Since Jennifer Armentrout’s debut novel in 2011, the author has built a daunting presence across the romance, science fiction and fantasy, and thriller genres with over 50 titles and 12 series for both young adult, new adult and adult audiences.
Her most recent novel, released at the end of October, is The Darkest Star, the first in a new series, a spinoff in the same world Armentrout’s bestselling Lux series. Both series take place in a world where alien walk among us. In The Darkest Star, Armentrout puts a new perspective on a character who was a strong Lux series favorite, Luc.
In this conversation, Armentrout discusses the power dynamic between her teen girl lead and a super powered alien, romance tropes within speculative fiction, and what it takes to be so prolific.
Some spoilers ahead. Sorry.
For readers who haven’t read the Lux series, what should they know going into The Darkest Star?
Well, one of the most important things to keep in mind, you do not have to read the Lux series to pick up The Darkest Star. It will introduce you to the world. So if you haven’t read the Lux series, or if you haven’t read it in a while, you’ll be able to jump right into The Darkest Star.
For those who have read the Lux series and remember quite a bit, you’re going to see, definitely, some familiar faces. Some of the favorite characters from the Lux series you will definitely see in The Darkest Star. It picks up four years after the end of Opposition, after basically Earth was invaded by the Luxen aliens, and you see how society has adapted to the changes of knowing that they’re no longer the only intelligent and strong creatures in the universe. So you start to see how society has adapted to accommodate the Luxen.
But you quickly begin to realize that there is something going on, and that’s where our main character Evie comes into play. And she begins to discover that there’s a lot of things the government has kept quiet from the humans after the invasion.
I really enjoyed Evie. She was a really interesting character, just her voice, how sarcastic she was. When everyone around her is so powerful, how do you keep a teen girl protagonist strong?
That was actually one of the hardest things, because I feel that, in YA, if your character is not physically strong and able to get out there and kick ass, your character is seen as weak, even if they’re mentally and emotionally strong.
It’s one of my soapboxes, that strength does not always mean physical.
It doesn’t always mean that you can handle a gun or a bow and arrow, or a sword. It doesn’t mean you’re a trained fighter. Sometimes the most important strength is being able to survive some really tough stuff and be able to pick yourself back up, dust yourself off.
And Evie’s dealt some huge psychological blows—learning who she really is, and that her mother isn’t her mother, and then having no recollection of that past. But it was tough, because I didn’t want her to be a damsel in distress the entire book, so anytime that I wanted to make sure I showed that even though she couldn’t fight like Luc or any of them, she could hold her own, or at least she helped.
But you’re going to see some changes with that in the second book. There’s definitely some big changes with Evie coming.
That’s exciting. I was already wondering, oh, what else might that treatment have done to her?
Yeah—Micah drops some foreshadowing in his last scene about what’s coming.
Talking about Evie and the people around her, Luc as a character is so interesting, and I know he is one of the characters that is from the Lux series.
Was the spinoff driven by him? What was it about the Lux world that made you feel that this needed further exploration?
Well I think it was twofold—it was Luc and the world. I think when Opposition ended, it left it open for me to do anything with the series, because now we’re going to see a very different contemporary world setting, going from not knowing aliens exist, to them invading, and millions and millions of people dying. And then the survivors, having to live among them, and not knowing if they can be trusted. So there was a very interesting world to dive back into.
But also in the main series, Luc was like 14 years old then. And he became a reader favorite character, mainly because he’s just so bizarre. And I think Luc is probably one of my most interesting characters because he’s kind of this weird combination of very funny, goofy, just completely out there with his cheesy pickup lines, and his crazy t-shirts—but he’s also the most dangerous creature you could come across.
And I think that makes him a very interesting character, because I feel you either have, when you’re dealing with a male character, you have either the alpha male or you have the beta male, and Luc is this weird combination of both.
That is really interesting. And yeah, you get that alpha right away [from Luc]. I really did not know how I was ever going to warm up to Luc in those first few chapters, and you did it, I love him now.
Yeah, you have to get past that … that initial personality of his.
Where’s that line, with such a strong, abrasive character like that, where you can still get readers to warm up to him?
Well, I think the interesting thing is, there’s two different types of alpha male characters. There’s your alpha male who may be abrasive, who may be, you know, the strong guy, the overconfident guy. But then there’s the alpha-hole, who—that’s what we call it, romance, the alpha-hole—who is basically just an asshole at the end of the day. That is not a good person. And Luke is not an alpha-hole.
But I think the fine line is how you write both have female protagonist and the male protagonist—or a male/male, female/female—you have to put them on equal footing on some level.
You can’t have a situation where—you know, Evie is going to stand up to Luc, and that puts them on an equal level where he is not dominating her at the end of the day.
And when you read the book, it’s really Evie, with all the cards in her hand, when it comes to Luc, she kind of controls him.
But I think it’s really in developing the relationship, and also developing the character. They have to have a reason for the way they behave. If they’re just a jerk—because some people see jerks as sexy—then you’re going to fall into an alpha-hole.
And I know you write a lot of romance as well, along with your science fiction and fantasy, and some thrillers as well. When you’re approaching different genres, do you approach your process differently at all?
What I’ll typically do is, I’ll write fantasy or paranormal science fiction, and then I’ll write a contemporary afterwards so I don’t get burned out, or I don’t get my roles confused, so they don’t sound too similar.
