Interview: Jennifer Estep

Jennifer EstepToday, I have the extreme pleasure of talking with Jennifer Estep, author of a new exciting urban fantasy series called the Elemental Assassins.

My name is Gin, and I kill people.

They call me the Spider. I’m the most feared assassin in the South — when I’m not busy at the Pork Pit cooking up the best barbecue in Ashland. As a Stone elemental, I can hear everything from the whispers of the gravel beneath my feet to the vibrations of the soaring Appalachian Mountains above me. My Ice magic also comes in handy for making the occasional knife. But I don’t use my powers on the job unless I absolutely have to. Call it professional pride.

Now that a ruthless Air elemental has double-crossed me and killed my handler, I’m out for revenge. And I’ll exterminate anyone who gets in my way — good or bad. I may look hot, but I’m still one of the bad guys. Which is why I’m in trouble, since irresistibly rugged Detective Donovan Caine has agreed to help me. The last thing this coldhearted killer needs when I’m battling a magic more powerful than my own is a sexy distraction…especially when Donovan wants me dead just as much as the enemy.

I’ve had the great opportunity to check out Spider’s Bite and I have to say that it is an amazing read.  It’s definitely one you should pick up.   But you didn’t come here to see me talk today, nope, so let’s get this on…please welcome JENNIFER ESTEP!

For those of my readers unfamiliar with Spider’s Bite, can you give us a brief look at your novel and what readers can look forward to?

Of course. The Elemental Assassin books are set in the fictional southern metropolis of Ashland, where Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina meet in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains. The books focus on Gin Blanco, an assassin codenamed the Spider who runs the Pork Pit barbecue restaurant in her spare time. Gin is also an elemental or person who can control one of the four elements – Air, Fire, Ice, and Stone. Gin has the rare gift of being able to control two elements, Ice and Stone in her case. Besides elementals like Gin, Ashland is also home to giants, dwarves, and vampires.

The first book in the series, Spider’s Bite, will be released on Jan. 26 by Pocket Books. Web of Lies, the second book in the series, will be released in June 2010, with Venom, the third book, to follow in October 2010.

In Spider’s Bite, Gin is double-crossed on a hit and framed for a murder she didn’t even commit. When her handler/foster father is tortured and murdered, Gin vows to find out who set her up and why – and she has no qualms about killing her way up to the top of the food chain. Along the way, she also teams up with Donovan Caine, a sexy detective.

Overall, Spider’s Bite is just a dark, fun, sexy urban fantasy.

Within Spider’s Bite, you say that all true elementals can tap into one of four elements – Air, Ice, Fire and Stone – with a few being able to use offshoots of those four areas (like water, metal, electricity, etc). What made you focus on these elements? Why did you include Ice instead of the more commonly known water?

I wanted to create a magic system with a lot of duality and checks and balances in it. So I came up with four elements, two of which compliment each other (like Air and Fire, and Ice and Stone) and two that oppose each other (like Fire and Ice, and Air and Stone). And I also wanted to throw some other powers in the mix, which is why folks can also use things like water, metal, and electricity because they’re related to my four main elements. Put all that together, and I’ve got a lot of powers to play with, for both the good and bad guys.

As for why I chose Ice over water, I thought that Ice would just be a better contrast to Fire and that the Ice powers would be more interesting to describe. Plus, I remember watching Iceman in the old Spider-Man cartoon series and thinking that he had some really cool powers, pun intended. ;-)

What was your inspiration when you created your characters and the worlds they live in? How did you determine how they were going to interact with each other? Are any of your characters modeled off anyone you know?

I’m a Southern girl, so I knew that I wanted to write something set in the South. Hence my fictional Southern metropolis of Ashland and all the things that go along with it, like the Pork Pit barbecue joint (because what’s more Southern than great barbecue?).

Once I created my assassin heroine, Gin Blanco, it was pretty easy for me to round out the cast of characters. Gin needed a mentor, obviously, someone who trained her to be an assassin, which ended up being Fletcher Lane, her handler/foster father. I also wanted Gin to have a lighter, more fun-loving sidekick to provide some humor, which is where her foster brother Finnegan Lane came from. And then, of course, I needed two more people – someone to heal Gin’s many injuries and someone to dispose of all the bodies that she leaves behind – which is why I created dwarven sisters Jo-Jo and Sophia Deveraux.

