Monday, July 5, 2010

INTERVIEW: Jenna Black

Alright boils and ghouls, here be my first interview since the Unfortunate MIA Period of 2010. The author is Jenna Black, who to date has two adult and one young adult series published, comprising almost a dozen books with more on the way. These books have everything, from vampires to demon possessions to fairies, so there's no chance you won't find something to love. So, without further adieu, enjoy!

(1) So, I guess I may as well start with the basics: how exactly did Jenna Black break into the publishing world?

With great difficulty! I wrote seriously, trying to get published, for about sixteen years before I finally sold WATCHERS IN THE NIGHT, my "first" novel. Actually, that first novel was the 18th I'd written. I came close many times before that with many other books, but I was never quite able to break in. But I kept writing, kept trying, and kept submitting. Being a writer was my dream, and I refused to give up on that dream even when it seemed it was impossible to achieve, which it did many times during those frustrating years of rejection after rejection.

(2) Right now you’ve got three series, one urban fantasy, one paranormal and one young adult. The urban fantasy series features Morgan Kingsley, a demon exorcist who one day finds out she’s hosting the rightful king of the demons. So far four books have been published and a fifth, The Devil’s Playground, is due out in late March. Will this be the last book in the series?

Yes, that's the final book, although there will be at least one more Morgan Kingsley short story, coming out in an anthology sometime next year.

(3) Will there be more instalments in your paranormal series, the Guardians of the Night?

No, that series is finished.

(4) In May your first young adult book, Glimmerglass, will be coming out. What can you tell us about this new series?

The series is about a teen girl named Dana Hathaway, who gets fed up with her alcoholic single mother and runs away from home to find her Fae father in Avalon, the only place in the world where the ordinary world and the world of Faerie intersect. She's hoping to find something more like a normal life, but she gets way more than she bargained for. It turns out she's a Faeriewalker, a rare individual who can travel freely both in the mortal world and in Faerie. She can also bring magic into the mortal world and technology into Faerie. There are a lot of people--including her father--who see her as a potential pawn in a deadly game of Fae politics, and her life is about as far from normal as it's possible to get.

(5) Returning to the Morgan Kingsley series, in developing Morgan's character in the series, do you plot it all out prior to writing each book or are you winging it as you go?

I generally have an idea of where the story starts and where it's going to end. All the stuff in the middle--and the actual details of what's going to happen at the end--doesn't come into focus until I'm elbow-deep in the writing.

(6) Morgan’s world puts a new spin on demon possessions - How did you come up with the idea in the first place? Why go with what you did? And was there a lot of research involved? What sources do you use most?

I wanted my heroine to be involved in a deep-seated, emotional conflict that was too complicated to be resolved within the course of a single book, a conflict that could sustain tension throughout the course of the series. That's why I created a possessed exorcist, but I made Lugh into a good guy because that increased the complexity of the conflict. If Lugh were a villain--depicted more like a traditional demon--then Morgan would just want him gone. The fact that she likes him and wants him to win the fight for the throne adds another layer of complexity to their relationship. Because I completely made up the mythology for my series, only barely touching on the existing mythology about demons, I didn't have to do any substantive research. I generally hate doing research anyway, so I try to steer myself away from projects that would require too much of it. I like to use existing mythology as just a jumping off point, which is true in my other series as well.

(7) Is writing a full-time job for you? What’s a day-in-the-life-of-Jenna-Black like?

Yes, I write full time. I quit my day job right before the economy tanked. (Good timing, huh?) I'm still glad I went full time--I couldn't realistically keep writing two series while working a full time job. Not without burning myself out, that is. A day-in-the-life generally starts with me checking email over coffee, clad in my PJs. I do activities that require minimal brain power while I'm waiting to fully wake up, then I start writing. I usually write in sessions of about one hour at a time. (This varies wildly depending on where I am in the book, and how sure I feel about what happens next.) After an hour or so, I break to do something else, usually more email correspondence, or Twitter chattering, or website maintenance. (It's amazing how many tasks an author must do that have nothing to do with actually writing a book.) I'll then go back for another writing session, and I'll repeat this procedure throughout the day, usually stopping around 5:00 PM. If I'm doing editing, revising, or proofreading, I often do this after my regular work hours, preserving my "prime time" for the most creatively draining work. I do this seven days a week, and almost never take a full day off. I was never a workaholic until I became a full-time writer, but I have to be now or I wouldn't be able to keep up.

(8) In terms of the writing process, what is the most difficult part for you? Is it starting? Writing certain scenes? Editing or chopping up parts? What about the easiest?

The easiest part for me is writing the big climactic scene(s) at the end of the book. By the time I get there, I'm very comfortable that I know how the plot is going to work, I'm totally immersed in all the characters' heads, so I know what they'll do in any given situation, and I've got a good picture in my own head of all the action that's to come. I often have marathon writing sessions when I get to this part, because the momentum carries me right through my supposed break times.

The hardest part varies from book to book. Sometimes, it's the beginning, because I'm just getting to know certain characters and things aren't so clear in my mind yet. Usually, it will come later in the book. There's usually a place where I have big holes in my plan. For example, I might write in my synopsis something like "And then she escapes from the dungeon." That's enough information for a synopsis, but when I find that scene looming on the horizon, I've got to figure out *how* she escapes from the dungeon, and the logistic sometimes leave me stymied for a while.

(9) How long does it take you to go from idea to finished manuscript?

That varies wildly, and it depends on your definition of the word "finished." To get from an idea to a finished first draft probably takes me around three months on average. With me, there's very little delay between getting an idea and starting to write. If I'm excited about something, I feel the need to start writing right away. I don't think I'd have the patience to write anything where I had to do extensive research before I began writing. The drive to write is capricious, and when the desire is burning in me, I have to take advantage of the surge of energy and excitement it gives me. I'll have peaks and valleys during that three-month writing process--times when the words are being forced out one by one and it's all I can do to keep my butt in the chair, and times when I'm so absorbed I forget to eat.

It's much harder for me to say how long it takes before I have a real, finished manuscript, because there's so much stopping and starting along the way. I have to put the manuscript aside for a while to give myself some distance, then I go back and edit. Then I turn it into my editor, and it can take months before I get feedback. Once I get the feedback, I have to go back and revise some more, and then turn it in again and wait for my editor to read it. So from the idea first dawning to the novel actually being in its finished state can easily take a year, even if much of that time is waiting time for me.

(10) What’s coming next for you outside of the Morgan Kingsley and Faeriewalker worlds? Are you planning a new adult series?

I will actually have a new adult urban fantasy series starting in 2011. Unfortunately, it's still Top Secret, and I'm not at liberty to share any details.

(11) Finally, some random questions about you:

a. What are your hobbies aside from writing?

I love ballroom dancing. I take lessons a couple times a week.

b. Could you please describe your dream day?

My dream day is any day when the writing is really flowing. There is no feeling quite like that, when the ideas o are flowing, and I can hardly type fast enough to keep up with them. Those are the days that make all the insecurities and aggravations of being a writer completely worth it.

c. If you found a genie, what would be your three wishes?
It's hard to answer this question and not sound like a cliche. Let's just say that I wouldn't wish for anything for myself. While my life is far from perfect, I am living my dream and am more than satisfied with what I have. I'd probably wish for world peace, a cure for cancer, and an end to hunger, or something unimaginative like that. Unless I suspected it was one of those genies who gave you wishes that always backfired--then I'd make really small wishes that couldn't possibly hurt anyone.


Jenna's first young adult book, Glimmerglass, hit the shelves in May and for further 411 on what's to come check out Jenna online here.

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