Author Spotlight: A Journey into Speculative Fiction with Award-Winning Author Jack Nash

Welcome to Mind the Typos, your go-to blog for insights and tales from the world of literature. Today, I had the pleasure of hosting an interview with Jack Nash, the brilliant author behind the award-winning novelette "Son Spirit Snake," which recently featured in L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 40. Jack’s journey from personal experiences in Central Africa to receiving the Golden Pen grand prize is both inspiring and fascinating. Dive in as we explore his inspirations, challenges, and future writing endeavors.

1. Could you please introduce yourself and tell us about your book?

I’m Jack Nash, author of the novelette “Son, Spirit, Snake,” which appears in L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 40. Writers of the Future is an international contest for emerging voices in speculative fiction, and it receives thousands of entries each quarter. My story won First Place for Quarter Four, then went on to receive the Golden Pen grand prize. I’m delighted to share my story with the world, alongside the thirteen other outstanding stories, essays, and illustrations that appear in Volume 40

2. What inspired you to write your book, and can you tell us about it?

“Son, Spirit, Snake” came to life in a roundabout way. The overall inspiration for the setting and characters comes from personal experience, where I lived for over two years in Central Africa, then a career working across the continent. I’ve always loved world folklore and mythology, and wanted to write something that paid homage to the stories I don’t often find in Western literature. For example, I’ve read plenty of stories inspired by Greco-Roman traditions, and even more set in a medieval castle with dragons. But I wanted to explore somewhere dear to my heart and somewhere new.

I also wanted to challenge myself. When I started “Son, Spirit, Snake,” I’d only been writing for a year or so and wanted to improve. I signed up for an online workshop focused on science fiction, fantasy, and horror―my chosen genres. However, a week before the scheduled start date, I got an email saying the course was canceled. I could either get a refund or I could get four one-on-one sessions with the instructor, focusing on whatever I wanted to talk about. I thought that this would be a great opportunity to try something different, as I told myself it was just for practice.

Over the coming months, I started writing a story about a boy who falls down a gold mine and speaks to spirits. My instructor helped me see the flaws in my writing and prodded me to try being more bizarre, to focus on making my dialogue unique to each character, and to make my descriptions more vivid. Over time the story got longer and weirder. I had little hope for it — few markets accept stories of 15,000 words — but I submitted it to the Writers of the Future Contest anyway as I’d set the goal to enter each quarter. Low and behold…

3. What themes or messages do you hope readers will take away from your book?

Family, faith, and the duties of tradition are the big themes I play with in “Son, Spirit, Snake.” I wanted to explore how tradition – especially religious tradition – impacts familial and community relationships, both positively and negatively. While I don’t think I make any argument one way or another, I hope people will pause and consider how external forces shape their interactions with their community, their social circles, and ultimately their families. And of course, I hope people come away wanting to be closer to their loved ones. 

4. Are there any particular authors or books that influenced your writing style or inspired you?

While I enjoy reading and writing fantasy, I usually find myself going to thriller and mystery novels when I’m looking for some entertainment. I’m a big fan of Lee Child in particular, so my prose style has a bit of a noir edge. Perhaps that’s why one of the Writers of the Future judges called my story a, “Gritty, dark, African… something.” Which I take as a compliment. At the same time, I adore the fantasy stories of Neil Gaiman, especially his novels American Gods and Neverwhere. Both authors inspired me in terms of what they’ve accomplished and the kinds of stories they’re telling, and I think my story is a product of reading both genres – fantasy and thriller. 

5. In what ways do you think your book stands out from others in its genre, and what do you hope sets it apart for readers?

When I wrote “Son, Spirit, Snake,” I intentionally tried to make a fantasy world that didn’t fully make sense. For example, the story is populated by spirits that have unusual bodies, speak in broken French, and have abilities that aren’t fully explained. Spirits interact with humans but are very un-human. In that way, I wanted to reflect religions and beliefs in the real world, where the stories we tell about our own gods hold immense meaning but aren’t always rooted in logic. This intentional illogic was also in response to the preoccupation on magic systems I see growing in the fantasy genre, where writers are expected to create detailed rules that govern a fantasy world. For me, however, belief has no rules (much like writing fiction). Why would magic be any different?

6. Can you discuss any research or preparation you undertook while writing your book, particularly if it involved exploring new topics or settings?

