Monday, September 10, 2012

Interview with Jenn Bennett - author of the Arcadia Bell series

Well, it's been about 5 months since I've had author on the blog whom I could torture with a little bit of the Bastard treatment, so glad to have author Jenn Bennett around to break-in my new electrodes. I've been very fortunate so far with my interviews, with some great answers, and this was no different. I gave her some solid jabs, and she responded with a few well placed uppercuts. I think I may have a concussion.

In any case, Jenn Bennett is the author of the Arcadia Bell urban fantasy series, and she's an awesome person. Even though we had a rocky start to our relationship, I've found that she's one of the coolest people I've interacted with. Well, see for yourself. I challenge anyone not to laugh at least twice through this...hopefully not at my expense.

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Bastard: Hello Jenn, last chance to walk away... still here? Welcome then, hope you don't have any regrets after this.

Jenn Bennett: Hellooooo, Bastard. I feel a bit like Rachel Maddow walking into an interview with Bill O’ Reilly. At any moment, someone’s going to shout “BURN HER AT THE STAKE” or require me to undergo a medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasound.


Bastard: Looking through your website, you mention that you were born in Germany, but have lived and traveled in various places around the world. What else can you tell us about yourself for those that don't know you? And please share what it has been like living in different parts of the world.

Jenn Bennett: My father served in the US Army, which is why I was born in Germany (and lived there twice). I’ve traveled in Europe, and I’ve visited 40 states on this side of the pond (lived in 8 of them). I’ve also spent a lot of time in Hong Kong, China, and Taiwan for business.

Living and travelling in other parts of the world has given me unique perspectives of cultures, races, religions, politics. It’s also filled my head with a thousand potential storylines, charters, settings, worlds. I mean, it’s one thing to imagine the bustle of Hong Kong, but quite another to have actually been drunk in Wanchai after midnight. I know what it smells, sounds, and feels like. And I know what it’s like to push past multiple language and cultural barriers to connect with people and foster unlikely friendships.


Bastard: It's also mentioned that you're an award-winning visual artist, which award was this and how did you come about winning it?

Jenn Bennett: I won several awards in college, including a national ad campaign for Anheuser-Busch. For that particular award, not only was my artwork used in ads, but the company also awarded me $5000 . . . which I promptly spent on pizza, beer, and weed. What can I say? I was 19 and stupid. I did a lot of other dumb things that year, including getting married for the first time. But I was still able to graduate summa cum laude and granted the highest award given in the School of Fine Arts. So I wasn’t a total fuckup.


Bastard: You're the author of the urban fantasy series Arcadia Bell, which has been well received by numerous fans of the genre. In part, you've been lauded for originality and a good cast of characters. Can you tell us a bit more of what this series is about, and have you been content with the reception you've received so far?

Jenn Bennett: My series is about an occult mage who owns a tiki bar in central California that serves Earthbound demons. It’s also about a girl who falls in love with a divorced dad twice her age, and the ensuing trials of establishing a new family with him and his teenage kid. It’s also a love letter to Thelema and medieval demonology, and an exploration of race and culture and good and evil. Whichever level you want to read it on it is fine by me.


Bastard: I don't think it's a secret that I didn't enjoy Kindling the Moon much, and part of it was due to how the investigation and procedural aspects of the plot were handled. Recently I finished the second book in the series, Summoning the Night, and I'm glad to say that in this regard it's where I noticed your biggest improvement. Mainly, the investigation was more dynamic and the characters were more active chasing leads, of course with the awareness that they are amateurs. Was this something you were focusing on, or was it a natural consequence of the story you wanted to tell?

Jenn Bennett:  Ooooh, yes—I’m quite aware that you’re not my biggest fan. My first encounter with the entity known as Bastard Books was when I noticed you talking trash about KINDLING to half the urban fantasy bloggers on twitter.
Not one of my finest
moments I admit.

