We are super excited to share a Q&A with Holly Jennings, author of ARENA, now out in Trade Paperback!! Before we dive into that, we want to tell you a bit about the book!Arena by Holly Jennings
(Website, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads)Published by Penguin on April 5th 2016
Genres: Action & Adventure, Dystopian, Fiction, Romance, Science Fiction
The RAGE tournaments—the Virtual Gaming League’s elite competition where the best gamers in the world compete in a fight to the digital death. Every kill is broadcast to millions. Every player leads a life of ultimate fame, responsible only for entertaining the masses.
And though their weapons and armor are digital, the pain is real.
Chosen to be the first female captain in RAGE tournament history, Kali Ling is at the top of the world—until one of her teammates overdoses. Now she’s stuck trying to work with a hostile new teammate who’s far more distracting than he should be.
Between internal tensions and external pressures, Kali is on the brink of breaking. To change her life, she’ll need to change the game. And the only way to revolutionize an industry as shadowy as the VGL is to fight from the inside…
What People Are Saying About ARENA!
“A nuanced and complex novel with a strong, imperfect heroine and a different approach to the “rebel in a dystopian society” trope…With some surprising twists, Jennings faces down dark issues unflinchingly, showing us how a rebellion can start peacefully and realistically with just one brave voice.” —RT Book Reviews, Top Pick!
“Depicting the action and excitement of virtual gaming that made Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One such a hit, Jennings’s debut delves into the real-world issues (drugs, sponsor demands) that athletes face. Add strong female characters to the mix and readers seeking more fast-paced sf about virtual reality will be pleased.”—Library Journal
“A solid coming-of-age story with a multi-racial female protagonist who is both a physical and mental athlete in a male dominated sport.”—Smart Bitches, Trashy Books
Describe ARENA in 5 words.
Virtual fighting eSports in 2054.
How did ARENA come about, what was your inspiration? What made you think you had to write this story?
I was clicking through space-based documentaries on YouTube (isn’t that how everyone spends their Saturday afternoon?) when I came across a documentary about pro gaming in North America. Now, I’d heard of pro gaming being popular in other parts of the world, like East Asia and Central Europe, but had no idea it had made its way to our side of the map. As soon as I started live tournaments, I knew there was a story in it.
What was the hardest scene for you to write in ARENA and why?
Initially, the fight scenes were the hardest. It’s difficult to find that balance between describing enough so the reader understands what’s happening, but not too much that it slows the fight down and feels mechanical. However, I knew the fight scenes in ARENA would be critical so I did tons of research, workshops, beta reads, and more to ensure the fight scenes were the best I could make them. In the end, I’m pretty happy with the results and how far they came.
ARENA is about a virtual gaming league… what kind of things did you have to research to write this book?
eSports, of course – but then again, I was already watching. The thing I had to research the most was the whole celebrity lifestyle, paparazzi, clubbing, and so on. Since gamers in my book are the new rock stars, I wanted a bit of the sex-drugs-partying element that comes with being famous. It created a nice juxtaposition between how gamers are viewed today compared to future gamers in the novel.
When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Mostly playing games, watching documentaries, reading, and spending time with my family.
What are you currently reading?
Honestly, I’ve been reading a lot of non-published material lately. I trade stories with my writer friends and give feedback to each other. It’s great exercise to learn how to critique well because it teaches you to look at your own work with a more critical eye.
Any advice for aspiring writers?
There were two things that really improved my writing and helped propel me toward a book deal. The first was writing short stories and submitting them for publication. You learn to handle rejection well, and once you get a story accepted, you learn how to work with an editor and all about the publication process. While publishing short stories is much quicker than novels, it still gives you a good idea of what to expect.
The second was finding great beta readers and learning to take criticism well. There are plenty of websites out there that pair up fledging writers to read and review each other’s work. This is how I found my initial reviewers. Learning to put your emotions aside when someone offers you honest feedback on your work can be the hardest thing for a newer writer (and even for a seasoned pro) but it can make a huge difference in your storytelling.
What is the one thing about publishing you wish someone would have told you?
One great piece of advice that I was given later on (and wished I had in the beginning) is: You’re a writer, not a politician. You’re not here to say ‘actually, you did like my book and here’s why’. Realizing that some people just won’t like what you’re doing and it’s really none of your business anyway is very freeing. As authors, we can be quite protective of our work, but once it’s published and on the shelf anyone can rip it to shreds, especially on the internet. If you realize that they’re as free to their opinion as you were writing the book, it helps you to cope with the negativity.
What’s next for you? Are you working on anything right now that you can tell us about?
The sequel to Arena is complete and I’m hoping I get to write more novels based in this world. I’ve got a great idea for Arena 3 but I have to see what my editor says. Also, I have an idea for a new series outside of Arena about a slow-burn environmental apocalypse that I think will appeal to the same group of readers. Time will tell if I get to see these ideas through to fruition.
Tell us 3 random facts about you.
I studied martial arts as a child (mostly Kung Fu), I secretly wish I had the nerve to do cosplay, and in my final year of high school my worst grade was in creative writing. I’ll let the irony rest.
Favorite Song (right now): Almost Blue by Chet Baker. It’s an old jazz song. I’m not much of a fan of modern music.
Favorite Book (right now): Love Interest by Cale Dietrich. It’s coming out in May. I got to read an early copy and couldn’t put it down. It plays on YA tropes in novels along with some powerful LGBT themes. I think it’s going to be a hit.
Favorite TV Show/Movie: Firefly/LA Confidential
Favorite Word: Nth. It breaks the rule “a word must have a vowel” so it appeals to my inner rebel.
Favorite Color: Really, I like shades (white, gray and black). But if I had to choose a color it would be red.
Favorite Curse Word: I lived in Quebec for a few years and they have their own brand of curse words there. “Tabernac” was always my favorite while I was there. In recent years, it seems like the F-word has lost a lot of its zing and feels more humorous than offensive. It can be my favorite when used for emphasis or humor.
1 Copy of ARENA courtesy of Berkley Publishing Group