author websiteJennifer Lynn Barnes began writing for teens when she was still a teenager herself, completing her first published novel at age nineteen. Since then, she’s published a total of seven novels for teens: Golden, Platinum, Tattoo, Fate, the Squad series, and most recently, Raised by Wolves. When she’s not writing, Jen is a full-time graduate student at Yale University, working on a PhD in developmental psychology. She has a weakness for teen television and doesn’t like chocolate. Her next novel, Trial by Fire, is due out in 2011.
Q. Your latest book, Raised by Wolves, is about a girl named Bryn who lives with a werewolf pack. Why did you choose to write about werewolves?
A. When I write, I generally try to find two major elements–one that’s supernatural or fantastic in some way and one that’s more a part of everyday teen life–that fit together really well to tell a story. I’ve always been a huge werewolf fan, but it wasn’t until I came up with the idea of writing a human living among them that I knew I really wanted to write my own werewolf book–one that was about family and Pack and what it meant to be coming of age when the pull of those two things was so strong.
Q. Bryn is a spunky character who likes to do things her own way. Were you anything like her as a teen?
A. Bryn and I have certain things in common, but they tend not to be the traits that people associate most strongly with her personality. She’s really physically strong and very much a risk taker, and in the course of my life, I’ve been referred to as “sweet” much more often than I’ve been called “badass.” I’m more of an observer, and she’s the type to dive straight into the middle of things; I think things through, and she has to struggle to look before she leaps. But we’re both sarcastic and fiercely loyal, and we both know what it’s like to be underestimated, overprotected, and dismissed, because we’re young and female and–in Bryn’s case–human.
Q. Did you read up on were-lore before writing Raised by Wolves, and if so, did you learn anything particularly interesting or cool?
A. I actually didn’t do much book-type research for Raised by Wolves, because I’m the type of person who really likes to research by doing. So for Raised by Wolves, I really tapped into personal experiences more than written research. My background is in animal social behavior and cognition, and I’ve spent a lot of time in the wild, researching a variety of non-human primate species. Like wolves, the monkeys I studied live in large social groups, have a defined hierarchy both within and between groups, and use a lot of non-verbal communication to convey things like dominance and familial relationships. As a result, pack mentality, pack structure, and silent communication all ended up playing a really big role in Raised by Wolves, and I wove my own experiences as a human amid pack animals into more traditional werewolf lore.
Q. Being the only teen human among werewolves has to be hard for Bryn, and (minus the weres) her life seems to capture the outsider position many teens feel that they inhabit. Do you think that’s part of what makes Bryn so relatable?
A. I think that just about everyone feels like an outsider at one point in another, and I do think that’s part of what makes Bryn easy to relate to. She’s a really strong person, but she’s also the underdog, and I think that’s also something that a lot of adults and teens can sympathize with–mainly, though, I think that the thing I relate to the most in Bryn’s life is her relationship with her (mostly werewolf) family. Regardless of your situation, I think that a large part of being a teenager is finding a balancing act between who people expect you to be and who you are, who your parents raised you to be and what you want out of life on your own. Raised by Wolves is very much so a book about finding independence, and the things you have to let go of when you grow up.
Q. Can you give us any hints as to what’s next for Bryn in the sequel to Raised by Wolves, Trial by Fire?
A. There really isn’t much I can say about Trial by Fire without giving away the ending of Raised by Wolves, except to say that you get to see a lot more of the world, both in terms of werewolf politics and in terms of things that will take Bryn completely off guard. I can also say that at the start of Trial by Fire, Bryn’s kind of struggling to redefine her relationships with all of the major players in her life, as a result of the way things panned out for her at the end of Raised by Wolves.
Q. In your Mind-Rain essay, “The S-Word: Science in the World of Uglies,” you take on the science of beauty and the notion that knowledge–scientific and otherwise–is power. Even though science isn’t fun to learn sometimes (ahem, physics), do you think that is has a place in every person’s life?
A. I think that it’s really easy for people to think of science as being all about memorizing facts or equations, but to me, science really boils down to a process. It’s about asking questions and systematically ruling out alternatives until you know the answer, and then turning around and asking more questions. While I’d never say that everyone should embrace physics or biology or any given domain of science, I would say that I think learning how to ask questions and figure out what you think about the world is an extremely important skill–and to me, that’s what science is all about.
Q. Your bio says that you’re pursuing graduate studies in developmental and evolutionary psychology, so clearly knowledge and learning are important to you! Do you ever find that your studies help with writing?
A. My studies work their way into my books in subtle ways. For example, one of the major themes in Raised by Wolves is also an area of significant debate in developmental psychology: the whole question of nature versus nurture. How much of who we are is based on our biology/genetics/innate personality? How much of it is learned from our environment? Or, in Bryn’s case, as a human raised by werewolves, what parts of her are still fully human, and in what ways is she more like her adopted family? I think this is a question Bryn asks herself constantly, because she’s simultaneously very aware of the fact that she’s not a werewolf and the fact that she doesn’t quite fit in around other humans either. She’s caught between two worlds, and nature and nurture are forever battling it out in her head.
Q. Can you tell us about your essay for the upcoming Smart Pop Vampire Diaries book, A Visitor’s Guide to Mystic Falls?
A. Sure! My essay is called “Sweet Caroline,” and it’s a deeper look at Caroline’s character. I think she’s seriously underestimated, both by the other characters on the show and by the audience, so I had a lot of fun writing a grand defense of the “shallow end of the kiddie pool” to both of the above.
Q. What authors or books have influenced your own writing?
A. I read nearly constantly, and I think most of what I read (or watch on television, for that matter) ends up influencing me in one way or another. For Raised by Wolves, I think I was really influenced by a variety of writers writing werewolf books for adults, starting with Kelley Armstrong, whose Women of the Otherworld series is one of my all-time favorites. For more general influences, I’d say that Joss Whedon is a huge one–no matter what form he’s writing in (TV, comics, web-shorts), he’s an incredible storyteller who writes high concept that is, at the end of the day, character-driven, and that’s definitely something that I strive for in my own writing.
Q. What are you working on now?
A. I just finished the first draft of Trial by Fire, and now I’m waiting on revision notes and working on my next book, Every Other Day, which is the story of a teenage demon hunter whose powers only work every other day, leaving her vulnerable to the supernatural the second her abilities click off.
Q. If you could tell us to read one book this year (other than Raised by Wolves) what would it be?
A. I have a really hard time when people tell me to pick just one book. I read constantly, so at any given moment, I have a ton of recommendations! Some of my most recent favorite YA reads are The Demon’s Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan, which is the sequel to The Demon’s Lexicon and somehow manages to do everything that a middle book in a trilogy needs to do, while still being just as intriguing and compelling as the first book. Also, Mistwood by Leah Cypess, which has one of the most awesome protagonists I’ve read in a long time–I love watching not-quite-human characters struggle with the ways they are and are not human, and the author handled that, and the resulting romance and emotional development, so very well.