In many ways, this was a deeply personal story for me. Although not explicitly stated in the story, the setting is a fantastical version of Africa. To anyone who has spent time in Cameroon, the setting is even more obvious (I put in a number of Easter eggs about Cameroon’s geography). I lived in Cameroon for two years, have a master’s degree in African Studies from Yale, and have spent most of my career working in or about African issues. Setting a story in Africa was my love letter to the continent’s folklore, mythology, and tales, which don’t often feature in the fantasy genre. I wanted to set something in a place I enjoy being among people I enjoy being with. Most of the descriptions – minus the other-worldly spirits – are things I saw firsthand at one point or another. 

7. How do you balance conveying your intended message or themes with ensuring an engaging and entertaining reading experience for your audience?

I didn’t start out with themes or anything particular I wanted to say. Most came about organically as I wrote about the character’s lives and situations. Many times during writing I would pause, sit back and say, “Oh. That’s what I think about that issue?” Theme was an act of discovery for me as much as my characters. At the same time, readers will tell me themes that they found that I hadn’t intended to put in. Either I was putting something in subconsciously, or more likely I think, the reader was bringing their own experiences to the story and finding new connections unique to them. 

I think what is most important to create an entertaining reading experience is to be engrossed in your own story. If the writer is bored, the reader will be bored. But if the writer is enjoying the plot, the characters, and having fun, I think the reader will experience some of that as well. 

8. Can you provide an excerpt of a specific scenes or passages in your book that hold particular significance? 

This is from one of my favorite scenes to write. In it, the main character, a boy named Étienne, has fallen down an abandoned gold mine. Hurt and alone, he cries out and a spirit answers him.

“You are the spirit of this place?” He meant it as a statement but couldn’t keep the question out of his voice.

[The spirit’s] snort was the breaking of branches in a storm. “I am much more than this hole, little one. You know me and my name.” 

Know it? Étienne’s mind sped through spirit names, some as familiar as the members of his own family: Weeping Man, He Who Sleeps Under River Stones, White Woman. Names of shyer spirits rarely encountered: Child of Rainstorms, The One Without Faces, She Who Laughs at Night. This was none of them. 

“Think,” it said. “What happened to you?” 

“I fell.” 

“Yes, and?” the whisper intoned. 

“I hurt myself?” 

A sigh. “A riddle for you then. I am carrion beetles feasting on what was.” The mine echoed with the chirp of carapaces and biting mandibles. “I am glass-toothed hunger swimming under black waves.” A scaled fin grazed his leg. “I am the gaps between stars, the nothingness beyond nothing.” The stone walls around him vanished, taking away all sense of up or down. “All things come to me in the end. Because in the end, I am all things.” 

Étienne saw through a thousand, thousand eyes; as wolves devouring a deer, as a pestilence gnawing unseen on flesh, as worms digging through Dieudonné’s burned corpse in a communal grave, as the sightless skull of his father still wrapped in a moldering death shawl.

He dry-heaved. He’d never seen his brother’s body. It was his mother who told him that a mob in Port City had cornered Dieudonné in an alley. It was only through whispers overheard in the market that he’d learned the whole of it, that after they beat his brother, they set him on fire. And when his brother was dead, they tossed him in a pauper’s grave, like so much city refuse. He hadn’t imagined the burns would … Hadn’t pictured … He hoped his brother was dead before the flames did that to his skin. 

“O Ancestors, Dieudonné.” 

The images melted to blackness. Étienne curled into himself, sobbing despite the pain it brought his ribs. 

“So, what am I, little one?” 

He knew. The formless spirit of one name. The one who all would see only once but could never speak of again. The spirit above all spirits. 


 10. Can you provide insight into your future writing plans or projects? Are there any upcoming releases or ideas you're excited to explore?

I started writing short fiction because I wanted to practice developing my style and exploring what kind of stories I enjoyed telling. I’ve got a few more shorts in my queue I’d like to finish and (hopefully) see published. After that, I’m going to tackle a novel. I’m particularly interested in exploring family and community relationships, much like in “Son, Spirit, Snake.” I’ve got the basic ideas of a novel-length idea down, now it’s just a matter of following the characters wherever they take me.

9. Lastly, could you provide your contact information or social media handles for readers who would like to connect with you?

Of course! I’m always on my website at jacknashstories.com, where you can find my info, past stories, and sign up for my newsletter (you can browse past editions on my website). And I’d love to connect with anyone on X or Threads, both at @jnashstories: 📱📲 💻:

Writers of the Future Resources:

Follow Writers of the Future on Social Media:

Thank you for diving into this post! If you enjoyed this deep dive into Jack Nash's writing and want more insights, interviews, and behind-the-scenes looks into authors and their writing journey, be sure to follow Mind The Typos. Don’t miss out on exclusive content—click the link below, and until next time, mind the typos!