#MainstreamMadness – ARENA By Holly Jennings – Blog Tour

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A fast-paced and gripping near-future science fiction debut about the gritty world of competitive gaming…

Every week, Kali Ling fights to the death on national TV.
She’s died hundreds of times. And it never gets easier…

The RAGE tournaments—the Virtual Gaming League’s elite competition where the best gamers in the world compete in a no-holds-barred fight to the digital death. Every bloody kill is broadcast to millions. Every player is a modern gladiator—leading a life of ultimate fame, responsible only for entertaining the masses.

And though their weapons and armor are digital, the pain is real.

Chosen to be the first female captain in RAGE tournament history, Kali Ling is at the top of the world—until one of her teammates overdoses. Now, she must confront the truth about the tournament. Because it is much more than a game—and even in the real world, not everything is as it seems.

The VGL hides dark secrets. And the only way to change the rules is to fight from the inside…


Romantic Times Book Reviews, which reviews romance, science fiction, and other genres, loves Arena and will be featuring it as a top pick for the month of April. “A nuanced and complex novel,” they say, “with a strong, imperfect heroine…”
— RT Book Reviews


“Holly Jennings’ debut is an action-packed page turner–think Hunger  Games meets Ready Player One. ARENA is serious nerdcore entertainment.   Gamers, get ready to plug in!”
— New York Times bestselling author Chloe Neill


“Blistering action right from the first page, but it’s Jennings’ brilliant characters that kept me logged in to ARENA.  A thrilling debut!”
— New York Times bestselling author Jason M. Hough


“I could say that ARENA is a stunning debut, fast-paced, action-packed, with an interesting romance and a compelling yet flawed heroine.  I could say that it’s a book that will appeal both to gamers and to those who’ve never picked up a controller.  Instead I will say…

Read this book.

You haven’t read anything quite like it and you don’t want to miss it.  Kali Ling is a heroine for the near future: skilled, brutal, hot-tempered, yet compassionate, and so very human.  It’s her care for her teammates that makes this book truly shine. Holly Jennings hooked me completely. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series or anything else she writes.”
— NY Times bestselling author Ilona Andrews

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Where are you from?  Does the area you live in influence you writing?

I live in Southern Ontario, close to the border of Detroit, Michigan. I don’t think where I live affects my writing much at all (I’ve never set a story here). However, we do get a decent winter and I get more writing done then, since there isn’t much work to be done outside, other than shoveling snow once in a while.

Tell us your latest news!

My debut novel Arena releases this April. I’m so excited to share it with the world. It’s about a female gamer in the future inside a virtual reality video game tournament. I had so much fun writing it, and I hope others will have just as much fun reading it.

Besides that, I’m also working on Arena 2 and developing a new series. Sorry, no details on that for now!

When and why did you begin writing? What inspired you to write your first book?

I can’t quite remember when and why I began writing because I’ve been doing it since I was a little kid. My mother tells me I used to say I was going to be an author and write bestsellers when I “grew up.” That partly came true. I am an author now, but I’m not sure that I ever “grew up.” I do distinctly remember around age fourteen, I came across the book Dark Visions by L.J. Smith and started reading X-Men comics. Both of these inspired me to write my own stories about people with superpowers. I don’t really write about superpowers anymore, but this was when my writing went from a hobby to a passion.

What book(s) / author(s) have influenced your life and writing?

This is a hard question, because I rarely read everything by an author, even when I enjoy their writing. I tend to be very eclectic in my reading, because every writer has their strengths and weakness, and I love studying all aspects of novels. That being said, Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One and William Gibson’s Neuromancer influenced some of my choices in Arena, and Damien Angelica Walters has probably had the most impact on my style.

Tell us about your characters and how they came to be?  Have they been in your head for a long time?

Before Arena, I had been wanting to write a novel with my version of a strong, female protagonist. However, I didn’t develop her further than that because I wanted that character to grow naturally out of the setting. Once I had the idea for Arena, Kali Ling was born. Being a female gamer inside a virtual fighting game against both male and female opponents, she needed to be strong both physically and personality wise, to the point where she’s even a little overconfident in herself. But she’s also deeply passionate and dedicated to her goals and her team, even if she messes up along the way.

Most of the time, my characters are created when the story is created. As I said, I like them to grow naturally out of the setting, as if they’d lived in that world their entire lives, instead of trying to force a pre-set character into a world where they don’t belong.

What motivates you to write?

I’ve been writing every day for long enough now, so it feels more like habit than motivation. I believe that if you wait around to be “motivated” to write, there’s little chance of getting a novel complete. That being said, I love creating new settings and characters. There is something strangely satisfying about filling a blank page with a world that never existed before you created it.

What is the hardest part of writing?

I get frustrated when I don’t have an idea to work on. For example, if I finish one book or short story and don’t have else to explore right away, my brain feels like it’s getting clogged up with creativity that has nowhere to go. Luckily, I usually have a backlog of stories that I want to write, so this doesn’t happen too often.

Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?

I’ve always been more of a “pantser” when it comes to my writing, and just let the story take me where it needed to go. However, now that I’m getting more into series writing and long-term work, I’m learning that planning things out ahead of time makes for a much smoother, less headache-y ride. This doesn’t happen to everyone, however. Some authors are pantsers their entire careers. I think for me, though, I’ve learned it’s better to plan ahead.

Where do you get your ideas?

My short story ideas seem to come from anything and anywhere. Other short stories, novels, movies, news articles, video games, poetry, you name it.

My novels tend to grow out of a cohesion of three or four different topics. Sometimes they’re ideas I’ve had tucked away for years, and then I stumble across the right setting for the idea to take place, and BAM! There’s the story. For example, I wanted to write my version of a strong, female protagonist who slowly gains agency throughout the course of a novel, but didn’t have a plot or setting in mind that I thought would be appropriate. Then, while reading Neuromancer, I came across a documentary about professional gaming in North America. Suddenly, these ideas converged and I started thinking about a future where gamers plug directly into the game. Now, I had the environment for my female protagonist. That’s how Arena was born. Several of my other (unpublished) novels started this way; from the sudden culmination of three or four unrelated topics forming a single, coalescent story.

What does your family think of your writing?

They’re very excited for me. They’re not all fans of science fiction, but they know how much I love it and they’re thrilled to see my dreams coming true.

What is the best advice you would give to inspiring authors?

Write the book you want to write, and don’t care what other people think. Before I wrote Arena, I was always so worried about what others would say about my work. Once I was able to let that go and just focus on the story I wanted to tell, a weight lifted. Sitting down to write everyday became exciting, not daunting. So, go ahead and put your soul on the page.

What book are you reading now?

Wings of Renewal: A Solarpunk Anthology. I love the idea of Solarpunk: a bright, sustainable future that fights against pollution and climate change. It’s a nice breather from the dystopian landscape that science fiction has become (and yes, I realize the irony since many people consider Arena a dystopian novel). The anthology infuses the concept of Solarpunk with dragons, because who doesn’t love dragons? Since I love combining different topics in my own books, this anthology had me written all over it. I’m about halfway through so far, and I’ve yet to be disappointed.

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Holly Jennings is a self-proclaimed nerd and lover of all things geeky and weird. As the firstborn to a sports enthusiast, it was soon discovered that the only games she’d ever learn to master involved consoles and controllers. Her childhood was spent crushing virtual foes, racing on simulated tracks, and rescuing digital princesses. As a young adult, she fell in love with English class, speculative novels, and comic books, which inspired her to create stories of her own. Eventually, her passions converged and she started writing about the future of video games.

She lives in Canada.

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