Politics and magic would make dangerous bedfellows… that’s the tagline for The Gifted Dead, Jenna Black’s newest series. Given that politicians already abuse the privileges that come with fame, prestige and money imagine what they would do with supernatural powers? Oh yeah, you get the idea right? This series is being touted as a book that merges the fantastical entanglements of Game of Thrones with the political familial betrayals of House of Cards.
Based upon these characters you’d never suspect Jenna Black has a charitable bone in her body, right? Just kidding… she’s really lovely and has put all her amazing talents to good use for the good of society.
Oh wow! You put your knitting skills up for auction in the Brenda Novak auction to support diabetes research. How did that go? How fun was it being creative for your bookish fans in a whole different format?
That was a lot of fun! The shawl was really fun to knit, and there were so many beautiful color combinations on the pattern-writer’s site that I really wanted to try knitting a second. However, it felt silly to knit a second shawl when I don’t actually wear shawls. That’s when I came up with the idea of donating one of them to the auction. It gave me a great excuse to knit a second one with a different combination of colors while helping out a good cause. My fans always seem to comment when I post pictures of my knitting on Twitter or Facebook, so it seemed like it might draw some interest—which it did! The shawl pictured below is the one I decided to keep. And yes, I have actually worn it a few times.
Game of Thrones meets House of Cards — that’s a lot of political maneuvering for one fantasy — how epic is The Gifted Dead and tell me we are going to get some kickbutt lady role models out of it.
It’s not so epic you could use the paperback as a doorstop, but it is pretty epic. There are a number of intertwining story lines, and there are sections that take place in the US, in England, in Portugal, in Italy, and in France. I’ve written some supremely kick-butt heroines in the past (Morgan Kingsley especially), but the women in this book have a slightly more subtle strength to them. The Gifted get their magic from a being called the Anima Mundi (Soul of the World), which is a collective entity made up of the souls of their dead. The Anima favors certain people with magical Gifts and is very much the driving influence behind the lives of all of the Gifted. However, the Anima is made up of dead people, so by nature it’s very old-fashioned and not very progressive. In the Gifted community, women are just beginning to be granted rights, thanks to the pressure of the mainstream. My most kick-butt female character in Melanie Landry. She’s an American Gifted who is pushing the boundaries of what is allowed within the Gifted community. She is in the beginning stages of a career within the Order—the governing body for the Gifted worldwide—and her husband is a stay-at-home dad. She means to be an advocate for women’s rights within the Order, but her career is in immediate jeopardy when she begins to uncover the seeds of a conspiracy. She has some serious kick-butt moments as the male-dominated establishment keeps trying to stop her from investigating further.
You like to put your heroes in positions where their talents mean dealing with high-ups and threatening their power without force. What way do you think is the best way to change society when the powers that be are corrupt?
One of the great “joys” of writing books with thriller and suspense elements is putting your characters in situations where they are so obviously the underdog—and then finding a way for them to win anyway. In The Gifted Dead, some of my principle characters are the higher-ups, but they’re being outnumbered and outmaneuvered by other higher-ups. But at many crucial points in the story, it is the people with the least power who have the biggest effect on events. Through her investigations, Melanie poses a huge threat to the male-dominated establishment, but she isn’t the only seemingly powerless woman to have a big effect. There’s also another one of my favorite characters, Anna Romanova, who spends much of the book being something of a victim but who eventually finds her inner strength. I think the most important way to change a society where the powers are corrupt is to be brave enough to let the greater good win out over self-interest. Melanie in particular embodies that principle, continuing to investigate even though her lifelong career ambitions are in jeopardy, but there are a lot of other characters who have to make that same kind of decision. Do I look the other way and do what’s best for me, or do I wade into the fray and put myself in danger?
How do you unwind, because seriously with all the manipulations going on in your books, don’t you get wound up after writing certain scenes?
Yeah, I get pretty wound up, but I try to make sure I take care of myself and have methods of escaping my own head. I do ballroom dance and play golf, both of which tend to absorb my entire attention and help me stop thinking about the goings-on in my stories. I’ve also found that mindfulness meditation can be very helpful in slowing down the gerbil wheel in my brain. That’s something I really need, because writing so many stories where the worst happens makes me predisposed to expect the worst out of life. You know how in a movie when someone has a cough, it means they’re going to die? It’s because there’s no story-reason to bother having them cough if it doesn’t mean something. Life isn’t like that, but when you write stories for a living, it’s easy to look for the story-reason behind everything. Sometimes a writer’s imagination can be her worst enemy.
You write in a variety of genres even though your plotlines all follow a similar thread of political games meets fantasy universes. How do you decide which ones will work best for Young Adult, Paranormal or Fantasy? Which universe is your favorite?
I do tend to gravitate toward political machinations, don’t I? I’ve always loved that kind of story—court intrigue, with all its subtleties and complications. Deciding which genre to write in with a specific world basically comes down to finding my main conflict and then deciding which genre that conflict would be best in. With The Gifted Dead universe, I had originally come up with a young adult idea, focused on one particular character and her personal conflict. But the world I imagined was too big for just one character, or even for two. To show all the complexities I envisioned—and to enable the court-intrigue-type conflict I so love—I needed to make the book an adult fantasy. As for which is my favorite, I usually say I like all my worlds equally, but I have to admit that The Gifted Dead universe is my favorite. I just have so many ideas, especially for characters, based on the universe I’ve set up. The Gifted are a race, with recognizable racial features, better health, and longer-than-average life spans. But only someone whose parents are both Gifted can be Gifted, and I’d love to explore what life would be like for a half-breed. The Gifted were also persecuted as witches for centuries or more, and are only recently being fully accepted into society, sometimes very grudgingly. That conflict alone sparks a whole lot of ideas in my head. This world fuels my imagination like no other and I hope I get a chance to write more books in it!
So how gorgeous is this cover too? It’s going to be hard to top the shroud-like cover with very ominous dragon symbol along with dirt edges of this first novel in the subsequent ones. Intriguing for sure! If you would like to be notified of when The Gifted Dead is available for pre-order, head HERE to sign up for the format you prefer. Also, you can sign up for Jenna’s newsletter too and find out about all her series and impressive female heroes.