January 28, 2011
When Howard Jones returns to Indiana State University to read from his first novel, "The Desert of Souls," he's coming to a place he knows well.
Jones will read from his historical-fantasy novel at 3:30 p.m. Feb. 17 in Root Hall 264. A reception and book signing will take place after the reading for the Evansville resident.
"It's an Arabian Nights swashbuckler with mystery," Jones said, describing the book set in ancient Baghdad.
The book follows the stalwart captain Asim and the wily scholar Dabir as they track stolen golden artifacts into the shifting sands that hide the ruins of legendary Ubar, entry to the land of the djinn.
"I love going to strange places and seeing wonderful things," Jones said about historical fiction.
He began writing short stories about Dabir and Asim about 10 years ago.
"One day a character walked out of my subconscious and had tales to tell," he said about Asim.
The short stories about the characters appeared in Baen's Universe, Paradox Magazine and Black Gate, as well as several anthologies. Now, Jones has a two-book contract with Thomas Dunne Books, a St. Martin's imprint. Jones spent a year and a half writing "The Desert of Souls."
"It probably would have taken longer if I hadn't known the characters so well," he said.
He's now at work on the second book, in what he hopes will be a long-running series telling Asim's stories.
Jones took inspiration from tales by Harold Lamb, who wrote pulp fiction during the early 1900s, and Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan, who also wrote historical fiction.
"Back in the ‘20s, Lamb routinely wrote adventure stories with non-western protagonists," he said. "He and Robert E. Howard set stereotypes aside in their historicals and brought the east to vivid, vibrant life. That and their narrative drive left an indelible impression on me."
Jones has edited collections of Lamb's work. He also teaches writing at the University of Southern Indiana.
"I'm hoping if it takes off I'll be writing full time," he said, although he may keep teaching as he enjoys it. "Writing has been my dream job since I was in high school."
As a child, he said, he would draw elaborate pictures and write a description underneath.
"My mother said she knew I'd be a writer when the text started getting longer than the picture," he said with a chuckle.
Jones' father, Victor Jones, and mother, Shirley Jones, taught English at the university for decades. He attended the University School on Indiana State's campus.
"I was a campus brat," he said. "After school, I would wander over to my parents' offices."
He called his return to campus bittersweet since his father's death almost 11 years ago.
"I haven't returned to Root Hall since I lost my dad," he said.
Jones graduated from Indiana State in 1990 with a degree in radio, television and film and minors in creative writing and music. As a student worker in the department of English, he would often attend lectures by visiting writers.
"I'm certainly grateful for the opportunity. This will be my first official reading," he said. "I'm embarking on a new journey from the place where it all began."
Writer/Contact: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University, associate director of media relation, at 812-237-7972 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Howard Jones describes his first novel as "an Arabian Nights swashbuckler with mystery."