Justin Dennis is currently attending Whittier College and majoring in Creative Writing. He was born on February 14, 1993 in Virginia but was raised for most of his life just outside of Seattle in a city called Sammamish.
He grew up playing soccer and absolutely loves the sport, but reading and writing also top the list of his favorite hobbies. He has always seen fantasy stories as a powerful way of portraying real world issues, and hopes to provoke thought and inspire good morals through his writing.
IAN. Please tell us about your latest book.
J.D. My latest book, Through the Portal, is a fantasy in which the main characters—Jem, Oliver, and Sierra—explore a fantastical new world called Callisto. In this world, magic is possible but is heavily suppressed by the evil Veroci Regime. There is also a legend about the Red Dragon which dwells deep within the cave.
On their quest across Callisto, the heroes are hunted by the Dragon and by the Regime, although they don’t understand the connection between all of it. Something much more sinister is at work though, something that will lead them across all six regions of the world and force them to confront all their worst fears.
IAN. How long did it take to write Through the Portal?
JD. About a year. I began in September 2010 (although I’d been keeping notes of ideas for a novel for months before that) and published at the end of August 2011. All the writing took me about 9 months, and then editing, revising, and writing about 3.
The crazy thing is that this actually started out as my senior project in high school. I’d always wanted to write a novel, and I’d given a few weak attempts at some stories, but never really committed to a book. When I had to decide on something for my year-long project… I figured a novel would be perfect!
So really I have my high school to thank, because without the senior project I may have never found the time/dedication to write out my novel. It became so much more than a senior project though; I lost track of the hours I spent on it, and even after I passed I put in countless, countless hours on it. I really do love this series, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to get it all out on paper.
IAN. What inspired you to write the book?
JD. I just had so many ideas floating around in my head, you know? There was no specific instance where I was like, “THIS is what I want to write about!” Instead it was more of a gradual process: “Well, I want to incorporate this, and I think this is important, and this would be a great twist…”
I knew though that I wanted my book to take place in a completely made-up world, because I wanted to opportunity to design creatures and develop rules for society and so on. Like the roxnoar. Think of a bear with an exoskeleton. The outer spine runs down its back and forms a spikey tail, with sharp bones extending down its arms and out into claws. Ferocious, right? That’s only one of the many things I had a really fun time creating and naming for my book. So I guess it was also my drive to create and imagine new and fantastical things that inspired me to write.
IAN. Talk about the writing process. Do you write at night or in the morning?
JD. Morning writing has never worked out for me. I’ve tried, really! But I just can’t. I’m too sleepy; I can’t focus. For some reason though, I’m generally wide awake in the middle of the night and can pump out some of my best writing. I don’t really understand why I’m semi-nocturnal.
IAN. Did you use an outline or do you just wing the first draft?
JD. Definite outline. Since my book is the first in a trilogy, I wanted a clear plan of where I was going to go and what was going to happen at what point. So it began as get from point A to point B. Then I added point C, then D, then F… I think I went through the entire alphabet about 836 times, and eventually my plot had grown into a complex, wonderful tale with all these characters I cared so much about.
I have noticed though that my outline changed drastically as I went along. For Through the Portal, I probably rewrote the outline as I went through it at least 4 or 5 times, not including all the edits I made to those 4 or 5 rewrites. It’s just that right when you think you know where you’re going with a story, you start to write it and realize that that’s not right at all. What looks good in an outline, as pieces to a puzzle, doesn’t always match up perfectly in character dialogue and story progression. So while there was an outline, it was constantly changing.
IAN. How is Through the Portal different from others in your genre?
JD. The thing that always catches people with my book is the, “Oh, just another made-up fantasy world?” But it’s so much more than that. There’s a real connection between Earth and Callisto (the world they travel to) and Kelados (a world that is hinted at in Through the Portal but which becomes more important in book two). It brings together these worlds in a way that has never been done before.
Not to mention the magic is different. I always thought it was strange that magic could only be used through wands. (Sorry Rowling! I still love Harry Potter!) I mean, real magic would be accessible at any time, right? And it would require a fair bit of energy? So that’s what I started with. In Callisto, magic requires energy unless you conjure sylph, a flexible semi-physical-liquid blob that is controlled telepathically and can do almost anything the conjurer’s desires. Imagine the possibilities! Many Callistonians use it to drive their quads (cars) with minimal energy by wrapping it around the wheels.
And finally, the division of Callisto is unique. There are six regions, and each region seems to think they are the best. There is a lot of hatred between regions, and the Argonians (Argo is the first region Jem and Oliver visit) even deny the existence of the other regions. A main theme I try to portray through my book is acceptance, and the six regions of Callisto offer a starting reality of how confrontational and non-accepting our own world really is.
