Earlier this month, Jennifer Lynn Barnes released her latest book The Inheritance Games based around lead character Avery Grambs, who has been left the entire fortune of a billionaire she has never met. Since becoming an author, Jennifer has released twenty-one books including The Naturals series, and has recently been announced as a New York Times Bestselling Author for her latest release of The Inheritance Games. We caught up with Jennifer about her new book The Inheritance Games, the lead character Avery Grambs and where she gets the inspiration from for her novels.
Can you tell us about your new release The Inheritance Games?
The Inheritance Games is about an eccentric billionaire who dies and leaves his entire fortune to a teenage girl he’s never met – and she has no idea why. To inherit, she must move into his sprawling, secret-passage filled mansion alongside the family he just disinherited. She soon discovers that the billionaire, Tobias Hawthorne, was obsessed with puzzles, riddles, and codes, and she has to balance trying to survive her encounters with his recently disinherited family and unravelling the puzzle of why a stranger left her billions.
What can you say about the lead character Avery Grambs and how was she to write about?
Avery is smart, practical, and has a lot of practice at surviving unfortunate circumstances. She also has a competitive streak, which comes in handy once she moves into Hawthorne House and gets embroiled in the “game” that Tobias Hawthorne left behind. I love writing characters whose superpower is some combination of smarts and resilience, and Avery has both in spades – certainly enough to keep the four magnetic, charming – and potentially dangerous – Hawthorne brothers on their toes.
Did the characters and story change during the writing process?
The main plot – which follows the “game” that Avery and the Hawthorne brothers play as they unravel clue after clue in an elaborate puzzle that explains why Avery was selected as the heir to the Hawthorne family fortune – stayed fairly consistent from draft to draft, but there were a lot of character changes, both in terms of the personalities of various characters and in terms of adding a few key characters in later drafts. Even though the puzzle sequence stayed very consistent – as did the big reveal at the end of that sequence – the character changes led organically to lots of new plot twists along the way, including one REALLY big one near the end.
Without giving spoilers, was there a most challenging part of the storyline to write?
For me, designing the puzzles, riddles and codes was easy, but really nailing the character dynamics was much more challenging. The book has a large cast. Tobias Hawthorne, the deceased billionaire, had three children, four grandsons, a living mother-in-law, and a large staff of servants; everyone has their own backstory, secrets, and motivations, and they all have twisted relationships with each other. Even once I’d figured out all of those details, it was really challenging to bring it all to the page, especially because the book is told from Avery’s first-person point-of-view.
How long were you working on the book and how does it feel seeing the finished publication on release day?
I came up with the idea for this book in the summer of 2018, sent a proposal to my publisher that fall, and completed the first draft in spring of 2019. I spent the summer revising, and the book went to copy edits in fall of 2019, then released a year later. The Inheritance Games is my twenty-first published novel, and it never gets any less awe-inspiring to see the finished product and know that people are reading what I wrote.
Who do you think will enjoy reading The Inheritance Games?
I think The Inheritance Games is perfect for fans of Knives Out, Agatha Christie, teen thrillers, rags to riches stories, and teen dramas – and for anyone who enjoys puzzles, riddles and codes or has ever daydreamed about what they would do with a sudden windfall.
What do you think readers will discover from this story?
Honestly, one of my major goals is just to offer people a fun distraction that can provide some joy and escape at a time when a lot of us need it.
How different did you find writing this book to your previous ones which included The Naturals series and The Lovely and the Lost?
I spent a lot more time on the setting in The Inheritance Games, especially Hawthorne House, which is the castle-like mansion that billionaire Tobias Hawthorne spent a lifetime building. Hawthorne House is full of secret passages, with codes and riddles built into the very walls, but it’s also just the ultimate wish fulfilment fantasy. This house has everything, and it’s so big that Avery hasn’t even discovered all of the rooms yet. I spent more time than I want to admit researching some of the world’s most remarkable houses, and then I thought “but MORESO”. It has everything you could possibly want – including my own version of wish fulfilment, which is FIVE amazing home libraries.
How do you start working on your books – do you plan the characters first or the story?
I start with the premise, then “audition” different character types for the protagonist, almost like they are actors auditioning for a role. I then select the character that I think brings the most to the premise and start getting to know that character better by figuring out their background and childhood. My Ph.D. is in developmental psychology, so I always want to know the combination of nature and nurture that formed my characters into the people they are in the present.
Where do you get the inspiration from for writing your novels?
I have a giant list of different kinds of books I’d like to write someday. So, for example, I have wanted to write a “puzzle house” book – about an elaborate mansion filled with clues and riddles, almost like an escape room – for years, but I had to wait until I had the right plot to actually write the book. I then combined it with some of the other tropes I’d always wanted to write – the unexpected heiress; a family with four brothers; a billionaire pulling people’s strings from beyond the grave; and so on. For me, an idea really hits when it lets me combine multiple items on my “want to write” list.
What do you think will make this a book that readers can’t put down?
Two things: the mystery and the brothers! Readers have the opportunity to test their own brains and play the “game” right alongside Avery; at the same time, I think the audience will really enjoy trying to figure out whether the Hawthorne brothers can be trusted. The four brothers are very different, but they all have this larger-than-life, magnetic, charming quality toward them. You want to trust them – but can you?
How did your writing career come about and did you always know you wanted to be an author?
I started writing seriously when I was still in high school and sold my first novel, written when I was nineteen, when I was an undergraduate at Yale. I ended up selling my first five books before I graduated, and I’ve been writing ever since! So, I knew from a young age that I wanted to write, but my goal was usually to be a writer AND something else – and I ended up doing a doctorate in psychology while I was writing and publishing books. It feels a bit like I’ve come full circle, because my writing career really started when I was doing my undergraduate degree, and now I am a university professor myself.
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