Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Interview with Jenna Black, author of HUNGERS OF THE HEART

Here are the winners of the Cynthia Eden books from last week's giveaway.



Congrats to both of you. Please send your mailing address to jeri AT jerismithready DOT com, and I'll pass it on to Cynthia so you can receive your signed books. Thanks so much for commenting, everyone!


Today's interview is with someone who is not only one of my favorite authors, but one of my favorite people: Jenna Black. I highly recommend her Guardian series, which began in November 2006 with Watchers in the Night. Black puts several fascinating twists on vampires, and I particularly like the seamless way she incorporates details from real modern-day cities. It gives her books a realistic flair, especially if you're familiar with the cities in question (Philadelphia, Baltimore, etc.).

Okay, I'll shut up and let Jenna tell you the rest.


Jenna Black is your typical writer. Which means she's an "experience junkie." She got her BA in physical anthropology and French from Duke University.

Once upon a time, she dreamed she would be the next Jane Goodall, camping in the bush making fabulous discoveries about primate behavior. Then, during her senior year at Duke, she did some actual research in the field and made this shocking discovery: primates spend something like 80% of their time doing such exciting things as sleeping and eating.

Concluding that this discovery was her life's work in the field of primatology, she then moved on to such varied pastimes as grooming dogs and writing technical documentation. Among her other experiences . . .

  • Ballroom dancing.
  • Traveling all seven continents. Yes, even Antarctica.
  • Becoming a Life Master in Bridge.
  • Singing in a barbershop chorus.

What was your inspiration for writing HUNGERS OF THE HEART?

Since the first book of the Guardians of the Night series, I’ve always known I would eventually write Drake’s book. Many of my readers have also impatiently been awaiting his book since they first “met” him in WATCHERS IN THE NIGHT. As excited as I was to write his story, though, it turned out to be very hard to do. One of the most attractive things about Drake in WATCHERS was his self-confidence, the sense that he was comfortable in his own skin. Confident, comfortable characters, however, don’t make for interesting protagonists, so I had to shake him up. I found myself strangely reluctant to do so. That was the first time I had to struggle to make myself be mean to one of my characters. Usually authorial cruelty comes easily to me, as my readers no doubt know!

Which books and authors have most influenced your career?

I’d have to credit THOSE WHO HUNT THE NIGHT, by Barbara Hambly, as being the book that piqued my interest in vampires. The main vampire character in that book, Don Simon Ysidro, is absolutely fascinating to me. There’s no question he’s a bad guy—all her vampires are killers, and none of them seem to feel any remorse for their actions. However, Don Simon also has redeeming qualities, such as a sense of honor, that make him at least somewhat sympathetic to both the reader and the novel’s hero. (And from that description, you can no doubt see how much I was influenced by that particular book!)

For my urban fantasies, I’d have to credit the Anita Blake series, by Laurell K. Hamilton as having had the most influence. That was the first urban fantasy series I read, and I ended up absolutely hooked. After reading her books, I went on to “discover” such authors as Kelley Armstrong, Keri Arthur, Rachel Caine, and Patricia Briggs. It was because I loved all those books so much that I set out to write an urban fantasy myself.

What’s the best and the worst advice you’ve ever received?

The worst advice I ever received was to slavishly follow all publishers’ guidelines for submissions. (Note the word “slavishly.” I’m not saying to ignore guidelines.) For the 16 + years I was seriously trying—and failing—to get published, I dutifully submitted books one at a time, no simultaneous submissions. I can’t tell you how many times I had to wait a year or more to get a response. And during that waiting time, I refused to submit the book to another publisher, because most publishers say they won’t accept simultaneous submissions. It made for a painfully slow, agonizing, frustrating process. If I had it all to do over again, I’d probably go ahead and make simultaneous submissions despite the guidelines. I think it would have saved some of my sanity.

The best advice was for me to take responsibility for my own career. This meant always acting as though my career was under my control, even when sometimes it feels like I’m a victim in the winds of fate. This advice was crucial to my finally getting published. I had gotten to a point where I’d convinced myself I needed to get that lucky break to get my foot in the door. And that was a dismal prospect, because you can’t control luck. Then I went to a workshop where the teachers were adamant in their belief that luck has nothing to do with it, that if you write well enough and long enough, you’ll break in. It was a total change of attitude for me, and it changed the way I approached my career. When I began to believe that it was my own abilities, not the whims of luck, that would ultimately get me published, I started working much, much harder at my writing. I started treating it like a career, rather than a hobby. A year later, I had an agent. Two years later, I had my first contract. And now I have five books out with four more under contract. So it was by far the best advice I’ve ever received.

What (besides writing) do you do for fun?

Number one on my list is, naturally, reading. Like most writers, I’m a voracious reader. I’ve recently become addicted to doing jigsaw puzzles. My enjoyment of jigsaw puzzles has come and gone multiple times over the course of my life. I’ll go for years without doing one, then suddenly I’ll have an urge and I’ll do a whole bunch in a row. I’m finding them particularly fun right now because they’re something I can do that doesn’t involve sitting in front of a computer.

