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Author puts pursuit of visual art aside to write novels


March 18, 2020

JENNA UNDERWOOD holds up a copy of her book "Re_Essence," a science fiction novel.

Jenna Underwood is busy studying visual arts, but she has a surprising passion for the theater of the mind – writing fiction, drawing pictures with just words.

Underwood, 21, a 2017 graduate of Sweet Home High School and the daughter of Ryan and Paula Underwood, is studying traditional animation online through the Academy of Art University of San Francisco. She works at Kohl's in Albany.

The young writer published her first novel about a year ago. The novel, "Re_Essence," is a medical drama based on current science with science fiction elements focused around stem cells, genetics and regeneration.

"I never ever pictured myself to be an author," Underwood said. She didn't like English at all until her sophomore year in high school. Facing an open class assignment in English, someone handed her a copy of "The Fault in Our Stars."

"I was blown away," Underwood said of the novel, which has drawn acclaim and been made into a movie. "It opened a whole new universe for me."

And her teacher, Tomas Rosa, played to her talents and interests, suggesting she make a comic out of the story.

"He put a lot of life into what we were reading," Underwood said. She put together an animatic of the story and "I fell in love with storytelling."

The problem, she said, had been "no one ever gave me a book worth reading before."

While she didn't care much for the story in "The Fault in Our Stars," Underwood said, it was well-written. Since then she has enjoyed a variety of books, including the "Prince of Wolves" series by Quinn Loftis, "The Syrena Legacy" series by Anna Banks and "The Program" series by Suzanne Young.

"The beginning of my junior year in high school, I started writing my first story," Underwood said. She wrote it a chapter at a time and let her friends read it as she progressed, Underwood said. They kept asking for the next chapter.

"Re-Essence" grew out of a story she wrote her senior year in high school, Underwood said. She began revising and writing it her freshman year in college. Going to sleep each night, she would run through the story in her head and then add to it.

"I procrastinated with my homework," Underwood said. "I'd stay up till midnight. It's so addicting. It's so easy for me to see, like my own little personal TV or movie."

When she completed "Re_Essance," she sought a publisher and reached out to Covenant Books, a Christian publishing house. While her book is not a Christian novel, it is compatible with Christian values. Covenant agreed to publish the book for a fee and a percentage.

She finished the book in March 2018. Her sister April helped her edit it; and she submitted the book in July 2018 for publication on New Year's Eve 2018.

The book is available for sale as a paperback through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. It's also available as an electronic book through Amazon, iBooks and Barnes and Noble for the kindle and the Nook. The book is available in the United Kingdom, India and Canada as well. The book also appears in the Sweet Home High School Library collection.

Underwood describes the novel as fast-paced, without any monologues. The book is in the first-person view of an emergency medical technician and pre-med student writing the story as a journal, beginning with an encounter with near death during an emergency medical call.

"He doesn't want to give up on her," Underwood said. Using what he learned in a psychology course, he plays to her "inner peace," her "happy place, and she brings herself back."

The story line doesn't follow a traditional story structure, with a single climax, Underwood said. Rather, the structure is "like a heartbeat," with repeated climaxes.

It remains intense throughout, she said, and she warns that it is medically graphic and "very unsettling."

"I've taken everything I hated about books I read and done the opposite," Underwood said.

"It's almost written as a script, cinematically," Underwood said. "It would be easy to make a movie out of it. I'd love to see it someday on the big screen."

Since its release, she has sold about three dozen copies, Underwood said. She recently participated in a book signing at Barnes and Noble in Eugene.

"Even if I don't make all the money back, it's out there. I think it has a strong message the world really needs to hear right now."

It's not simple and trite, like "stand up for yourself," Underwood said. She won't say what that message is; she invites readers to find out.

Underwood said intends to continue the story, which she ended with a title. At this point, she is about 5 percent of the way through it with an outline.

When people finish it, "the first thing they ask, 'Is there another one?'"


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