Jenna Voris writes books about ambitious girls and galaxy-traversing adventures. She was born and raised in Indiana—where she learned to love roundabouts and the art of college basketball—and now calls Washington D.C. home. When she’s not writing, she can be found perfecting her road trip playlists and desperately trying to keep her houseplants alive. Made of Stars is her debut.
I had the opportunity to interview Jenna, which you can read below.
First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Hi, thanks so much for having me! I’m Jenna and my debut YA sci-fi, Made of Stars, came out in March.
What can you tell us about your debut book, Made of Stars? What was the inspiration for this story?
Made of Stars is a Bonnie and Clyde-inspired sci-fi adventure story set in space. It follows two young criminals on the run from the law and the enemy pilot hunting them across the galaxy. I wrote this as a distraction project when I was querying another book and wanted to make it as enjoyable for myself as possible, so it really ended up as a combination of my favorite things—terrible, ambitious characters, heists, space politics, star-crossed romance, etc. The original spark of the idea came from listening to the Bonnie and Clyde Broadway musical (shout out Jeremy Jordan) and realizing all the songs were vastly underrated. That album helped form the initial skeleton of the story and it all spiraled from there.
Since Geeks OUT is a queer-centered website and Made of Stars is said to be a queer science fiction romance, could you tell us a bit about the LGBTQ+ characters that will be featured in your book?
I am a firm believer that no one in space is straight so, by default, not one single character in Made of Stars is straight either. However, there’s an on-page mlm romance between Cyrus, the pilot hunting Ava and Shane, and his annoyingly handsome partner Lark. The two of them are recent graduates of the same prestigious flight academy and had always battled for the top spot in class. Now, they’re in the real world and the missions are more dangerous, but their rivalry never truly faded.
As a writer, what drew you to the art of storytelling, specifically speculative fiction, and young adult fiction?
Honestly, I was never really good at anything else. I wasn’t a “good at school” type of kid, but I was “a pleasure to have in class” and “very creative” so obviously I chose a career where I’m constantly trying to chase the high of my third-grade report card. I always loved writing, but I didn’t realize it was an actual job people could have until later. Once I started pursuing publication, I knew that I wanted to write YA. I still remember the books I read in high school that made me feel seen and it’s such an honor and privilege to be able to write for teenagers in that way.
How would you describe your writing process?
I used to just throw words on a page and see what happened, but I’ve learned to embrace an outline over the last few years. Made of Stars was the first book I tried to write with any sort of direction, and it made the process go much quicker. I’ll never be a huge, act/scene breakdown person, but I do need to know the ending and a few big plot beats before I start. Writing is usually more of a discovery process for me—most of the time I don’t feel like I truly know the characters until I finish the first draft. I also love to make long, chapter-by-chapter playlists for every project. I don’t listen to music while I write, but it’s helpful in building a mood.
Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in? Are there any like that now?
I was a huge fan of Animorphs as a kid which, now that I’m thinking about it, honestly explains a lot. It was such an epic, sweeping story about teens fighting a corrupt alien empire while also managing to remain grounded and human. The last book I felt seen by was Ophelia After All by Racquel Marie. I can probably count on one hand the number of queer stories I had access to while growing up in central Indiana, so when I read all the incredible LGBTQ+ books coming out now, it makes me so hopeful for the future. Racquel’s book is so genuine and tender and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s the story I would go back in time and give high school Jenna, if I could.
As a writer, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration in general?
I read The Darkest Minds trilogy by Alex Bracken in college and it was the first series that made me sit back and go “Oh, I want to make people feel the way I feel right now while reading this book.” There are so many authors I admire whose books are a masterclass in craft—I would listen to Tracey Deon, Chloe Gong, and R.F. Kuang talk for hours about worldbuilding—and the stories I draw the most inspiration from are the ones that balance that with the character’s emotional arcs.
What are some of your favorite elements of writing? What do you consider some of the most frustrating and/or challenging?
I would give my kingdom to never have to write another first draft. Like I said earlier, drafting is usually a discovery process for me, so there are times where I get to the end of a book and then realize I’ve written an entire act incorrectly or need to go back and add a new POV. That being said, I love how satisfying a good revision is. There’s something so nice about seeing all the pieces come together and having that little epiphany when you finally connect the plotlines. Revisions are also the only time I feel like I’m not alone in my writing process—I’m either working with notes from my critique partners or agent or editor and that collaboration is really exciting.
Aside from writing, what are some things you would want others to know about you?
I did color guard for eight years both in school and competitively and I actually have two world championships gold medals! If I had a nickel for every time I dedicated years of my life to an emotionally devastating hobby-turned-job, I’d have two nickels, which isn’t a lot but it’s weird that it happened twice, right?
What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but that you wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?
People have yet to ask me what Taylor Swift song Made of Stars is, which is rude because I’ve spent way too long thinking about this to not share it with the world. She’s a Getaway Car sun with a Renegade moon and a Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince rising.
What advice might you have to give for other aspiring writers?
The most important thing I had to learn was how to finish a draft. I always struggle with comparing my first drafts to books that are already published or on shelves and that was such a hurdle for me to overcome when I was first starting out. Even now, every time I sit down to write something new, it feels like I have no idea how to write a book and that’s just how it goes. It’s so easy to let the spark of a new idea carry you from half-finished project to half-finished project, but nothing can actually happen unless you finish a draft. I have to remind myself of that all the time because it’s never gotten easier (at least not for me!) but I can’t fix a blank page. Allowing yourself to have a bad first draft is so freeing.
Are there any other projects you are working on and at liberty to speak about?
Yes! My second YA comes out next spring. It’s a sapphic, dual-timeline coming-of-age book about a teenage girl who goes on a quest to find her favorite singer’s missing time capsule. It’s about road trips and small towns and the cost of following your dreams and I’m very excited to share more about it soon!
Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?
Recently, I’ve been loving Sorry, Bro by Taleen Voskuni, Always the Almost by Edward Underhill, Out of Character by Jenna Miller, and She is a Haunting by Trang Thanh Tran. I’m also so excited for Night of the Living Queers, a YA BIPOC horror anthology edited by Alex Brown and Shelly Page.
Header Photo Credit: Vania Stoyanova, 2022