"Gary Jennings is the best among our historical novelists." - The New York Times

Gary Jennings is a well-known author of epic historical novels, each one set in a different period but all sharing the theme of survival by wit and chance in violent times. These sprawling works, sometimes reaching 500,000 words, are packed with violence, braggadocio and vivid sex scenes. Gary Jennings usually structures his historical novels around a narrator who comes of age in the vicissitudes of the story and then takes his or her life lessons into an adulthood fraught with danger and sexual escapade. Carefully researched and possessing a wealth of period detail, Gary Jennings's novels have earned him praise as "a historical novelist of the first order," according to Christian H. Moe in Twentieth-Century Historical Writers.

Born September 20, 1928, in Buena Vista, Virginia; son of Glen Edward (a printer) and Vaughnye May (Bays). Education: Gary Jennings attended little formal school after graduating from Eastside High School (of Lean on Me fame) in Paterson, New Jersey, and was mostly self-educated thereafter. Copywriter and account executive for advertising agencies, New York City, 1947-58; newspaper reporter in California and Virginia, 1958-61 Military: U.S. Army, Infantry, 1952-54; served as correspondent in Korea; awarded Bronze Star, citation from Republic of Korea Ministry of Information. Member of PEN International, Authors Guild, Authors League of America, Screenwriters Guild, Pocaliers Club. Gary Jennings died February 13, 1999, in Pompton Lakes, NJ

Gary Jennings - Aztec

Aztec "has everything that makes a story vulgarly appealing, in the best sense of the phrase," remarked Christopher Lehmann-Haupt of the New York Times. "It has sex--my goodness, does it have sex! and it has violence." While these elements may be appealing, "the violence usually serves a constructive storytelling purpose and the sexual passages almost always relate to the book's most fascinating and subtle aspect, which is the way the hero, Mixtli, unconsciously re-enacts the life of the Indian god Quetzalcoatl," continued Lehmann-Haupt. "It is this particular dimension of Aztec which raises it above the level of a mere historical potboiler. This historical novel represents a triumph of research over art." "Gary Jennings has produced in Aztec a monumental novel," noted Nicholas Shakespeare in the London Times. Gary Jennings unfolds the story of the overthrow of the Native Mexicans through the voice of an amiable but wry Aztec adventurer named Mixtli. Judith Matloff observed in the Saturday Review: "In picaresque fashion, Mixtli travels the length and breadth of Mexico, working as scribe, merchant, warrior, and ambassador to Montezuma," thus becoming involved in various aspects of the war against the conquistadors. In addition, the novel contains an abundance of details about the Aztecs--their culture, their religion, their customs, their daily life.  In preparing to write the novel, Gary Jennings lived for twelve years in Mexico while conducting research on Aztec culture and the Spanish conquest. He read many accounts about the wars but found many of them biased against the Indians. So, as Gary Jennings told John F. Baker in a Publishers Weekly interview, "I learned to interpret the ancient pictures and codices and read Nahuatl, the Aztec language...it shows them as people who had a sense of the bawdy, and who had all sorts of human reactions. I wanted to bring them alive as flesh-and-blood people." The author traveled about the country, seeking primary sources and "trying to get a sense, from living Indians, of their legendary past," recounted Baker. Gary Jennings's research paid off, for the voice of his narrator Mixtli is filled with resonance of the Nahuatl speech. As Times Literary Supplement contributor Gordon Brotherston commented, "Much of the novel's power stems from Nahua sources transcribed into the alphabet after the Spanish invasion, not just the direct quotations from Nahua poems and of set pieces but the whole range of devices used by Mixtli to keep his audience alert." "Historical novels are most often praised or dismissed as novels," observed Thomas M. Disch in the Washington Post Book World, "but surely it is their power as narrative history that is their main strength, the power to evoke the feel of ages lost to memory. So it is with Gary Jennings's Aztec."

Reviews of "Aztec"
NY Times, "Books of The Times"

Washington Post "Of Conquistadors and Kings"

Chicago Tribune, "From the Halls of Montezuma"

The Times Literary Supplement, "Mixtli Impressions"

Baltimore Sun, "Is This Novel Montezuma's Revenge?"

