Jessica Benya and I have in common that we are both authors who attended St. John's College in Annapolis. The difference between us, however, is that I attened in the 80s, and she's still a student!
When I was visiting the college in September, the book store manager brought her book to my attention. I read it and enjoyed it. It was rough at parts, but the character and the story drew me along.
Impressed that a college student could also publish an enjoyable book, I asked Miss Benya some questions about Electronica, her novel about a futuristic distopia based on…dance.
Q: It’s quite unusual for someone to publish a novel while still in college. What led to the publication of Electronica?
Electronica started around my senior year of high school. By being in the Humanities program, I was required to write either a twenty-paged essay or a ten-paged essay and a creative project. I had been writing stories for at least nine years prior, so writing was a very big part of my life. This helped me decide that this would be the year to finally write my novel. By the project being assigned by the school, I had very strict deadlines, which I needed to start my writing career.
Thus, the first two drafts were finished before I graduated high school. Then it took two years until I finally completed it. I’m sure everyone who writes knows that feeling when they are editing that they can always make their work better and, by consequence, the said work never comes out. That was what I struggled with for a couple years. Then after a few beta readers and fearing I’d never have my novel released, and changing different scenes and so on, my novel happened to come out before my junior year of college.
Q:How did you come up with the idea of using dance as the distinguishing characteristic for the different factions?
Around the time I started to think of what to write about, I noticed many people in high school who preferred one general genre as opposed to multiple. That concept intrigued me since I wasn’t like that at all. I enjoy a multitude of genres. But since there were so many people who enjoyed only one type of genre, and those people split up into friend groups of the same music type, different factions of genres were set before me. And since I love multiple genres, that’s how I came up with the idea of people switching genres and living near the city since the city has all genres that anyone can walk to despite where they were sorted.
Also, that same year I was part of a dance club, which I’m sure influenced why the deciding factor became dance. Dance is a good way to observe the culture of the different genres just as much as the music itself. You could argue that Electronica music and Classical music have more similarities than you realize, as one of my former teachers did, but their dancing is extremely different. That is why Classical and Electronica are on the two opposite sides of the spectrum. So dance became the deciding factor as to where people were sorted because of how the dancing in each genre varies greater to the naked eye than the music may itself, and speaks loudly of that genres culture.
Finally, there was a scientific reason as to why dance became the deciding factor. Dancing raises endorphins, and the adrenaline different music causes would be visible in someone’s dance. By dancing, Vesper could monitor which genre excites and motivates an individual the most as well as noticing if the individual’s dancing fits well into that certain genre.
Q: There are so many schools of dance, how did you pick which ones you wanted to use for your novel?
Well, every type of school of dance is present in Vesper. They are represented as different branches of the main generalized genres. Like DJ is in the Dub Step branch of the Electronica genre. There are other branches in the Electronica genre such as: House, Trance, Trap, Disco, etc. It would be impossible to write out every type of dance in one novel so I picked where the characters would be from and focused on the schools of dance that they would be inclined to. However, I wanted to be sure to touch on the opposite sides of the spectrum the society set up, so Classical ballet or polka-type dances rivaling Techno break dancing. All the schools of dance between them are set into branches within very generalized genres.
Q: The main character of Electronica is DJ. As of the end of the book, DJ’s first adventure has come to an end, but one could imagine many new challenges before her. Are there additional novels planned?
My second novel is currently in the making. Now that DJ has gotten so far, I wanted to show her personal struggles as a young adult pushed into such a high position in society. Also, DJ would be trying to repay her debt to those who helped her in the Rounds. That is a story all on its own that I am excited to finish as soon as I can.
Q: The story has factions (like Divergent) and a contest (like Hunger Games), were these two series an influence on your work? And what other books/movies/sources do you feel influenced your ideas?
Actually I didn’t know of Divergent when I began writing Electronica. The factions came about because of my love for organization and seeing the people around me that loved singular genres herding together. I remember being recommended Divergent a lot though because of the different factions. Hunger Games had some influence on my decision to create a competition, so did the Olympics that were happening the year I began writing.
Finally, Rome was a big influence since I was taking Latin at the time and was learning about the Roman culture. Originally, my world was very much based off of Roman culture because I was so enthralled by it, and the Rounds were loosely based off of the Olympics. Then I pulled away from it, seeing too many similarities with other novels, and created my own world based on music and dance.
Q: How did you come to be at St. John’s and are you enjoying the Great Books Program?
I came to be at St. John’s hearing that it was a writer’s college and had a different method of teaching by discussion rather than by lectures. I love the program, and am currently going through my junior year. While being here the college has changed my perspective on math and science, and I find myself enjoying them more. Linguistics is something I enjoy as well, for I took Spanish and Latin before college and then learned Ancient Greek here, and now am learning French.
Finally, their music program is wonderful, and inspired multiple instances in my book when the music is explained in depth during particular situations when DJ is learning how to progress in the Rounds. The program has done a lot for me with my academic writing and speech, and I am excited to advance into my next semester.
Q:Do you have any particular plans yet for after your graduate? Do you have plans for other series?
After graduating the idea of teaching excites me, so I’m currently leaning towards education. I plan to continue writing regardless, and hopefully complete this series of DJ’s world. Electronica is planned to be the first book of a trilogy. After this trilogy, I do have another series in mind that’s much more fantasy based. But I’m currently trying to keep my mind focused on the second book of my current trilogy, and will look at the ideal fantasy series later if and when I get there.
Q: I thought you did a very clever job of portraying the plight of those who could not dance without being too heavy handed. How did you come up with the idea of the substitutes?
The idea of substitutes for the Council Member children came to me because of how publicized their births would be. A Council Member is equivalent to a President or a King in this world. If the President had a child, then the media would be filled with news of the new baby. Since the media would be very present and the Council Member wouldn’t show their child for safety reasons, they’d switch the child with a substitute. This way, the Council Member and their child remain safe behind the presented substitute.
I am grateful to Jessica for taking the time to answer my questions. It is quite intriguing that her faction-based story developed independently of other stories, such as Divergence. I have seen that happen many times. It is always interesting to me.
For more about Electronica, you can find the book here.Originally posted to Welcome to Arhyalon. (link)
Tags: dance, distopia, st. john's college, ya