Friday, July 1, 2011

Author Spotlight: Jenn Bennett

Recently, I had the privilege of interviewing author Jenn Bennett, whose new urban fantasy novel, Kindling the Moon, released just this week.  Join me in welcoming her!

JLR: How long have you been writing, and when did you decide that you wanted to write for publication?

JB:  Hmm . . . I'm supposed to tell you that I've been writing since I could hold a crayon, and that I always knew I wanted to write. That, however, would be a lie. My education is in fine art (painting) and my work history has ranged from being a buyer at a national book retailer, to managing imports for a souvenir company, to creating/designing product for a major arts and crafts company. I'm almost—coughs—40. I wrote my first novel 2 1/2 years ago during the winter. Then I wrote another in the spring. That summer I wrote a third book that became KINDLING THE MOON. Several literary agents requested fulls; when I finally accepted representation, it took my agent about seven weeks to sell it to one of the Big Six publishing houses. From the moment I wrote my first word until I sold: one year, six months. I will say this, however: once I started on this little quest, I quickly realized that I'd never wanted anything more in my entire life. I would probably shrivel up and die from madness and depression if I couldn't write. Dramatic, but true! Who knew writing crazy stories about demons and magic could completely rock my world?

JLR:  What types of books do you read? Are there any genres or subject matters that you avoid?

JB:  I read everything: young adult, historical romance, horror, medieval texts on demon summoning, photographic books on Southeast Asian architecture, and books about food science. The only sections of a bookstore or library that I avoid are computer science and mathematics. But never say never . . .

JLR:  Did you have any experiences in childhood that influenced you to become a writer?

JB:  Nothing specific, but I've always, always been a voracious reader from an early age. I've also lived and traveled around the world, which has shaped the way I look and think about things. My family would probably tell you that, as a child and adult, I've been an excellent daydreamer and a creative liar—which are my greatest strengths as a storyteller. I might add that I'm ridiculously stubborn and, at times, possess more ego than common sense—which is probably why I was able to get published so quickly. The rejection that writers must endure is debilitating, and publishing is such a hard business to crack . . . only someone with more willpower and ego than sense would keep fighting for something so elusive that pays so very little.

JLR:  There is so much advice given by authors about the writing process. What type of writing routine do you have? Are you a planner or a figure-it-out-as-you-go type writer? Any tips you want to share?

JB:  My routine varies, but I normally gravitate toward writing at night: midnight until six/seven in the morning. No matter how hard I try to stick to a daytime schedule, when I'm deep into a project, I wind up staying up later and later. I prefer silence when I write, so may this is one reason I like to write at night—no phone calls to answer, no one mowing their lawn, no barking dogs.

When I first started writing seriously a couple of years ago, I gobbled up every piece of writing advice I could find. However, at some point I started weeding out things that just didn't work for me. Sometimes you can follow so many rules that it squelches your creativity and saps the fun out of everything. The best advice I could give aspiring writers is:

(1) Understand that reading outside your genre is equally as important as reading inside it.
(2) Put a finished manuscript aside for a least a week—if not a month, or longer—and edit it later with a fresh point of view. You'd be surprised what a couple weeks away can do. (Did I write that line? Holy moly, this stinks! What was I thinking?)
(3) Read your manuscript out loud when you're editing. When you read something out loud, you can better identify when prose sounds artificial. Sure, you sound like a drama club reject, reading your own work aloud (I recommend doing this when no one is around). But after you've made it through a few chapters, you begin to spot patterns in your writing that you'll never see when you're reading in your head.

JLR:  How have you been able to balance your writing with your day job and your family responsibilities? What sacrifices have you had to make?

JB:  My husband works, so currently I'm able to write full-time from home. I think this is unusual for a debut author. If I had to solely live on my advance money, I'd be forced to build some sort of shanty in the woods and survive off squirrel stew and rainwater. Okay, maybe that's a teensy bit of an exaggeration, but still. I must admit that I'm a terrible housewife, and I do my best to ignore all family responsibilities that require me to clean or maintain a respectable home. If I didn't, I wouldn't be able to get any writing done. But the biggest sacrifice we've both had to make is surviving off one fixed salary; it's hard to be snobby on a budget.

JLR:  What are you writing now that KINDLING THE MOON has been released?

JB:  I've written the second book in the Arcadia Bell series, SUMMONING THE NIGHT, which Pocket Books will release in April 2012. My agent is currently reading the first draft of a young adult paranormal I just finished, and I just started another young adult project—a supernatural noir horror/thriller. I hope to finish that this summer, then try my hand at an adult paranormal romance. Hopping genres has made me a better writer; however, I don't think I could write anything that didn't have a dark fantasy/supernatural element and a little romance. That's what I love to write, and I'll keep doing it until someone pries my laptop from my cold, dead hands!

BIO: Jenn Bennett is an award-winning visual artist-turned-urban fantasy author. Born in Germany, she’s lived and traveled extensively throughout Europe, the U.S., and the Far East. She believes rebellion is an under-appreciated art form, has conjured more demons than you’ve had hot lunches, and likes her fairy tales like she likes her coffee: dark. She currently lives near Atlanta with her film-geek husband and two very bad pugs.

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