Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Kenzie Jennings

Meghan: Hello, Kenzie. Welcome to the new Meghan’s House of Books. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Kenzie Jennings: I’m an English professor living in the humid tourist-hub of central Florida, and I keep wondering why I’m still here because I hate hot weather. It may have to do with having a job with benefits and time off to write, all of that sort of thing, but I’m not sure. I may need to get out more.

Meghan: What are five things most people don’t know about you?

Kenzie Jennings:

  • I’ve never had a single best friends. I’m a military brat (and was a military spouse), which might be the reason I’ve never had one.
  • I hate vegetables. All of them. I eat them only because I have to… because ADULTING, that’s why.
  • I was once a portrait photographer for a company that shall not be named due to its suckiness.
  • At one time, I lived not far from a sumo training facility and dorm – known as a “stable” or “beya” (I was living in Tokyo, and many people I know know this about me, but not about the sumo thing). The first hint for us (my ex and me) were the huge towers of empty pizza boxes we kept seeing that had been left outside the building for the garbage-men. No one else in Tokyo would’ve had an appetite quite like that.
  • My mom once hired a medium to communicate to the ghosts in our house, and my parents had bought a house with, obviously, a lot of history to it. My little sister had kept seeing an old woman in her bedroom, just watching her there, and years later, when another family was living there, the little boy who had that room said the same thing. So, naturally, the most logical thing to do would be to hire someone to have a nice chat and a cuppa with the resident “nanny” there.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Kenzie Jennings: L. Frank Baum’s Oz books (the creepiest children’s series ever, IMHO).

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Kenzie Jennings: Student essays

Meghan: What’s a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn’t expect you to have liked?

Kenzie Jennings: Around the World With Auntie Mame. I love the sour wit of the narrator and all the oddball characters… oh, and I loved the Rosalind Russell movie, too, by the way, so reading the novels was just… fitting for me.

Meghan: What made you decide you want to write? When did you begin writing?

Kenzie Jennings: I began writing when I was 9 or 10 when I was at my loneliest, if anything, to open new doors and make up imaginary friends to love and villains to fight.

Meghan: Do you have a special place you like to write?

Kenzie Jennings: I often wind up writing on my sofa in the living room, which is so comfy but, later, so bad for my back. It forces me to get up to go for a walk in order to stretch out the kinks.

Meghan: Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Kenzie Jennings: I have a really mad collection of virtual Stickies all over my desktop screen, some for characters, some for plot turns, but most of them for continuity so that I don’t forget who did what, who has what, what happened at one point to whom, etc. Continuity is my weak point. I can’t remember anything.

Meghan: Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Kenzie Jennings: Besides continuity, I find plot development especially difficult. I can come up with a great concept, but I can never seem to figure out what comes next. It takes me awhile— sometimes weeks, even months, to figure out where things are going.

Meghan: What’s the most satisfying thing you’ve written so far?

Kenzie Jennings: Jayne, Juxtaposed was the most satisfying work I’ve ever done. It’s a (and forgive the awful genre term) “chick lit” superhero novel. It took me 5 years to complete, and I wrote it during the worst possible time in my life thus far.

Meghan: What books have most inspired you? Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Kenzie Jennings: Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, Jeff Strand’s Pressure, Bentley Little’s The Ignored & The Store, Natsuo Kirino’s Out, Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary, Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects, Jenn Ashworth’s A Kind of Intimacy, Jack Ketchum’s Off Season & Old Flames… (among many more)… have all inspired me. I don’t know if they’ve inspired my writing style, but they have certainly presented the kind of character development and storytelling I enjoy.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Kenzie Jennings: Interesting protagonists that change, strong dramatic tension (heavy climaxes help, too, and that just sounded really dirty of me), a good sense of description, believable dialogue, and a satisfying ending make for a good story to me.

Meghan: What does it take for you to love a character? How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

Kenzie Jennings: I don’t have to love any character to make me interested in her or him. Some of the most fascinating characters to me are the most awful “people” with complex motivations. I’ve more respect for authors who can make us root for the unpleasant ones as well as the usual suspects, those shiny, idealized heroines and heroes. One of the most common critical notes from male readers who’ve read my stuff is that I don’t craft “nice” or “(more) likeable” female protagonists, but it isn’t always necessary to do so. Female protagonists can be unlikable. I mean, authors like Ruth Rendell and Gillian Flynn created a whole collection of them, for shit’s sake, and I really believe that’s why we’re hooked by their work. Not only that, my characters must be—above all—complicated. They can be darkly funny, awkward, prissy, anxious, lost, silly, and so on, sure, but if they’re not complex, and sometimes even quite difficult, they’re not authentic to me.

