout the story. The plot kept moving at a fast pace but you managed to delve deep into the scenes, helping me connect with the overall mood, and the characters. And the dialogue, which had a mixture of humor, rawness, and nuggets of wisdom that allowed me to look deep into my own psyche, really spoke to me. Even though I’ve never endured physical or psychological abuse, I was able to step into Alice’s shoes. I wanted her to end the cycle that had victimized her for so long. She is a complex character, and the closeness she develops with Jack, who happens to be one of her aggressors, is mind-blowing but makes sense, somehow. Could you tell me a little bit about the inspiration behind Alice and the process of writing her on paper?
Yeah, Alice was, in many ways, me. And of course, that could be said about all of my characters to a certain degree. But Alice was me—her marriage was my marriage in a lot of ways. I have no idea what kept me there during the dark times, just as I have no idea what kept Alice there, and I have no idea what keeps anybody from leaving. But the not-wanting-to-go-home sensation… the dreading-going-home, but then still not wanting to leave home permanently is...complex. Where you have a marriage where there is no hero and no villain, just two dysfunctional people trying to make it work. Maybe I was trying to figure it all out through her, through Alice. I made Alice braver than me though, and I made her more decisive than me, so she could escape from the horrible things happening to her in the story and fight back.
She’s pretty awesome. I really like her character. It just seems like she’s in a process of transition at the time. Jack picked the wrong woman at the wrong time.
Exactly. And I like that a lot of the time I don’t have control of the story. It’s the characters doing what they want to do and I’m there typing as fast as I can. I just wanted her to win but she kept fighting back and losing. Still, she kept on running back and fighting again.
This is a Horror novel, but the Virginia Dare Door brings an element of Science Fiction to the mix. This idea of traveling through time and into other dimensions is so engaging, I found myself reading page after page, wanting to know what would happen next. What authors and books have influenced you as a writer? Are you able to write distinctly in one style without merging to another or is this fusion something that happens organically as you write?
Good question. It just happens as I write. There’s Roald Dahl, Douglas Adams, Louise Duncan, and then when my first novel, Perverted Realities, came out another author said, “You have to read Spider Robinson’s Callahan Crosstime Saloon, because your book and his book are almost parallel”. So I read that book was very inspirational because reading things that are far out there gives me permission as a writer to write what’s true to me.
Could you describe your creative process? How does the Muse speak to you? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
A pantser? I like that, I’d never heard that before. What does it mean?
That you fly by the seat of your pants.
Oh, by making it up? Oh, baby, I’m such a pantser! I’ve tried to do outlines and I’ve tried to map out all the different plot points but it never ever works for me. It only works for me if I sit down and try to figure it out. Most of the time inspiration comes to me in flashes—one sentence, one paragraph, one scene—and I’ll just type it out or write it out. Other times it just sits there forever and ever and ever. I’ve got notebooks all over the place, napkins all over the place, shoe boxes full of them. Sometimes they turn into something, sometimes they don’t. And then, of course, inspiration comes from the What-if seed… like, “What if that guy standing at the bus stop is really an alien and he’s just here to do a nine-to-five job?” And then it goes from there.
What are some of the projects you’re working on now? And please, I’m dying to know… Is there a sequel to The Return of Spring-heeled Jack in the works?
Right now I’m working on Diamond-Eye Phyllis, a Sci-fi / Fantasy series, plus a bunch of short stories. I am also working on the sequel to Spring-heeled Jack. Sadly, I’ve been working on it for years. Eventually it’s going to come together because I want to find out what happens to Alice, too. And I’ve got to know what happens to Jack, so I’m intrigued as anybody else to find out what happens next.
Well, that’s awesome. I really can’t wait.
Have you picked the novelist you’d like to feature in the next Tag a Novelist column of the Miami Beach Gazette?
Yes, I have. It’s Christopher Katava, and he did a novel called Rise of the First World. I was very, very lucky to have read the first draft of his work and it’s actually brilliant. So I’m extra excited to read this final version. He’s a really in-tuned human being and just adore him.
He’s wonderful, isn’t he?
Well, that’ll be fun, being that he’s a High Fantasy author. We will be reading your interview soon. Thank you for taking the time to do this interview, Jennifer. I wish you much success with your projects and look forward to reading your new work. Best of luck!
Jennifer Caress is an eclectic writer from Colorado, USA whose work includes: -Perverted Realities (novella, Stonegarden.net Publishing, 2004), Dragging Wings (novella, Stonegarden.net Publishing, 2006), Blood of the Broken (novella, Stonegarden.net Publishing, 2008), The Return of Spring-heeled Jack (novella, Black Bed Sheet Books, 2013), Come This Saturday: The Woeful Tale of Evelyn and the Carnival Barker (Amazon single, 2014), Office Vortex (Amazon single, 2015) and a slew of short stories.
She currently resides in Salt Lake City with her beloved dog. Jennifer's recent work is a sci-fi series featuring Diamond Eye Phyllis.
To learn more and keep up to date with Jennifer Caress's news, you may visit her page www.tomorrowalora.com.