Jen Blood: An Interview

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JenBloodThreeINTERVIEW WITH Jen Blood

Hi, Jen, I’m just thrilled to talk about your totally lovable character Erin Solomon and her mystery series. I devoured the first three books in Erin’s series, couldn’t put it down. First things first: please give us a quick synopsis of the series.

The series features investigative reporter Erin Solomon, who is trying to solve a mystery that has haunted her since childhood: the alleged cult suicide of the Payson Church of Tomorrow, a fundamentalist church where Erin’s father raised her for the first ten years of her life. Each novel contains a standalone mystery, a healthy dose of romance between Erin and two suitors—Diggs, her long-time best friend (and frequently more), and Jack Juarez, a mysterious FBI agent with his own haunted past—as well as the continuing thread of the Payson Church and Erin’s father’s role in that tragedy.

The setting of ALL THE BLUE-EYED ANGELS is magnificent, and the sense of place in both SINS OF THE FATHER and SOUTHERN CROSS, haunting. While all three books feature Erin’s quest, two of the books concern—at least in part—fundamentalist communities. Can you speak to that fascination?

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Thank you! When I was growing up, my mom spent a few years going to a Pentecostal church – the kind with healings, revivals, folks speaking in tongues, writhing on the floor… the works. It was the same church she’d been raised in, and my grandparents were very devout. Some of the experiences I write about are ones I’ve actually witnessed firsthand, while others come from my mom’s stories of her childhood—which are fascinating. Her uncle was a fundamentalist preacher who used to hold services in the local firehouse back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. As a kid, I remember being so fascinated (and occasionally terrified) by the fervor and the drama, these huge outpourings of emotion supposedly inspired by this invisible deity walking among us. Clearly, that fascination hasn’t waned. 

Erin has evolved tremendously from All the Blue-Eyed Angels, but her journey is far from over. There are still some tough things coming up, and it will be interesting to see how she deals with adversity now versus her absolute, steel-fisted refusal to yield (or listen to reason) in the first two novels.

Tell us about how the Erin’s story grew in you. OR, Tell us about the character, Erin Solomon and how her story grew in you.

The story did actually originate with the character, beginning with a short story I wrote one day in grad school, called “Anna’s Hair.” (Erin was Anna Solomon until I realized there was a relatively popular literary fiction novelist named Anna Solomon, and I didn’t want to share billing with her). So… the story was about a recently-divorced woman who returns to her Maine hometown. I’m not even sure where the story is, now; there wasn’t much to it. But for some reason I couldn’t let the character go, so I started looking around for a larger story worthy of the tough-and-tender protagonist I was envisioning. At the same time, I’d just read Laurie King’s A Darker Place, about a crime-solving theologian who lost her husband and child in a cult suicide. I loved that book, and started doing a great deal of research into cults and cult suicide… Eventually, out of all that mess, All the Blue-eyed Angels was born.

What is Erin’s essential truth? Without giving any of the plot away, can you talk about Erin’s character arc, at least as much of it as she lets you in on.- Version 2

I think Erin is still figuring out her essential truth, really. She has plenty of ponderable truths: We are here to lead a purpose-based life; a disturbing truth is more valuable than a comforting lie; the bond of friendship is for life, and well worth dying for; humor is integral to survival; it’s more important to be honest than lovable; the company of a dog is preferable to 95% of the human race.

As for her arc, we’re definitely still working our way through that. Erin has evolved tremendously from All the Blue-Eyed Angels, but her journey is far from over. There are still some tough things coming up, and it will be interesting to see how she deals with adversity now versus her absolute, steel-fisted refusal to yield (or listen to reason) in the first two novels.

The idea of a puppet master fascinates me, especially as it relates to culpability and the inability to uncover the truth of the past. Would you talk a little bit about it?

In this universe I’ve created, there is definitely someone out there pulling the strings and holding tight to the secrets of the past. I can’t really address the question specifically because it will give too much away, but, more generally, I will say that for someone like Erin, who places such emphasis on the truth and who’s clearly such a control freak, the simple idea of not knowing is a maddening thing. Combine that with the fact that there is this mysterious entity out there somewhere who knows the whole story—who in essence knows her origin story better than Erin herself does—and I think it makes for a very interesting dynamic to push the mystery (and Erin’s quest) forward.

