By Chinelo Ikem
Today we’re pleased to welcome Tiffany D. Jackson to the WNDB blog to discuss White Smoke, out September 14, 2021.
The Haunting of Hill House meets Get Out in this chilling YA psychological thriller and modern take on the classic haunted house story from New York Times bestselling author Tiffany D. Jackson!
Marigold is running from ghosts. The phantoms of her old life keep haunting her, but a move with her newly blended family from their small California beach town to the embattled Midwestern city of Cedarville might be the fresh start she needs. Her mom has accepted a new job with the Sterling Foundation that comes with a free house, one that Mari now has to share with her bratty ten-year-old stepsister, Piper.
The renovated picture-perfect home on Maple Street, sitting between dilapidated houses, surrounded by wary neighbors has its . . . secrets. That’s only half the problem: household items vanish, doors open on their own, lights turn off, shadows walk past rooms, voices can be heard in the walls, and there’s a foul smell seeping through the vents only Mari seems to notice. Worse: Piper keeps talking about a friend who wants Mari gone.
But “running from ghosts” is just a metaphor, right?
As the house closes in, Mari learns that the danger isn’t limited to Maple Street. Cedarville has its secrets, too. And secrets always find their way through the cracks.
What inspired you to write this book? Because I’ve read and loved your other books Grown, Monday’s Not Coming, Allegedly, and this new book seems to be a detour to horror fiction.
It feels like a detour but it’s also very much me. I grew up mostly loving horror. I started watching horror movies when I was four years old. All of my senior theses from high school, college, grad school were all films — they were all horror movies. All of my other books, though they were horrific in some way, they were more thrillers. So, this seems more my lane, I guess, of what I’ve always been into. So I feel like, I don’t know that there’s a departure but more of a return.
In this book, there’s a move to a new house that seems to be haunted. Have you experienced a haunted house? I think it’s so interesting to write about that!
Yeah, most of my books are inspired by real cases. And if you got to the end of this book, a big reveal happens. That actually is inspired by a real case I read about that happened in Japan. And I was so fascinated by that, especially because my favorite sub-genre of horror is hauntings.
I haven’t experienced, like, an actual haunted house. I mean, I think I’ve always felt like there are ghosts around, but never demonic hauntings. When I travel to different cities, I usually do ghost tours and I learn about the underbelly of cities. And it’s sort of a great way to find out some of the hidden history of a city too. I kinda read about and go on a lot of tours about haunted experiences and places, and so I drew from a lot of that experience to make this as realistic as possible.
And the summary of this book compares it to Get Out and The Haunting of Hill House. Do you see those comparisons? Were those some of your inspirations?
I always want my book to have some type of message, right? Even if the message isn’t like a slap in the face, but there’s something that is to be said. And that’s one of the things I loved about Jordan Peele’s films is that the message is very much weaved into storyline but in a very much invisible thread. But you feel the message more than you see it. So that’s something I definitely aspire to do in my stories.
And as far as The Haunting of the Hill House, that’s one of the scariest series I’ve ever seen on Netflix in terms of ghostly hauntings. And the original book by Shirley Jackson is also equally very terrifying, and psychologically very terrifying. So, I wanted to capture the essence of both of those creative expressions.
And the main character, Marigold, she seems to have anxiety, which for a lot of people who also deal with anxiety is good representation. Like, she sets a lot of alarms, which is relatable because I also have a lot of random alarms on my phone. But there’s a scene where the alarms go haywire, and she wonders whether she or someone else set the alarms. How does her anxiety play with how she’s experiencing this haunted house? Does it make her feel self-doubt in what she’s seeing?
Well, I think a lot of times with anxiety, especially when you first start to have anxiety, you’re not quite sure what is going on. You sort of question your own sanity. You question yourself, quite frankly. And that’s one of things that happens to Marigold is that she is busy questioning herself because she was so busy questioning herself when it came to her own anxiety — and now it’s almost, like, double-downed to the point where she’s not sure if it’s her anxiety or something else.
And that’s kind of the worst part about hauntings. If you read any sort of history of hauntings, a lot of people play it off immediately. They’re like, “No, there wasn’t anyone in there. That was just my mind playing tricks on me.” Or “No, I didn’t move this over here.” Or “No, this didn’t open on its own.” And it almost takes to the point where you can’t deny it anymore.
So, I think those really sort of played off each other, the idea that she is a girl with severe anxiety and dealing with it in her own way. Which, that’s what a lot of us do, when we’re in the midst of trauma, is that we do things that we have to do to survive. And then comes this house, where she’s like, “Well, wait, am I going crazy again? Or what’s going on?”
Personally, do you believe in ghosts?
Absolutely. I’ve definitely seen ghosts in my lifetime. One of those tours, actually, in Savannah, no less. I’ve always believed in ghosts. I’ve always felt like there’s no way we were like on this earth alone. There are so many things that happen to people that have no explanation, and there’s actually proof of this. So, to me, yes, I definitely totally believe there are ghosts.
Now, am I quick to believe that any weird thing that happens in my apartment is the act of a ghost? Absolutely not. I say like, “Okay, Tiffany, you did that, you just don’t remember” or stuff like that. But there are times in other places where I’m like, “Uhhhh, is that what happened?”
Are you going to be expanding on this story? Or doing more horror, do you think?
My next book is actually a semi Carrie retelling. It’s called the Weight of Blood. And it’s about a girl who has been pretending to be white and goes to her school’s first integrated prom in the South. So that’s my next novel and it also has a horror theme to it.
I’ll probably get back to another thriller. Of course, I have a billion books I should be writing right now but I wanted to sort of take a moment to get back to what I’ve always loved. And sometimes, to be honest — and I guess this springboards off 2020 — I don’t always want to write books about pain all the time. And not that particular type of pain. Sometimes I just want to enjoy a creepy story and escapism.
That’s what I grew up on. I grew up on R.L. Stine books and Stephen King books. Those are the books that took me out of my element and cocooned me into a world where I’m trying to figure out the problem around trying to survive. And for me, I feel like that’s also incredibly important for kids, to have that and not be rooted in the sum of our pain and racism, etc. Like there can be elements of it, but what you’re really thinking or talking about is the plot of the story.
Tiffany D. Jackson is the NYT Bestselling, award winning author of YA novels Monday’s Not Coming, Allegedly, Let Me Hear A Rhyme, Grown, White Smoke, Santa in The City and co-author of Blackout. Coretta Scott King — John Steptoe New Talent Award-winner and the NAACP Image Award-nominee, she received her bachelor of arts in film from Howard University, and has over a decade in TV/Film experience. The Brooklyn native is currently residing in the borough she loves, most likely multitasking.
Chinelo Ikem is a blog volunteer for We Need Diverse Books, and a bookstagrammer @interestedinblackbooks. She has been an avid reader ever since her first grade teacher introduced her to the Junie B. Jones series. Her bookstagram, as well as her bookish blog, is dedicated to highlighting Black authors, especially Black women and Black queer voices. She received her double B.A. in Political Science and Philosophy from UC Santa Barbara, and her J.D. from USC Gould School of Law. She is based in Northern California.