Award winning author Jenny L. Cote developed an early passion for God, history and young people, and beautifully blends these passions together in her two fantasy fiction series, The Amazing Tales of Max and Liz® and Epic Order of the Seven™. Likened to C.S. Lewis by book reviewers and bloggers, Jenny provides creative writing workshops at schools and universities around the country and abroad. A native of Norfolk, Virginia, she now writes and speaks full time and lives in Roswell, Georgia, with her husband Casey and son Alex. Jenny is active in the Student Ministry at Dunwoody Baptist Church, and enjoys reading, research, museums, music, travel, meeting people, fitness and finding any excuse she can to get to the beach.
I had the opportunity to meet Jenny when she spoke at my local ACFW chapter. I was enthralled as she told her writing journey.
Jenny, what were your goals in writing your latest release, The Roman, the Twelve & the King?
I wanted to tell the story of Jesus in an unexpected way, so I wrote two books in one. The life of Christ is written within the story of George F. Handel writing his masterpiece, Messiah.
Since my characters were with Isaiah as he wrote the words of Messiah, I thought it would be great fun to have them be with Handel as he wrote the music. The book opens up in London, 1735, and my team of animal heroes are tasked with helping Handel write the most important piece of music ever written.
Since it's been 1700 years since they were with Jesus, they go back in time to revisit the unfolding of the greatest events in history. After Jesus' resurrection, they return to London 1741 for the writing and premiere of Messiah at London's Covent Garden Theatre.
So that was the structural goal of the story. But the primary goal of the book is to give readers an opportunity to see Jesus come alive in a way they never have before. I've had kids email me and tell me that they never understood who he really was and what he did for them through the Passion until reading this book - that thrills my heart! These books are geared to kids but the reality is they are books for adults as well. Half my readership is adults, and I hear from readers all over the world.
When you write, how much do you draw on your own life experiences and people you know, versus drawing on research about complete strangers?
God has been incredibly cool in setting up my life experiences of spiritual upbringing, travel and a passion for research to write these books. One of the things I stress to kids in my creative writing workshops that I present at schools is that you can't write about what you know about. Research for me is the most important part of writing, especially when you're doing Christian Historical Fiction.
So, I was blessed to travel to Israel and Egypt when I was 17 to see the places I've just written about in this book. But I added to my research travels for The Roman by actually travelling to London in Feb 2012 to research Handel. I gained unprecedented access by Handel House Museum to actually sit in Handel's composing room where he wrote Messiah, and write the scene of him writing it!
The inspiration was off the charts! While I was in London, I contact the C.S. Lewis Foundation in Oxford, and was privileged to spend two nights in the homestead of my writing hero, C.S. Lewis, "the Kilns."
I also had the honor to spend three hours interviewing Walter Hooper while sitting in the famed Eagle and Child Pub where Lewis and Tolkien held their Inklings meetings. Walter was secretary to Lewis the summer before he died, and he will be my technical advisor in my upcoming book on Lewis. So my travels and research play a big role, but so do people.
I have a warning: careful or you'll end up in my novel. :) I put people in my books as characters all the time to become fictional characters than interface with my real characters in history.
Who is the character in this story that surprised you most?
I think I would have to say Pilate. I've long known the story of Jesus' trial and crucifixion, but I had to study Pilate in greater depth than I ever have before. He tried and very much wanted to release Jesus, and I actually felt an empathy for him that I've never known. He was backed into a corner and I now understand how that happened. I was also surprised by learning about Handel. Guys in big fluffy wigs can be a lot of fun! Handel was a very colorful character in history, and he had a big heart for kids as well as for God.
What do you hope readers get out of your work?
I pray they will not only have a fun, engaging read, but also a deep understanding of why Jesus had to die. We take for granted the rote "Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose from the grave" and perhaps don't truly grasp how this was all planned out - every detail of Jesus' death was planned, down to the time, place and setting. It was prophesied hundreds of years before crucifixion had even been invented!
I wanted to write the scourging and crucifixion scenes with great detail and honesty, without sugar coating the events, but also without scaring younger readers. I thankfully was given the perfect balance of words to pull it off. I've heard from countless readers who were moved to tears but touched deeply by those scenes, and who have a new found appreciation for all Jesus endured.
What projects are you working on now?
I'm currently writing the next book in the series, The Way, the Road, and the Fall. It picks up resurrection morning and goes through the entire book of Acts: Saul to Paul and the spread of the gospel in the infant church.
But it goes beyond Acts to Peter and Paul in Rome, the fire of 64 in Rome, Christian persecution, the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., building of the Colosseum and the gladiatorial games, John on Patmos and finally ending with a future scene of Constantine liberating Christianity's freedom. It will be released in February 2014.
Two more books will follow: The Voice, the Revolution, and the Jewel (2015) about Patrick Henry and the Revolutionary War, and The Professor, the War, and the Muse (2016), about C.S. Lewis and WWII.
In addition, I'm working on exciting developments with the film adaptation of my first book, The Ark, the Reed, and the Fire Cloud, into an animated feature film, TV show, VBS, DVD school curriculum, etc. You can learn more about the movie at www.sevenwinged.com. I'm also actively providing creative writing workshops at schools around the country, and if anyone would be interested in scheduling me for their school, homeschool or church, please learn more at www.epicorderoftheseven.com.
The second book in the Epic Order of the Seven series, it picks up where The Amazing Tales of Max and Liz left off. The Maker created this team of animal friends to be his envoys for pivotal points of history. This will be their most important mission ever: to be with Jesus throughout his childhood, ministry, passion and resurrection. The story of Christ is told as a story within a story: as George F. Handel writes the greatest music to ever be written in London 1741—Messiah.