NY Times, "Before Cortés"

Américas, "Truth That Reads Like Fiction"

Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market, "Writing 'the Other Half' of History"

The London Times   The San Diego Magazine   Nuestro

The Chicago Tribune   Texas Monthly, "Blood Luster"

The Saturday Review    Novel History   Austin Briggs

Kirkus   Mexconnect   A Good Book  

People Magazine    Face In The Blue 

Gary Jennings - The Journeyer In The Journeyer, Gary Jennings relates the "other half" of Marco Polo's adventures. "Readers of his marvelously evocative first novel, ''Aztec,'' will not be too surprised to learn that his rendering of that untold half involves mainly sex, violence and the exotic.  Indeed the only question that remains once we have started reading ''The Journeyer'' is, how is Mr. Jennings going to sustain his narrative, considering that within the first few dozen pages of this nearly 800-page extravaganza, we have already had four copulations, a flogging and a murder. Moreover, enfolded into a disquisition on the prevalence of virginity among 13th-century Venetian women, there is Marco Polo's speculation that ''the fishermen's annual catch of discarded infants would seem to indicate a scarcity of 'good' Venetian girls.''  How does Mr. Jennings sustain our interest? He does it very effectively, thank you. One can't really call his sexual passages pornographic, since they always serve to advance his story, and storytelling, in Mr. Jennings's hands at least, is distinctly a form of art. Mr. Jennings is good at this because he has learned and included all manner of exotic 13th-century words for the sexual parts and actions. This serves to remove his prose from vulgarity and lift it to a low level of poetry. He also knows when enough is enough.  Nor can one really call him a sadist. He is too full of humor, affection and humanity. Yet he has managed to surpass even the cruelty of his earlier book, ''Aztec.'' - The New York Times. "The real energy of Gary Jennings's narrative is devoted to those old standbys lust and bloodlust. His zeal for clinical description of sexual practices is matched only by his enthusiasm for the minutiae of Oriental torture. Pound for pound, 'The Journeyer' is a classic." wrote Gene Lyons in Newsweek. "As Gary Jennings did for pre-Hispanic Mexico in Aztec," commented Grover Sales in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, "he has enriched The Journeyer with an anthropologist's knowledge of diverse lands and cultures." Added the critic: "Gary Jennings combines inexhaustible research with the yarn-spinner's art, drawing indelible portraits of Marco and his companions on the long journey." Chicago Tribune Book World contributor Jack Dierks similarly found the novel engrossing, explaining that "employing both great sweep and meticulous detail, Gary Jennings has produced an impressively learned gem of the astounding and the titillating. As pure travelogue it is impeccable, and the adventures that befall our heroes come like tales spun out by some erudite and prurient Scheherazade, heaping wonder onto oddity." Sales offered the opinion that "with astonishing speed and consummate skill, novelist Gary Jennings has capped his 1980 Aztec," while Dierks considered the book an "even more compelling work of derring-do."

Reviews of "The Journeyer"
NY Times, "Books of The Times"

NY Times, "Books in Short"

People Magazine

Kirkus Reviews

UPI Archives

"The Dictionary of Torture" Author Review
Gary Jennings - Raptor For Raptor, Gary Jennings pressed further into the past than ever before. Set in the fifth century A.D.--and framed by Theodoric the Great's conquest of Rome--Raptor tells the story of a wily hermaphrodite named Thorn and his/her adventures in Theodoric's employ. Styling the work "a ripping yarn," New York Times Book Review contributor Joe Queenan noted: "Generally, the author (whose previous books include "Aztec" and "The Journeyer") avoids straying very far from his pay dirt material -- decapitations, gang rapes, crucifixions, bisexual orgies." Thorn's response to his/her situation is to become a predator--a raptor like the hawk he/she has tamed--in order to protect himself/herself and his/her interests. "Thorn is a memorable character, and unique outside of science fiction," wrote Judith Tarr in the Washington Post Book World. "Raptor is a splendid entertainment: a historical novel of the old school, impressively researched and remarkably accurate--and above all, a roaring good read." In the New York Times, Lehmann- Haupt declared that Gary Jennings's "latest boisterously imaginative historical extravaganza . . . recaptures some of the magic of `Aztec.'" The critic concluded: "If you loved `Aztec,' then you'll love `Raptor.' And if you haven't read `Aztec,' then prepare yourself for astonishment."