Meghan: Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Kenzie Jennings: None of my characters are really like me, but they may have certain qualities, idiosyncrasies, or situations that mirror (or have mirrored) my own. For example, in Reception, the protagonist, Ansley Boone, suffers from benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome, something I’d been afflicted with for years having been overprescribed and then (horribly) weaned off lorazepam. I’ve used both my research and my own experiences with it to, more or less, craft what she’s going through. That said, she’s more impulsive than I could ever be, and she makes some truly horrible decisions along the way.

Meghan: Are you turned off by a bad cover? To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

Kenzie Jennings: I am utterly turned off by a bad cover. Who isn’t, really? Bad font style, outdated stock photos, busy-background-dark-font, all of it… Just no. I was incredibly fortunate to be invited to offer input for Reception’s cover. Not only that, Jarod and Patrick from Death’s Head Press hired a friend of mine, the immensely talented Lynne Hansen, to do the cover, and she definitely made it sing. It’s a glorious, gorgeous cover that grabs one’s attention. It’s also darkly funny too, and I love that sort of thing. (It’s purposefully made to look like a wedding magazine cover)

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

Kenzie Jennings: It’s okay to gamble some when writing. There are readers for everything. Not everyone is going to dig Reception because it’s gory and shocking in places, but I kept on telling myself it was okay for me to write what I actually wanted to write.

Meghan: What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

Kenzie Jennings: The last scene/ending of Reception. I completely rewrote that ending three times. The one I settled on will be the most polarizing for readers, but I don’t care. It’s how it HAS to end.

Meghan: What makes your book different from others out there in this genre?

Kenzie Jennings: The narrators’ voice(s). I’d like to say something more sophisticated than that, but that’s it really. Although, I’ve never read a cannibals-at-a-wedding novel.

Meghan: How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

Kenzie Jennings: Titles are as important as the cover. I am not all that clever at coming up with titles. An ex-boyfriend (also a writer) came up with Jayne, Juxtaposed, which was brilliant and simple, but now if I continue it on as a series, each title will have to be like it, and now that the ex is not around anymore, I’m kind of unsure where to go with it. Reception was easy because… well, it’s about a wedding… and things go bonkers at the reception.

Meghan: What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

Kenzie Jennings: Writing a novel makes me feel more fulfilled. I am awful at short stories. I didn’t used to be. Nowadays, I’m so into long form that I’ve forgotten how to keep things to a minimum. It’s not that I ramble. I don’t think I do. But I like crafting connected scenes and developing characters that change slowly (and meaningfully) rather than rapidly.

Meghan: Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

Kenzie Jennings: Since I’m fairly new to this novel-writing thing, I’ll simply mention Reception. Its tag line is “A wedding already burdened with family drama goes batshit when, during the reception, the groom’s family reveals themselves to be cannibals.” I think readers who like their stories with some contemporary family drama and gore will love it. I don’t know what sort of target audience that is though. It’s for horror readers, for sure. As for readers taking away something from it, how about something like… I hope they simply enjoy the ride, and we’ll see how we do with that?

Meghan: Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

Kenzie Jennings: I made some cuts to some of the more frivolous set up scenes, like the one in the salon, which was a lot longer than I’d intended. Some of the more humorous bits were removed because they were silly and made no sense in the long run.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

Kenzie Jennings: I have way too much in my “trunk,” some of it probably junk. Most are short stories I don’t know how to finish. One day though.

Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?

Kenzie Jennings: I’m working on a psychosexual horror thriller titled Nice Girl about a woman who, to put it mildly, doesn’t care much for being rejected. I was inspired in part by an opinion piece I’d read in Medium about the Incel subculture that spawned the likes of Elliott Rodger and Alek Minassian. The general thesis of the piece was that women could never be Incels (even though the term was created and self-appointed by a woman) because we’re taught to blame ourselves when we’re rejected rather than blame the men who rejected us. I thought… well, I guess it’s time to develop a story about a female Incel.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Kenzie Jennings: Website ** Amazon ** Twitter ** Facebook

Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say that we didn’t get to cover in this interview?

Kenzie Jennings: To get in a celebratory wedding mood, have a glass of bubbly while reading Reception… and don’t eat anything too heavy. You’ll need to run at some point.

Kenzie Jennings is an English professor currently residing and sweltering in the humid tourist hub of central Florida. She has written pieces for a handful of news and entertainment publications and literary magazines throughout the years. Back when she was young and impetuous, she had two screenplays optioned by a couple of production companies, but her screenwriting career ended there, and she hasn’t looked back since. Reception is her debut novel.

Reception

While her rehab counselor’s advice replays in her mind, Ansley Boone takes on the role of dutiful bridesmaid in her little sister’s wedding at an isolated resort in the middle of hill country, a place where cell reception is virtually nonexistent and everyone else there seems a stranger primed to spring. Tensions are already high between the Boones and their withdrawal suffering eldest, who has since become the family embarrassment, but when the wedding reception takes a vicious turn, Ansley and her sister must work together to fight for survival and escape the resort before the groom’s cannibalistic family adds them to the post wedding menu.

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