Jenn Reese is the author of Above World, a middle-grade adventure about a girl desperate to save her underwater home. Jenn stopped by the virtual offices to discuss her debut book.
[Manga Maniac Café] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.
[Jenn Reese] I’m a writer, martial artist, and geek. I’m an unapologetic lover of heroics and happy endings, and of being the biggest goofball I can be.
[Manga Maniac Café] Can you tell us a little about your book, Above World?
[Jenn Reese] Above World is an adventure story set in the far future, after humans have bioengineered themselves into mythological creatures in order to live in harsh climates. Some live in the oceans and have mermaid tails, some live high in the mountains and have wings, and some live in the deserts and have the bodies of horses, like centaurs. The story follows a girl warrior, Aluna, and her tech-obsessed friend, Hoku, as they try to figure out why the technology that allows their people to breathe underwater is starting to fail. During their journey to "the Above World," Aluna and Hoku encounter other races and discover a growing danger that threatens everyone.
[Manga Maniac Café] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?
[Jenn Reese] I was trying to come up with an idea for a short story, some sort of adventure in space. I asked myself what sort of person might make a good space captain, and the answer came to me right away: a mermaid! That’s how I got the idea of combining mythology with science fiction. I also knew I wanted a girl fighter as a main character. I love martial arts and one of my life goals is to inspire kids — girls especially — to fall in love with martial arts, too. Months of brainstorming and filling notebooks with ideas followed.
[Manga Maniac Café] What was the most challenging aspect of writing the book?
[Jenn Reese] I found almost every aspect challenging! If I had to pick, though, I’d say solidifying the book’s tone. The first draft was all over the place, more of an exploration of ideas than a coherent whole. Then I got hooked on the animated TV show Avatar: The Last Airbender and a light bulb went off. The show had the perfect mix of adventure, humor, and drama — exactly the tone I wanted for my story. During subsequent drafts, I tried to keep Avatar in mind as a touchstone. It really helped me hone my vision and make the right decisions about the book.
[Manga Maniac Café] Name three things Aluna would miss most about her ocean home during her adventures above the water.
[Jenn Reese] 1. The freedom of being able to swim far and fast whenever she wanted.
2. Fighting lessons with her brother.
3. Her sister Daphine.
[Manga Maniac Café] What are your greatest creative influences?
[Jenn Reese] I’m inspired by so many things — art, music, movies and TV shows, other cultures, martial arts, and books, to name a few — but today I’ll single out Dungeons & Dragons. I taught myself to play when I was 12, and that game engendered a deep love of world-building, adventure, and sense of wonder. Before I decided to write stories and novels, I wrote stories about my characters, descriptions of new races, and histories of magical artifacts. I can’t even begin to describe the profound impact it had on me, and that it continues to have.
[Manga Maniac Café] What three things do you need in order to write?
[Jenn Reese] I try to keep my writing needs minimal: either a Moleskine notebook and a good pen, or a computer and a power source. Earbuds or headphones for blocking out distractions. Coffee if it’s morning, water if it’s not.
[Manga Maniac Café] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?
[Jenn Reese] I actually became a reader because I couldn’t read well and was placed in a special program to help me catch up to my classmates. The program worked so well that I ended up returning to class as one of the strongest readers…and my life-long devouring of books began. I tore through Newbery books, mostly, and remember falling in love with Abel’s Island, The Cricket in Times Square, Island of the Blue Dolphins, and eventually The Westing Game. I think The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin is so brilliant that I re-read it every year.
[Manga Maniac Café] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
[Jenn Reese] When my schedule allows, I study martial arts. I started kenpo at the tender age of 31 and moved on to kung fu, tai chi, and traditional Chinese weapons. When I don’t have time for that, I watch too much TV, play videogames, and bug my cats.
Thanks so much for the great questions, Julie! I had a lot of fun answering them.
[Manga Maniac Café] Thank you!
You can learn more about Jenn by visiting her website and by following her on Twitter.
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