Jenn: The First Adventure

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As part of our Medieval Studies unit in fifth grade, we had a reading project where we were divided into groups to read one book each of The Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce. For those unfamiliar with the series, it’s about a girl who disguises herself as a boy so that she can become a knight. My group was assigned the first book of the quartet, Alanna: The First Adventure.

I fell in love. Alanna quickly became my favorite heroine. She didn’t take crap from anyone, including boys that were bigger and stronger than her. She dreamed big, and had the willpower to go after her dreams, even with society telling her to sit down and shut up.

We had a dress up day for the Medieval Unit. The other girls went as ladies; I went as a squire.

After I finished Alanna, I devoured the rest of the books. Then I went to the library and found Tamora Pierce’s next quartet, The Immortals. Today, I own all of her books — including her short story anthology, even though I don’t generally like short stories. And almost every year, I go back and read her entire library.

What keeps me going back after all these years? The characters. The plots. The world-building. The humor. The pure inspiration.

From her books I launched into the rest of the fantasy genre, with classics like Dealing with Dragons, Ella Enchanted, and The Hobbit. I’ve never looked back.

To say Tamora Pierce has influenced my writing is a huge understatement. She’s practically driven it. I learned that young adult fiction isn’t just for teens, that all magic comes with a price, and that there are many kinds of strength.


Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

Return of the Author

After several months’ absence from the blogosphere, I return with an update for my progress on Narrator.

I’ve been spending every spare minute working on revisions. It’s definitely slow-going, but I’m proud of the result. My writing group is a treasure, helping me figure out the best way to tell the story of Calder and Pennington.

If you’d like to learn more about what you’ll see in Narrator, sign up for my re-vamped email newsletter. Every other week you’ll get bonus content delivered straight to your inbox, including excerpts from the novel, behind-the-scenes information about the world, and even a character quiz!

In other news, the Tamora Pierce book for which I’ve written an essay is going to be published soon! It’s called The Queen’s Readers: A Collection of Essays on the Words & Worlds of Tamora Pierce. I’m super excited, and will — of course — let you know when it releases.

If you have any questions for me, or if there’s anything you’d like to see me cover in the blog, go ahead and leave a comment or use the contact form. Until next time!


Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

The Smiling Villain

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“That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain.” — Hamlet

I’ve always had a soft spot for the smiling villains. The ones who are charming and funny and everyone’s best friend — everyone except the hero of course. It’s one thing to fight the Big Bad that is universally declared True Evil, but it’s a completely different war when faced with the smiling villains.

Claudius is, of course, a perfect example. He was probably a charmer before murdering his brother (unlike Lion King’s Scar), so the court’s attitude toward him probably didn’t change. He did manage to win over Gertrude fairly quickly though. Hamlet is the only one in the entire court to find him suspicious, and voicing his displeasure makes him seem like a resentful, spoiled brat who hates his uncle/step-father on principle. Which only gets worse when he pretends to go mad. Nobody believes him except his best friend Horatio, and even that’s tenuous at best.

Alanna from Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness quartet faces a similar problem with Duke Roger, a powerful sorcerer and cousin to the prince. Everyone loves Roger. They trust him, confide in him, rely on him to protect his extended family. And because everyone implicitly trusts him, Alanna can’t reveal her suspicions to the prince. With only two allies who believe her, she has to stand up to Roger without attracting attention, without drawing the anger of her friends at court.

In both cases, the hero has to fight sneakily. You can’t draw swords with the Big Bad when everyone else thinks they’re the Big Good. The heroes have virtually no support in opposing the villain. If they let their suspicions slip they’re in danger of being attacked by people who should be allies.

And that conflict is amazing.

I haven’t created a smiling villain yet for my upcoming series, but I think it would be great fun to play with. Now to find a good fit…


Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

Oh, to Be Human

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As humans, we have a pretty sweet deal. We have books. And indoor plumbing. And opposable thumbs. No wonder all of the non-humans are trying to get in on this gig.

I kid, of course. But I do enjoy a good human transformation.

Whether it’s a little mermaid wanting a pair of legs or a crow turning in his wings, each character who wants to be human is in love with one. And what really draws me to these characters is their decision to sacrifice everything they’ve known in order to be with the one they love.

The little mermaid doesn’t just give up her tail. She gives up her family, her way of life, even how she breathes. Plus, you know, her voice. So she gives up everything for the man she loves, and can’t even tell him.

In Disney’s version at least, she manages to cope pretty well with the transition. She finds her balance moderately quickly and is eager to learn everything she can about life as a human. But at least she was already used to hands and whatnot.

In Tamora Pierce’s Trickster’s Choice, Nawat the crow falls in love with Aly the human. He takes on human form to be with her, giving up his feathers and his flock, but he has a much harder time with the transition. He tries to woo Aly as a crow would, with offerings of bugs and shiny rocks — which, unsurprisingly, she doesn’t go for.

But as he learns more about humans, the more torn he becomes between his crow self and his human self. Humans don’t think the same way crows do. Humans lie and betray and play with the feelings of others. Nawat ends up sacrificing more than he bargained for when he first became human.

His love, however, carries him through. He may not think much of humans in general, but he can still believe in Aly.

And that’s what’s so great about characters becoming human. There’s that culture clash between their old world and the human world (which, as an anthropology major, I love), but there’s also a deep undercurrent of love that drives the character. All of their sacrifices, all of their differences, none of it matters because they are able to be with the one they love.

P.S. Want to know why the post’s picture is a doe? Sign up for my free newsletter (to the right, there). One of the early stories is about a doe who becomes human to — you guessed it — be with the man she loves. Edit: my newsletter has changed and this story is no longer available.


Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.