by Timothy Pike
Author and New Hampshire native Jennifer Anne Gordon lives in just the kind of house you’d read about in her novels.
“I recently moved to a more rural part of New Hampshire,” she says, “into a strange house with a tower room, a rumor of a death on the stairs and a possible ghost, and a family of foxes that romp in our yard.”
The new house, I imagine, is the perfect setting to inspire more of Jennifer’s award-winning tales of haunted places, slow descents into madness, and the blurred line between fiction and reality.
Jennifer’s work has garnered plenty of praise and numerous awards over the years. Her debut novel, Beautiful, Frightening, and Silent, won the Kindle Award for Best Horror/Suspense for 2020, and was a finalist for both the American Bookfest’s Best Book Award for Horror and the Book of the Year Award for the Authors on the Air Awards.
You’ve probably also heard her on Vox Vomitus, the top-rated podcast she co-hosts with author Allison Martine. “On that show, we get to talk to top authors working today about what went right and what went wrong along the way,” Jennifer says. “I have been able to meet and talk with some of my writing idols such as Josh Malerman, Paul Tremblay, Carol Goodman, Wendy Webb, VC Andrews, Shawn Cosby, and so many more.”
But in addition to her actual voice, you might be even more familiar with her writing voice: a poetic take on the horror genre that stands out as truly original. “I like to think of my writing as the love child of Anne Sexton and Shirley Jackson,” Jennifer tells me. “I tend to write in a very lyrical and poetic style, but the subject matter leans towards the dark side for sure.”
Fitting, because darkness has been a theme in Jennifer’s life going back to at least seventh grade, when she had daily run-ins with a group of classmates who made life miserable for her. “I was being bullied by some mean girls,” she says, “and it made things like lunch and recess a minefield of hurt feelings.”
It also sent Jennifer spiraling into the shadowy depths of her mind. “The bullying led down a dark road of childhood depression,” she says. “I barely did any schoolwork. My grades suffered.”
But it was along this dark road that Jennifer’s writing journey truly began. “I was lucky enough to have an English teacher who would let me eat lunch in her classroom sometimes,” she says. “I remember the day she handed me one of those blue notebooks that we would write our exams in—she knew I had a talent for writing, and told me to write.”
Of course, having talent is a great start, but it’s rarely enough. Writing a book requires dedication, sacrifice, and for many, the ability to look right past their fears.
It’s an ability Jennifer had, but it still wasn’t easy. “It took years to build up enough courage to write a novel,” she recalls. “I remember every time I wanted to do it, there was a little voice inside me that said I couldn’t, that I didn’t know how, that it would be bad. I thought that I would need to go to school for writing, to study it.”
This parade of discouraging thoughts could easily have kept Jennifer from writing her first novel, but she was determined. “I knew I had a book inside me that I wanted to come out,” she says. “And honestly, I am not sure what happened, but one day it just seemed harder to not write than to write. So I tried.”
It worked. Once she rolled up her sleeves and buckled down, her debut novel sprang to life. “That’s how I wrote my first book,” Jennifer says. “It took twenty years building and changing in my head, and then two months to actually write.”
Having talent is a great start, but it’s rarely enough. Writing a book, for many, requires the ability to look right past their fears. It’s an ability Jennifer had.
The way Jennifer explains it, there’s a mental process that unfolds with each new novel. “I start with a concept and a main character, maybe the villain as well,” she says, adding that sometimes the real villains are not exactly who they seem at first. “Once I know the characters, I rely on them to guide the story. That’s how I go from a premise to a plot.”
But even with a plot in mind, Jennifer still writes by the seat of her pants. “I am definitely a ‘pantser’ with writing,” she tells me. “Every once in a while, I know a vagueness about the ending, but usually I am discovering the story as I write that first draft.”
Jennifer’s latest novel is called Pretty/Ugly, and the idea for the story came to her at one of her local shops, where the woman working there was afflicted with a severe skin condition. “It caused a lot of swelling,” Jennifer recalls, “and it was obvious her skin was cracked open, and it looked very painful.”
It just so happened that Jennifer had dealt with this same condition herself as a teenager, and knew it wasn’t contagious. But her imagination was happy to pick up where reality left off. “I started wondering about what if something like that would be contagious,” she explains. “How would that affect the world, our world where people rely so much on their outward appearances for everything? So that was when the original idea popped into my head.”
From there, the characters started taking shape. “My characters Omelia, the damaged and heartbroken Instagram influencer who spends her life hoping for clicks and likes,” she says. “And Sam, my failed politician who may or may not be haunted by the ghost of his twin sister. I wondered what would happen to people like that if the world was ending due to a ‘flesh eating’ type of virus. A virus that even if you live, you are left physically scarred.”
“Is it really fiction?” her book teaser asks us. “In these times, it seems chillingly possible for an Instagram star and a politician wrapped in a façade of his own to be facing a relentless pandemic that may well lead to the end of the world.” Indeed, the premise of Pretty/Ugly hits so close to home, there may be no better time to read this book.
Jennifer’s success hasn’t made her immune to the occasional challenge, though. “I recently had a case of writer’s block, which for years I have adamantly said was not something that existed,” she tells me. “But I realized when I got to a certain point in my current work-in-progress that I could do one of two things: I could write it in a commercial way that would probably lead to more success, or I could lean in a different direction. That was the direction my heart wanted to go in.”
Fortunately, it didn’t take long for her to get back on track. “I realized, for me, I needed to step away for a little while,” Jennifer says, “and not add any more pressure to myself. I have allowed myself to take time to let the story come to me. Mistakes can be fixed.”
“I realized I could do one of two things: write it in a commercial way that would probably lead to more success, or lean in a different direction. That was the direction my heart wanted to go in.”
In addition to being a gifted writer, Jennifer is also a natural entertainer who seems to thrive on stage and in the spotlight. She even studied acting in college.
Her performances over the years, to say the least, have been varied. “I was a professional magician’s assistant for a while,” she says. “He was actually a psychic entertainer, so I was never sawed in half or disappeared from a box, but I did have a great costume. It was very Victorian and witchy.”
Where Jennifer truly shines, however, is on the dance floor. “I have been a professional ballroom dancer and instructor for twelve years,” she says, telling me about the enormous role that dance has played in her daily life.
But when the pandemic hit, it dealt Jennifer a knockout punch. “My husband and I both went from teaching and performing six days a week to losing that life overnight,” she says. Although she’s now back to teaching a couple of days a week, it was still difficult to see her much fuller schedule slip away. “It was a crushing loss to us and the entire dance community,” she says, “but at the same time, it has allowed me to focus on my writing.”
Which to me sounds a lot like the rainbow after the storm.
Currently, Jennifer is hard at work on her next novel, and almost finished with the rough draft. That might not surprise you—but what might surprise you is the type of story she’s writing. “For the first time,” she tells me, “I am working on a novel that is not in the horror space.”
Despite my prodding, that’s about all she’s able to reveal right now.
“My amazing literary agent, Paula Munier at Talcott Notch,” she says, “has me sworn to secrecy on this project.”
But whatever Jennifer’s got up her sleeve, I’m certain it will shine as brightly as her other works, like a brilliant spot of light in a world of dark and shadows.
You can also connect with her on SlasherApp via @JenniferAnneGordon.
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