Add in a love interest, the villain, and another potential nemesis, and you’ve got a whole cast of characters who are ready for their close-ups.

Jo-Jo Deveraux, my dwarven Air elemental healer, is based a little bit on my grandmother in that they do and say some of the same things. For instance, a phrase that I’ve heard my grandma say is “Hell’s bells and panther trails,” which Jo-Jo says in Spider’s Bite. Also, Jo-Jo hates wearing socks, which is another quirk that my grandma has. The woman will go barefoot outside in the dead of winter!

What made you want to write about a female assassin? Did Gin tell you she was an assassin or did you inform Gin? Gin didn’t start out as an assassin, how did she adjust going from the horror of her tragedy to being an assassin?

Ever since I started reading fantasy literature, I’ve always liked assassin characters. They run the gamut from fun to creepy to just plain evil. Plus, they raise some pretty interesting moral questions about whether it’s okay to kill people for money, if some people deserve to die, things like that. Eventually, I started thinking about writing my own assassin with my own world and magic system. And thus, Gin Blanco was born.

No, Gin doesn’t start out as an assassin. But her family is murdered when she’s thirteen, and she’s forced to live on the streets. Living on the streets and hiding from the strung-out elementals and vampire pimps shows Gin just how weak and helpless she is. So when master assassin Fletcher Lane offers to take her in, Gin jumps at the chance because she knows that once Fletcher trains her that she’ll never be weak or helpless or afraid again. To Gin, becoming an assassin is necessary to her survival and peace of mind so she’s willing to do whatever she has to in order to protect herself.

How did you come up with Gin’s personality? What made you decide to make Gin so unapologetic?

I didn’t want to shy away from Gin being an assassin. What’s the point of writing an assassin character if she’s not a bad-ass who kills people? But to be that kind of person, Gin also had to be smart, tough, and ruthless. As much as I like assassin characters, I don’t like reading ones who have tons of angst or torment themselves about their profession, and I didn’t want Gin to be that way. To her, being an assassin is a job like any other – one that she’s very, very good at.

But Gin has some lighter qualities too. She loves to cook and likes watching the Food Network, and she enjoys reading classic Greek and Southern literature in her spare time. She’s also fiercely loyal to the people that she loves, and she’ll do anything to protect them – even kill – because she knows that if she doesn’t, then they could be taken away from her like her real family was.

Who are Mab Monroe and Donovan Caine? I’m assuming we’ll see more of them in future novels, is there anything more you can share with us about these two and how they are going to interact/effect Gin?

Mab Monroe is the Fire elemental who runs the city of Ashland like it’s her own personal kingdom. She’s basically the Mob queen of the city who orders murders, kidnappings, beatings, and more practically on a daily basis. Mab is the one person in Ashland that you don’t want to annoy – especially since she’s rumored to have more raw power, more raw magic, than any other elemental born in the last five hundred years. People who go up against Mab get dead – in a hurry. But Gin’s never liked bullies …

Donovan Caine is the sexy detective that Gin teams up with to figure out who murdered her foster father and why. Of course, Donovan has some issues of his own with Gin – namely that she killed his partner. What Donovan doesn’t realize is how corrupt and evil his partner was – and he doesn’t know how to handle his attraction to Gin, which makes for a lot of great tension between the two of them.

We’ll definitely see more of Mab and Donovan in Web of Lies, the second book in the Elemental Assassin series that will be out in June. Gin’s relationship with both of these characters will take some twists and turns. Of course, at the end of Spider’s Bite, it’s pretty obvious what will ultimately happen between Gin and Mab, but I don’t want to spoil the ending for folks.

What made you decide to start a new urban fantasy series? What was it about this world that made you want to share it with everyone?

I had been wanting to write a dark, gritty book about an assassin for a while, and branching out into urban fantasy let me do that. Also, the darker urban fantasy books are really resonating with readers right now, so that’s what editors are interesting in buying. Part of being an author is keeping trends in mind. Since I wanted to write an urban fantasy series anyway, it worked out well for me.

