Seven Questions with Jennifer Willis

Today’s guest is Jennifer Willis, author of Valhalla, and editor of the 2014 Northwest Independent Writers’ Association anthology, Underground. Brave and unwavering, today she’ll challenge my seven deadly questions.

Hi Jennifer, welcome.

 Thanks! I’m happy to be here. I accept your challenge, and raise you a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Half-Baked.


1) When we first met, you were signing copies of your novel Valhalla in downtown Hillsboro. Would you tell us a little bit about your book series?

 You know, this is probably the question I dislike the most because I’m terrible at describing my own work. But for you, I’ll give it a shot. Valhalla is a YA, urban fantasy series set mostly in Portland, Oregon (also in Norway, Ireland, and the Three Sisters Wilderness). It’s about the old Norse gods—Thor, Heimdall, Freya, Odin, et al.—having to work regular jobs because their power and immortality are waning. And, of course, they have to save the world in spectacular and unobtrusive ways. There’s also a teenage witch running around, and Loki is a constant presence. It’s magickal mayhem! The tag line: “Hilarity ensues.”


 2) You’ve been a career writer for several years now, what advice would you share with writers aspiring to achieve a similar goal?

Do something else. My own path might be more of a cautionary tale than a source of inspiration. The people who hit it big are few and far between. Make sure you’ve got a steady income outside of writing—or are doing tech/business writing to pay the bills. My “side gig” has been journalism, and that industry is still precarious at best. Win the lottery. Marry a bazillionaire. And always remind yourself of why and for whom you write. If it’s to tell stories, that’s great! Want to change the world? Also awesome, but make sure you’re not taking yourself too seriously. Want to be famous and fly around on your own private jet? Try inventing the next big tech darling instead.


 3) What scares you?

 I don’t like clowns, or balloons—they’re just a loud, sudden noise waiting to happen. But I’m more concerned about wasting my life. I’ve had some fairly amazing experiences so far—SCUBA diving, safaris in Kenya, skydiving, bellydancing on MTV, touring Egyptian ruins, working in Ireland as a journalist, visiting the Soviet Union in winter (!), and meeting and talking with some extraordinary people from all walks of life. I’ve also survived some pretty hairy and life-threatening situations and I struggle daily with chronic illness, so it hasn’t all been rosy. But, damn! I can’t really complain. For the most part, life has been wonderful and rich, and I just want to make sure I’m being constructive and generous with the time I have left.


 4) Why do you write the genre(s) you do?

 My rabbi once described me as someone who seeks to reveal enchantment in the world, and I think that’s a decent explanation for why I write (mostly) urban fantasy. I’m drawn to the idea that there’s much more to our mundane surroundings than first meets the eye, and that magickal adventure truly could be lurking around shadowy corners. I also love the absurdity of life. I often find humor where others don’t—and I get some strange looks as a result—but I know this colors my work in ways that surprise and entertain even myself.


 5) I’ve heard it said that writers are sane because they get their daily stresses out in storytelling. What do you think? Truth or bullshit?

 Total bullshit.

 Writers are crazy. Or at least strange. I know I’m pretty weird. Who in their right mind would sequester themselves in a dark cubby all day to craft stories which may not ever see the light of day? If you’re one of these afflicted few, I recommend a lava lamp. It really does brighten things up a bit.


 6) Tell us one thing about yourself that no one would guess by just meeting you. Careful, this slope is slippery.

 I have joined and quit Mensa twice. I was offered a scholarship by MIT to study astronautical engineering. Apparently, I’m quite smart. But when interacting with new people, I’m awkward and self-conscious and probably come across as a complete nincompoop. There’s a reason I prefer the written word.


 7) The zombie apocalypse arrives: who do you want on your response team?

 Someone with a can opener.

  Did I win? Or am I the one buying the ice cream?




 Thor struggled to get comfortable in the worn, mission-style chair at the end of the table. He was coming to the realization that he was simply too large for conventional furniture. Grunting and flushing red, he wedged himself between the oak armrests. He heaved a sigh, and the chair frame creaked in protest.

Loki settled into a simple rocking chair on the other side of the coffee table. “Something in the air didn’t feel quite right.” He poured himself a cup of tea then chewed thoughtfully on an apple slice and rocked slowly. “That, and the fact that my postman yesterday got halfway to my mailbox, then suddenly stripped naked and dashed off into the woods screaming. Left the whole hill’s mail just sitting in the dirt.”

“Berserker,” Thor grunted.

Loki responded with an unconcerned nod.

Bragi put down his cup of coffee and leaned forward in his chair. “So, what did you do?”

Loki pursed his lips and glanced out the window at the brightening morning sky. “I picked up the mail and delivered it myself.”

“YOU WHAT?!” Thor tried to launch himself out of his seat, but the chair gripped his broad hips and wouldn’t let go. He tried to stand, but managed only to lift the chair a couple of inches off the hardwood floor and then slam it back down again when he gave up.

“You’ve got a bloody Berserker running around your yard, and all you think to do is deliver the mail?!” Thor’s face and neck burned beet red, his large hands clenching the armrests and threatening to pull the chair to pieces.

Loki raised a hand. “Would you please try to keep your temper in check? I’m afraid you will be the death of my furniture. Handmade, you know.”

Thor looked to Frigga for help, and it took a second for him to register the glimmer in her eye and the hint of a smirk at the corners of her mouth. Loki was baiting Thor. It worked every time.

Frigga nibbled at the edge of a biscuit and exclaimed in delight. “Loki! When did you learn to bake like this? You’ll have to give me the recipe.”

Loki nodded. “Of course. I got that recipe from my neighbor, Jane. We have kind of an informal exchange up here—the people who live on this hill.” He smirked at Thor. “We call ourselves the Mountain Cottage Wives. I’ve given them the old recipes for oatcakes and what the ladies are calling Viking Barley Bread, and I’ve come close to mastering fruit pies and scones. I also make a mean buffalo chili.”

Thor eyed the plates of fruit and baked goods with skepticism, then leaned back in his chair, which squealed again under the strain.

“There really was the Berserker, though.” Loki took a long sip of hot tea. “But there wasn’t anything for me to do. I figured that was more your department.”






TWITTER: @jenwillis



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