While at RT, I had the chance to talk with Jenna Black and I so took it. Of course, I couldn’t resist asking a few questions about my favorite demon exorcist, especially since The Devil’s Playground may be the last novel in the series. Jenna is celebrating the release of Glimmerglass, the first novel in her new Faeriewalker series.
Dana Hathaway doesn’t know it yet, but she’s in big trouble. When her alcoholic mom shows up at her voice recital drunk, again, Dana decides she’s had enough and runs away to find her mysterious father in Avalon: the only place on Earth where the regular, everyday world and the captivating, magical world of Faerie intersect. But from the moment Dana sets foot in Avalon, everything goes wrong, for it turns out she isn’t just an ordinary teenage girl—she’s a Faeriewalker, a rare individual who can travel between both worlds, and the only person who can bring magic into the human world and technology into Faerie.
Soon, Dana finds herself tangled up in a cutthroat game of Fae politics. Someone’s trying to kill her, and everyone seems to want something from her, from her newfound friends and family to Ethan, the hot Fae guy Dana figures she’ll never have a chance with… until she does. Caught between two worlds, Dana isn’t sure where she’ll ever fit in and who can be trusted, not to mention if her world will ever be normal again…
Jenna Black: I started out with the idea of writing an urban fantasy series and at that point, I had never written successfully in first person. I always came out in a really formal voice, which doesn’t work for urban fantasy. I was influenced by what was my favorite of the urban fantasy series – Laurell K Hamilton’s Anita Blake. That was the first series I’d read where I didn’t start losing interest five or six books in. So I thought, what was it about this series that was making it so intriguing for me? I thought it was the conflict level, that it was so deep that it could not be kept all in one book – and it was all personal conflict. So I decided I wanted a personal conflict that can not be solved in one book. That was my starting place. How I got from there to a demon-possessed exorcist, I’m not entirely sure. But it is really hard to resolve for Morgan, the idea of being possessed by a demon who is actually a good guy.
Literary Escapism: Was there any part of Morgan’s world that you would like to expand on in the future?
Jenna Black: Not really. I’m one of those seat-of-the-pants writer, I don’t have it all plotted out. So if I have an idea or a way I want to do it, I still have the freedom of doing it because I don’t have it all plotted out. It’s all very organic.
Literary Escapism: Was there anything that could have been more expanded, for instance storyline wise?
Jenna Black: I would have liked to have done more with Raphael’s side projects. At one point, I thought that was going to cause a lot more problems as more of the genetic engineering secrets came out. That’s not the way it ended up going.
Literary Escapism: So does that mean there are possibilities of novellas in the future?
Jenna Black: That is always possible.
Literary Escapism: I have to wonder, since creating your world in The Devil Inside, has there been anything you’ve regretting starting or wish you had started sooner? Was there something that worked out great in The Devil Inside or The Devil You Know, but you had wished you had done differently?
Jenna Black: I don’t know, because of the way I write. Now there are parts that obviously caused me problems. There was a lot of controversy over The Devil Inside. If people pick up the first book and don’t like it, then they won’t pick up any of the others. I don’t regret doing it, because I do some of my best writing when I really push myself into places I’m not comfortable. The whole BDSM thing that ended up in The Devil Inside wasn’t in my plan when I started; then I’m writing along and the first time Morgan starts talking to Adam, she speculates that he and Dominic are more than just friends. My immediate thought was “Oh no I can not do that”. I’m the type of person who when someone tells me I can’t do something, I then have to do it. So when I caught myself thinking “I can’t do that,” my immediate reaction was something along the lines of “Oh, yeah? I’ll show you!” Since I hadn’t sold the book yet, I was totally free to try it. I didn’t have any obligation to turn it in to anybody. I was going to write what I wanted to write and I was going to challenge myself. And then once I did that, I realized I could use this challenging material to help me turn Morgan’s world upside down. I started out with Morgan having this really firm world view. She knew the demons were bad and the BDSM stuff was bad. She was very judgmental. And then I pulled the rug out from her in every way I could think of.
What was the question I was answering? Ohh…whether I regretted anything…
In a way I regret the erotic bits made the series a little less mainstream and a little less accessible, but in another way, that was what was right for the book.
Literary Escapism: It kind of made the series too, I mean, you really don’t see a lot of that. Especially two hot gay demons.
Jenna Black: It’s not like it didn’t find its audience, and a substantial audience, not just a niche market. It probably would have been harder to find an audience if the Adam/Dominic relationship had been a central plot rather than a subplot, but as it was, even some people who were uncomfortable with it were willing to tolerate it for the sake of the main plot.
Literary Escapism: Why did they change the cover for The Devil’s Playground? I know you said because they were trying to go with a different feel, but it seems really young adult to me.
Jenna Black: Really? I think it feels more horror-like. They wanted to change the cover look. Understanding publishers and the decisions they make is beyond me, so I’m not sure what prompted the decision. Originally they presented me with a cover of a bare-chested man holding a sword.