Ashland is the kind of dark, gritty city where anything can happen, and Gin Blanco is the kind of strong, tough character that can deal with anything that comes her way. I like stories that have a little bit of everything – action, danger, fight scenes, romance – and I like to think that my books feature all that and more. I just want folks to have a good time reading, and I think that I can give it to them.

You’re also the author of the Bigtime series. What was it like writing something so obviously different from your other published work? Did you find it easier or harder to escape into the Elemental Assassin world?

I didn’t have a lot of problems switching genres. My Bigtime books are paranormal romances, and my Elemental Assassin books are urban fantasy, so it wasn’t a big leap to make. Of course, the Bigtime books are campy, over-the-top superhero romances, whereas the Elemental Assassin books are much darker and grittier.

Once I really got into Gin’s character and fixed her voice in my mind, it was fairly easy for me to come up with a world to let her play in. Writing an assassin character lets me bring out my inner tough girl, something that’s always fun. ;-)

Plus, both of my series have a lot of the same elements in common – a tough, kick-butt heroine, a cool magic world, lots of action/fight scenes. I think I’m still writing the same kind of stories – everything is just a little darker in the Elemental Assassin books, including the humor.

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?

I read pretty widely in a variety of genres – fantasy, romance, mysteries, spy thrillers, etc. Just about the only things I don’t read are science fiction and non-fiction. Some of my favorite authors are Robin McKinley, Ian Fleming, and David Eddings.

As far as hidden gems go, I totally recommend Donald E. Westlake. He wrote a really great comic crime caper series focusing on John Dortmunder, who is quite possibly the unluckiest thief ever. Also, as Richard Stark, Westlake wrote some grittier thrillers about a hardnosed thief named Parker.

I really like all kinds of fantasy – epic, urban, and everything in between. As long as it’s got swords, magic, and lots of action, I’m in. ;-)

What was it about the fantasy genre that drew you to write in it? Was there a certain book that captured your imagination and lead you to think you could do it or did it come to your naturally?

I just think that the idea of having magic/powers and using them to help people or save the world or whatever is exceptionally cool. And hey, who wouldn’t want to be a kick-ass warrior with a nifty magic sword on top of all that? ;-)

Seriously, though, the thing I love about the fantasy genre is that it’s only limited by an author’s imagination – you can come up with any type of magic system or characters that you want. World building really gets my creative juices flowing. And yet, fantasy books are so much more than just magic and swords. They draw parallels to our own times and problems but still tell a great story in an entertaining way. I think some of the best writing being done today is in the fantasy genre.

One summer, I discovered Terry Brooks’ Shannara series as well as David Eddings’ Elenium series. I loved the series so much that I devoured them both that summer, then went to the library and got my hands on every epic fantasy book that they had. That led me to read people like Terry Goodkind, Robert Jordan, etc., and I’ve been reading all types of fantasy ever since.

But yeah, somewhere along the way, I had the thought that all writers do – I want to write my own fantasy book, with my own characters, and my own magic system. And I’ve never looked back.

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?

I do take little things that I see in real life and twist them – the way a person laughs, the perfume someone wears, how someone walks. All of that’s fodder for my imagination.

I also think about things that wish that I could do, powers that I’d want, and use those in my books. For example, in my Bigtime series, I got to play around with a lot of comic book-type superpowers, things like super-speed, telepathy, telekinesis, etc. that I think would be awesome to have in real life.

As far as Spider’s Bite and the Elemental Assassin series goes, I think that if things like Air elemental facials existed, that wrinkles and gray hair would be a thing of the past. That would be my contribution to the world. ;-)

For my readers unfamiliar with your work, what would you say to convince them to pick up a copy of your book?

I would say if you’re looking for something that’s dark, gritty, action-packed, and still fun all at the same time, then check out Spider’s Bite and the rest of the Elemental Assassin series. When I read, I want to be entertained and that’s how I write – with the goal of entertaining folks, even if it’s just for a few hours. I think books should be fun, and I try to make mine as much of a good time as possible.

Each of your elementals have their own specific rune, what would be yours?

