Today we are thrilled to be a stop on the blog tour for The Fixer by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. In case you missed it, I reviewed it here and talked about how much I loved this book. Jennifer was nice enough to take some time out of her busy schedule (she’s a psychology professor and an author with TWO books coming out this year) to answer some of our questions:
Where did the idea for The Fixer come from?
I have a mild obsession with television shows set in Washington DC. The West Wing, Scandal, House of Cards–I love them all. One clue that I’m a YA writer is that whenever I love a show or book about adults, I think, “The only thing that would make this better is teenagers!” With my previous series, The Naturals, I had gone in with the deliberate goal of writing the young adult version of a police procedural (like CSI, NCIS, Bones, The Mentalist, and so many others). As I was branching out from The Naturals, I knew I wanted to write another thriller series, so I decided to try my hand at the young adult version of a political thriller. The question, of course, then became how I as a writer could put teenage protagonists in the thick of it in Washington, and I decided that the most interesting setting for the book would be the school that the children of all the major political players attend.
The Fixer is set in DC. You obviously did some research (or have experience), since you know DC drivers can be aggressive! What kind of research did you have to do for this book? And how do you pick the settings for your books?
My very first experience in DC was my junior year in high school. I participated in a leadership conference that involved spending a week in DC, meeting politicians, and participating in mock-versions of various parts of the political process. I went back as an adult and experienced the city in a very different way, but from both perspectives, I found it fascinating. In terms of research, one of the things that I did try to get a real flavor for was the type of school that someone like Tess might attend. Ultimately, the Hardwicke School ended up equally inspired by some private schools in DC and my own private high school. I also ended up spending a lot of time as I was writing the Fixer series immersing myself in details. What do invitations to a State Dinner look like? What’s the layout of the White House? What would a funeral be like for a Supreme Court justice? Who has a Secret Service detail and who doesn’t?
The Fixer is really the first book I’ve ever written where I felt like the setting was absolutely integral to the story I wanted to tell. Very early on in the book’s life, before I’d sold it to a publisher, someone asked me if I would consider writing it set in a different town and taking out the political angle, and I could not do it! For me, telling a teen story in a world that people usually don’t associate with teenagers was something I very much wanted to do.
Tess and Ivy have a very complicated relationship. Without giving too much away, can you talk about what inspired that?
At any given time, I am always playing around with four or five book ideas, so back when I started brainstorming for Fixer, it was competing with several other story ideas. And the moment that I knew that I had to write this book instead of one of the others was the moment when I realized that the story kicked off with Tess going to live with older sister. I love sibling stories, and I have always, going back to The Outsiders and my Party of Five watching days, particularly loved the trope of teenagers being in the legal custody of their older siblings. The dynamic of the Tess/Ivy relationship is one of the most emotionally intense and complicated things that I’ve ever written. I wanted the two of them to, at the same time, feel practically like strangers and be deeply emotionally entangled with each other. No one can hurt Tess like Ivy, and no one can hurt Ivy like Tess. They love each other fiercely, but there are a lot of old wounds that haven’t healed on both sides—some of them hidden.
Tess starts the book trying to keep her emotional distance from Ivy. Their parents died so long ago that Tess barely remembers them. Even though she only saw Ivy a few times a year growing up, Tess practically worshipped her when she was younger. But one thing that’s established fairly early on in the book is that when Tess was twelve, Ivy invited Tess to move in with her. Tess accepted. And then she woke up the next morning, and Ivy was gone. The move-in never happened. Ivy pulled out of Tess’s life in a major way, and Tess spent a lot of time waiting for Ivy to come back. In the years since, she’s given up waiting.
I can always see bits and pieces of myself in a book after I’m finished, and the image of Tess adoring Ivy and wanting to be just like her and waiting and waiting for her to come back because she promised is one I can, on some level, relate to. When I was in middle school, I became really close to one of my coaches. She used to call me her honorary little sister. She even lived with my family for a short time. One summer, after we’d been close for two or three years, she went away to work at a summer camp in another state. She sent back letters and pictures, telling me how she couldn’t wait to see her “little sis” again… and then she never came back. The last letter I ever got from her said something like “I get home in two weeks, think of something special for us to do!” And I never heard from her or saw her again.
She wasn’t much more than a kid herself at the time, and to this day, I still adore her for how kind she was to me at a pretty hard time in my life. But I thought about that summer a lot while I was developing Tess’s character. What if the person who hadn’t come back had been my actual sister? What if instead of saying she couldn’t wait to hang out, she’d invited me to live with her? What if I woke up the next morning, and she was just gone? What if she was one of the only family members I had left? What if she never came back, and I never knew why? Then I had to turn the situation around and view it from Ivy’s perspective. Why had she invited Tess to live with her? Why had she left? What could have possibly motivated her to back away, when she deeply loves Tess? And what doesn’t Tess know?
You write very complex mysteries that always keep me guessing until the end. What kind of planning do you do in advance or while you’re writing to get everything to fit together so well?
When I’m writing thrillers, I do quite a bit of planning up front. I think I know exactly where I’m going, but some of the most shocking twists in my books have been things that surprised me, too. I’ll have a plan in mind, but then, when I’m in the process of writing, I constantly re-read what I’ve written, and I put my reader hat on and think, “Oh my gosh, what if that random thing I just wrote is actually a clue? What if there’s a reason that person is acting weird? What if, what if, what if…” and then the plot twists and turns from there.
If you could have lunch with a character from The Fixer, who would it be and why?
This is a really hard question. I’m tempted to pick either Asher (who has a fondness for explosions) or Vivvie (whose go-to method for cheering people up is recapping her favorite “horror movie and/or romance novel” for them), but I think I’m ultimately going to go with one of the adult characters. Bodie is Ivy’s “driver.” He’s also her personal security and designated law breaker. He’s irreverent, potentially morally questionable, and loyal to the extreme. And he’s better with Tess than pretty much any of the other adults.
You have two books coming out within just a few months of each other in 2015: The Fixer and All In, which is the third book in the Naturals series (wow!). How long does it typically take you to write a book?
I can usually write a first draft in 8-10 weeks, but I need at least two months to do each round of revision. Last summer, the final version of Fixer was due in late May, the first draft of All In was due July 1st, and the first draft of the second Fixer book was due September 1st. It was a busy summer!
What are you working on right now?
I just finished working on a scientific paper that looks at whether or not watching television shows like The West Wing or Lost increases your ability to read emotions. But since you’re probably talking about fiction, I’ll say that I recently finished copy edits on the second book in the Fixer series, and I’m currently working on the first draft of Naturals #4.
Quick question: what are some of your favorite books you’ve read in the past year?
I recently read and loved An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. Another stand-out favorite from the past year is The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, which I’ve already read twice and which just gets better every time. Thriller-wise, I devoured Carrie Ryan’s Daughter of Deep Silence and Matt de la Pena’s The Living. And I’m currently in the middle of The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, and that book lingers with me every time I put it down.
Thank you so much to Jennifer Lynn Barnes for taking the time to give us some incredible answers!
Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour stops.