Jennifer Lynn Barnes on Monkeys, Wolves, and Hellhounds

Jennifer Lynn Barnes is the author of the Raised by Wolves trilogy and, most recently, Every Other Day, a paranormal thriller about teenage Kali. Every other day, Kali is a normal teenager. But the other half of the time? She’s a skilled demon hunter with an irrepressible urge to attack and destroy paranormal creatures. When she notices the distinctive mark on the lower back of a popular girl at school–the mark that means she’s been targeted by a paranormal creature for death in the next twenty-four hours–Kali knows she has to save her. But there’s a problem: it’s the wrong twenty-four hour cycle, and Kali will have to do it as a regular human. Awesome, right?! You can begin reading Every Other Day on Figment here. And in the meantime, check out our Q&A with Jen below.

Is the mythology of Every Other Day based on any pre-existing story?

The mythology of Every Other Day is based on a mixture of a lot of pre-existing sources. The world-building takes as its starting point the question, “What would happen if Darwin had discovered supernatural creatures on his voyage on the Beagle?” Flash forward almost two hundred years, and you have a modern society in which everyone takes the existence of mythological creatures for granted. The creatures themselves come from myths from all over the world: you have zombies, hellhounds, and Will O’ Wisps, but also creatures like The Alan (from the Philippines) and chupacabras. Because this is a world where scientists are very into studying the supernatural, I gave each mythological creature a slightly scientific twist.

Kali has a sixth sense about her weapons. If you could have a sixth sense about something, what would it be?

That’s a hard one! My gut instinct first answers were “other people’s intentions” and “what’s about to happen,” but I’ve read enough books and seen enough movies to think that kind of thing could be more of a curse than a blessing! So I will go with something that seems more benign: I’d like to have a sixth sense for traveling (knowing the best places to go at the best times to maximize the experience, and an uncanny ability to find cheap flights to get there and fun people to go with).

The main character of Every Other Day, Kali, knows that someone has been singled out to be attacked by demons when she sees a mark on his or her lower back. True or false: Getting lower-back tattoos marks you for death.

False! Otherwise, I’d need to hire bodyguards for at least a couple of my closest friends.

Is it hard to do mean things to your characters? Like, say, having them lose a hand in the first chapter?

This probably makes me sound like a horrible person, but doing mean things to my characters is fun! Books aren’t interesting without conflict, and the more you throw at a character, the wider the range of emotions they feel and the more impetus there is for them to change.

Some authors have soundtracks or playlists they listen to while writing. We were wondering: what would Every Other Day’s foodtrack be? What should we snack on while reading?

While writing the book, I ate a lot of Reese’s Pieces and Cap’n Crunch (sometimes at the same time). But I’ve been told that some parts of the book are a little intense with the demon-slaying and all, so eat at your own risk!

You’ve written about the Fates, undercover agents, werewolves, aura-vision, and more. What do you think is going to be the next big paranormal trend? And what do you think is coming next for YA lit in general?

I think that the next big thing in paranormal will be more genre blending. I think we’ll see fewer paranormal romances and more paranormals that (while they may have romance) also incorporate plot conceits and key aspects from other genres: paranormal mysteries, historical paranormals, books that blur the line between sci-fi and paranormal or dystopian and paranormal, supernatural thrillers, and so on. For YA lit in general, I think we’re going to see more stories that are big on adventure and life-and-death stakes, but that take place in the “real world” instead of a paranormal one.

We love, as much as anyone can love, the melting pot of supernatural creatures featured in your book (which includes zombies and icky beasts called hell hounds). What’s next on your supernatural spectrum?

Right now, I’m working on the third Raised By Wolves book, so I’m back to werewolves and psychic powers. And my next book after that is called Nobody, which features supernaturally unnoticeable teens who work as assassins.

You’ve studied monkeys for your work in animal cognition and behavior. You’ve said that experience helped you write about the pack in the Raised by Wolves trilogy. Does it help you write fully human (or nearly fully human) characters as well?

It’s hard to pinpoint the influence of the work I’ve done with monkeys versus the influence of a whole host of other research I’ve done for my degree. I’m a psychology grad student, so I’ve studied human cognition and behavior, too. I’m sure all of that affects the way I write and understand different characters, but it happens at a mostly unconscious level. Even with Raised By Wolves, I didn’t realize that my primate research had affected the way I write packs and hierarchies until I was done.

Is there anything you have to stop yourself from writing over and over again? That is, do you have any writing tics?  

I have words that I use way too often (off the top of my head, disgruntled and incredulous are two), and I tend to focus more on eye gaze than any other aspect of facial expression. I also have tropes that I love (friends becoming like family, characters who other people underestimate, the idea that everyone feels like an outsider sometimes, etc.), and those show up in my writing a lot.

Is there a book you want to write that you know you never will?

I never say never.

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?

I’d be doing what I do now in my non-writing life: studying the way the mind works and the things that make us uniquely human. I’ve also started dabbling in screenwriting, which is a ton of fun!

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