31 Nights of Fright: An Interview with writer Kenzie Jennings

Tonight ,part two of our double entry, we have writer Kenzie Jennings

FoF: First and foremost, tell us about yourself.

KJ: I’m a military brat (and ex-wife of a serviceman). Lived that sort of weirdly nomadic lifestyle for quite a while. I’d high aspirations throughout my younger years to be a screenwriter. From my early teen years until my 20s, I intensively studied the craft with the help of a great screenwriting mentor and wrote a number of (terrible) screenplays. In my late 20s, I tried it out professionally for a couple of years – I optioned a couple of (somewhat better) spec scripts. Alas, nothing came of any of it. I got so tired of being ghosted by production companies (and a manager) that I just quit and focused solely on my grad school studies. I was in the middle of a divorce during that time, too, so any sort of creative outlet I could find would have to be something part-time and quick. After grad school, I moved down to central Florida to help out my grandparents, who, in kind, helped me too. I really needed to be taught how to do the “adult” thing since I’d been so dependent on my ex-husband. During that time, I tried out various outlets— a little bit of freelance journalism, a little bit of community theater, a little bit of improv… and I just couldn’t wholly commit to any of them. Then I began writing books…and everything changed. It was finally something I could commit to because I was on my own schedule, and I liked not having to abide by a particular format like one does when writing screenplays. Not only that, publishers are so much more straightforward than production companies.

FoF: What do you do? And why do you like it?

KJ: Besides writing, I’m an English professor at a local 4-year college. I primarily teach freshman composition, and while the workload that comes with it is a slog (All Those Papers To Grade), the actual classroom teaching aspect of it is a lot of fun. I enjoy the interaction with my students. It keeps me grounded. Not only that, I can use my holidays and summer terms for professional development – In other words, I can use that time to write and network.

FoF: Explain a little bit of your process? Where do you find your inspiration?

KJ: Lately, I’ve been inspired by things I’ve seen or even read something about (I love researching). Reception takes place during a wedding at a rundown resort in the middle of Texas hill country. The whole thing was loosely inspired by the resort where my little sister was married (just the setting, not the wedding itself…that would be pretty awful). The current WIP that will be out next year, a western horror slasher set at a station home, has antagonists somewhat inspired by what I read about the Bloody Benders, who’d been dubbed America’s first serial killer family. Another WIP that I hope to finish next year, a psychosexual horror thriller, is inspired by an opinion piece I read where the author made the claim that women could never be incels because we’re conditioned an early age to internalize and blame ourselves when we’re rejected. So, naturally, it led me to create a female incel.

FoF: What drew you to horror in the first place?

KJ: I had always been drawn to the genre in some way, but it wasn’t until relatively recently when I realized why that was. I was a kid when my father, a fairly scary man himself, saw An American Werewolf in London at the movies, and it absolutely terrified him. I’d never known him to be frightened of anything until then. The thought that there was something out there that had intrigued me. I don’t know if the genre became a talisman of sorts for me, but it can’t be a coincidence that my interest started around that time in my life.

FoF: What is your favorite horror work? (Movie, Show, Art, Book, whatever you want)

KJ:

It’s never consistent. I’ve way too many favorites.

Book: As of late, it’s been a tie between Jeff Strand’s Pressure and Bentley Little’s The Store. Pressure’s character building (it’s the story of a nice guy whose “frenemy” since childhood is a psychopath) and structure are things I’ve paid close attention to when crafting my own work. The Store was my first introduction into (adult) social horror that I could definitely relate with – big box chain stores are just awful, so it was fun to see Little turn one into something supernaturally evil.

Film: Lately, there’s been a movie that I’ve now watched several times—Terrified (Aterrados), an Argentinian haunted house movie directed by Demian Rugna. Its nonlinear structure and lack of exposition as to what was happening grabbed me and hasn’t let go of me since. It’s absolutely chilling.

FoF: What has been your favorite thing you have gotten to work on doing this?

KJ: The research involved for the splatter western has been quite intellectually involving despite the simplicity of the plot. It’s hard work keeping it reasonably authentic with certain things I’d not thought of before, like vernacular and little details like climate differences due to a low population, but it’s fascinating even still.  One of the best bits about researching for a novel while school is in session is that I’m able to research while my students are researching as well. It becomes a community activity in a way.

FoF: What role do you think your specific style of art plays in the community overall?

KJ: That’s a tough question. I hope my protagonists will resonate with readers in their voices and some of their idiosyncrasies, not in their situations though (that would be…bad).

FoF: Anything you are working on that you want to highlight? (Commissions, flash sales, new project?)

KJ: Aside from the splatter western and the horror thriller mentioned previously, Reception is coming out as a limited edition hardback with Thunderstorm Books soon. Recently, I got a peek at the interior layout. It’s fabulous!

FoF: If you could do anything with any horror franchise, what would it be?

KJ: I’m not a franchise fan, but Bentley Little’s creation of the big box chain the Store is brought up in a few of his novels (besides The Store novel), and I’d love to be able to incorporate a mention or situation in it in one of my future works. (Obviously, not the western as I’m not really into anachronisms.)

FoF: Anything else you’d like to say?

KJ: My Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/Kenzie-Jennings/e/B07P686CGD/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

Look me up on Twitter, and/or Instagram as well. Let’s connect. I’d love to hear from you!

Thank you so much to Kenzie for taking the time to interview and for another awesome chunk of writing advice.

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