Hanna Lou from BookPeople’s Teen Press Corps got a chance to catch up with YA author Jennifer Lynn Barnes, who was at this year’s Texas Teen Book Festival. Rewatch the panel while you still can! And don’t forget to order your copy of The Hawthorne Legacy from BookPeople! 

Hanna Lou: I love how The Hawthorne Legacy picks up right where we left off. I was immediately sucked into the puzzles again. Did you plan to make this story a series from the beginning? 

Jennifer: When I write series, I often have to have two plans: the “this is how the book is going to end if it’s a standalone” plan and the “this is how the book is going to end once I know that the publisher wants a sequel” plan. I always knew that I wanted to write more books, and I knew that specific events that took place twenty years before The Inheritance Games would play a major role in any secret I wrote, but it wasn’t until the second draft of book one that I got confirmation that there would be a book two—and at that point, I wrote both a new beginning (including that chess scene!) and a new ending to book one and threaded through some of the other significant pieces of the puzzle.

Hanna Lou: The Inheritance Games series reminds me a lot of one of my favorite book series I read as a kid called 39 Clues. Both series are very different but the middle grade series has the same battling other family members for inheritance type deal. What made you want to write The Inheritance Games? Are you a big mystery or thriller reader? 

Jennifer: I have been a huge mystery/thriller reader since the fourth grade, when I read my first Mary Higgins Clark book. As a YA writer, I started off writing paranormal YA, way back in 2006, and I transitioned from writing paranormal to writing realistic thrillers when I sold my Naturals series in 2011. I wrote a total of nine young adult mysteries before starting The Inheritance Games, and at that point, I desperately wanted to write a “puzzle” based mystery, set in a grand mansion filled with secret passages.

Hanna Lou: How did you develop the voice of Avery? She’s relatable, fun, and incredibly smart which is a great perspective to read from. 

Jennifer: One fairly consistent part of my writing process is that my protagonists develop a lot in revision. I have an idea of who they are at the start of the book, but it isn’t until I throw them in the mix of things and start writing their responses to key story events that I really get to know them. I learned a lot about Avery and what I wanted her character to be when I was writing the first draft. I wanted her to be able to hold her own with the Hawthornes—not just in puzzle-solving, but when it came to the sheer force of their personalities. By the time I reached the end of my first draft, I had a much better idea of who Avery needed to be for the story to work, so then it was just a matter of figuring out how, through a combination of genetics and life experiences, she had become that person. Once I understand that, the voice—in revision—comes very naturally.

Hanna Lou: I think another aspect of the series that makes me excited is the fact that it’s set in Texas! The Southern details and accents (especially when listening to the audiobook) are infectious. Why did you choose Texas as your setting?

Jennifer: I grew up in Oklahoma, but my high school’s sports conference was in Texas, so multiple times a year, we would all go down to Texas to play the other conference teams. I knew that Avery would be attending a private high school, and I was picturing it as a combination of the school I went to and some of our rival Texas schools. I didn’t want to set the books too close to home, so Texas seemed like the obvious choice!

Hanna Lou: If you had to go on a hiking trip with one of your characters for one month across Europe, who would you choose? 

Jennifer: This is a great question, because my answer is different than my answer to a more general “who is your favorite character” question. From the characters in The Inheritance Games and The Hawthorne Legacy, I would pick Nash. He’s a bit of a nomad, so he’s used to exploring places; he has a natural way with people, and he’s probably the easiest to be around of the Hawthorne brothers (and definitely the least likely to get arrested, blow something up, or get drawn into a tense exchange). I get stressed about traveling, and Nash would be pretty good at bringing those stress levels down.

Hanna Lou: If your characters were in a hot dog eating contest together, who do you think would outsmart the others and win? Even better, what strategy would each of the main characters use?

Jennifer: Xander would clearly win a hotdog eating contest amongst the Hawthorne brothers. Jameson would adopt a risky strategy that might not pay-off, and Grayson would try to just power his way through it with precision and perfection. But Xander would be the one who has the most unusual plan (and he’s the one who loves eating the most!)

Hanna Lou: What were your favorite book series you read as a teenager?

Jennifer: My favorite book as a teenager was Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce, which is the start of a quartet. I read every book in the quartet dozens of times.

Hanna Lou: What book are you reading right now?

Jennifer: The Marvelous by Claire Kann. It’s a perfect read for people who like The Inheritance Games, since it also focuses on a mysterious competition, an enigmatic wealthy person, and puzzles!

Hanna Lou: Which of your characters is most likely to actually find out how many licks it takes to get to the center of a lollipop?

Jennifer: Xander Hawthorne already knows the answer to this question and could report it in terms of mean and standard deviation across trials.

Hanna Lou: Which of your characters in the series do you enjoy exploring the most?

Jennifer: I really love writing the Hawthorne brothers, because I really love writing sibling groups. For me, it’s an exploration in how similar childhoods can lead to very different outcomes. I love probing how the boys are different from one another and how they are the same—and figuring out how those similarities and differences emerged in their shared childhood, as part of the same family system. (Can you tell that I am a developmental psychologist?)

You can order Jennifer’s latest novel, The Hawthorne Legacy , from BookPeople!