A phenomenal narrative voice, Erin tells her story in the present tense. Did you experiment with POV?

17453177 - Version 4I did a lot of experimentation, definitely. The first several drafts of the novel were written in third person, but I wasn’t able to convey adequately just what a strong voice Erin has by doing things that way. Andyou may have noticed that there are some tense shifts (the prologue in All the Blue-Eyed Angels, for example, as well as the alternating chapters flashing back to 1990 with Rebecca Ashmont, are written in present tense) while the bulk of the story is told in past tense… Psych studies have shown that PTSD sufferers typically relate traumatic events in the present tense, because in many ways the mind is still living in that moment. To Erin—particularly in Angels—her actual present isn’t nearly as real or as important to her as those events in the summer of 1990. Consequently, present is in past tense, while the past is in present tense. If that makes any sense at all.

You have a lot of threads going all through the novel; did you use any kind of outline to keep things straight? I guess I’m asking, do you do a lot of plotting before you write your novels?

With these novels, it’s imperative to do a lot of plotting, because there are threads that run from the first to the fifth novel, and I need to keep track of… well, everything. I’ve just started using the writing program Scrivener, which I adore. I also use index cards, collages, and I’m a lunatic about outlines. I love the things. The outlines evolve a great deal from the time I start a book to the time I finish it, but there are pieces that of necessity must remain fixed since they were first established in Angels. 

How long did it take you to write ALL THE BLUE-EYED ANGELS?

I actually started writing Angels as an undergrad studying Creative Writing at Goddard College. I wrote my undergraduate thesis on pacing in popular fiction, and finished the first draft of the novel at that point (back in 2003). Then I wrote another draft in grad school… I put the manuscript away after I graduated, and didn’t take it out again until 2009 or so, when I started really thinking about what wasn’t working in the book, how to fix that, and what I wanted to achieve with the series.

17453177 - Version 3When did you first realize you had a gift for writing?

When I was a kid, my dad used to have me tell him bedtime stories instead of reading to me, and my mom was forever making up characters and fun stories that I would add to. Storytelling was just a natural part of childhood in my house. I was a voracious reader from the start, and had a distant cousin who wrote children’s mysteries based here in Maine. We began corresponding, and she came into my class in third grade to talk to the kids. I was hooked. I started writing stories when I was around eight or nine, and was actively working on full novels by the time I was in junior high. I had some wonderful teachers who were always very encouraging, as were my parents. So… I don’t know that I ever really realized I had a gift per se, but I knew it was a passion and I would do everything I could to learn the craft.

Who are your favorite authors? What are you reading now?

I love a good mystery series, and will usually burn through from the first book on if I have the chance. Dennis Lehane’s Kenzie/Gennaro series is one of the things that inspired me to make the leap from literary to pop fiction (I studied literary fiction until my final year as an undergraduate). I love John Sandford, Nevada Barr, Janet Evanovich, Patricia Cornwell, Jeffrey Deaver, Michael Connelly… I get so invested in a character that I’ll follow them anywhere. Outside mainstream, plot-driven fiction, I love Barbara Kingsolver, Alice Hoffman, Isabel Allende, Ray Bradbury, Jack Kerouac, Nick Hornby, Toni Morrison… Authors in that class do such breathtaking things with words that I’m typically tempted to just hang up the whole thing and do something else entirely, but I’ve learned a great deal by studying their work.

These days, I read a lot of indie authors because I write book reviews for Awesome Indies, and I’ve discovered some wonderful writers that way: Joanne Sydney Lessner, DV Berkom, Darcy Scott, Tahlia Newland, Susan Russo Anderson (perhaps you’ve heard of her?  )… Right now, I’m reading Joanne Sydney Lessner’s soon-to-be-released BAD PUBLICITY, the second novel featuring out-of-work actress Isobel Spice. It’s wonderful fun—one of those light reads you just don’t want to put down.

You have an M.A. in Popular Literature. As a writer, what did this advanced degree give you or your work? Would you recommend the process?

