Tuesday, April 3, 2012

There's Something About Jenni--The Unusual Heroine of As The World Dies

“It’s okay to cry now,” Katie murmured.
Jenni covered her face with her hands and wept.
For her dead children, for the dead world, and for her newfound freedom . . .
Genevieve Maria de la Lourdes Sanchez Williams Blakely (Jenni for short) is by the far the most complex and difficult character I have ever written in any of my novels.  Perhaps for that very reason, she is the most beloved, yet hated character in the AS THE WORLD DIES trilogy.

Here are some examples of some of the comments in reviews and emails:
  • "Jenni is so immature!" (I agree.)
  • "Jenni is ignoring the fact her kids are dead!" (Yes, she definitely is.)
  • "Jenni is crushing on Travis and her kids are dead!" (Yes, I know.)
  • "Jenni's kids are dead! How could she not be catatonic?" (Yes, they are. She's wired up not to go catatonic.)
  • "Jenni was abused! How can she deal with zombies?" (She can deal with zombies because she was abused.)
Jenni was the first character of the story that appeared on the movie screen in my mind.  It was the image of her in her pink nightgown and robe staring at those tiny fingers under the front door that compelled me to jot down the short story that would evolve into AS THE WORLD DIES.

Without a doubt, Jenni was my muse throughout the trilogy, yet at times she was the most difficult character to write about.

Jenni's complexity really upsets some people. They want her to react how they would in the same situation, but Jenni is incapable of doing that.  In fact, Jenni's past as an abused housewife is exactly why she will not respond the way people expect her to.

Why Jenni Functions Well in the Dead World
Battered women are some of the most misunderstood and vilified people in this country. People who have never been abused cannot fathom how anyone could possibly remain in an abusive relationship for years on end. 

"If someone hit me, I'd be out of there!"

What people don't understand is that by the time the first blow is struck, the victim has been slowly broken down piece by piece both emotionally and mentally.  Sadly, women like Jenni have been brainwashed into believing that they are the ones who brought on the violence.  They take the responsibility for the action.  

The abuser even says, "If only you wouldn't make me do this." 

When Jenni was abused by Lloyd, she believed she deserved it. And she also believed she could change it.  The abuser always gives the victim a false sense of control. "If only you wouldn't make me angry. If only you wouldn't make me be this way."

Add in the cycle of abuse with its honeymoon phase where the abuser becomes Prince Charming and it's very easy for a victim to grasp onto the idea that their actions can somehow make it all better.  What they don't understand is that the honeymoon stage is followed by the tension building stage which ends in the explosion of violence. 

And then it starts all over again.

Living in a high-stress, violent situation from day to day forces the mind to create coping mechanisms that both help and hurt the victims of abuse.  The mind will neatly slice away memories so that the victim doesn't remember that the abuser was recently violent.  The mind will compartmentalize the emotions and reactions of the victim so they can go about their every day life in a "normal" manner. 

For example, the victim could have been strangled nearly into unconsciousness that morning, but the mind's coping mechanisms will kick in allowing the victim to cover up the bruises and carry on with the day with a smile. 

When researching for Jenni, I realized that her ability to live in a life threatening situation on a daily basis in her abusive household would enable her to survive the zombocalypse. All the coping mechanisms everyone at the fort needs to develop to survive the emotional turmoil of the death of the world are already firmly entrenched in Jenni's mind.

Jenni definitely ignores the death of her children and not even on a conscious level. Her coping mechanisms have compartmentalized all the pain and terror into one portion of her mind, allowing her to continue living.  Her mind is more than able to deal with the high levels of stress Jenni experiences when the zombies rise, because it is used to coping with life and death situations.

Jenni's Immaturity
When THE FIRST DAY opens, Jenni has been living in a very violent marriage with a man who controlled her every waking moment day by day.  Married and a mother since eighteen, Jenni's whole adult life has been as a trophy wife to her control freak husband.  She is immensely immature when it comes to social interactions.
Jenni wasn’t sure she liked any of them. But then again, Jenni had never really had any real relationships with any women other than members of her family and, now, Katie. It annoyed her to feel her past insecurity returning. --THE FIRST DAYS
Jenni's first real friendship is with Katie.  Katie becomes her best friend, her sister, and at times a mother figure.  Because of Jenni's past, she doesn't know how to interact with Katie at first.  This leads to an awkward moment when she tries to comfort Katie with sex (even though Jenni is straight).
“Don’t. I’m not your husband. I don’t need sex to comfort me.” Katie held Jenni firmly. She realized in that instant that part of her had been waiting for this. Subconsciously, she had recognized that Jenni was looking for security in this new world. And that would mean fitting Katie into a role Jenni understood. Jenni was used to a strong male figure, one she could calm with sex, follow obediently, and maybe fear a little.- THE FIRST DAYS
Jenni is also looking for a protector in the men she meets in the fort in Ashley Oaks. As a battered woman, she was under the false impression that Lloyd was protecting her from the evils of the world. Unsure of herself, she clings to the idea of someone protecting her (as Katie protected her when they escaped the city). Her very childish and immature crush on Travis, the man she sees as the leader of the fort, is a coping mechanism.

