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Sunday, October 5, 2008

Chick Chat: Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Did you always want to be an author? If so why? If not what did you want to be?
I've wanted to be an author for pretty much as long as I can remember. There was a brief time when I was in kindergarten when I wanted to be a veterinarian, but by the time I was about six (which, not coincidentally, was about the same time I learned to read), I'd decided that I wanted to write. For most of my life, I've also wanted to do other things, too- I wanted to be a writer and a lawyer for a while, and now, I'm a writer and a research psychologist. I'm a big fan of having multiple passions, and for me, that's meant multiple careers, too.

Is being an author what you expected?
In some ways it is, and in some ways it isn't. You really can't imagine before hand what it's like to walk into a store and see your book on a shelf, or to get an email from someone telling you that your books really meant something to them. In those respects, being an author is so far beyond anything I'd ever dreamed about. At the same time, though, there's other things I didn't fully expect either- like how hard it can be to write without thinking too much about how readers and reviewers are going to react, or how many things you have to do as an author that don't actually involve writing. I also didn't expect that I'd become friends with so many other writers- of all of the surprises, that's definitely been one of the best.

What was your road to publishing like?
I wrote my first book (which was absolutely horrible and will, thank goodness, never be seen by anyone) when I was a senior in high school. I bought the Children's Writers and Illustrators Market (a book with publisher information in it) and started sending out query letters. And nobody even wanted to read the first couple of chapters of my first book, so I wrote a second one. And a third one. And a fourth one. By my freshman year in college, I'd written five books, and it wasn't until number five that I finally started getting positive responses to queries. A publisher would say something like "sure, send us two chapters" and then they'd come back a little while later and say "send us the rest of the book." And after that, it became a waiting game, so I did what I'd learned to do while I was querying: I kept writing. Book six generated some editor interest, too, and by the time I wrote book seven- GOLDEN- a good friend convinced me that I needed an agent. Nine months, several revisions, and a couple more books later, I had an agent. At this point, I was twenty years old and just starting my junior year in college. I'd been submitting and writing and trying to break into the business for three solid years, with not a lot to show for it, other than a ton of books, each one better than the last.
Three weeks after I signed with my agent, she submitted GOLDEN to publishers. And a couple of weeks after that, we had an offer from Random House. Six months later, they bought TATTOO as well, and then PLATINUM and so on. I spent the first three years of my journey without selling anything- and most of that time, I couldn't get anyone to even read anything- but once I sold GOLDEN, things moved really quickly.

What inspired you to write The Squad books?
I was a competitive cheerleader in middle school, and I'd always wanted to write a book set against the background of that world. Completely separately, I'd always wanted to write a book about teen secret agents. And then one day, I woke up in the middle of the night and realized that those two ideas could be combined into one book, and that by doing so, I could play around with a theme near and dear to my heart- the idea that it's dangerous to underestimate someone based on the way they look, or the social groups they belong to, or the fact that they're young and female. And voila- the Squad.

Most writers have a close friend and/or family member that gives them support and criticism. Do you have anyone like this in your life? If so how have they contributed to your writing?
My mom has been an incredible support to me in my writing career. When I first started out, I really couldn't have done it without her. She's the first one to read all of my books- even now- but she's also been a huge help to me on the business end of things. Back when I was mailing out queries like crazy, she was right there with me pasting on the stamps, and to this day, I'd swear that she knows almost as much about the business as I do- not because of any experiences she had before I started, but because she's been there with me and for me every single step of the way.

From tom boy Toby to the fashionable twins, the characters in The Squad are colorful and captivating. How did you create such a funny, relatable cast of characters?
I don't know that I can pinpoint anything I do specifically to create characters- for the most part, they just unfold as I write, but THE SQUAD was a little different than my other books, because it had such a large cast. For the girls on the squad, I actually worked backwards- I started out with a list of positions that a squadron of secret agents would need (like "linguistic expert" or "weapons guru" or "technology girl"), and then I thought about what kind of girls might specialize in each of those things. So, for example, for Zee, I knew I wanted one of the girls to be a profiler, and I thought "what if she already has a PhD in psychology?" and from there, it was clear that she'd have to be some kind of child prodigy. And then I wondered what it would be like to have graduated high school as a little kid who didn't have any friends, and then to go back as one of the most popular girls in school... and those ended up being the experiences that define Zee. For Toby, I knew I wanted someone who HATED cheerleaders, someone who had all of the prejudices that allow the girls on the squad to get away with the things they do, but also someone who had a really good heart... and from there, Toby pretty much sprang to life on her own.

