Bestselling author Jenn McKinlay teaches fan fiction workshop

It’s now common knowledge the summer’s bestseller “Fifty Shades of Grey” originated as a piece of “Twilight” fan fiction, and the novel created a surge of interest in the genre. But what is fan fiction? Phoenix-based and New York Times bestselling author Jenn McKinlay is teaching a workshop on the genre throughout October.

McKinlay finds the genre so compelling that she has created a  fan fiction-based curriculum that is running at the Burton Barr branch of the Phoenix Public Library.

McKinlay has teamed up with local comic book illustrator Jeff Piña, who created the Dr. Oblivion comics, to teach the workshop to teenagers.

“The reality is girls usually come for the writing, while boys come for the comic books,” McKinlay said, explaining their intentions in working with Piña. She believes the materials they’re teaching weave together well.

The first half of the workshop, which is under the umbrella of Teen Read Month, focused on developing character and story arc, while the latter half is focusing on developing personal voice. McKinlay and Piña use a combination of worksheets and discussion sessions to inspire students to work on their writing.

The duo has discussed teaching the course to older students in a college-level version of the workshop some time in the future.

McKinlay was a fan fiction writer, taking the characters of series like “Nancy Drew” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and manipulating them to follow her own plots and developments.

“When I was younger, writing fan fiction just seemed a perfect fit,” she said. Professionally, however, she began by writing romance novels.

“It’s really hard,” McKinlay said, “and I was really bad at it. I found that I couldn’t have rich enough character arcs.”

It drove McKinlay into taking a stab at writing murder mysteries — no pun intended. Two of her murder mystery series, which take place in a cupcake bakery and a library, respectively, have landed her on the New York Times bestseller list.

“It was such a shock. It’s the call,” McKinlay said of finding out about her appearance on the list. “I felt equal parts happiness and relief. It’s definitely a jaw-dropper.”

In addition to working on a book series based at a London hat shop that she says was inspired by the eclectic hats at last year’s Royal Wedding, McKinlay has also found herself enthralled by the diversity of today’s Young Adult literature. She is contemplating a foray into the field, noting the movement of other adult writers like James Patterson and Robert Parker toward writing for teens.

“The nice thing is, I don’t really have a charted course,” McKinlay said. “I’m sort of seeing where it all takes me, and that’s nice.”


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