Thrillers take a lot out of me. I probably only have like one good thriller in me every two to three years. Because they do require—I don’t plot, I’m a Pantser. So I have a generic idea of how I know the book’s going to start, the middle, and the end, but I do not know every detail. And with a thriller, you really have to have that worked out in your mind, because it has to add up at the end. It has to make sense. It can’t be like, when you’re writing a thriller, and the bad guy or the twist is introduced at the end of the book, and there’s been no sight of this person or this twist until chapter 31. That’s not the greatest thing. So for thrillers I have to take quite a bit of time to write.
I was going through and counting all of your titles, because it’s absolutely incredible how much you’ve written. When you say you only have one thriller every two to three years, that’s really different from what it would mean from a lot of different authors.
Since 2011, you’ve been releasing about six to seven books a year. That’s incredible. Were you always this fast of a writer?
I actually used to be a lot faster than I am now. I used to be able to write on average about eight books a year. I’m now down to about three books a year, and I think also a lot of that just comes from learning your craft and improving, and also knowing where you’re making mistakes, so you’re not redoing entire drafts. You’re going a lot slower and catching things, and instead of doing that in draft like I would do beforehand, I fixed a lot of stuff in edit.
But I write a lot. I always joke around, it’s like I don’t really have that much of a life sometimes. I don’t have a kid. I have a husband and two dogs, but I have a lot of open time on my hands, which allows me to really sit down.
But when I’m writing a book, that’s it, I’m focused on that book, and that’s what I’m going to be focused on and I set like a chapter goal a day, and that helps me stay on target.
Can you share anything about what you’re writing now?
I’m actually in this weird in-between state where I’m waiting on edits from publishers. So I’m waiting for the edit for the sequel to The Darkest Star, it’s called The Burning Shadow. It comes out in October of next year. The first draft is already finished on that, so I’m just waiting for edits.
And I’m waiting on line edit on Storm and Fury, that comes out in June of next year. But I had been tinkering around with maybe a contemporary book, and once I get these edits done, I may sit back down and try to write that. But I’m in that weird waiting period where you don’t really want to start anything because you know you’re going to have to stop at any given second.
And it’s probably hard when you’re on tour, too. Are you just exhausted?
Oh yeah, I am so tired. I’m on the final leg. So after tonight in Philly, I’ll be in New York tomorrow and then Boston on Wednesday, then I get to go home. I went home yesterday for about 11 to 12 hours. So I was able to do laundry and repack. But I don’t know how people would write on tour. It’s exhausting.
Do you read as broadly and as quickly as you write?
It depends. If I’m loving a book, and this is where being an author sucks, and having deadlines sucks. Because you read a book, right? And you love it. And that’s all you think about … when you have to work.
Because, sometimes if I stumble across an author I haven’t read yet, and they have like 20 books, I will binge read 20 books. Or if there’s a big release I’m waiting for, I won’t start writing again until I finish reading that book. But I can read a book in about a day or so, if I’m doing nothing else. I’m a pretty fast reader.
But it’s hard when you find an author and they have this huge backlist. Which is funny, because I’m sure some people felt the same way about me. But you get sucked in and you can’t put them down, you can’t focus on anything else.
The only thing with my reading habits that’s kind of interesting, and a lot of authors do this—when I’m writing contemporary, I cannot read contemporary, and when I’m writing fantasy or paranormal or science fiction, I cannot read that.
Is it like competing noise in your head?
It is like that, because as you’re reading—that’s the way most writers teach themselves, is by reading, and when you’re writing something, but in the same type of world that you’re working in, it’s hard to separate that.
But also, you’re working, and you’re comparing your book to what you’re reading. And that can put you in a weird head space. Especially if the book is really good, and then you’re like, I suck.
Are you reading anything right now?
I am actually reading Kristen Ashley. There were a couple of books on her Chaos Motorcycle Club that I have been reading, I’ve just kind of gotten behind on, so I’ve been reading Walk Through Fire.
For readers who are just discovering you with The Darkest Star, while waiting for the next book to drop, where else within your backlist should they pick up?
I think if they are looking for YA, they should pick up The Dark Elements, starting with Bitter Sweet Love, because the fifth book in that world is going to come out in June, so they can prepare themselves for that. That has to do with gargoyles and demons and a giant snake named Bambi. There’s a lot of random Disney references in that book for some reason.
Do you find that you have a lot of crossover among your readers? The ones that love your romance, love your paranormal, and so forth?
All my books have some level of romance in them, so I see a huge crossover, but I also think it comes from how I got started. My very first publishing contract was with a small press. So it was mainly digital sales, which is an older readership than teens, so I do have a significant older group that crosses over into my YA.
Is there anything that I didn’t think to ask, that readers should know?
Maybe ApollyCon. It’s a book signing conference that I own and run every year in March. It takes place right now for this year and 2020 in Washington, D.C. We have over 140-some authors that are young adult and adult, featuring traditional, small press and self-published. We have panels, we have after parties with costume themes. We haven’t announced the costume theme yet for 2019, so I’m not sure—last year it was “Your Favorite Decade.”
And then we have a lot of publisher sponsors for that, but we also do a keynote brunch. In 2019, it’s Colleen Hoover, who is coming in and doing the Q and A during the brunch.
Any other last thoughts? Anything that you want to tell readers about The Darkest Star?
I hope they like it!