Author Spotlight: Justin Dennis

Today I’d like to welcome Justin Dennis to my first Author Spotlight!

Justin wrote Through the Portal, which was the book review that was highlighted in yesterday’s post.  It is always interesting to get more insight into an author’s motivations and thought processes in developing their work. Take it away Justin!

Cege: How long have you been writing?

Justin: I’ve been writing ever since I can remember, honestly. I used to just dream up random stories, draw pictures of strange creatures. Turns out I’m a terrible artist, but I could actually tell a story! I wrote some short stories in junior high, and then the beginnings of a novel in high school, but Through the Portal was my first full-length novel. Writing has always been my passion, and it felt amazing to finally pull together this book: a collaboration of everything I had ever dreamed of or imagined.

Cege: Who are your major writing influencers?

Justin: Definitely JK Rowling and Philip Pullman. Christopher Paolini as well, the author of the Inheritance Cycle, because he wrote at a young age as well and created a fantasy world too. Rowling because the Harry Potter series had the most intricate, wonderful plot of anything I have ever read, and Pullman because he wrote poetically and described everything beautifully, while also dreaming up incredible worlds and creatures.

Cege: How did you develop the story concept for Through the Portal?

Justin: It really began in pieces, as Callisto was a world with its own inhabitants before Jem and Oliver found their way there. So it took a lot of planning of the history and future of Callisto before I decided on having Earth kids venture over. Then I wanted to make statements about independence, about relationships, about war and peace, about friendship and loyalty, about everything, so I designed scenes to lead them through this world while portraying important lessons and dropping just the right amount of hints as to what will be in books two and three.

Cege: Are any of the characters based on you, or someone you know?

Justin: Hm, that’s a good question. All of them have pieces of myself, small things brought to extremes, but no character is fully myself or anyone else. Pretty much everyone just popped straight out of my mind!

Cege: Who is your favorite character in the story?

Justin: I really like Sierra because she’s a strong, independent person capable of so much and has so much to prove throughout the trilogy. She’s really an outstanding person, and without her, none of this adventure would’ve been possible. But of course, like any writer, I love all my characters.

Cege: Through the Portal is set in Callisto, a parallel world to Earth.  How did you develop the topography Callisto and its six regions?

Justin: Well I wanted the terrain in every region to be instantly recognizable and unique to the inhabitants, and so I brainstormed all the different kinds of landscapes that I could use and denoted one to each region that fit the personality of the region. For instance, Lurians are very introverted and keep to themselves, so it snows heavily in Luria and is very cold, hence the people stay inside by themselves. Another interesting fact about the six regions is that each is named after one of the noble gases. Well… except for Luria, which replaced Krypton, simply because I didn’t feel I could steal that from superman.

Cege: You created a lot of new and interesting people, places, and animals that only exist in Callisto and the other world Kelados. How do you decide on names for your creations and keep track of all of them?

Justin: Oh jeez, I have a hugeeeee list, trust me! There are actually a lot more creatures that inhabit Callisto than I was able to squeeze into the book. Some of the people have names that relate to something in their personality. For example, Afflatus is a word that means inspiration or the imparting of knowledge, because Jem sees him as knowing everything and he is an important teacher to Jem. I named Callisto after Jupiter’s moon, which is thought to possibly have life on it. Kelados is derived from Enceladus which is one of Saturn’s moons, also thought to possibly harbor life. There is a lot more behind the names of everything and I’m constantly scheming up new creatures and names that will find a place within the next couple books.

Cege: Will we see more of Kelados and learn more about its zombie inhabitants in future installments?

Justin: Most definitely.

Cege: There seems to be a romance brewing between Jem and Sierra.  How do you approach writing that plot line knowing your target audience is younger readers?

Justin: Well it certainly entails being careful with the language I use and the situations that crop up, but I actually enjoy writing about them because I see it as an opportunity to teach younger kids about relationships. A major thing Jem and Sierra have to battle with is dependency, and both have to learn to be independent without the other. I think it’s a truly important lesson for readers to learn, and I love having Jem and Sierra to demonstrate that. It’s definitely not a simple boy falls in love with girl story.

Cege: When can we expect to see the next installment of Jem’s adventure?

Justin: For sure, it will be out by Summer 2012, although I’m working really hard to get it out by the Spring. So hopefully within the next few months.

Thank you Justin for hanging out in the Cege Smith universe!  I wish you the best of luck with all your writing endeavors!

Connect with Justin:

Justin’s Blog:
Justin’s Twitter:!/justindennis4
Justin’s Facebook Page:

Buy Through The Portal:


Barnes & Noble:

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