An Interview with Jennifer Thorne

Last Updated on February 12, 2024

Today (Oct. 4, 2022) marks the publication of Jennifer Thorne’s highly acclaimed folk horror, Lute (read our review). The novel is set on the small British island of the same name, whose inhabitants experience tragedy-free lives even during a time of war. But the island’s blessings also require sacrifice: every seventh summer solstice the island claims the lives of seven people.

Lute is told from the perspective of Nina, a young American who marries into the aristocratic Treadway family, the long-time caretakers of the island who bear responsibility for ensuring the delicate balance between peace and sacrifice. Read our complete review of Lute here.

I recently had the pleasure of discussing with Jennifer Thorne about her newly published novel, her tips for young authors, and more.

[GdM] After publishing several highly rated young adult books as Jenn Marie Thorne, you’ve just made your debut on the horror scene with Lute, published by Tor Nightfire. Tell us about your journey as an author from YA to horror. How have your experiences as a YA author influenced your approach to horror?

Jennifer Thorne author photo[JT] I’m one of those writers who juggles dozens of totally disparate book ideas, so moving from YA romantic comedies into adult horror was not as jarring a transition as you might imagine! There’s an immediacy to YA that I think translates particularly well to writing horror—in both you’re depicting a scenario in which your protagonist is forced to step up and define or redefine themselves. The difference is that in horror, the stakes are life and death (or worse), whereas in YA it may just feel that way.

[GdM] The narrator of Lute is a young woman from Florida who has trouble assimilating on the isolated British island of Lute. As someone who has lived in both the United States and England, what advice do you have for overcoming the culture shock of moving to another country and making the most out of this experience?

[JT] I’ve been fortunate to fall straight into a wonderful community of friends here in my little rural town, but even five years into living here, there are moments of disorientation. They can be as small as everyone laughing about a comedian you’ve never heard of, but it feels like a little psychic hiccup, like the moment in a dream when you realize you have no idea what’s happening. Nina, Lute’s narrator has a tougher time than I’ve had because she doesn’t have as strong a sense of who she is and what she’s capable of by the time she arrives. I think those who adapt best are those who are grateful for the broadened life experience of living abroad, but who take it for what it is, rather than needing personal validation from how “well” they fit into a new community.

[GdM] Folk horror is a fascinating genre focusing on the dark and foreboding side of folklore. What was your inspiration for entering this genre and writing Lute?

[JT] I have always adored folklore. I think for some people, it fades with adulthood, but not me. When I go out to walk my dog, I stay on the lookout for green men and fairies and ghosts lurking in the background. On some level, I believe in it all—or at least, I’ve been unwilling to accept the version of reality that says all that exists is what we can immediately discern. When you’re someone who believes that anything might be possible, it becomes very easy to say “what if.” What if (real-life) Lundy were instead an island called Lute, where life is wonderful, but there’s a hefty price? And what if, unlike in many other folk horror stories, this dark tradition is ultimately an equitable and fair one?

[GdM] Lute is an example of a shared tragedy bringing a community together, but tragedies can also be politicized to create division. Obviously, we live in a world with many terrible tragedies. What lessons can we learn from Lute about how to come together during catastrophic times?

[JT] It’s close to impossible to get through life without facing tragedy—and it’s absolutely impossible to escape death—and yet people try like hell to pretend neither exists, to run from the reality of them. I think the communities that thrive and heal post-tragedy are the ones where everyone is willing to look fearlessly at what’s happened and move from there to providing help and comfort. The ones that fracture are the more cowardly ones, in which, in the face of tragedy or threat, people start looking out only for themselves and their immediate families, insulating themselves from death, which of course is ultimately futile. And if you think I’m talking about America here…um…I’ll leave that up to the reader.

[GdM] Lute has the feel of a modern classic. Who were some of your primary influences when writing Lute among both classic and modern authors?

Cover for Lute by Jennifer Thorne[JT] Daphne du Maurier is a major touchpoint for me, although I only started reading her books (and from there, tearing through everything she’d ever written) after I’d already finished Lute. Her writing is not at all what I’d assumed! I’d pictured sort of florid, overwrought Gothic nonsense, I’m embarrassed to admit, and her work is almost the exact opposite. In terms of contemporary authors, I love Michelle Paver, Naomi Novik, Alma Katsu, Paul Tremblay, Catriona Ward.

[GdM] To quote our review of Lute, your prose is “elegant in its simplicity, embracing a quiet minimalism that only enhances its sense of horror.” Tell us about your writing process. Are you someone who goes through multiple rounds of edits until you find just the right choice of words?

[JT] So many rounds of edits! Actually, the word choice bit is one of the later edit rounds, and it’s my absolute favorite part of writing, apart from coming up with the story in the first place. Drafting is psychological torture. Large-scale revision feels like performing surgery on a loved one. But making the words sparkly…that’s the good stuff. That’s where the fun lives.                                                                            

[GdM] What advice do you have for young authors who are just getting started?

[JT] My first piece of advice is to ignore all the advice you don’t like. All my author friends and I work completely differently and have had wildly divergent journeys to publication. That being said…I do have two suggestions. 1) Finish the book. 2) When you’ve finished the book, write another book. It seems simple, but I’ve seen so many writers languish after that first book, pinning all their hopes on this one idea and leaving none for the books to come. I wrote two novels before my first YA was published, and there have been several additional unpublished manuscripts along the way. I kept going. That’s why I’m still publishing today.

[GdM] What was the experience like publishing in a new genre? Were there any particular challenges that you had to overcome?

[JT] I had to get out of my own way at first. There’s always a little critical voice in one’s head, and while I’m generally good at telling it to shut the hell up, there were moments when it would pipe up with, “You can only write teenagers realistically.” I reminded this voice that I am, in fact, an adult mother of two small British children, and got back to work without any further concern for “voice.” Once I was over that hurdle, it was a pretty easy adjustment!

[GdM] What’s next for Jennifer Thorne? Any more horror novels in the works?

[JT] Next up is The Antiquity Affair, an Indiana Jonesesque historical adventure novel I’ve co-written with my dear friend, Lee Kelly, out next June. My next horror with Tor Nightfire is called Diavola—I’ve been describing it to friends as Fleabag in a haunted Italian villa. I’m not sure I’m going to let my parents read that one.

Read Lute by Jennifer Thorne

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John Mauro

John Mauro

John Mauro lives in a world of glass amongst the hills of central Pennsylvania. When not indulging in his passion for literature or enjoying time with family, John is training the next generation of materials scientists at Penn State University, where he teaches glass science and materials kinetics. John also loves cooking international cuisine and kayaking the beautiful Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.

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