Interview: Jennifer Lynn Barnes
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Jennifer Lynn Barnes is a young woman with many talents. She was a dancer, a cheerleader, and a volleyball player. She is a recent college graduate. She is a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Veronica Mars, and the color hot pink. She will always be a fan of comic books and lemurs.
Now, she can add "published author" to her resume. Her debut novel, Golden, hits stores today. If you like high school series that mix paranormal abilities with the clashing of cliques, you won't want to miss this book.
I designed her website - jenniferlynnbarnes.com - which I hope you'll all check out as well.
When we were done with technical questions, we moved on to interview questions.
Your debut novel, Golden, deals with a teenage girl who comes from a long line of ladies who possess the Sight, a supernatural sense or ability of some kind. She can see people's auras, with different shades indicating different personalities - and good or bad intentions. Temporary tattoos give four friends paranormal powers in your second book, Tattoo, due out in January 2007. Did you do a great deal of research into the paranormal for your books?
Both Golden and Tattoo borrow from a variety of mythologies, but in general, I take bits and pieces of many different mythological traditions and blend them together to form something altogether new, so the end product isn't actually consistent with any of the actual myths or paranormal phenomena that inspired me.
I don't do much active research for my books - I've always been interested in mythology and in the supernatural, so I sort of have a wealth of existing data filed away in my head, and when I'm writing, I just pull bits and pieces from multiple sources.
In Golden, Lissy has The Sight, an inherited ability that manifests itself in different ways for different people. For Lissy, The Sight takes the form of Aura Vision, an ability to see moving (and highly revealing) bodies of colored light around everyone she meets. While I know that there are actually people out there who see (or believe they see) auras, I didn't make any effort to pattern Lissy's ability off of anyone else's report. Instead, I invented my own rules for what Lissy sees and how she interprets auras. My goal as a writer of supernatural fiction is to write about things that are out there- ideas that people are interested in - but to fictionalize it in a way that works for my story and my characters.
If you could have any special power, what would you pick and why?
Transmogrification - the ability to change anything into anything else, just by waving your hand over it. Clearly, this would come in handy - it basically gives you the ability to have whatever you want at your fingertips at any given moment. Plus, if you assume that a transmogrifier can also transmogrify himself/herself, then you're also talking about the ability to morph, a la Mystique in X-Men, and how cool is that?
What inspires your stories? When or where do you feel you are the most creative?
I get almost all of my ideas in the shower, or lying in my bed in the middle of the night. Since my stories generally take aspects of the supernatural and aspects of everyday teen experience and meld them together, coming up with an idea is really more a matter of deciding which aspect of teen experience goes best with which fantastical concept. For example, with my latest project, THE SQUAD, coming up with the idea was pretty simple. I've always wanted to write a book about secret agents, and I've always wanted to write a book that would let me use my experiences (the good, the bad, and the ugly) as a competitive cheerleader. Then, one night, I woke up and realized that I could write both books at the same time. A lot of my ideas come to me that way - finding out that concepts I thought were for separate books actually go together.
Platinum, the sequel to Golden, will be out in another year, circa September 2007. Did you always plan to write it? Will it be a two-book series or open-ended?
When I first wrote Golden, I wasn't thinking about it as a series. I was thinking about it as this three day slice of Lissy's life. At the same time, though, since the book does take place over such a short time frame, I felt like there were a lot of Emory High stories left to tell when I finished writing Golden. When my editor asked me to consider doing a sequel, I was so excited that I'd get to go back to the world I'd created in Golden and let readers see what happened next. We've discussed doing future books in the Golden series, but at the moment, the ending to Platinum is pretty-open ended. Like Golden, Platinum shows you a slice of life (and supernatural mystery), and while there could easily be future books, readers (hopefully) won't feel like I've left them hanging if we end it after two.
One of the characters in Golden has a funny story behind her name. Please share it.
Names are really important for me as a writer. When I sit down to write a story, the first thing I need to know is the character's name. At least for my narrators, the name usually comes first, and then the personality follows from the name. As I was writing Golden, however, I really saw things through Lissy's eyes, which meant that the first thing I knew about most of the secondary characters wasn't their name - it was the color of their aura. Then I'd try to find a name that went with the aura and the personality it entailed. This process worked pretty well until I came to a popular girl with a fuchsia-colored aura and a tendency towards going all Mean Girls on people. And, for some reason, I really couldn't think of a name that fit, so I decided to just stick "Fuchsia" (the color of her aura) in there as a placeholder. I always meant to go back and change the name, but forgot to before I sent it on to my agent and later my editor. As it turned out, both of them LOVED the fact that the character's name was actually Fuchsia, and after a while, it just stuck.
In January 2008, The Squad will introduce readers to secret agent cheerleaders. Rah rah, sis boom - bang. Will this book have anything paranormal or stick to high-tech gadgets and kung-fu action? Also, is it odd or comforting to know that it won't be published for another year and a half?
