We’ve already crowned Jenn Bennett’s ‘Starry Eyes‘ as a contender for our Book of the Year, but don’t just take our word for it. Find out what happened when we caught up with Jenn and questioned her on that bear scene, LGBTQA+ representation and Zorie’s motto.
For those who haven’t picked up a copy of ‘Starry Eyes’ yet, how would you entice them to pick up a copy?
Do like witty banter? How about swoony boys who are sarcastic and slightly goth (in the best way possible) and nerdy girls who like science (stargazing and astrophysics)? Do you like your romantic couples to say they hate each other but are secretly longing for each other (sweet, sweet sexual tension)? What if, just for kicks, that couple got stuck together in the wilderness, where they are forced to confront their old and new feelings for each other? Sound good? I thought so, too.
You’ve mentioned previously that you’ve lived and travelled to lots of countries. How do your travels influence your writing?
My father was in the U.S. Army, so I was born in Germany. I’ve travelled around Europe, the U.S./Canada/Mexico, and China/Hong Kong. Travelling exposed me to a wide range of cultures and people, and that made me appreciate that people around the world are very different…and also the same. I think my writing reflects that, as my books are always populated with diverse characters—people of different races, cultures, religions, sexual orientation, etc.
It was really amazing how Zorie and Lennon’s history slowly came to light throughout the book. Did you plan out their backstory before you started writing?
Somewhat? I always have a loose idea about characters and plot before I start writing. I know how I want it to start, what the big conflict is, what the main characters want, and how it ends. When I started this book, I knew that Something Big happened at homecoming the previous year that tore apart my main characters, and that they both thought it involved their parents, who had become business rivals. I didn’t know exactly what that Something Big was (the real reason) until I began writing and fleshing out my characters’ personalities.
We love all of Lennon’s graphic novels and that his lizard’s name is Ryuk. Are you a fan too?
Yes! Lennon’s love of anime, manga, and horror stories came from me, I’m afraid. I loved the original Japanese Death Note graphic novels/anime, so I named Lennon’s lizard Ryuk, after the god of death character. I also love the stories of Junji Ito, and I’m a sucker for “survival horror” video games.
The bear scene and the lightning scene in the book were so intense! Have you ever personally experienced anything like that?
I spent a lot of time camping with my family when I was growing up. I’ve camped in the Netherlands, Germany, and France, and later on, camped all the way across the U.S. on a road trip. I’ve experienced intense lightning storms, flooding, snow, and unbearable heat. I’ve baked a cake in a cardboard box over charcoal. I’ve had to deal with first-aid situations, miles from civilization. I’ve seen bears in the wild, and I once found a pile of bones on a hiking trail in Yellowstone National Park, near a sign that warned about Grizzly bear attacks (and promptly turned around).
It’s so important in YA books to see a positive, healthy sexual relationship. What did it mean to you to write this?
Sex positivity is an important element in all my YA contemporary books. I don’t think it does teens any favours to skip over frank discussion of sex; it’s part of their lives, after all. My books are written from the “female gaze”—from the eyes/mind of a female character, written by a female author. And I like to write female characters who have healthy desires because that’s something that’s typically been disregarded in our culture. I guess in my work, I’m trying to say, “Hey, I see you. What you’re feeling is normal. Stop being ashamed.”
What does Zorie’s motto, “Don’t be cautious, be careful,” mean to you?
Take risks, but be smart about it. Don’t be stupid and jump off a cliff that will likely kill you, but maybe don’t be afraid to loosen up and have fun.
We saw on your Twitter that you’re on deadline for another book. Should we be making more room on our shelves?
Indeed! I’ve written two more books that will be published in the U.S. next year: Serious Moonlight, about a mystery-book-loving girl who takes a graveyard-shift job at a historic Seattle hotel the summer before college and falls for a co-worker who’s discovered a real-life mystery going on at the hotel. And coming later in 2019 is the YA book of my dreams: a British heiress and travels through 1930s Romania with a streetwise boy to procure the ransom for her brash, treasure-hunting father—a cursed ring that once belonged to Vlad the Impaler. I’m hoping both of these will be also published in the UK/Australia/New Zealand.
Who in your life would you most want to be lost in the wilderness with?
This is going to sound mean, but NOT my husband. (Sorry, honey!) He is not an outdoorsy guy, and I’d need someone who wouldn’t panic. So, probably my brother, who is an experienced camper and former archaeologist. Bare minimum, I’d want someone with a good sense of direction who can light a campfire.
Is Andromeda inspired by one of your own dogs?
Zorie’s dog is far bigger than either of mine! I have two, an elderly pug named Lorek (after the character in Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ children’s books), who is blind and deaf. And a young lady dog named Luna, who we rescued last year. She’s half Australian Cattle Dog, half Chihuahua, and is about the size of a cat. I’m a sucker for tiny dogs!
He’s the author now. (Next book will have a lot of bacon and snoring, bc those are his fav things.) pic.twitter.com/IgvBTYcbey
— Jenn Bennett (@Jenn_Benn) May 25, 2018
It was refreshing to see how Zorie’s heterosexual parents had marriage problems while Lennon’s same-sex parents were the model relationship. What do you think is the importance of introducing more LGBTQA+ characters within YA?
Yes, I was hoping someone would notice that dichotomy between the two sets of parents in my book. I wanted to write a loving, healthy relationship in Lennon’s mothers, who I feel are quite wonderful, because I see these couples in my own life, but they aren’t often in books/TV/movies. I would definitely encourage readers to seek out and support books written by LGBTQ authors, because those voices are important. Love is love.
Lastly what advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Read outside your comfort zone. If you’re a reader who’s obsessed with contemporary, that’s great! But also try something new—maybe a fantasy or a mystery. Something that you aren’t sure you’ll like. When we get stuck in our habits, we don’t grow. And if you’re going to be a good writer, you’ll need that giant 300-pack box of crayons, not just the five colours you’re used to using.
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