Regarding procedural investigation. . . Honestly? Procedurals bore me to tears. Okay, that’s not entirely true. But it’s certainly not my main writing objective. I’m not a cop or a lawyer or a detective—I can’t bring that sort of perspective to a book, nor do I want to. And if I tried to make that my primary focus, it would undercut the fact that my characters aren’t detectives. They’re researchers at best, but photographers and bartenders by and large. These are amateurs who are trying to figure out how to use what they have to solve a problem, and developing as people as they go along. It’s never about the main plot for me. It’s about the subtext. The relationships. The way Cady is slowly changing and adapting her behavior and reactions. The way Lon is opening up. The way Jupe is learning about the world.


Bastard: Something I can say about your writing is that it seems like you're having a ton of fun with the scenes you're coming up with.  As I'm reading some of them I can just imagine you with a smirk on your face and a grin among others. Maybe bit of loud maniac laughter when no one is looking. Is this accurate?

Jenn Bennett: Are you saying that you think I’m funny, or that you think I think I’m funny? If it’s the former, then thanks. If it’s the latter, then, yes, Mr. Bastard, I think I’m flippin’ hilarious, and I often laugh at my own jokes. Can you feel my smirk right now?


Bastard: The dialogue in this series seems to be the biggest benefactor of this fun I'm speaking about, which is quite abundant in your story. Along with it, it seemed like good communication was a main feature in Summoning the Night. It goes contrary to the usual drama-heightening tactic of characters keeping quiet and working under assumptions, often wrong ones. This is something I highly approve of; how important is it for you to have characters that actually communicate with each other, and is it something you plan on continuing as the series progresses?

Jenn Bennett: Godammit, Bastard. Are you screwing with me? Trolling me? I CAN’T TELL ANY LONGER.

For the record, not trolling.
I think...
Yes, I specifically wanted Cady and Lon to communicate openly and keep the assumptions to a minimum. I think they’ve managed it pretty well, so far. But Cady is in the process of shedding her Don’t Trust Anyone skin, and Lon has spent years developing his wounded-heart hermit routine. So I think they’re allowed a few mistakes now and then. Book 4 will be particularly trying, due to the circumstances they find themselves in at the end of Book 3.


Bastard: Visiting the Tambuku Tiki Lounge, which beer would you order? Or would you order one of those fruity drinks? As an aside, do you think you would get along with Cady as your bartender?

Jenn Bennett: No beer is served in Tambuku. I would order a Mai Tai, as you can always test a tiki bar’s merit by the quality of their Mai Tai. And would I get along with Cady? Absolutely. I think she’s a no-nonsense bartender who pours fast, keeps conversation to a minimum, and is pleasant to ogle. What’s not to like?


Bastard: Out of all the paranormal beings you could have used or imagined, what attracted you to the combination of magicians and demons?

Jenn Bennett: I’m knowledgeable about the occult in general, ceremonial magic specifically. Like many other elements in medieval/Renaissance magic, I feel demons got short shrift. What can I say? I’m a cheerleader for the downtrodden and maligned.


Bastard: You're a magician and you summon the Bastard demon. At the cost of sharing your darkest secret, what would you have this demon do for you? And of course, what is your darkest secret? You can trust him, he won't share it with anyone.

Jenn Bennett: I would have him beta read for me, since he seems to have some very specific ideas about what he likes and doesn’t like. My deepest darkest secret? I worked at Burger King for 2 hours when I was 19. Long enough to get a uniform and watch a couple of training videos. When no one was looking, I walked out the back door and never went back. I tossed the uniform in the dumpster.


Bastard: There's also been mention of you enjoying dark stories. There's a certain darkness to your Arcadia Bell novels at the moment, but I get the impression that you may be holding back a bit. Do you have plans on going darker as the series goes along, or are you comfortable with the current state of things?

Jenn Bennett: Sure, I adore super dark stories, but I also like what I’ve done in Arcadia so far. I think it’s a nice balance of light and grit. However, Book 3 is sliding into a darker space (my agent said she couldn’t sleep after finishing it). Book 4 will easily be the darkest thing I’ve ever written.


