J.D. Horn enjoys reading paranormal fiction, and he's good at writing it.
His debut novel, "The Line," was released Feb. 1 and is already a bestseller on Amazon. The urban fantasy, which is set in Savannah, is the first book of a series called "Witching Savannah" that concerns the "hoodoo underbelly of this genteel and charming small city."
"'The Line' is a love letter to Savannah, pure and simple," Horn says.
"I hadn't planned it to be, though.
"I had originally intended on creating a fictional setting for Mercy Taylor's hometown," he says. "But as I searched the map to figure just where my setting should sit, my eyes kept getting drawn to Savannah."
The main character in Horn's book is Mercy Taylor, a member of the most powerful witch family in the South. She has grown up in the shadow of her talented and charismatic twin sister because Mercy has no gift of magic.
Even so, she has been content with her lot in life. But when a series of calamities befalls the family, she finds herself thrust into a mystery.
"Although I live on the West Coast now, I grew up in the Southeast - Georgia, Alabama and mostly Tennessee," Horn says. "At one point, my family lived as close to Savannah as Macon.
"I began writing at 17, but didn't make any serious effort until my early 30s. After two decades working in finance, I finally decided that life was passing me by, and I was not following my heart. I began writing full-time about two years ago."
Ask Horn what scares him the most and the answer is anything but hoodoo and witches. "Bigotry," he replies.
In college, Horn studied comparative literature, focusing on French and Russian, and he holds an MBA in international business. He worked as a financial analyst before becoming a novelist.
A dedicated runner, Horn has completed two full marathons and about 30 half marathons. With his spouse, Rich, and their three pets, Horn divides his time between Portland, Ore., and San Francisco.
Horn discovered Savannah's supernatural side in the mid-1980s.
"I came across a used copy of Margaret Wayt Debolt's 'Savannah Spectres.'" he says. "I admit, about a decade later, I, too, was caught up in the frenzy surrounding Berendt's 'Midnight,' largely because Jim Williams had been featured in 'Savannah Spectres.' That is my defense, and I am sticking to it."
When Horn began reading and researching Savannah in earnest, he found plenty to work with.
"I was lucky enough to discover books like Murray Silver's 'Behind the Moss Curtain,' Tobias McGriff's 'Savannah Shadows' and James Caskey's 'Haunted Savannah,'" he says. "Finally I set foot in Savannah, and it was love at first sight.
"Savannah grew into much more than the story's setting. It got under my skin, into my imagination, and gave the story a structure and flavor it would never have had otherwise.
"Savannah not only influenced the plot, my characters gained much from my exposure to the city," Horn says. "I can truly say that a bit of Savannah is in each of them. Today it is hard for me to imagine I ever considered setting the story anywhere else."
While in Savannah, Horn did the typical tourist attractions, especially the spooky ones.
"If you haven't done Shannon Scott's Bonaventure After Hours Tour, you really should," he says. "He is a masterful storyteller."
Of extra importance to the plot is an abandoned gunpowder magazine that few people in Savannah realize still exists.
"While doing my early research on Savannah, I stumbled across an article from the Augusta Chronicle and another from the Savannah Morning News," Horn says. "The two articles provided me with the general area of Ogeechee Road, so I was surprised that when I asked around, trying to hone in on the gunpowder magazine's precise location, no one I asked had ever heard of it.
"The manner in which it seemed to have fallen out of tribal knowledge added to its allure. It seemed somehow enchanted, and I was taken with the idea of a mysterious and hidden 'castle' sitting within Savannah's city limits.
"I am not ashamed to say I became more than a little obsessed with finding it," he says. "I spent the better part of a rainy day cruising up and down the length of Ogeechee Road, and in all honesty, was ready to surrender when I pulled in at an auto parts store, planning on asking one last person, one last time."
At first, the stop seemed fruitless.
"I approached the clerk at the counter, and I launched for the umpteenth time into the description of my perception of what the magazine should look like, its purpose, and its general history as best I understood it," Horn says.
"The clerk had no idea, but offered to ask another clerk who was working in the back. The umpteenth and first go-around did the trick.
"The second clerk smiled and pointed, saying she thought the place I was looking for was next door," he says. "It was. Maybe the old gunpowder magazine wanted me to find it."
Horn won't provide the address.
"I don't want to steal all the fun for anyone wanting to discover the magazine on their own," he says. "Let's just say you could buy car parts and a cherry cheesecake shake in the same trip."
The book will be part of a series, and resemblances to Charlaine Harris' popular "True Blood" series have already been mentioned.
The second book, "The Source," is coming out June 3, while the third, "The Void" is coming out in fall 2014.
"It is paranormal through and through, with a good dose of Southern Gothic tossed in for flavor," Horn says. "'The Line' does have a lighter, urban fantasy feel, but the series grows deeper, darker and more thoughtful as it progresses. The third book in the series, 'The Void,' while still entertaining, looks at the big questions."
Although he says he has "widely varied tastes," Horn does enjoy paranormal literature.
"I believe, much to my mother's chagrin, I was 10, or maybe 11 when I discovered Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley," he says. "After that it was a slippery slope into King and Straub.
"About 10 years ago, a friend introduced me to Laurell K. Hamilton," Horn says. "That started me on the path of reading urban fantasy."
Horn isn't sure what inspired "The Line."
"This is a much more difficult question to answer than I would like it to be," he says. "I took a lot of lumps while trying to find a publisher for my first, and as yet unpublished novel, 'The Essence of Things Hoped For.'
"I had to decide whether I would give up writing or start over, whether or not I could turn rejection into a learning experience. In the end, I decided to get right back on the horse and write an entirely different type of book, but I'm still optimistic or stubborn enough to hope I will find a publishing home for 'Essence' someday."
Horn hopes readers come away from the book with "a desire to see Savannah," a "willingness to look at other folk a bit deeper than what shows on their exterior" and "a burning and undeniable desire to read 'The Source' and 'The Void.'"
"'The Source' is headed to my publisher's production department," Horn says. "What I love about 'The Source' is the relationship that develops between Mercy and Jilo.
"Toward the end of 'The Line' we learn that Jilo's crusty and uneducated conjure woman exterior is just a front," he says. "In 'The Source,' those layers start to peel away."
The characters, while fictional, all reflect parts of Horn.
"It's like when you hold a prism up to the light and all the different colors show, each one of these characters carries a bit of who I am," he says. "Warts and all."