This week I’m happy to feature ABOVE WORLD, by Jenn Reese. This MG novel (first in a projected series) has a great premise!

Synopsis, from Goodreads:

Thirteen-year-old Aluna has lived her entire life under the ocean with the Coral Kampii in the City of Shifting Tides. But after centuries spent hidden from the Above World, her colony’s survival is in doubt. The Kampii’s breathing necklaces are failing, but the elders are unwilling to venture above water to seek answers. Only headstrong Aluna and her friend Hoku are stubborn and bold enough to face the terrors of land to search for way to save their people.

But can Aluna’s warrior spirit and Hoku’s tech-savvy keep them safe? Set in a world where overcrowding has led humans to adapt—growing tails to live under the ocean or wings to live on mountains—here is a ride through a future where greed and cruelty have gone unchecked, but the loyalty of friends remains true.

Jenn was also kind enough to answer some questions:

I understand that you study martial arts. What do you enjoy about it, and has anything you learned made it into your writing?

I could fill a book on this topic! I’ve written many blog entries about both of these questions over the years, many of which are no longer accessible online. Let me pick just one topic to talk about now: mindfulness.

As a writer, I’m scattered. I’m one of those people who goes to the Internet to look something up for a story, and doesn’t realize she’s spent three hours surfing until it’s too late. Distractible and prone to procrastination, that’s me.

But in martial arts, there’s no room to focus on anything except what you’re doing in that moment – the position and shape of your hand, how your weight is distributed, the angle of your spine, your breathing, your eye focus, the intent behind the thrust of your spear. Martial arts requires all of you, your entire mind, body, and spirit. It demands mindfulness.

I’d love to report that I am now a perfectly disciplined writer whose brain never gallops off in six directions at once, but sadly, that is still far from the truth. However, having now tasted those moments of pure focus, I strive harder for them. Because when you’re in that place? Oh, boy. There’s nothing more magical.

For just a few other instances of how writing and martial arts intersect for me, try these blog entries:

The Luxury of Slow

The Art of Deception

An Ode to Bruises

Mindfulness can be a very therapeutic technique–I just finished an Insight Meditation class, and I can already see a difference in my daily life and work.
ABOVE WORLD has a very unique setting. How did you build the world for it, and what do you want readers to take away from the story?

Once I realized I wanted a science fiction story that felt like an epic fantasy, and that I wanted bioengineered mythological creatures such as mermaids and harpies and centaurs, my old-school Dungeons & Dragons training kicked in. (I should probably credit my degree in archaeology, but truthfully, that degree owes its origins to D&D and Raiders of the Lost Ark!)

I taught myself to play Dungeons & Dragons when I was 12, and spent all my free time (when I wasn’t reading, of course) creating characters and designing new worlds and cultures. I had notebooks full of maps, boxes full of index cards detailing magic items and their histories. Later, before I ever started trying to write short stories or novels, I wrote histories of my characters, drew out their family trees, and sketched their armor and weapons.

So in almost every sense, the world-building for Above World was simply an extension of my early D&D training. A good friend once said, “I want to play a role-playing game set in your world,” which remains one of my favorite compliments ever.

As for what I want readers to take away from the story, I can only talk about what was important to me while I was writing — the sense that any person can make a difference in the world, the idea that your true family is the one you build for yourself through friendship, the belief that we need each other, as individuals and as communities. For the most part, I simply hope readers are entertained. Everything they get from the book beyond that is icing on the cake.

Very insightful–I’m also learning how vital communities can be, especially for writers. What are some of your favorite genres to read, and why?

I will always be a die-hard fantasy and science fiction reader. When I was young, my home life wasn’t the greatest and books were my escape from reality. In those distant worlds, a girl could be plucked from obscurity and go on to save the world. A boy could be the center of a magical prophecy. I wanted to live in a place where monsters were clearly labeled as such, and where heroes could slay them. Where a person could fight hard and actually win.

I can definitely relate! Can you tell us about other projects you’re currently working on?

I’ve just turned in revisions to the second book in the Above World series and am brainstorming for the third, which has not yet been sold. I also have a contemporary middle-grade fantasy in the works, and a YA “portal” story involving an alternate dimension.

Your portal story sounds exciting! If you were stuck on a desert island and could choose any two books to read, what would they be?

This will always be an impossible question for me as my favorite books change depending on my mood, but let’s assume that I’ll want something comforting and something challenging. For comfort, I’d take Ellen Raskin’s brilliant Newbery book, The Westing Game. I re-read this book every year and am always astonished at Raskin’s mastery of craft. The second book is trickier. Lord of the Rings is great and bears up to many re-readings, but there aren’t enough female characters. I think I’ll make up a book and take “The Collected Works of Octavia Butler.”
Thanks Jenn, for agreeing to be interviewed! ABOVE WORLD is currently available, and also be sure to check out JADE TIGER, Jenn’s Kung Fu action adventure!

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