Many people dream of writing a book. Ozark writer J.T. Jourdan is watching is dream come true. The local author recently published his debut novel, “Salvation in the Woods,” on Amazon in May.
“’Salvation In The Woods’ is like a basic thriller,” Jourdan told the Christian County Headliner News. “It’s about a group of five friends. Four of them are going to college and the last one’s an outcast who’s not. They all decide to go camping one last time before heading off to school, where they’ll never see each other.”
But things go wrong for the friends when they can’t find the campgrounds they used to visit as children. Instead, they lose their way and come face to face with the members of a secluded cult.
“They have no cell signal, they can’t get back to their cars, because they’re not letting them leave, so then, it’s five against 50,” Jourdan said. “And it’s either adapt or parish or make a break for it. There’s twists and turns and everything like that in it.”
The book’s sudden turns of plot, in fact, were enough to capture the attention of one big-name Hollywood director, Jourdan said. “Salvation in the Woods” is in the running to receive a movie deal.
“From what I understand, it’ll be a nationwide theatrical release,” Jourdan said.
“Salvation in the Woods” took Jourdan roughly two and a half years to write, he said.
“I originally wrote it as a screenplay and got nowhere quickly with that,” Jourdan said. “My sister actually suggested I write it as a book. I had never attempted a book, but I wrote it, and now, here it is.”
Jourdan’s book was picked up by Australia-based, independent publishing company Wild Dreams not long after it was finished.
“We want authors to realize their wildest dreams and assist them in reaching their full potential,” the company’s website reads.
For Jourdan, it was less about his potential than it was proving himself to others. He grew up in California, he said, where his home sat six blocks away from a movie theatre.
“I was always going to the movies and always wanted to do something in that [industry],” Jourdan said. But then, when he was 13, his family moved to Missouri, he said, far away from the world of clapperboards and marquees. “I went to OTC and Missouri State to get into that, but living out here it’s hard, and you need an agent and everything like that.”
But Jourdan kept searching different avenues, exploring different ways of expressing his creativity so that he could eventually find his niche.
“It was about saying it louder to everybody who wouldn’t listen, ‘I’m going to be somebody someday. You’re going to remember my name,’” Jourdan said.
Receiving a contract with a publisher for his first attempt at a book was just the validation he needed, he said. He recalled opening the email with the offer roughly a year ago.
“It didn’t include a ‘congratulations’—a ‘we liked it,’ ‘we loved it,’” Jourdan said. “I opened it and it was a five-year contract and I said, ‘I take it you liked it,’ and they said, ‘Yeah, we loved it.’”
Jourdan discovered Wild Dreams through one of his former teachers at Ozark High School, Sheri Chapman. She’s also worked with the company to publish a book, “Wild Passion.”
“Originally, it was a company called Big Dreams, and Big dreams went out of business and didn’t pay a lot of the authors,” Chapman told the Headliner. “Two of the authors started Wild Dreams from Big Dreams.”
Chapman said Wild Dreams is relatively new, and that it primarily takes the work of not-yet-published writers. The company, however, isn’t currently taking new submissions. Chapman said one of the Wild Dreams editors is battling a serious illness.
“So, it put a lot of our book contracts behind,” she said. “A lot of people didn’t understand, because they weren’t making her being sick real public.”
The company is still pushing forward, though.
“Supposedly, at the end of the year, assuming all the contracts go through, some of Wild Dreams books will be in at least five book stores in different states and one in Italy,” Jourdan said.
The company’s also beginning to raise money for a lawyer, so that it can see its authors’ movie contracts through. Roughly seven Wild Dreams books have been part of a discussion regarding movie deals. Jourdan said those fundraisers are on GoFundMe.com.
Sheri said she’s also been part of discussion regarding a theatrical retelling of her book.
“This director’s only working with Wild Dreams authors,” she said. “I don’t know a lot about him, but I know that he works for big companies.”
Chapman did not disclose the director’s name, though Jourdan revealed he produces eight to 10 movies a year. The pair hopes the deals will continue to move smoothly.
Fit for a king
Jourdan told the Headliner News his writing’s biggest influence is Stephen King, a well-known author with over 50 novels under his belt, some of his most famed being “The Shining,” “It,” “Pet Sematary,” and “Carrie.”
“My mom raised me and my sister. She didn’t want us watching TV all the time, so in the fourth or fifth grade, I started reading the Goosebumps series and the Animorphs series, and as I got older, I just progressed toward King,” Jourdan said. “Everybody else was getting into Harry Potter. There was just something about his words and how he made a page come to life.”
It was Jourdan’s King-like style that helped him get published, in fact.
“They said—and I took it as the ultimate compliment, because he’s such an inspiration to me—that they see a lot of King in my writing,” Jourdan said. “I don’t consider myself anywhere near him, but they said that they could tell I read a lot of his stuff, because he puts so much detail into every little aspect of a page.”
Jourdan said when he writes, he sees his stories play out in his head like a movie. He described his writing method as “old-school and meticulous,” and uses a three-subject notebook and a specific pen to create something like a script. The script later becomes the bones of a narrative, with which he adds details, as well as dialogue, until it’s fleshed out as a readable story.
“One of the best books I ever read was “The Dark Half.” It’s a story about a writer that was supposed to be a twin, but the embryos sort of absorbed each other,” Jourdan said. It’s his favorite book of all time, he adds. “The writer uses a pseudonym, like I do… He gets blackmailed to kill off the pseudonym, but it actually manifests itself in him. The dark half of his personality doesn’t want to die. It wants to continue being a person—a successful writer.”
Jourdan described reading the book as a defining moment in his life.
“As a writer, that’s probably the book that really made me sit back and go, ‘I want to do this.’”
Movies may be on Jourdan’s mind, but he’s still keeping a clear head. Jourdan’s currently working on another book, he said. He called it his “passion project”—a story he’s wanted to tell for years.
“I’ve put it off two or three times,” Jourdan said. “My own, personal deadline for it is driving me nuts.”
Jourdan also more recently saw one of his short stories published in a Wild Dreams anthology, a book made up of a collection of short stories.
“That’s called “’What Lies Beyond the Shadows,’” he said. “I did that with 15 other authors.”
Jourdan’s planning several book signings for “Salvation in the Woods” in Ozark at Big Whiskeys, Buckingham’s and the library, Jan. 10, 18 and 19, respectively, as well as the Nixa branch library, Feb. 2.
In the meantime, he’s enjoying his successes, and so is his wife, Jennifer, he said, who can’t help but tell everyone about his book.
“The best time she did it was at Barnes & Noble,” Jourdan said sarcastically, chuckling. “That was fun.”
J.T. Jourdan’s “Salvation in the Woods” tells the story of five friends lost in the woods, who come face to face with the members of a secluded cult.