Many teens dream of becoming authors. What advice would you give to writing teens?
Three things: read, write, and do things that aren't reading and writing. The first two seem pretty obvious, but the third one is just as important- the more life experiences you have, the more you'll have to write about. Get out and meet as many different people as you can, challenge yourself to do new things, and remember that everything you do contributes to the person (and the writer) that you are.

I know that The Squad is being turned into a series on Nickelodeon's "The N". When can readers expect to see the show?
The Squad has been OPTIONED by The N- but that's very different from actually being made into a TV show. The way it works is that networks option books that they like, and they work on developing them, but most books that are optioned for TV or film never actually get made into movies or TV shows. Right now, The Squad is still in the development stage. There are a lot of really great people involved, and it's extremely exciting, but there's no guarantee that anything will ever come of it. At this point, we just have to keep our fingers crossed!

If you could cast anyone to play you're characters who would your dream cast be?
Ohhhh- good question! I change my mind on this all the time, but at the moment, there are several young actresses I have my eye on. For Toby, one of the actresses I like is Alyson Stoner. Most recently, she was in Disney's Camp Rock, but I knew her from back in the day, when the she was Sarah (the tomboy with attitude) in the Cheaper By the Dozen movies- plus, she's a hip hop dancer, so she could totally keep up with the rest of the squad when it came to moves! Let's see... who else... well, I love Lucy Hale (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants; Privileged), and I actually like a couple of her other cast-mates from the old American Juniors TV show, too-particularly sisters Tori and Taylor Thompson, who I think could be really interesting as Chloe and Brooke type characters. And if I could have absolutely anyone (even people who already have steady TV gigs or keep busy with movies), then I'd want some of my other favorite young people in the cast, too- like Miley Cyrus, Leighton Meester, Jessica Stroup, Kat Dennings, Willa Holland, Hayden Panettiere. And then there are a variety of older actresses who I'd love to see make cameos as either villains or SQUAD alums- like Kristen Bell (from Veronica Mars) or Samantha Ferris (from Supernatural).

Besides writing and reading what else are you passionate about?
I'm really passionate about science- specifically, cognitive science, which is the study of the mind. Right now, I'm in the second year of working on my PhD in developmental psychology- I study the psychology of fiction (why do people like books and movies? what cognitive processes allow us to form connections to characters when we know they aren't real), autism and related conditions, and evolutionary psychology. If I get started really talking about it, I'd go on and on forever, so I'll just cut myself off now. :)

What are some of your favorite books?
I have way, way too many favorite books to list, but I can tell you some of my favorite books of 2008. My very top pick so far this year would THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins, followed by (in no particular order) GRACELING by Kristin Cashore, THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX by Mary E. Pearson, Patricia Briggs' adult werewolf series, THE SUMMONING by Kelley Armstrong (love her adult stuff, too), and THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman.

What are your favorite TV shows and/or movies?
I'm more of a TV girl than a movie girl. My all-time favorite TV shows are Buffy and Veronica Mars, with Roswell, Gilmore Girls, and Party of Five all pretty high up there, too. Of shows on the air right now, I love Heroes, Supernatural, One Tree Hill, and House, and also follow Gossip Girl, Grey's Anatomy, and Desperate Housewives.

Now for the question on everybody's mind: Will there be anymore Squad books?! If not, are you working on a new book or series? If so what is it about and when can readers expect so see it on the shelves?
Right now, my publisher doesn't have plans to do any more squad books- that doesn't mean that it will never happen, just that it's not in the cards at the moment. Some day, I'd love to write more books in the series, if that was a possibility. As for new series and looking for new books on the shelves, I'm working on developing a couple of new series right now, but they won't be out for a while. The next book to actually hit the shelves will be as sequel to TATTOO. The basic gist of the book is that it follows the narrator through her senior year of high school- and her initiation into a dangerous Otherworld that she's drawn into as part of her duties as the third Fate. The book is called FATE, and it will hit shelves in March of 2009.


  1. Wow, this was a great interview! I loved all her answers. Too bad that there's not going to be a third Squad book soon. Hopefully there will be one in the future.

  2. Fabulous interview! I learned so much. :)

  3. Great interview!
    I'll definitely have to check out THE SQUAD.


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