I also enjoy ballroom dancing, which I’ve just taken up again after several years’ hiatus. I think it’s important for me to find things to do outside the house now that I’ve quit my day job. It would be so easy for me to become a hermit. So that’s why I decided to start dancing again. (Though it’s also a lot of fun as well as being good exercise.)

What are you writing now?

Right now I’m working on the fourth book in my Morgan Kingsley series. I’ve just gotten started, so I’m still in those very uncertain “what the heck is going to happen in this book?” stage. It often takes me a few chapters before I start feeling like I’ve “really” started the book. I’ve also been playing around with an idea for a YA urban fantasy, but I have to put that aside now to work on the book that’s sold and on deadline.

Did you always want to write? Or did you stumble into it? How did you get where you are now?

I wrote my first book when I was in fifth grade. It was an autobiography. It’s written in pencil, with crayon illustrations and a construction paper cover. So I’ve pretty much been writing forever. I wrote my first novel my senior year of high school for my English class on creative writing. (Actually, it was really a novella, but I considered it a novel at that time.) I then wrote my first real, full-length novel in college. However, it took about 20 years and 17 more novels before I made my first sale.

In college, I majored in anthropology and French. My intention was to get a PhD in physical anthropology and become the next Jane Goodall. Obviously, my career and my ambitions ended up taking a different path.

What does a typical writing day look like for you? How long do you write, that sort of thing?

I start out by trudging up to my computer while guzzling coffee as I try to shake the sleep clouds from my head. (I’m not the best morning person in the world.) I usually read emails and look at some of my favorite Internet sites (like MySpace and Romance Divas) while I wait for my brain to be fully functional. Then I drag myself to a computer that has no Internet access and no games—nothing installed on it other than word processing software. And I write.

I tend to write in multiple short (45 minutes to an hour) spurts throughout the morning and early afternoon. Between spurts, I check email or do chores or work out. (Or goof off, but I try to keep that to a minimum.)

Where do you write?

I have a home-office-cum-library where I work. It’s a converted bonus room over our garage, and it’s decorated to help stimulate my imagination—and give me the illusion that I’ve actually left the house to write. The effect is like working in a medieval/gothic library, with faux-wood floors and faux-stone walls.

What is the best part of being a writer? The most frustrating?

The best part about being a writer for me is hearing from readers. I love knowing that people have read and enjoyed my books. I was especially moved when I got an email from a reader who was seriously ill and told me my books helped make the bad times better for her. Books have always been my escape during the worst times in my life, and one of the thoughts that kept me going while I was struggling to sell that first novel was the desire to provide that same kind of escape for others. Learning that I’d done so for at least one reader brought tears to my eyes.

The most frustrating part of being a writer is how many things about your career are not under your control. You can’t control the whims of the market, the editorial shifts in your publishing house, the closing of lines, the cover art, the marketing . . . You name it. (Some of those things you can control when you’re a mega star, but I’m not there yet!)

This isn't your first book; tell us a little bit about what else is out there?

There are three other books out in the Guardians of the Night series: WATCHERS IN THE NIGHT, SECRETS IN THE SHADOWS, and SHADOWS ON THE SOUL. There’s also THE DEVIL INSIDE, the first book in my Morgan Kingsley, Exorcist series. The second book in that series, THE DEVIL YOU KNOW, will come out on July 29.

Where can we learn more about you and your books?

My website is www.JennaBlack.com. You can also find me on MySpace at www.MySpace.com/jennablackbooks.


Thanks, Jenna, for all your amazing books, and for giving me a bad case of office envy.

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That is one cool office

Posted by: Blogger Bunny B at 5/06/2008 10:18 AM

Sounds like a great series that I must add to my TBR pile!

Posted by: Blogger tetewa at 5/06/2008 12:03 PM

Can I get the name of the designer for her office? I want that office. :)

I love her Morgan Kingsley series, so I think I'm going to have to check out her guardian series.

Posted by: Blogger Jackie (Literary Escapism) at 5/06/2008 3:23 PM

Thanks, Jackie. I actually had a number of people involved in the design: an interior designer, a carpenter, and a faux-finisher. (The floors, walls, and ceiling are all done with paint, not actual stone and wood. Cool, huh?)

I hope you enjoy the Guardians series if you decide to give a try. (And you, too, Tetewa!)

Posted by: Blogger Jenna Black at 5/06/2008 3:44 PM

Hi Jenna, I love The Guardian series, though I'm behind on April books and need to get this one in my next order. Haven't read MK series, yet, but the first is now in the TBR.

I'm envious now looking at that neat office.

Posted by: Blogger Pam P at 5/06/2008 7:57 PM

Those pictures don't do it justice. My jaw hug when I walked into the writing dungeon. Talk about emersing yourself into your books. Absolutely fabulous!

Posted by: Blogger Marcia Colette at 5/07/2008 1:11 PM

Okay, the office is absolutely fantastic. It's gorgeous!

Posted by: Blogger Ann Aguirre at 5/08/2008 9:43 AM

Oh, wow, I think I just caught a case of the office envy, too! And I really enjoy the Guardian series. :-)

Posted by: Blogger Cynthia Eden at 5/09/2008 11:40 PM

I don't care about half of that office, but I would do quite a bit to get bookshelves like yours. They're gorgeous.

Posted by: Blogger Liviania at 5/10/2008 3:22 PM

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