Bastard: One of my favorite scenes in urban fantasy novels in the past year or so, and it goes without saying my favorite in this series, is when Arcadia beats the shit out of a character in that classroom scene in Kindling the Moon. I think you have a real knack (see what I did there) for writing physical altercation action sequences. I'm not sure if I'm alone here, but it is my hope that you write more of these as the series goes along. It reminds me of Kate Daniels, one of my top characters in urban fantasy, when Cady gets all badass in her blind rages. Can you make this happen for me, please, please, please?

Jenn Bennett: Did you actually just give me a compliment? Huh. Well, thank you. A lot of readers like the classroom scene. Cady has a major blind-rage scene in book 3, one I think many readers will be cheering. Maybe, dare I say, even you . . .


Bastard: As far as knack goes, if you were an Earthbound, what knack would you hope to have? And which one do you hope not to be stuck with? What about color of your halo? Let me guess, your favorite color would be electric blue.

Jenn Bennett: Demonic knacks are nothing but trouble. I would NOT want Lon’s. Nor Jupe’s. A healing knack might be helpful, though. Halo color? Hold on. Did you just link to an Icehouse video? VOMIT. I’ve never been partial to the color blue, but definitely not after being reminded of that old chestnut. By the way, I was in high school when that song came out (1987), and that particular year I was listening to a lot of “The” bands: the Pixies, The Damned, the Smiths, The Cure, the Replacements. A little Dead Kennedys thrown in for good measure.

Come on, what's wrong with a little Icehouse?

Bastard: Taking a turn to the controversial, let's imagine that all the characters have a sex reversal (just go along with it). Men become women, boys become girls, and vice-versa.  Particularly concerning the teenage Jupe, do you think what's currently coming off as cute, charming, and adoring relationships and interactions might instead come off as very creepy particularly from Arcadia's standpoint? See, this is the crap that goes through my brain while reading, I apologize.

Jenn Bennett:  Never apologize for your personal hang-ups. And no, I don’t think a female Jupe would be creepy if Cady was male. Jupe is missing a mother figure; Cady fills that role. Period. There’s nothing creepy about their relationship. If Cady were male, she’d treat Jupe mostly the same way. I say mostly, because I believe there’s a different dynamic between a 25-year old male and a 14-year-old girl than there is with the sexes swapped. But Cady’s not male—she’s female. So stop trying to police them, you crazy pervert, you.

Bastard: Keeping it with Jupe, would it surprise you to know that I dislike him? He's the kind of kid that if I went to school with him,  it'd be a constant struggle for me to restrain myself from punching his face repeatedly.  He's probably your best character, a complete scene stealer and fan favorite, but I really want to kick his ass. Interestingly, he reminds me of my brother and one of my best friends. Yes, it doesn't make much sense to me either.

Jenn Bennett: BINGO! I do believe we’ve hit the motherload reason for Why Bastard Hates My Books. And all this time, I thought it was the dirty romance.

Yes, Jupe is a fan favorite. Readers regularly write me fan mail about Jupe. No shit. And he’s my favorite character to write. I think he’s pretty revolutionary for urban fantasy—a biracial, younger teen being raised by a single father is not something you read in UF every day. I like that he’s flawed. I like that he’s occasionally obnoxious, and that he talks too much. You can trash Cady all you want, but mess with Jupiter Butler, and I’ll go into full-on Mother Bird defense mode and poke your eyes out.

Does it surprise me that you hate him? Absolutely not. Which is why I don’t expect you to get excited about any sort of Jupe spinoff I may or may not have in the pipeline. I will now amuse myself by picturing a Bastard-Jupe fistfight for a few seconds. . . .

Bastard: Lon is Jupe's dad and Arcadia's current lover. He also features what is constantly referred to as a pirate mustache. Much has been said about his mustache, what led you to give him one, and are you sure he's not actually rocking a pornstache?
Ron Jeremy...sexy!