Hmm … I really like Gin’s spider rune – I think that’s a great symbol. But if I had to come up with something for me, I’d have to go with an open book, just because I love to write and read so much. And maybe, in really, really tiny print, the words across the book would say something like “Jennifer Estep’s books rock!” ;-)

If you were an elemental, which element would you have?

Actually, according to my significant other, I already have a magic power – ghoul touch! Seriously, my hands are cold all the time, cold enough to make people not want to shake hands with me – ever. So based on that, I’d have to go with being an Ice elemental.


Thank you Jennifer for taking the time to answer a few of my questions.

Contest Time! Jennifer has graciously offered to give away a copy of her new novel, Spider’s Bite to one lucky winner. All you have to do is answer one of these questions (or both): Each of your elementals have their own specific rune, what would be yours? If you were an elemental, which element would you have?Sorry everyone, this contest is only open to US/Canadian residents.

As always, there’s more ways of getting your name in the hat:

  • +1 for each place you post about today’s contest on your blog, social network, or anywhere you can. Digg it, stumble it, twit it, share it with the world. Wherever you share it, make sure you add a link to it along with your answer.
  • +1 to any review you comment on, however, comments must be meaningful. Just give me the title of the review and I’ll be able to figure it out from there.
  • +1 Join the Literary Escapism Facebook page and/or follow LE on Twitter
  • +1 subscribe to Literary Escapism – either via a reader or email (see the RSS button at the bottom of the sidebar)
  • +10 purchase for any of Jennifer’s novels – Karma Girl, Hot Mama, Jinx or preorder the second Elemental Assassins novel Web of Lies, or any print novel through LE’s Amazon store sometime during this contest and send a copy of the receipt VIA email for your purchase to: myjaxon AT gmail DOT com. Each purchase is worth ten entries, but it has to be through the LE Amazon Link.  If you buy all 4 books, that’ll be 40 entries.

There is one thing I am adding to my contests now…the winner must post a review of the novel someplace.  Whether it is on their own blog, Amazon, GoodReads, LibraryThing or wherever, it doesn’t matter.  Just help get the word out.

The contest will stay open until January 28th, at which time I’ll determine the winner with help from the Research Randomizer and the List Randomizer.

Also, I have not been contacting winners, so you will need to check back to see if you’ve won.

About Jackie 3282 Articles
I am a 30-something SAHM with two adorable boys and a supportive husband who is very tolerant of my reading addiction. I love to read and easily go through about a dozen books a month – well I did before I had kids. Now, not so much. After my first son was born, I began to take my hobby of reviewing a little more serious and started Literary Escapism to help with my sanity. I love to discuss the fabulous novels I’ve read and meeting all the wonderful people in the book blogging community has been amazing.


  1. Hi,

    My elemental would be an earth elemental since that would be helpful not just in fighting/magic but also in helping out in the garden.

    The rune that this elemental would have, would be the Chinese character ren.

    I am a fan on facebook and twitter so plus one, plus one :)


  2. I also posted about the Jennifer Estep and her new assassin urban fantasy books coming out, so please add that to my previous post above:

    Which was i would have a earth elemental with the rune/character ren on it, and it would be useful to have around during gardening/landscaping in the summer :D

    Plus I am on facebook/twitter and have literary escapism added so I can keep up on the tweets/posts.


  3. I would most certainly be a water elemental and my rune would look like a snowflake because I have a reputation for being an ice princess. Yes, all the connotations apply.

    I have added your contest to my daily blog post Thriller Thursday and to my side bar (1/28 • Spider’s Bite)

    I follow on facebook & twitter

    I also follow via email and google reader

    AND I agree to review this novel if I win it! :D

    Sweet Vernal Zephyr

  4. Miranda — I think that’s a cool idea too. Water elementals are a possibility in the world of Spider’s Bite, and I think that would be a neat power set for a villain to have — and a lot of fun for me to write.

    Natasha — I live in the South, so I can’t use that excuse. Maybe I’m just cold-blooded. LOL.

  5. I would be an ice elemental, would be handy on those hot summer days.

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  6. I’m not certain how you’re defining “rune” in this instance, but I think for me, it would be a question mark. The play may have been the thing for Shakespeare, but for me, it’s the question. I suppose there may be just a little influence from the late Theodore Sturgeon’s “ask the next question” philosophy there.

