Danielle Jensen- Resident Mastermind
Is there any doubt at this point? From Dark Shores to now Dark Skies and wait, what is this? Gilded Serpent? Yep, we will get to that in a minute, relax! Jensen’s mind, creativity and imagination is as expansive as the ever-growing world and timelines in the Dark Shores universe. I mentioned it in my review of Dark Skies (linked above), and I’m going to say it again. I just keep picturing this guy, when I picture Jensen writing:
How does she even keep everything straight? Not only straight but on the right timetable to reunite it all. And then there is the entirety of this growing universe. It just doesn’t stop growing. It is insane. The depth of detail, the unique feel of every new place that is encountered by each character. They are distinct, developed and never just glossed over. Nothing suffers because of the sheer amount of places that Jensen’s world encompasses.
All of this is what drove my questions for this interview and I didn’t know what to expect in return. Maybe she wanted to keep her secrets to success to herself. Lots of it could be embargoed and not to be spoken of, yet. Then I received the answers and was completely blown away. Jensen spilled all the tea. She spilled my tea, her tea, your tea. She spilled so much tea that it was like the the Boston Tea Party! So, let’s get to it, shall we?
1) Did you know from the beginning that this series wouldn’t be the traditional “series” but would run in the same world and follow different characters? Can you elaborate… i.e. if not, when did you know and why?
I’m probably not supposed to share this, but originally DARK SHORES and DARK SKIES were one very long, complicated book with all four points of view. At the time my agent was trying to sell this series, publishers were looking for first in series fantasy novels of shorter length (<100k words). So, the size and complexity wasn’t something publishers were interested in. Note: big bestselling authors don’t have this same sort of restriction on length.
Because the two major plot lines of the novel made it suitable to do so, we were able to split the novel into two pieces: one that followed Marcus & Teriana (SHORES) and one that followed Lydia & Killian (SKIES). While the original decision was a business decision, I don’t regret walking this path. Having the first part of the story split in two allowed readers to focus and connect with each pair of characters, as well as to understand the two antagonistic forces (the Empire & the Corrupter) more fully.
I think it also improved the pacing of the story by dividing the extensive world building and setup of the political intrigue into two parts. This also allowed readers to get to the action and exciting parts more swiftly. We’d originally planned to publish SHORES and SKIES closer together. Sometimes even the best laid plans don’t quite work out as one would hope!
2) Will the next book return to the plot in Dark Shores?
GILDED SERPENT has all four points of view (Marcus, Teriana, Killian, and Lydia), so it carries on the plots of both SHORES and SKIES! It’s a chunky book and I LOVE it! Romance! Action! Intrigue! And the villains grow even nastier in this one!
3) Will there be additional story lines/characters in this series/world?
There will be no new point of view characters, but there will most certainly be new secondary characters and subplots. It’s both a blessing and a curse but I’m addicted to adding in subplots—especially ones revolving around secondary characters. And I REALLY like bringing in characters from the protagonists’ past, especially Marcus & Lydia’s pasts.
4) At any point will these stories merge into a final, epic last book?
Absolutely. Worlds and characters and plots will all collide in a glorious finale!
Thank you to Ms. Jensen for being so gracious with her time and such a spectacularly amazing person to get to know!
5) Are you writing them in separate entities, or simultaneously- do you outline one of them while writing the other, or have them both in mind to keep certain settings (both time and place) synced up etc?
For GILDED SERPENT, I wrote Marcus and Teriana’s half first and then moved to Lydia & Killian’s half. I do this primarily to keep character voices from blending into each other, but also because I find I create better content when I’m wholly immersed in one pair or another, particularly when it comes to the romance. I don’t like working from written outlines, but I have the critical plot beats outlined in my head, so I know where I’m going at all times, if not exactly how I’m going to get there.
Instead, I like to discover those in-between pieces as I write. Once I have a first draft, I go back through and rewrite or alter as needed to fix inconsistencies, flesh out character and setting, and to refine the plot. I think of each draft as an exercise of layering detail and nuance until I have on paper what I imagined in my head.
