Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Interview with Jenn Reese - MIRAGE

A thrilling sequel from an exciting new voice in middle-grade sci-fi tracks two ocean-born children braving the dangers of the Above World.

Photo credit - Rita Crayon Huang

The desert is no place for ocean-dwelling Kampii like Aluna and Hoku, especially now that Aluna has secretly started growing her tail. But the maniacal Karl Strand is out to conquer the Above World, and the horselike Equians are next on his list. Aluna, Hoku, and their friends — winged Calli and Equian exile Dash — race to the desert city of Mirage, intent on warning the Equians. When they arrive, Strand’s clone, Scorch, has gotten there first. Now the Equian leader has vowed to take all his people to war as part of Strand’s army. Any herd that refuses to join him by the time of the desert-wide competition known as the Thunder Trials will be destroyed. To have any chance of defeating Scorch and convincing the Equians to switch sides, the four friends must find a way to win the Trials. The challenge seems impossible. But if they fail, the desert — and possibly all of the Above World — will be lost to Karl Strand forever. Here is the action-packed follow-up to Above World, which Kirkus Reviews called "a thrilling sci-fi adventure. Imaginative and riveting."

How much do I love this book? I can’t even begin to express my love for it! First of all we get to see the Equians and the Serpenti, snake-like people, in this amazing desert back-drop that is just epic! You know I loved Above World, but I have to say I loved Mirage even more! And I’m so glad to have Jenn here to talk a little bit about Mirage with us today!

Ello – I have to say that I’m so crazy about this world and cast of characters you’ve created in both Above World and Mirage! So last year we had this amazing interview about Above World (link here) where we talked about the world and characters in your first book. And now we are here talking about your amazing sequel, Mirage! I’m blown away! It’s the same characters we’ve grown and loved but in such a different world and culture! I’m really in awe of your world building. Can you please talk to us about how you went about creating this rich and complex world of amazing cultures and species?

Jenn – Quite frankly, I cheated. When I was back in college, I ran a Dungeons & Dragons campaign for which I created a race of honor-bound centaurs called the Minrabi Horsemen. Although that D&D party never got to meet the Minrabi, I’ve never forgotten about them. Mirage gave me the perfect excuse to bring back these herds of desert warriors as the Equians.

The Serpenti, my half human, half snake people, were invented for a very specific reason: because I wanted someone to teach Aluna the Brazilian martial art of capoeira. (Or a version of it that might exist in about 700 years.) Capoeira uses a lot of leg sweeps, and I thought both mer-people and snake people would be able to use their tails to great effect in this style… with a few modifications, of course. With that seed, I worked backward to develop a race of people with a very different philosophy than the other races we’d met so far in the series.

Ello – And it is a really awesome philosophy! So Mirage brought me a whole new set of favorite characters, my most favorite being Tal, the Equian character who is an outcast. I absolutely loved her character. A very close second was Nathif, the Serpenti character who is the healer. You have this ever growing cast of characters that you do a great job keeping the reader completely invested in. I know how challenging this is. Can you tell us some of your new favorite characters and attributes of Mirage?

Jenn – I hadn’t realized how many new characters I’d introduced in Mirage until the audiobook director emailed me to ask how to pronounce their names. There were over twenty-five new characters on his list! I guess I got a little carried away.

My favorite new characters are Tal and Nathif, who you’ve already mentioned, and a crotchety Upgrader named Rollin who’s favorite pastime is lobbing objects at Hoku. She’s actually named after a character from the original Mission: Impossible TV series, Rollin Hand, although she bears no other resemblance to actor Martin Landau. I loved writing her brusque speech patterns almost as much as I loved writing Nathif’s jokes.

Ello – Oh, I loved Rollin's also! She was a tough old gal! Once again your fight scenes are just incredible! What did you research this time and what was your thinking to match the fighting styles to your characters?

Jenn - In this book, Aluna has to deal with her growing Kampii tail. She has to learn to ride and fight in a whole new way. I’ve already mentioned the capoeira (which the Serpenti call “cappo’ra”), but Aluna also has to learn to fight with a partner, her horse Tal. Aluna isn’t nearly as strong as her massive Equian opponents, but she is far more adaptable and well-rounded, and that gives her a big advantage. It’s a philosophy inspired by the teachings of Bruce Lee (although Aluna doesn’t know that).

My only regret was that I wasn’t able to teach Aluna to use tonfa, which are simple Okinawan weapons wielded in pairs that could have doubled as crutches. She watches someone use them in book 3, but that’s as close as I got.

