Tiffany D. Jackson on the real-life horror stories that inspired her novel White Smoke
As she delves into a genre she’s loved most of her life, the author shares what thrills — and terrifies — her.
Tiffany D. Jackson has been a horror fan most of her life, and with her new YA novel, White Smoke (out Sept. 14), she's officially getting in the game.
Her story follows former track star Mari and her family as they move to a new city, in part to distance the teenager from her past mistakes, only to discover that their house is haunted. "She was already haunted, and to take her into a place where she's running from proverbial ghosts and moves into a home run by ghosts created a very interesting dynamic," Jackson says.
The inspiration behind the tale is twofold. "Honestly, it was a trip to Detroit that sparked this idea of a haunted house story," Jackson says. During that journey she learned about urban legends involving certain abandoned residences in the city. The other influence? A case of a real-life haunting in Japan she read about.
EW spoke to Jackson about entering the world of horror, the stories she loves, and everything else that gives her thrills and chills.
The horror stories that inspired White Smoke
Actually, all the hauntings that take place in White Smoke are based on real hauntings. The scariest one for me was a story of a girl who kept getting little notes left in her apartment from a strange being. It completely freaked me out because she was living by herself, and I live by myself.
The TV show or movie you watch when you need a thrill
The music you play to help you write
I play this classical music loop on YouTube. It just puts me in the mode of "it's time to work."
An underrated horror story you love
I would say The Strangers, which is a bit of a cult classic. I feel like some people don't like it, but I love it.
The thriller novels that inspire you
I love Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, of course. I also love The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson, and I'm in love with Courtney Summers, who wrote Sadie. Those are the main ones that were always inspiring me with their tension.
The one thing you can do writing horror that you cannot writing thrillers
I can actually actively scare people with horror.
What you snack on while you're writing
Bagel chips, and peanut butter and strawberry jelly sandwiches.
The writing lesson you wish you'd learned earlier
Be grateful for rejection. It helps you go in the right direction.
A New York City–set story you love
Coming to America and Ghostbusters.
The Black authors who excite you at the moment
J. Elle, who wrote Wings of Ebony; Mahogany L. Browne; Ashley Woodfolk, who is a friend of mine and a gorgeous writer; and Joya Goffney. She wrote this really cute book, Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry.
A book that made you feel seen
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison.
A YA book that always makes you laugh
Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds.
The music you listen to when you need a break
So many things, but when I need to calm down, I usually listen to some Bob Marley.
One thing you love about writing YA novels
I love being able to write for kids who were like me; I love writing for a young Tiffany. I see so many young Tiffanys, girls who are looking for thrillers or horror stories that they could see themselves in, particularly Black girls. I want to give that to the next generation.
A horror story you return to time after time
The Haunted by Danielle Vega and Bird Box by Josh Malerman.
What you learned writing White Smoke
I learned a lot about Devil's Night, which is the night before Halloween, and how that affected the city of Detroit.
White Smoke is out Sept. 14 on HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books.