Into the Arena: An Interview with Holly Jennings + GIVEAWAY!
***The giveaway is now over, thanks to everyone who entered!***
In case you missed it, last week I reviewed the fast-paced virtual gaming sci-fi action novel Arena. That is why today, I am psyched to present to you a BiblioSanctum interview with author Holly Jennings! Holly was kind enough to stop by and chat about her book, her writing process, as well as her lifelong love of gaming. We’re also very excited to host a giveaway where one lucky winner will have a chance to score a copy of her thrilling debut. So get your game on, and enjoy!
Hi Holly, and welcome to the BiblioSanctum! Thank you so much for joining us today.
Holly Jennings: I’m thrilled to be here!
First things first: Huge congrats on your debut novel Arena! To kick us off, can you please tell us what the book is about?
Holly Jennings: Arena is set in a future where Matrix-level virtual reality has converged with eSports, turning gamers into the hottest celebrity-athletes in the world. Kali Ling is a rising star of the RAGE tournaments, the Virtual Gaming League’s most brutal fighting event – where nothing is off-limits because nothing is real. But when Kali becomes captain and her teammate overdoses after a particularly grueling matchup, she begins to question what’s really important: fame or her friends.
What was the inspiration behind Arena? Why was it a story you wanted to tell?
Holly Jennings: Arena is what happened when I watched a documentary about competitive gaming while reading the book Neuromancer. Once I started thinking about these two concepts in combination with each other, I came up with the idea of combining immersive virtual reality with competitive gaming in the future.
I feel that video games, by extension gamers themselves, have been poorly portrayed in the media as lazy, unfit, and anti-social. So, it was important to me to break these stereotypes and show gamers as popular and fit, as well as being from diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, and sexual orientations.
As you know, we’re pretty big fans of gaming here at the BiblioSanctum. We love video games because they are fun and exciting. However, there’s also a dark side to the gaming world. You touch upon some of the issues like sexism and discrimination in your book, as well as the matter of gaming addiction. Have any of your own experiences with gaming, good or bad, influenced the themes of the book?
Holly Jennings: Personally, I haven’t had experiences with discrimination while gaming, but there have been times when I was younger where I was playing video games a little too much. Spending time on a hobby is great, but it took me a while to realize that moderation is important.
What is it about eSports that fascinates you, and do you think it’ll ever reach the popularity as seen in your book? In general, where do you see the future of gaming, and are there any trends that you think are taking off?
Holly Jennings: I’ve always enjoyed watching others play video games as much as I love playing them myself. I also like hearing about people striving for greatness or achieving some incredible goal. So, when teens strive to become the best and win competitions because they’re that dedicated to the game and accomplishing their dreams is something I find deeply admirable.
I think eSports is already more popular than most people realize, and I hope that it continues to become even more into the future. I’d love to see it become as big as it is in Arena, but hopefully without the corruption or society’s obsession with physical appearances and celebrity gossip.
In Arena, your main character Kali Ling sees herself as a warrior, an archetype that she embraces. When you play games, what is your own preferred role and why?
Holly Jennings: I prefer ranged DPS, especially with a pet. I’m not entirely sure why this is, but when I started a hunter character in World of Warcraft, I fell in love. At times, I try a different style, like melee, but I always seem to come back to ranged fighting.
Can you tell us a bit about your writing process? What was it like working on your debut novel, and did it turn out anything like you expected? What was the greatest challenge writing Arena?
Holly Jennings: I’m a night owl, so I tend to write the most at night and usually in silence. Also, I’m an advocate of Joss Whedon’s advice to “write the fun stuff first” and usually work on whatever scenes I’m most excited about at the time. I find that if I try to force myself to get a particular scene or chapter finished, my progress is very slow. But if I work on whatever scene I feel like that day, sometimes I crank out thousands of words in a single night.
Honestly, I didn’t plan anything with Arena and am still in shock that people are actually reading it. The greatest challenge was the main character’s growth and change through the book. I like reading stories where the character has significantly changed by the end and is a different person than when the book started. However, I’d never tried this myself in my writing before. It was a much bigger feat than I anticipated, but I think it helped to improve my understanding of characters and novel writing as a whole.
There’s a great mix of action and romance in Arena. As a writer, what do you prefer writing, fight scenes or love scenes?
Holly Jennings: Fight scenes, hands down. I love them. Surprisingly, I’m not big on romance. I can probably count the number of romance novels I’ve read on one hand. But including a romantic arc in Arena was a way to get the main character, Kali Ling, to form a different kind of bond with a teammate. When we first meet Kali in the book, she cares more about herself and her career than anyone else. Thankfully, she goes through a substantial change, and the romance was another way for her to grow.
To encourage team bonding, Kali gets the members of Defiance together to play some “classic” video games. Are those some of your own personal favorites growing up? With your writing career, do you still find much time to play games, or are there other hobbies you enjoy when you want to relax?
Holly Jennings: I played a lot of Mario Kart as a kid, while some of the other games mentioned were favorites of my friends growing up. I tried to mention a variety of games that were important to my generation when we were kids, so hopefully anyone could relate and say, hey, I love that one too. There are plenty of games I loved that weren’t mentioned in the book, like Perfect Dark or Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.
Yes, as my writing career has been taking off, I’ve definitely had scale back my gaming time, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Games are great fun and I think I’ll always love them, but writing novels and creating new worlds is so tremendously fulfilling that it’s worth the trade.
I know you’re currently hard at work on the next Arena novel. How many books are planned for the series? Is there anything about the sequel you can share with us at this point?
Holly Jennings: Currently, only the sequel is planned. Without giving away too many spoilers, it’s about an international gaming tournament against the best teams in the world, and the new challenges Kali faces as the team’s owner.
Wrapping up, are there any other projects you’re working on right now or have planned for the future, either writing or non-writing related, that you’d like to tell readers about?
Holly Jennings: Besides Arena 2, I have two other series I’m developing. One is noir fantasy full of mystery, supernatural politics, and a heavy dose of bromance. It’s very different from what I usually write, but I love it and find that working on a variety of stories helps me to combat writer’s block. The other series is a fairly new idea I had about a biological-engineered young woman in a solar-powered future. It’s most likely to be my follow up to Arena, because it should appeal to the same group of readers.
Looking forward to it! On behalf of The BiblioSanctum, I’d like to thank you again for stopping by! It was nice chatting with you, Holly!
Holly Jennings: Thanks so much for having me!
Interested in winning a copy of this book? The publisher has very generously offered The BiblioSanctum an opportunity to host a giveaway for one print copy of Arena! This giveaway is open to residents in the US only. To enter, all you have to do is send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your Name and valid Mailing Address using the subject line “ARENA” by 11:59pm Eastern time on Thursday, April 14, 2016.
Only one entry per household, please. The winner will be randomly selected when the giveaway ends and then be notified by email. All information will only be used for the purposes of contacting the winner and sending them their prize. Once the giveaway ends all entry emails will be deleted.
So what are you waiting for? Enter to win! Good luck!