Literary Escapism: Morgan has been on the cover of all the books?
Jenna Black: Yes. A sword? A bare-chested man? What? It’s a female protagonist, and it’s not a romance. So I talked with my agent. I was like okay, that is a lovely cover…for a paranormal romance, which this is not. So we approached the publisher about all the reasons why we thought this cover was a problem. I guess we were convincing, because they decided to use the cover for the German edition of The Devil Inside instead. It was a different color on the German edition, but it’s the same artwork. I do like that cover, I think it’s pretty, and it’s very striking. But if it had been my choice, they would not have changed the cover look.
Literary Escapism: I looked at it and the first thing that came to mind was PC Cast’s House of Night series.
Jenna Black: Oh because of the swirls.
Literary Escapism: It looks like the trend the YA series are going and this is so not YA.
Speaking of YA, let’s start talking about Glimmerglass. Aside from the YA factor, how does this world differ from Morgan’s? Can you give us a brief look into the world that we’re going to have a chance to explore? You’re focusing on Avalon, right?
Jenna Black: This is my version of Avalon. In my world, Avalon is a city on a mountain outside of London.
Literary Escapism: Not an island?
Jenna Black: No. There are a lot of mythological bases for what I’m doing, but I’ve altered the mythology so much it’s barely recognizable. Calling the city Avalon helps ground the reader in familiar mythology, but I made up pretty much everything about it. In this case, Avalon is on a mountain surrounded by a moat, and it’s the only place in the world where the mortal world and Faerie intersect. In Avalon, both magic and technology work. People from both worlds can go into Avalon, but when they leave, they can only go back to their own world.
Literary Escapism: There are a lot of different versions of the Fae, what type are you using – the Seelie vs Unseelie, the horror vs the light?
Jenna Black: Kind of. I am differentiating in a lot of ways the Fae who live in Avalon vs the Fae who live in Faerie. I wanted the ones who live in Avalon to be a little more progressive. Supposedly, the Fae in Avalon don’t belong to the Seelie or Unseelie Court. However, despite their separation from the Courts, the Fae in Avalon carry all the same allegiances and prejudices as those in Faerie, and the Courts are very present. There is some suggestion that the Seelie Court is “good” and the Unseelie Court is “bad,” but that’s mostly because the most dangerous Fae creatures belong to the Unseelie Court. Only humanoid Fae are allowed in Avalon, so you don’t see much of these Unseelie creatures. At least, not yet.
Literary Escapism: Why did you put that rule into it. Is there a reason or was it easier to work with?
Jenna Black: In the first book, there is a scene where there is an attack by Spriggans, which are nonhumanoid Unseelie nasty evil creatures, and I thought it would be more shocking if they were not supposed to be there.
Literary Escapism: Is there any particular legend or mythology that you came across that was the root of inspiration for you that was used more than others or was there a wide source?
Jenna Black: When I was trying to plot out something that would go with this world idea, I was really trying to just come up with this totally made up mythology, more of a high fantasy type idea. And I couldn’t get a story to gel in my head. Then I thought, maybe if I give it at least a little bit of a tie with something familiar, like Faerie, it will work better. Suddenly it became more accessible and it became easier for me to think of story ideas. The Faerie mythology is something I wrapped around the core idea, and if there’s ever a conflict between the true mythology and how I want things to work, the mythology loses . . .
Literary Escapism: You keep hinting at a new UF series, is there anything you can tease us with? For instance, will there be vampires, demons, a Morgan spinoff?
Jenna Black: Its going to involve descendants of the ancient gods.
Literary Escapism: So it’s not like the Guardians either.
Jenna Black: No. I did plan for there to be some romance in the first book, but it didn’t work out that way. There is some sexual tension, but no actual romance. It is a continuing series, so eventually there will be.
Literary Escapism: What inspired you to create the Avalon world and the characters within? Are they based on anyone in particular?
Jenna Black: I can tell you that there are ways that Dana is based on me. I like to make myself uncomfortable when I’m writing sometimes because that taps into my creative well. So when I started writing about Dana, I tapped into some of my younger angst. My mother was an alcoholic and that was a very big issue while I was growing up. Dana has an alcoholic mother, and so I felt a great deal of connection with her problems. Both she and I had to be the adults in our family from an early age.
Literary Escapism: For any of my readers unfamiliar with your works, which series would you recommend they start with – Morgan, Glimmerglass or the Guardians? Which series did you have the most fun with?
Jenna Black: At this point, because I’m a typical writer who loves the current book best, I would say Glimmerglass. I would probably do that anyway. I think it’s the series that is the most accessible to the largest number of readers.
Literary Escapism: How do you separate your imaginary world with real life? Do you often take something you see during your daily life and twist it a little to make it work elsewhere? Have you ever wondered what would happen if any part of your world were, in actually, a part of our reality?