Jenn Bennett: Pfft, you’re talking to the wrong person, because I love a good pornstache. I also love a good beard. I like clean-shaven men, too, but a little facial hair is good for the manly soul. So’s a little chest hair. And, while we’re on the subject, men with excessive grooming habits below the belt end up looking too feminine for my tastes. Just saying.


Bastard: Without giving much away, what's next for Cady? And what short-term and long-term plans you have for this series?

Jenn Bennett: Cady’s life is about to take a plunge into misery in BINDING THE SHADOWS. Readers will finally learn about her birthright, and the semi-normal life she’s been building will be snatched away from her. Book 4 will be worse. So there’s your darkness. You can cheer while everything seems hopeless and unfixable. Bonus: there’s less Jupe in BINDING, so you’ll be overjoyed.


Bastard: With your writing career underway and now being a published author, what have you learned about yourself that you weren't aware of before?

Jenn Bennett: That my self-confidence is more fragile that I ever thought possible. But don’t worry: I’m also far cockier than I have any right to be. So it all evens out.


Bastard: Reading your list of literary influences, I notice that most of them are authors that are long dead. Do you have any other authors that are more recent that have been an influence upon your writing, or your life in general?

Jenn Bennett: You probably won’t like them, but I’ll mention a few anyway: Diana Gabaldon, Joanna Bourne, Judith Ivory, Loretta Chase, Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman.


Bastard: Any novel you've read recently you'd like to recommend?

Jenn Bennett: THE SIREN, by Tiffany Reisz. Not for the faint of heart.

I don't think this one's for me.

Bastard: I think our business here is concluded, feel free to banish us back to the Æthyr.  Don't be shy about performing the ritual in front of us, there's even a puke bucket at hand.

Jenn Bennett: Puke bucket much appreciated!

You know, I think if we met in person, we might actually get along just fine. If you’re ever in Atlanta, let me know. I’ll take you out for a decent Mai Tai. Maybe slip one of Cady’s medicinals in your drink . . . perform a few dark rituals with you. By the time we’re done, you’ll have pornstache and Jupe will be your FAVORITE CHARACTER OF ALL TIME.

Never say never, my friend.

**********

There you go. See? Good thing I don't have a glass jaw. Thanks Jenn, really appreciate the interview particularly since you seemed to be quite busy through the last few weeks. Good luck with the rest of the Arcadia Bell series, and as for a Jupe spin-off...yeah, that would be a bit of a stretch for me. But we'll see.

For more information, please visit Jenn Bennett's website and you can follow her on twitter too @Jenn_Benn.

11 comments:

  1. Hilarious! So glad no unmedically necessary transvaginal ultra-sounds were needed. Looking forward to checking out your series, Jenn.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The day is still early, so let's not count victory on the transvaginal ultrasound just yet.

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    2. Cecy: Thanks, and hope you like. :)

      Bastard: I'm going to start calling you Dr. Bastard now.

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    3. Gini Koch is already calling me Sir Bastard... would this be a promotion?

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  2. I laughed more than twice. Go Jenn! Great interview and I will be looking forward to Cady's next adventure.

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    1. Despite my misgivings with the series early on, particularly on the fist book, I'm looking forward to more Cady myself.

      Jenn already threw the necessary bait at me.

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    2. Melissa: Aww, thanks! Bastard brings out the best (and worst) in me. We should run for political office together.

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  3. Ha ha! Great interview, lost of fun. And to see you really got Jenn going there Bastard. You are wonderful at it. :D

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    Replies
    1. I think it's part of my charm. My friends call me a nice asshole, whatever that means...I doubt they've seen it.

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    2. It is, indeed, part of your charm. (I actually mean that, no joke!) P.S.: you have doubt on this subject? ;P

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  4. Great interview, I love Bastard's style. :D I adored both Arcadia Bell books and I can't wait to read Binding the Shadows. I hope you're not too hard on her Jenn, I like what she's got going with Lon and Jupe.

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