IAN. Is Through the Portal published in print, e-book or both?
JD. Currently it is offered in e-book, but the print version will be ready for order on December 13, 2011. I’m very excited to be having the print edition released!
IAN. What do you hope your readers come away with after reading your book?
JD. I hope they can see that it is important to help people in this world. One of my favorite characters is Oliver, because even though he is so much unlike me, he is a very gentle-hearted person and always has to help shy kid, or the one being picked on. I hope people can learn from Oliver and be accepting and helpful too, because being apathetic to a bad situation is just like contributing to it.
IAN. Do you incorporate anything from your real life into your writing?
JD. In Through the Portal, much of it is simply a product of my mind, but parts of course are drawn from my experiences. Jem is like me, an introvert, but other than that we aren’t very similar. His experiences with his parents and grandparents are nothing like mine. But the bickering between Oliver and his little brother, Jordan, are similar to how my brother and I argue, although I’m nothing like Oliver.
Near the beginning of the story, the burning down of a building (can’t tell you which!) marks the start of the trio’s adventures across Callisto. This was inspired by my own house burning down when I was in the 8th grade. It was a reality check for me, just like it is for the heroes in Through the Portal.
IAN. Where can we go to buy your book?
JD. Depending on your e-reader, you may want to visit one of these retailers:
Barnes and Noble: www.barnesandnoble.com/w/through-the-portal-justin-dennis/1105128562
If you can’t stand e-reading, I will have a print edition of my novel out by December, 13, 2011 available through Amazon, which should be linked to the Kindle edition mentioned above. In the meantime, stay connected with me on Twitter (@JustinDennis4) and I’ll let you know when it is released.
IAN. Tell us about your next book or a work in progress. Is it a sequel or a stand alone?
JD. My next book is a sequel to Through the Portal, and is so far unnamed. I’m working diligently on it, but my writing time is scarce with all my schoolwork. I’m really excited about it though, because it takes all the unique aspects of Through the Portal and really steps up the action. Not to mention all the secrets from the first book that are revealed! Also, Through the Portal is told entirely from Jem’s point of view, and book two will be told from several different point of views, giving the reader their first look at the worlds of Callisto and Kelados through other eyes.
IAN. Any other links or info you'd like to share?
Or follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/JustinDennis4
Through the Portal by Justin Dennis
246 pages. Young Adult Fantasy
“You must go into the cave to get home,” said Atychis plainly.
“I don’t really wanna go home yet,” said Oliver. “I want to explore!”
“But Olive,” said Jem, “you remember what Atychis said about the Regime! Do you really want to die here?”
Oliver turned to Sierra as if she would hold all the real answers, “Is there really a thing called the Veroci Regime that will kill us if they find out we aren’t from Argo?” he asked her.
“Y-yes,” said Sierra delicately. “I’m sorry, but that is definitely true. The Regime is very… oppressive.”
“So you must go home,” spat Atychis, turning and walking towards the cave entrance. “Follow me!” he yelled.
“No!” cried Sierra, but she did not move from her spot. “If you go in there, the Red Dragon will kill you!”
“Lies!” came Atychis’ voice from inside the cave.
“It’ll kill him?” said Oliver. “Then I can’t let him go in there!”
With that, Oliver took off running into the cave.
“Olive! Wait!” yelled Jem, who then took off after him. He didn’t really care if the Red Dragon killed Atychis, but if it killed Oliver… that wasn’t an option. Behind him, Jem faintly heard Sierra yelling at them to stop. But he wasn’t going to stop until Oliver was safely out of the cave.
He ran deeper and deeper into the cave, until there was absolutely no light to see by. His bare feet were smacking against cold hard rock and he bumped into the walls a couple times, bruising his shoulders, but he just kept yelling for Oliver to come back. He wasn’t going to catch him though, and he was seriously wondering how Atychis had run so fast through the cave.
Then, a powerful growl shook the entire cave and Jem was forced to stop. A dark red glow was coming from the end of the cave. He couldn’t see anything down there, but it illuminated the wall beside him, which had a few lines written on it in swirly red ink:
Be cautious if you must enter this cave beyond the hills,
Because deep inside it lays the Red Dragon who kills.
If you are reading this now,
It might not be too late.
But if you hear the Dragon’s growl,
It has decided your fate.
“Oliver!” yelled Jem. “We have to get out of here!”
And that’s when he saw the big, fiery red eyes of the Dragon light up from the end of the cave, and Oliver came running straight past him yelling, “Let’s get the hell out of here!”