LEAH OLLIE | CULTURE CO-EDITOR | firstname.lastname@example.org
Voris poses with her new novel, “Made of Stars.” Photo by Lauren Gdowski.
Members of the Butler community are achieving extraordinary things, both on and off campus. From first-years to alumni to administrators and back, each Bulldog has a story to tell. Read on to discover the next of our Bulldogs of Butler through a Q&A style interview.
Butler University and Collegian alumna Jenna Voris ’18 has followed her interest in storytelling from her college experience to beyond. Now a published author with Penguin Random House, Voris explores many genres and topics in diverse and thrilling stories.
Voris’s latest release — “Made of Stars,” from Viking Books — is described as a “Bonnie & Clyde” style romantic thriller, and her forthcoming second novel is expected from Penguin Group in 2024. Voris spoke to The Butler Collegian on creativity, collegiate journalism and her Butler experience.
THE BUTLER COLLEGIAN: How did you come to Butler, and what was your experience while you were here?
JENNA VORIS: My dad actually worked at Butler, so I chose to come here because of the free tuition — I’m never gonna pass up an opportunity to save money. He was the football coach for a while and just retired last year.
I grew up coming to Butler football games [and] Butler basketball games. I had a bunch of Butler merch growing up because [my dad] would just bring home a T-shirt. Butler wasn’t the only college that I applied to or considered, but it definitely just ended up being a combination of a good school and a financially responsible decision.
TBC: While you were at Butler, what were you involved in, and what did you study?
JV: I studied journalism, and it was interesting, because I realized pretty quickly that I didn’t want to do beat reporting. I always knew that I wanted to be a writer of some sort, but I didn’t think being an author or doing creative writing was a career that people could have; [I thought] real people weren’t allowed to be authors.
I always enjoyed the magazine writing classes, feature writing classes and writing opinion for the Collegian — those were the stories that I enjoyed writing. They were a little bit more creative. [I had] a bit more freedom creatively than strictly beat reporting where you have to obviously report news.
I was on the Collegian for three years. I was on [the staff of] Manuscripts Literary Magazine for a few years. I was also involved outside of campus with a world-class color guard in Dayton, Ohio, so every weekend I was going back and forth and competing there.
TBC: How did your time at the Collegian inform both your Butler experience and also your writing?
JV: Working at the Collegian was where I found out that I really loved telling longer form stories. I wrote for Opinion, so writing about myself was really nice, and [I liked] being able to shape the story into what I wanted it to be.
I found that I had a lot of [personal] specifications about how words sounded and how sentences worked and sentence structure. A lot of the times if you are writing for class or assignments, there are strict guidelines or rubrics you have to follow. It’s a little bit stilted creatively, but writing for the Collegian really allowed me to pick what I thought was interesting, connect with other people in the community and the greater Indianapolis community and find stories that way.
TBC: After you graduated from Butler, what were your next steps?
JV: After I graduated, I really wanted to work in theatre, so I had interned at the Booth Tarkington when I was at Butler. I interned at another theater the summer after graduation, but the first job that I actually found was in publishing. I moved to New York City basically the fall after graduation. I was really excited about it at first because obviously I love writing, I love books. I thought this would be a great next career step.
It didn’t really work out [because] it was just not the job for me, and New York was a really hard city for me to live in. Publishing notoriously does not pay their workers very much, so I just was not happy there. I left to go back to grad school actually after about six months. I went to grad school in D.C. for publishing because I was like, “I’ll get my masters, I’ll go back, I’ll be able to apply for higher salary positions.”
I really fell in love with D.C. — it’s a great city. I’m still there. I don’t work in trade publishing anymore; I work in science journals and magazines doing marketing and stuff for them. It’s an adjacent career, and it’s really good because I don’t think that I could work in book trade publishing and also publish [my own work].
TBC: Let’s pivot a bit to talk about “Made of Stars.” What inspired you to write this particular story, and what was that creative process like?
JV: This was not the first book that I had written or tried to find representation for. During the time where I was trying to find an agent for my first book, I was not really having a lot of luck. The thing that people tell you is that you should try to work on something else [in the meantime] just to take your mind off of things. I was really trying to think of, “What are some tropes that I like? What are character arcs that I like? What are stories that I really like reading about?” because if I’m going to write it, it has to be something that I enjoy.
I was a fan of Jeremy Jordan from being like a theatre kid in high school, and he was in the Bonnie and Clyde musical. I had enjoyed the soundtrack. I thought it was fun. When I was listening to one of the songs, I was like, “Oh, this is actually kind of an interesting story. I would like to know more.” That led me down a rabbit hole of research and reading a bunch of biographies, and I thought that that was an interesting story that I could tell. The sci-fi [genre] element just felt like it was really big and expansive, and fit the story that I wanted to tell.
TBC: What are your next steps or future goals?
JV: I have another [young adult] book that’s coming out next year, which is really fun. That one is a contemporary, so it’s a little bit different. It’s set in our world. I had a lot of fun with it. That was a little bit different just because you don’t have genre elements as much to play with, so the character arc and character journeys are really like the focus of the story.
I would really love to write adult. I love romance, I love romcoms — I would love to write adult romcom. I think that’d be so, so fun. Those books are always just my go-tos, every single day. So I’d love to write something like that. I would love to write for film and TV one day as well.
TBC: What words of advice would you give to current Bulldogs?
JV: I think what’s interesting for me is that I never took a formal creative writing class. I don’t want people to feel like that is a limitation. I think after college I felt like this was not a career that I could pursue just because I didn’t have any formal training, and journalism is very different from creative writing. If it’s something that you want to do and it’s something that you are interested in, the best kind of education is one that you can create yourself. Reading other people’s books, going online, learning, things like that. There’s no limits to what you can learn outside of the classroom.
I don’t want people to feel limited by the major that they picked or the activities they did outside of school. I wasn’t a creative writing major, and this is still something I was able to do.
“Made of Stars” is available at all major booksellers. Follow Voris on Twitter or visit her website for information regarding upcoming releases.