Jenna Black: I wouldn’t say that I would do it very often, and usually when I do it, it is something that has happened way in the past. It’s not like, something cool happened to me today, I’ll put it in my book now. So some of the stuff I did with Dana in Glimmerglass is based on things that happened with my mother. Not that anyone would be able to tell that that is what it is about, because I’ve altered the events beyond recognition. It’s the emotional aspects that are actually based more on real life.
Literary Escapism: What was it about the fantasy genre that drew you to write in it? Was there a certain book that captured your imagination and led you to think you could do it or did it come to you naturally?
Jenna Black: I write fantasy because that is what I like to read. I started out writing classic fantasy and science fiction. That was where I wrote for the first 16 years, where I was trying to get published and failing. I like the magical, I like the ability to do things that you can’t do in real life. I like being able to take the imagination somewhere else. There is a freedom that comes from writing fantasy that I really enjoy.
Literary Escapism: When you get stuck, during a scene or in general, what do you do to escape from writers block? What is the most painful part of the process for you when you’re writing a book?
Jenna Black: I have several things I do when I get stuck. (I don’t call it writer’s block.) I plot by the seat of my pants, but I have an idea of where I’m going with a vague idea of how I’m going to get there. Sometimes when I get to a scene that I planned in advance, I realize that it doesn’t make sense anymore because I’ve been changing things as I go along. So usually when I get stuck, it’s a logistical problem that I can’t figure out how to solve. How do I get my heroine out of the dungeon? How can I have her escape and have it be realistic and logical and not make the villain do something stupid for it to work? So there are logistical things that sometimes get me really stuck. I then have to take a break, maybe talk the problem through with a writer friend, before the way becomes clear.
Literary Escapism: So once you write a synopsis, you really can’t change it later on?
Jenna Black: I’d be in a lot of trouble if I couldn’t deviate from my synopses! As long as the basic story remains the same, you can get away with a lot of plot changes.
Literary Escapism: Is there a similarity between the back cover blurb and your synopsis?
Jenna Black: No, the back cover blurb is completely different and its usually not written by me.
Literary Escapism: Is that good or bad?
Jenna Black: Its good because it’s a marketing tool and the publishers understand marketing better than I do.
Literary Escapism: When you’re not writing, what are you reading? Have you found an author that’s new to you or one that the rest of the world really needs to find? Is there a certain niche in the fantasy genre that you prefer to escape to? If so, why that one or if not, why not?
Jenna Black: A couple of my favorites are Patricia Briggs and JR Ward – these are the ones when they have a book come out, I run to the store, I don’t walk. I’m a big fan of just about everything urban fantasy.
Literary Escapism: You said Emma Holly at one point, right?
Jenna Black: Oh certainly, I love Emma Holly.
Literary Escapism: Which authors do you read and/or think “Damn! I wish I had thought of that”?
Jenna Black: Nalini Singh. I especially love her Guild Hunters books.
Literary Escapism: Oh Nalini! I love her books. Going back to Glimmerglass, does the excerpt give a good example of what the rest of the book is like?
Jenna Black: Yes. The idea of the book is that my heroine, Dana, gets fed up with her mother and the alcohol and the shenanigans and she runs away to Avalon to meet her Fae father, who her mother has always said – depending on whether she’s drunk or not – is either this really wonderful guy or is the spawn of Satan. Her mother keeps moving them around so he can’t find them. So she doesn’t know what to believe about him because her mother tells different stories. The book opens with Dana making the decision to run away.
Literary Escapism: So her mother knows what her father is?
Jenna Black: Yes. Her mother grew up in Avalon and ran away from Avalon when she was pregnant to keep Dana away from her father.
Literary Escapism: Is there going to be a reason for them to be kept away or is part of that reason there?
Jenna Black: The reason is because every once once in a while, when a Fae and a human have a child, that child is completely able to go into both worlds. A half-breed. A Faeriewalker is Fae enough to go into Faerie, but mortal enough to take technology into Faerie. She is also Fae enough to bring magic into the mortal world. Dana can do things no one else can do, and this makes her a potentially useful political tool. Her father has political aspirations, and her mother has kept her away from him so that Dana does not become a pawn in Fae politics.
Literary Escapism: Do we know exactly what her father ends up being? Like some lord or something?
Jenna Black: We find out when she gets there. She knows that he is some kind of big deal Fae. That part she knows, but she has no idea why her mother was trying to keep her away.
Literary Escapism: Was her mother a Faeriewalker too?
Jenna Black: No. A Faeriewalker must have one human parent and one Fae parent, and not all half-breeds are Faeriewalkers. In fact, it’s very rare, and Dana is the first Faeriewalker to be born in about a hundred years.
Literary Escapism: Is that possible? A faerie walker and a fae?
Jenna Black: Some of these things I know, but can’t reveal.
Jenna – thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me at RT! If you haven’t already, make sure you check out all of Jenna’s books. They are simply fabulous!