Jenni's Dead Children
One aspect of Jenni's character that baffles some people is the fact that she doesn't completely fall apart because of the death of her children and become catatonic.  
Throughout the series, Jenni refuses to discuss her children and when she does it is only to Katie and in a very limited way. Basically, Jenni lives in a state of denial and disassociates from reality. Her mind is very adept at compartmentalizing her darker emotions.  By not thinking about her dead children, she doesn't cope with their deaths. 

One of the main arcs of Jenni's personal story is that she does not fully deal with the death of her children.  In her waking hours she is able to recreate herself as a zombie killer and molds her persona to be something other than the cowed woman she was before the zombocalypse. This is even noted by Katie on more than one occasion.  When Jenni loses everything, it allows her to remake herself into someone she wants to be.

But her past does haunt her.  Jenni suffers severe nightmares about her children and has several bad moments when she loses her grip on reality.  

Jenni isn't okay.  At all. That is what helps her survive.

Jenni is probably the most popular character in the books because of all of the issues addressed above. Jenni's ass-kickin', zombie-killin' exterior is at war with her fragile, tormented interior. Jenni's fans understand that for her killing zombies is revenge for the death of her children. Over and over again, she kills the creatures that destroyed her life.  Each and every zombie is a substitute for her dead husband Lloyd, the man who abused her and eventually killed her children. Jenni's need and desire for the love she never had in her life before the zombies draws her to people in sometimes unhealthy ways, but it also enables her to form strong friendships.  The guilt she suffers for not saving her two younger children compels her to be a better mother to her stepson.  

From the AS THE WORLD DIES wiki:
Jenni is charismatic, outgoing, quick to temper, but eager to please. Sadly, this has been corrupted over years of abuse. Jenni suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder and tends to disassociate from reality when overwhelmed. To function as normally as possible, she tries very hard to distance herself from the life she had before the zombies, which means not properly mourning the loss of her children. Her pain and anger is directed at killing zombies, which she becomes quite adept at doing. Despite her obvious issues, she's loving and dynamic and creates strong friendships with those around her as she tries to become a new Jenni in the dead world.
In the end, the death of the world gave Jenni a new life.  And she embraced it.


  1. I liked Jenni's character. Did I want to smack her a time or two? YES. Did I understand WHY she was acting the way she did? YES. LOVED The First Days, and I'm onto the 2nd book soon, so I can be ready for Seige!


  2. @Heather,

    There was more than a few times I wanted to smack her. LOL. Having Jenni in my head for all those years was...tiring. But she's still one of my all time favorite characters.

    So glad you enjoyed TFD.

  3. I like Jenni too. And all that she went through with the abuse, the loss of her children, makes her who she is. As she survived all that happened to her, she can survive this new world.


  4. I love jenni. Everytime I would read the books, I kind of found pieces of her I felt I identified with. She and all the other characters are amazing. Thanks so much for this amazing series

  5. Jenni is like.. JENNI! She's the most complex character ever I loved her and I understood her actions completely. I've said it before (and will say it FOREVER #StalkerBaby), she (and all the others) is THE most realistic characters ever! When I wasn't reading, I was wondering what they were doing - yeah this is totally weird to me too. Aaanyways, I'm not going to go on about how some people are too umm.. stupid to get that humans are not all automatons with non functioning brains. But yeah.. Is this mean? Well, people are stupid - sorry. My brain is obviously made a bit "different" so I'm proof!

    So yeah, the requisite LOVE JENNI OR DIE and all that! :)

  6. Giselle pointed me here after my review of The First Days, where I stated (as so many have) that Jenni was not one of the characters I loved.

    I appreciate your breakdown here, and I could not agree more. What I didn't like about Jenni? Was how personal she felt, how she was a perfect victim of abuse. So perfect that it broke my heart.

    I think that her reaction to the death of her children/world falling apart/Zombies being everywhere? I think it's perfect, spot on. I think it's how many victims of abuse would probably respond in the situation.

    I suppose all this rambles is just to say that while I don't like Jenni? My reasons are personal, and I think as a character she's perfect! She's well written and everything that she should be. I just don't like her! (And I'm fine with that, it adds to the story for me.)

  7. Jac,

    Thanks for your comment.

    Jenni is actually the most popular character in the series and probably the most beloved. The negative comments I do hear about her are few and far between, but usually very, very scathing. That's why I wrote this.

    Hopefully, as Jenni evolves in the sequels, you will grow to like her more.



Thanks for commenting!