I decided my final year as an undergrad that I wanted to continue on and get my MFA in writing, student loans be damned. I was looking at several different programs, but then found out that Dennis Lehane was17453177 - Version 2 instructing at a brand new low-residency MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Southern Maine. That pretty much made the decision for me. I don’t know that I would recommend it for everyone, but for two years it was such an amazing experience to be immersed in every aspect of being a writer: I was arts editor at the college newspaper, worked freelance as a writer and editor, went to readings, belonged to a writing group, dated writers, hung out with writers, and one way or another every conversation invariably came back around to the power of words. I worked with phenomenal instructors who were passionate about the craft and so generous with their time and expertise. It gave me confidence and contacts, and taught me discipline and focus. I’m definitely grateful for the opportunity to participate in that program.

How do you think being a journalist has influenced your style?

Being a journalist demystifies the whole writing-on-a-schedule process, and pretty much shoots the silly notion of only writing when you’re inspired right out of the water. It taught me quick-and-dirty research techniques, and how to do an effective interview. It taught me how to write something and then let it go, rather than agonizing about it and letting it gather dust for months and months. It’s also a great way to learn how to refine your words and cut all the extraneous details out of your work. I personally think anyone who fancies themselves a writer should be forced to spend at least a few months working as a journalist, even if it’s just at your local newspaper. It’s educational on so many levels.

I’m interested in how or why you chose to be an independently published author instead of going the more traditional route?

I knew that the story I was telling in All the Blue-Eyed Angels was bigger than a single novel—which is a risky proposition most traditional publishers aren’t willing to take a chance on, particularly for a first-time novelist. While Angels has closure to some extent, there’s definitely forward motion and something of a cliffhanger ending. The first five novels in the series make up a pentalogy, and the mystery first brought to light in Angels will ultimately be wrapped up with that fifth novel, The Book of J. I knew there was no way in hell a traditional publisher would let me tell the story that way.

I’d been following the indie publishing movement for awhile, already had a good online following from other writing I’d done, and had at least the beginnings of a platform through the blogging I’d been doing. So, I decided to give it a shot. In all honesty, I didn’t think All the Blue-Eyed Angels would do much; I figured I might be able to make some semblance of a living by the time I got to the fourth book, but I assumed I’d continue to cobble together a half-assed living working six freelance jobs and writing in the middle of the night for at least another couple of years.

Instead, the novel caught fire after my first free promotion in June of 2012, and by the time the second novel was released in July, I was starting to suspect I might be able to move that timeline up. Since October, 2012, I’ve been supporting myself almost exclusively through fiction sales (along with the occasional consulting work or seminar), and I’m hopeful that things will only get better going forward. I have nothing against traditional publishing, but after a lot of careful thought about the direction I wanted to go, I knew indie was the smartest move for me starting out. It doesn’t mean I wouldn’t go with a traditional publisher at some point, by any means, but whatever they were offering would have to make sense for the long-term and would definitely have to be on my terms.

Do you have any current or upcoming promotions, appearances, or releases you’d like readers to know about?

I just released the third novel in the Erin Solomon series, SOUTHERN CROSS, and I’m thrilled with the reviews I’ve gotten thus far. And I have appearances around Maine for the month of April, which you can find at my website (http://jenblood.net/upcoming-events/).

81035ffcf8aa0ac1d188b9.L._V374975592_SY470_Where can we find you online?

http://bloodwrites.com/

http://jenblood.com/

http://erinsolomon.com/

http://twitter.com/jenblood

http://facebook.com/jenblood1

Where can readers buy your books?

All the Blue-Eyed Angels*

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Blue-Eyed-Angels-Solomon-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B007B2IG1A/
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/all-the-blue-eyed-angels-book-1-of-the-erin-solomon-mysteries-jen-blood/1114843198?ean=2940033076666
Smashwords: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/134828
Signed, print copies w/ free shipping within the U.S.: http://erinsolomon.com/store

*Right now, All the Blue-Eyed Angels is free on Smashwords and Barnes and Noble.

Sins of the Father 

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Sins-Father-Solomon-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B008OKBNOK/
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/sins-of-the-father-book-2-of-the-erin-solomon-mysteries-jen-blood/1114843230?ean=2940044741287
Smashwords: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/208170
Signed, print copies w/ free shipping within the U.S.: http://erinsolomon.com/store

Southern Cross

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Southern-Cross-Solomon-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B00BSXJP5O/
Smashwords (available only until April 6): http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/294975
Signed, print copies w/ free shipping within the U.S.: http://erinsolomon.com/store

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