The Squad is my first book that doesn't have anything supernatural in it at all. I thought it was going to be really different writing something that was more grounded in the real world, but then I realized- secret agenthood is full of gadgets, gizmos, twists, and turns that are every bit as fantastical as the paranormal, just in a different way. I think that's really the one thing that's consistent across all of the writing (both published and unpublished) that I've done - I love to mix the ordinary and the over-the-top extraordinary. With The Squad, I just realized that I don't need the supernatural to do that!
And, yes, it is incredibly weird to know that the books I'm working on now won't see shelf time for another year and a half. At the same time, though, it was a full three years from when I finished writing Golden until its release date, so a year and a half actually sounds pretty quick!
You are a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, and so am I, so I must ask after your favorite characters and episodes.
I am a HUGE Buffy fan. I wasn't even that in to television pre-Buffy, and now (as I'm sure is clear from my blog), I'm a total TV junkie.
Character-wise, I always loved the characters who provided comedic relief - especially Cordelia (both on BtVS and on the first season or two of Angel) and Anya. I'm a big fan of bluntness, and loved the dialogue for both of these characters. In terms of more serious characters, I've always loved Faith, and especially in later years, vastly preferred her to Buffy. And even though I wasn't a huge fan of the character per se, I loved the way Joss Whedon introduced Dawn into the canon in season five - brilliant!
As for favorite episodes, I'm pretty predictable. I loved the season two story arc - especially Innocence, when Angel loses his soul and Buffy doesn't realize that he's turned bad and simply thinks that he's giving her the morning after shrug off, and Becoming, Parts One and Two. Beyond season two, I really loved the musical episode (and may or may not know the words to all of the songs), Prophecy Girl, and Tabula Rasa (which still makes me giggle every time I see it).
You recently graduated from Yale. Congratulations! What did you study? Were the college and major your first choices?
I didn't visit any colleges until after I received acceptances, so I went into the decision process not really having a definite first choice. I visited Stanford and Yale on the same weekend (and had planned to visit Duke the next), and something about Yale just clicked - to the extent that I stopped visiting colleges and immediately accepted Yale's offer.
My degree is in cognitive science, the study of the brain and thought. It's an interdisciplinary major that mixes together philosophy, psychology, linguistics, anthropology, computer science, and neurobiology. There's a lot of freedom to craft your major around the research areas that really interest you, so my program concentrated mostly on animal, infant, and child cognition, as well metaphysics and philosophy of mind.
As an incoming freshman, I had planned on doing the neurobiology track of the biology major. I knew I was interested in the mind; it just took me a semester to discover a major that was entirely dedicated to it. Freshman year, I was also under the delusion that I was going to double major with Film Studies as my second major, but I ended up deciding that one major and a writing career was more than enough for me, especially once I got involved in research.
Do you have any tips for your teen readers?
Getting into colleges involves some luck, but I really think the best advice I can give you is to figure out what you're passionate about now, and don't wait to do it. Find activities that you really care about, and whatever your passion is, pursue that to the greatest extent that you can, and make sure that your love for what you do comes across in the application.
In terms of an (admissions) essay, I highly recommend writing it on a really random topic that tells the admissions committee a lot more about who you are in your down time than it tells them about things that you've done - there's no need to rehash your resume in the essay.
Now that you have a degree in cognitive science, will you be pursuing employment in that field or continue working as a writer - or both?
I'm definitely going to continue working as a writer, but for me, it's really important to also have a life outside of writing. If I'd never done anything but write, I wouldn't have much to write about. I always tell kids that if they want to be a writer, they should do three things: read, write, and do stuff that's not reading or writing, and I'm a big believer of that in my own life as well. Right now, my plan is to continue on with my research and education - I'd love to get my PhD. (Dr. Jen has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?)
For the entire time I've been writing, I've been in school, and I've been working in multiple research labs, presenting at conferences, and basically doing the exact same things I'll be doing in grad school. So, at least for now, I'd like to think that I can do both - I'm definitely going to try!
Tell us more about your upcoming autism research at the University of Cambridge.
Right now, the final details of my project aren't exactly set yet, but I can tell you that I'll be studying at Cambridge's Autism Research Centre, one of the most comprehensive and advanced facilities for the study of autism in the world, under the supervision of Professor Simon Baron-Cohen. I'll be doing a yearlong experiment - most likely, a clinical trial of some kind. As an undergrad, I did a lot of research on Theory of Mind - a suite of abilities involving conceptualizing the minds of others, and I'll be incorporating that in some way into my research next year.
What are your ten favorite books of all time?
Wow. Only ten? This is going to be incredibly hard . . . Okay, here it goes:
Matilda by Roald Dahl
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
Rainbow Valley by L.M. Montgomery
Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Tex by S.E. Hinton
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