Reviews of "Raptor"
NY Times, "Back When 'Ostrogoth' Was Not a Dirty Word"

Washington Post, "Love Among the Ostrogoths"

NY Times, "Hermaphrodites in Love"

Kirkus Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Gary Jennings - Spangle For Spangle, Gary Jennings traveled with nine different circuses in America and Europe. "Why does one keep reading this immense and complicated story? Why does one get lost in it, and replay scenes from it as one drops off to sleep at night? It's easy enough to describe the book's machinery. There's the lore of circus life that Mr. Jennings details - why contortionists tend to have weak lungs, how animal trainers speak German to their charges because it is the language of command, or what sounds ventriloquists avoid to keep from moving their lips. Like the author's previous works, Spangle contains the same elements of spectacle, sex, violence, and detail that mark most of his historical fiction. Yet for Gary Jennings, the formula seems to work uniquely. There is something mesmerizing about the world he creates, perhaps because as its god he is so wantonly cruel. He is a bedtime storyteller who goes too far, frightening the children and keeping them up past their bedtime. One could almost accuse him of being a sadist, what with the sexual perversions he describes and the endless physical tortures he dreams up...No, the charm of ''Spangle'' lies in its remarkable energy and its inventiveness of endless detail. " - The New York Times. Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor MacDonald Harris felt that Spangle "is impressive in its sheer mass and richness, in the enthusiasm and energy of its telling, in the obvious pleasure the author takes in the work." This enthusiasm, asserted Harris, "is contagious. Before the novel is over we develop, along with the characters, a contempt for non-circus people and a conviction that the only sensible and reasonable thing to do . . . is to run away and join a circus." Spangle has been serialized into three paperbacks: The Road Show (Spangle Part One), Center Ring (Spangle Part Two), and Grand Promenade (Spangle Part Three).

Reviews of "Spangle"
Publishers Weekly

LA Times, "10,000 Secrets of the Circus"

NY Times, "Books of the Times"

Kirkus Reviews
  The Road Show: Spangle #1

The Center Ring: Spangle #2

The Grand Promenade: Spangle #3

Gary Jennings - Aztec Autumn Aztec Autumn "is a bloody tale of revenge...Offered in the form of an as-told-to first-person journal, Jennings's fascinating if often gory novel is guided by exhaustive research into practically every facet of life in 16th-century Mexico...Near the beginning of his fifth and latest historical novel, ''Aztec Autumn,'' Gary Jennings, with his usual taste for grotesque violence, describes the public burning of a man in the central square of 16th-century Mexico City..So begins Mr. Jennings's sequel to his first and best book, ''Aztec,"..the magic of the earlier book seems back, that beguiling combination of innocence and obscenity that somehow suits the violent sweetness of the ancient Aztec world. With his vigorous prose and clearly visualized details, Gary Jennings brings readers back in time to that world. Descriptions of landscape and culture, gruesome battle scenes and executions, have convincing immediacy. This is riveting historical fiction written with wonderful force." - The New York Times

Reviews of "Aztec Autumn"
NY Times "Innocent, Bloodthirsty and Bent on Vengeance"

NY Times, "Books in Brief"

Publishers Weekly

Kirkus Reviews

Washington Post "A Kingdom Crumbles"

Favorite novel by Gary Jennings?


Reviews, short stories, and commentary by Gary Jennings

"The Cellar Door"

"Mysterious Vanishings (And Grunting Sounds)"

The Making of "The Journeyer"

"A Nice Place for Mastadons"

"On Language; Old and Novel"

"Trodding to Military School"

"Pterrified by Pterodactyls"

Academic articles on "Aztec"
"The Aztec World of Gary Jennings" by Michael Smith, and "My Indignant Response" by Gary Jennings

"Historicity versus Fictionality: An Interview with Dr. Michael E. Smith" by Vassilaki Papanicolaou

"The Indigenous as the Malleable 'Other' Doomed to Subjugation" by Jose C. Salazar

"I'm a writer. I write not only for a living, I write because I'm a writer." - Gary Jennings

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