Danielle L. Jensen is a woman who knows her craft, embracing the slow burn love affair to take the publishing world by storm. Not only did she burst onto the scene with the 2014 release of Stolen Songbird, the first novel in the best-selling Malediction trilogy, but her works have continued to inspire audiences with each subsequent release.
Averaging a novel per year since her debut, Jensen is a powerhouse, embracing mythology and romance, weaving them into her own brand of heartstopping fantasy. Her latest release, Dark Shores, releases May 2019 from Tor Teen and is a tale of forbidden secrets and epic conquests reminiscent of the Roman Empire at the height of its reign. Nerd Daily contributor, Tasha Leigh had the privilege of interviewing Jensen on all things publishing and Dark Shores ahead of its official release.
I just want to say what an honour it is to be doing this interview with you. I was a massive fan of the Malediction series and couldn’t wait to get my hands on your May release, Dark Shores.
So, you burst onto the scene in 2014 with Stolen Songbird, the first of the USA Today Best Selling Malediction series and have had a new release every year since. Do you work on a single title at once? Or do you work on various manuscripts at one time?
Prior to being published, I worked on only one manuscript at a time, but once I signed a book deal that wasn’t an option anymore! I’m often jumping back and forth between drafting sequels and the editorial on prior novels in the series, and now that I’m working on two series simultaneously (Dark Shores & The Bridge Kingdom), I move back and forth between worlds, which is a far more challenging thing. Especially when I’m drafting, I prefer to do a deep dive into the world so that all my thoughts are focused on that particular story and characters. Having to flip back and forth sometimes means that the scenes that are consuming my headspace don’t always belong to the story I’m working on, which can be frustrating.
Do you have any habits/rituals you undertake during the writing process (e.g. No TV during editing, meeting a word/time goal every day, specific research processes for your characters)?
My only true ritual is that I must waste a terrible amount of time puttering about the Internet before I actually do any real work!
For better or for worse, I am not the most structured writer. I have three days a week where my kids are in childcare and those are when I get most of my work done, plus I do a fair bit of work in the evenings. What I work on is dictated by level of urgency and deadlines, and I split my time between drafting/editorial and marketing/administration.
When I’m working on a first draft, I don’t tend to read much fiction, because I find it distracts me from my own stories and characters in a way that television doesn’t. As far as research goes, my plots/characters dictate my research needs rather than the other way around. I find when I do a lot of research prior to writing a scene that my writing becomes clunky and weighted down by facts that I’m trying to force on the page. I find it works better for me to write based on my imagination and then research and edit the scene afterward.
You always have a touch (or a lot) of romance within your novels. Do you write and plan out the underlying love interest first or write the overarching story before injecting your signature brand of slow burn?
I’d say they evolve together as I write, but my priority is always the romance plot arc. Creating a romance that my readers invest in is my primary goal and is what I spend most of my time on, because so much goes into it. It’s really the perfect storm of character development, worldbuilding, plotting, and pacing, and if I don’t get it right, it will ruin the novel for the reader, no matter how well I do the other elements. As far as what “right” means, I write stories that speak to me as a reader, so all the elements that go into building the romance are things that appeal to me. But that doesn’t mean they will be right for everyone.
Your novels always have such intricate and well thought out worldbuilding, regardless of their setting. What sort of research do you generally undergo prior to writing?
I started to type none, because that’s certainly true for The Malediction Trilogy and The Bridge Kingdom series, but Dark Shores is somewhat different as I did draw heavily on aspects of Ancient Rome when I created the Celendor Empire. But using the word research is misleading, because it makes my process sound more structured and academic than it was. The truth is, I went through a phase where I read a lot of historical fiction based on Ancient Rome, as well as watched a lot of movies/television based on that time period. I was fascinated with all things Rome, especially Julius Caesar, so when the characters and plot of Dark Shores rose out of my subconscious it wasn’t surprising to me that they lived within a Rome-inspired setting. I would say my first draft was based almost entirely on what existed in my brain from consuming fiction, and that my true research began when I started to layer on denser worldbuilding in subsequent drafts. Even then, I only used historical facts when they suited my characters and plot, and I had no compunctions against deviating from history when it served my purpose.
I had the absolute privilege of reading Dark Shores prior to its May release date and I have to say, it is absolutely amazing. A lot of authors say their stories ‘sieze them’ and refuse to let go. Was this a long time in the making? Or a sudden stroke of genius that turned into the amazing fantasy it has become?
Thank you so much for your kind words!! I started writing in the Dark Shores world in 2007, so it has definitely been a LONG time in the making. This world and its characters have a hold on me like none other, which was what allowed me to keep writing and rewriting this story until it reached the point it is at today. Marcus, in particular, has been a passion project of character development, and I personally consider him to be the most complex character I’ve ever created.
