#YourNextBeachRead is a way to introduce you to a new author and their works in the hopes that you’ll find the next book you want to take with you to the beach, the pool, or the comforts of air conditioning.
Today’s featured author is Kenzie Jennings, author of Reception.
What’s your name (or pen name) and where are you from?
I’m Kenzie Jennings, and I live in Central Florida. Honestly, I’m not from anywhere in particular having grown up a military brat. I always say “Florida” when asked where I’m from because it’s my state of residence, and as of now, I’ve been living there for almost 20 years.
How long have you been writing? How did you start?
I’ve been writing since I was eleven. I loved storytelling and the movies, so I spent a good portion of my younger years studying the craft of screenwriting. Later on, I had a little bit of good luck with it, having optioned a couple of screenplays. I don’t know why I stopped screenwriting. It could’ve been anything from disgust with Hollywood’s cheap seduction (I was wooed enough to foolishly believe that my work would be greenlit at some point) to the fact I’d other pressing matters – an ugly divorce, graduate school, bills to pay, etc. I hadn’t stopped writing though. Throughout my adult life, I’ve written articles, short stories, reviews, (terrible) poetry, comedy sketches (that’s a long story, too), and so on. It wasn’t until the last decade when I took my writing career seriously again. I just never thought I’d find more creative satisfaction (and professional & personal connections) in writing novels, of all things.
Who are some of your influences?
Currently, my influences include Bentley Little and his social horror; Jeff Strand and his humor in horror (and the general structure of his best novels); and such authors as Elizabeth Massie, Lucy Taylor, and Monica O’Rourke for showing me there are no restrictions for women horror authors either, that I can write whatever “horror” I want, especially the beautifully grotesque, disturbing horror.
What is your book about?
Reception is about a tense wedding, already burdened with heavy family drama, going completely off the rails when, during the reception, the groom’s family reveals themselves to be cannibals.
Where did you get the idea?
I was inspired to write about the place where my baby sister got married. It was a run-down “resort” (if one were to call it that with a straight face) out in the middle of Texas hill country where, if you didn’t have a car, you were essentially out of luck since there was nothing else for miles out there. I warned her I was going to write a horror story about it, or at least about a place like it, and have it centered around a wedding, too.
How long did it take you to finish it?
About a year and that includes rewrites. I changed the ending three times. When I finally settled on one, I had to go back and make some significant changes throughout. I don’t normally like the editing/revising step of the process, but because I enjoyed the ending I came up with so much, it was kind of fun to go back and change things in the novel.
Is this your first book, or have you written more than one?
This is my third book. I wrote the first, a terrible domestic noir psycho-thriller set in Tokyo, back when I just wanted to try it out and didn’t know what I was doing. The second book—Jayne, Juxtaposed—is a chick-lit superhero novel that I wrote roughly over the span of 5 years. It was going to be published by a small press around 2017. However, the publisher had a bit of a crisis and is now on hiatus from publishing novels. Reception, my debut, is my third, obviously.
We all like to write about people we know, even if we never name them. Who are some people who inspired characters or situations?
Reception’s protagonist, Ansley Boone, is suffering from benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome, an affliction I’ve had since I’d been overprescribed (and then too quickly weaned off) Lorazepam years ago. She’d also suffered some significant heartbreak, something many of us can relate to, but instead of handling it with some dignity and self-respect, like normal people, she assaulted someone, which is at the crux of what goes on in the deeper aspects of Reception.
What’s your favorite scene in the book?
The wedding reception scene, of course. It was the first scene I actually wrote, but it doesn’t appear until midway through the novel. My screenwriting background helped quite a bit with this since it’s full of action.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you ever got?
“Always know your audience.” My screenwriting mentor once told me this, and it has stuck with me since. If you don’t know your audience—in other words, if you don’t know whom you’re writing for—everything about what you’re writing will be affected. It’s also good advice to follow when communicating with anyone anyway.
What’s the worst?
“Write every day.” It’s the singularly worst piece of advice for anyone like me who can write only whenever he or she has something to actually write about. I have to be inspired, or else I’m just babbling on the page, filling it with empty prose that will inevitably be slashed anyway. I understand that writing is a skill that takes constant practice, but one doesn’t need to write every single day in order to practice.
Now if you’re writing under contract and on a deadline…well, that’s another matter entirely.
Where can we buy your book?
Kenzie Jennings is an English professor currently residing and sweltering in the humid tourist hub of central Florida. She has written pieces for a handful of news and entertainment publications and literary magazines throughout the years. Back when she was young and impetuous, she had two screenplays optioned by a couple of production companies, but her screenwriting career ended there, and she hasn’t looked back since. Reception is her debut novel.