6) You have said this is the biggest undertaking that you have ever attempted? Is there more to it than the books themselves that we can anticipate? Or more to this than what I’ve asked about that is beyond the scope of my understanding, lol, that you can share?
I said that when SHORES was published, but I think only now that my readers have SKIES in their hands do they understand what I meant. The Dark Shores world a.k.a. Reath, isn’t just a handful of kingdoms, but an entire planet with so so so many nations and cultures and settings, which has been an incredible challenge for me, because I consider setting my greatest weakness. It also has a cast of characters that is double the size of my other series, and keeping all of those secondary characters relevant and part of the plot is tremendously difficult.
With all these characters, my subplot addiction is having a field day, so keeping them straight and ensuring that I wrap them all up is going to be… interesting. This series was inspired by my love for lengthy adult epic fantasy series, and my goal was to reach for the scope of those series while remaining true to the pacing and character focus that I love about YA.
I would like to interject that when I read that Jensen consider’s setting her greatest weakness? My immediate reaction was:
7) I have really loved the trend of books inspired by Ancient Rome and/or Greece that have been coming out. Can you talk a bit about what made you go in that direction for your amazing world-building?
The Celendor Empire, which is the dominant nation of the eastern half of Reath, is inspired by Ancient Rome. The reason for that is twofold. One, I love anything to do with Ancient Rome—it is my favorite historical time period. Two, Rome was a civilization fixated with conquest and control and power, and that provided me with a lot of material for Celendor, which is also fixated on conquest and control and power.
8) On the same note as above, bring me all the meddling Gods! Where did that inspiration come from and begin forming as such a huge part of this world? I don’t want to spoil anything.
The gods weren’t inspired by any particular culture, but I always envisioned them as characters rather than as beliefs, if that makes sense. There are parallels all over the place in this series: human evil (Lucius Cassius) vs. fantastical evil (the Corrupter). Human strengths (Marcus & Teriana) vs. fantastical gifts (Killian & Lydia). The gods were the source of the fantastical that best fit the story I wanted to tell.
9) Teriana and Marcus are forced to make some really hellacious decisions, where neither answer is the right answer. What would you to say about those kind of themes in Dark Skies?
That tends to be a theme in all my novels. I find giving characters the choice to do something that is right on every level boring, because that’s an easy decision. I want every choice to have significant consequences, so that making the decision is hard. All my characters want to do the right thing. All of them want to protect the people they love. But I don’t want that to be a simple, unconflicted thing for them, because what would be the fun in that?
10) For those who haven’t had the experience of reading a book that is set in the same world as the “first book” but isn’t a direct sequel- can you explain why/how they shouldn’t be afraid to jump in and start with Dark Skies, if they haven’t read Dark Shores?
I think some readers struggle a bit with this structure because they fall in love with one set of characters and want to continue with their story immediately rather than having to walk in the shoes of another set of characters. As an author, I’m asking readers to trust me with their time on the promise that following both sets of characters will ultimately yield a world and story that is worth the investment. I’m not alone in the YA world with trying to achieve the complexity of world-building and cast-building found in adult fantasy epics while maintaining the pacing of YA fantasy, but I think what is universal to all of us is a readership that is willing to commit to story that will challenge them.
11) How can readers find you on the internet for virtual book tours/promos during the launch of Dark Skies?
*I linked all mentioned in this answer so that you can go find her!*
12) If there is anything you’ve ever wanted to say or a message you want to send, advice you want to give but I haven’t asked the right question… please feel free to land it right here! The “mic” is yours!
We’ll be sharing the cover and synopsis for GILDED SERPENT in June, and the book itself is planned for March 2021. But on top of that, I also have another really exciting plan for this series that I’ll be sharing in another couple months that I think fans of Marcus will be REALLY happy to hear. So stay tuned for that!Just After The Release Of Dark Skies, Danielle Jensen Spilled The Tea On Gilded Serpent (Dark Shores #3) AND A WHOLE NEW SERIES!