Now, I mentioned earlier about your in-depth worldbuilding and noticed throughout Dark Shores that any time Cassius and his army got involved in the story, it felt very Roman Empire. What made you choose to base your hierarchy around this point in time?
The biggest reason is that I really like anything to do with Ancient Rome! It also felt a bit fresher than writing in a world based on typical Western European influences, although I’m far from done with kings and kingdoms.
I absolutely loved the idea that you humanised the graduates of Campus Lescendor and gave each their own personality. Was Marcus’s ascent to superiority always planned to progress in the same way?
Yes, he has always existed in my mind as he is now, which is as the legatus (commander) of his legion. A trope common to YA is the protagonist’s climb to the top or to power. With Marcus, I was more interested in taking a character who has already made that climb, but is now in the position of discovering what he will or will not do with that power.
The separation of Celendor and the ‘Dark Shores’ of Arinoquia extends not only to physical distance across the Endless Sea but also the cultural customs. You have spoken previously about the Roman Empire being an inspiration for Celendor. Was there a historical inspiration for Arinoquia and its system of Gods?
Before I answer that, I’ll provide a bit of an explanation of the world for those who haven’t read the novel. Dark Shores takes place in a world called Reath, which is the name of the planet itself. The eastern hemisphere has one large continent that is broken up into multiple provinces that make up the Celendor Empire. The western hemisphere, which the Celendor Empire knows as the Dark Shores, is made up of two large continents containing a multitude of different nations, of which Arinoquia is one. While the East is unified by the Empire, the West is unified by their worship of the six higher gods, who are characters, not unseen entities. But beyond having the same gods, all the nations of the West are diverse in both race and culture, which readers will see more of in the sequels.
All that said, the people of Arinoquia take some very light inspiration from Britannia and Gaul as they were during Ancient Roman times, but are primarily a product of my imagination, as are the other nations of the West. I can’t say much for the sake of spoilers, but there are civilizations within the Dark Shores that more than rival the Celendor Empire and I’m very excited for readers to discover them.
Marcus and Teriana are the main characters and the unlikely lovers. Theirs is a tale of stubbornness and slow changing of opinions. If you had to make any two other characters lovers, who would they be?
This is a very difficult question to answer without spoilers, because I do have other romantic relationships planned!
As I mentioned before, Teriana and Marcus are the main lovers but I absolutely loved the loyalty and relationship between Miki and Quintus. Do you feel that relationships between non-heterosexual couples are lacking in the Young Adult genre?
It is definitely lacking, although there has been enormous progress made in recent years. Authors are coming to understand that creating realistic worlds means moving away from casts of characters who are all white and heterosexual. What has been slower to come is the understanding that it isn’t just a matter of dropping people of different races and sexualities into a story and calling it a day. It’s something that needs to be done with care and respect, particularly when the author is not Own Voices.
Teriana has a strong relationship to her mother, Captain Tesya, and Aunt Yedda and regardless of circumstances that befall any of them, has an unrelenting care and respect for them. Can we expect more of these ladies in further instalments of the series?
Teriana has had a very positive upbringing and she absolutely has a strong relationship with both her mother and her aunt, who are her role models. While readers can expect to see more of them in the future, part of Teriana’s character development is her growing up and coming into her own without their constant support and guidance in the decisions she must make.
So, final question. Do you have any advice for anyone looking to get into the world of publishing?
In order to stay in publishing for the long haul, you really have to love writing. Worry less about the advice everyone flings out on the Internet and find a process that you enjoy.
Fiction or nonfiction? Fiction
Plotter or pantser? Pantser
Favourite bookish trope? Enemies to lovers and antiheros
Least favourite bookish trope? “It was all a dream” endings
Coffee or tea? Tea
Pizza or pasta? Pizza
Beach holiday or hiking in the bush? Beach. It’s hard to hike and read.
Convention crowds or smaller signings? Smaller signings
Sunny or rainy? Sunny
If you could pick a single holiday destination for the rest of your life, where would it be? Costa Rica
Music, books or Netflix – you can only pick 2? Books and Netflix
If you could recommend five authors to the general public that are must reads, who would they be? I tend to fall for books rather than authors, so I’m going to list my five most recent five star reads:
Leigh Bardugo – Six of Crows
Maggie Stiefvater – Scorpio Races
Pierce Brown – Red Rising
Justina Ireland – Dread Nation
Mackenzie Lee –The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue
Dark Shores is available from May 7th from Tor Teen and is available from all good book retailers. If you are interested, you can find my review here