    And I think I would be a mercury elemental. Besides being incredibly dense and toxic, hey, it’s the only metal that’s liquid at room temperature! (Yes, I probably have read one too many METAL MEN comics.)

  7. I think I would be a fire elemental. I was always getting in trouble as a kid for messing around with the campfire. :-) Not very imaginative, but I think a flame would be a cool rune.

    +1 subscriber

  8. My hands have been described as “the hands of death”. Unfortunately, I have a sickness which causes poor circulation to my fingers. They, too, are always cold and blue. I used to sneak behind a coworker and touch his neck!

    +1 I follow on both Facebook and Twitter (as bl0226)
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  9. I would be a water elemental as I practically grew up in a pool as a competitive swimmer. I also live in an area in Canada that pretty much sees snow from October to April and I am always cold. My rune would be an ocean wave as I can be pretty unpredictable.

    +1 subscriber

  10. my rune would be two stylized 8 enterlocking. Since that is my lucky number and my date of birth too. I would be a wind elemental so I could stay confortable at all times. I would love to be able to fly and if had control over the win I could.

    +1 friended on facebook Pamk258
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    scrtsbpal @yahoo dot com

  11. I would want to be a water elemental. I’ve never been a very good swimmer, and this would let me be one with the water. :)

    ?+1 Join the Literary Escapism Facebook page and/or follow LE on Twitter – both done

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  12. I would want to be a fire elemental. Having control of the most dangerous element would be awesome. And Spider’s Bite sounds great!

    I subscriber via email +1
    and I am a twitter follower (@LisaMBasso) +1

  13. I think those are all really interesting ideas. That’s the thing I love about writing about elementals — the possibilities are literally endless for the kind of powers you can come up with.

    Just as a sort of teaser, I’ll mention this — right now, I’ve got Gin, my heroine, taking on an assassin with electrical powers in Book 4. ;-)

  14. I’ve got to go with the earth element, as I am an avid gardener. But having water with that would be great. It would sure beat dragging those hoses around all summer. How many books do you have planned for this series( more than the 4 elements please!)?

    I subscriber via email +1
    and I am a twitter follower @alterlisa +1

  15. Lisa — Right now, I’m under contract for five books in the Elemental Assassin series, which will let me finish out the first major story arc with Gin and her nemesis. Of course, I would like to write more books beyond that, but we’ll see. ;-)

  16. I’d want to have the element, Ice and the rune could be snowflake! Er, close enough. ;)

    Great interview, guys! I can’t wait to read Spider’s Bite.

  17. This series sounds wonderful!
    Actually I’d like to control the air, but all the Elements are pretty awesome :)

    Following on Google Reader (found you via, I think)
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  18. Thanks for the great interview. And a big thank you to Jennifer for stopping by.

    I’d have to go with Air. I’ve always been a big fan of Marvel comics and Storm happens to be my favorite super hero. Count me in for anything having to do with possible weather manipulation.

    +1 Subscribe via Google Reader.

  19. Wendy — I actually use a snowflake as one of my runes in the books. ;-)

    Jen — I really like Storm too in the X-Men comics. But almost every X-Man has a cool power, even the villains!

  20. If you were an elemental, which element would you have? Wind, I can blow away anything I want to..LOL…Great review and interview. I would love to win this book. Thanks for the opportunity to enter.

    I follow via rss

  21. I would want to be an earth elemental, especially so I could make land fertile where it is barren. And I have the Wiccan runes for protection and good fortune tattooed on my left arm, so I’d have to go with those. Great interview!

    I follow LE on facebook and twitter and subscribe via email

  22. Hi Jennifer & Jackie!

    I’d definitely want to be an earth elemental to be able to manipulate energy from the earth and my rune would be an amethyst crystal.

    This book sounds awesome! :)

    I follow you on twitter & Facebook as well as subscribe via email.

  23. I was wondering why you chose a bbq joint as her “cover” job? Did you base it on a fav bbq joint you know? Do any recipes show up in your book or do they have to remain a secret recipe ;)

    I follow LE on twitter and reader and twitted about it (@DarklyReading)

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