Ello - What were the challenges you faced writing this book?

Jenn – Please picture my eye twitching here. The biggest challenge I faced was writing this book in five months. I had the ending all worked out, and I was happy with it, but I just couldn’t get the beginning right. I’m thoroughly embarrassed by the draft that I showed my novel workshop friends. It was appalling. I trashed it and rewrote the first 10,000 words again. They were better, but still not good. Luckily, my editor is brilliant and said just the right things to help me find a better path.

But during this time, I was a horrible person to be around — surly and short-tempered, in constant need of chocolate and kind words. Thankfully my friends and my partner were true heroes and never gave up on me. I’m a very lucky writer. (And yes, I developed an actual eye twitch while working on this book.) 

Ello – I think all writers go through these stages where we need to beg forgiveness from our loved ones! Lastly, please share with us a little teaser of book 3. I seriously can’t wait until next year. You must write faster!!!

Jenn - I’m revising as fast as I can, I swear!

In book 3, Aluna, Hoku, Calli, and Dash are tired of chasing Karl Strand around the Above World and decide to take the fight to him — and they start by infiltrating a group of Upgraders! Perhaps the most surprising part of the book, though, is that Calli and Dash get their own PoV chapters for the first time. I had so much fun with those. I truly hope I’ve given readers an ending they can celebrate.

Ello - Damn it! I want it now!! Ok thank you for sharing all this great stuff with us Jenn!
Jenn - Thanks so much for inviting me to talk about Mirage!

Jenn's publisher has generously provided the Inkpot with a paperback copy of ABOVE WORLD and an ARC of MIRAGE! To enter, all you have to do is tweet or facebook this interview and leave a comment here on this  post and you will have a chance to win both of these ARCs!!! This contest will run for two weeks so help us spread the word and maybe you will be the lucky winner!


  1. Great interview. Loved hearing about Jenn's world building. This sounds like a fantastic series. You both convinced me that I need to read this. Good luck, Jenn.

  2. I haven't read Above World yet but it sounds most excellent!! I love world building when done well. Cannot wait to read this series :)

    deadtossedwaves at gmail dot com

  3. I haven't read Above World, but I've heard great things about it and it's definitely on my TBR shelf!

  4. I haven't read this either, but I'm definitely adding it in. I love books with rich world building!

  5. We have several copies of Above World (one to keep and one to loan) and it seems like we've been waiting for Mirage FOREVER. Release day was a big thing in our house!

    I know this isn't that important, but... love the covers. I really do. Completely unique and the colors and so bright.

    1. Thanks for continuing to support and promote the books, VIrginia! I'm so glad you like the covers. I love the way they stand out on my shelf and seem to have so much energy. I got very lucky publishing with Candlewick.

  6. This is a fantastic interview! I loved Above World and can't wait to read Mirage--and now I'm already excited to read the sequel that follows that! Thank you both for sharing!

  7. Thanks Jenn & Ello - fascinating interview. Jenn, did you study martial arts of some kind I sense a blood lust in your writing ;)

    1. Hi Keely! I studied kempo for five years and have been studying kung fu, tai chi, and traditional Chinese weapons for about six more. You did not imagine the bloodlust!

  8. Good world building obviously. And congratulations on getting that opening right. I know how challenging that can be. So glad you stuck with it. Good editors deserve lots of kudos, don't they?

    1. Sometimes I really think my agent (who also provides editorial comments) and my editor deserve their names on the cover, too. My books wouldn't be half as good without them.

  9. The eye twitch story sent me right to my secret chocolate stash. Good for you getting through all that! And the book sounds marvelous.

  10. The eye twitch story sent me right to my secret chocolate stash. Good for you getting through all that! And the book sounds marvelous.

  11. Great interview, you guys! Jenn, I love how specific your inspiration for the Serpenti was. I can't wait to get my copy and see some of that tail-swishing action for myself!

  12. This interview was such fun! I have had Above World on my TBR list for a while now and look forward to reading it. Both book sound like such fun. The world Jenn created sounds intriguing. How wonderful that she has such a great editor! :)

    Thanks for the amazing giveaway. I am off to tweet about it right now!

  13. Here is the twitter link:

  14. I loved Above World, and cannot wait to read Mirage!!

  15. This sounds like an interesting series, and although I don't read many MG books...I just read the summary for ABOVE WORLD...and I like! Thanks for the giveaway.


  16. Congratulations Natalie! you are the winner of the giveaway!!


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