Susan Vaughan ( here. My guest is Jen Blood, the author of the best-selling and critically acclaimed Erin Solomon mysteries. Jen is a freelance journalist, writer, and editor. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine, and her work has appeared in Down East, Pif, Bark, and a number of newspapers and periodicals around the country. She lives in Mid-Coast Maine, where she teaches writing, marketing, and social media for authors. Somehow she finds the time to write her mysteries as well, including the fourth in her series. Can’t wait! 

Interviewing Jen is a double thrill for me. Her books are first-rate thrillers with complex plots and compelling characters. So far the series consists of three releases: ALL THE BLUE-EYED ANGELS (2012), SINS OF THE FATHER (2012), and SOUTHERN CROSS, published just recently. And secondly…she’s a former student of mine. When I taught her in seventh grade, she gave me a typed copy of a short novel, which I’ve since learned wasn’t her first. 

SUSAN: Welcome, Jen. People often ask writers when they started writing. Many of us, myself included, have made up stories from childhood. Based on that novel you shared with me years ago, I believe that’s true of you. Am I correct? And when did you know you wanted to pursue writing for publication as a career? How did that happen for you? 

JEN: You’re right: I definitely started young! I had a distant cousin who wrote children’s mysteries based in Maine (Mary C. Jane, published primarily in the 1960s), and I fell in love with her books when I was in elementary school. She came and spoke to my class when I was in third grade, and we continued corresponding for years afterward. Both Mary and the rest of my family (and teachers!) were very encouraging about my interest in writing, but I don’t think I actively decided I wanted to try to make a living as a writer until I was in my early twenties. I wrote a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age memoir that a small press out of Cape Elizabeth picked up when I was twenty-three, and the process of getting that out into the world solidified for me that this was what I wanted to do—particularly since I was hanging out with a slew of starving artists at the time, so poverty and a life of obscurity weren’t terribly effective threats for our crowd.  

SUSAN: Some of Mary C. Jane’s books were in my classroom back then. Sweet mysteries, quite unlike your thrillers. Your writing has been varied, evolving into Erin Solomon, a fascinating heroine, clever and conflicted, intense and witty. Did she pop into your head or did you take a long time to develop her as a character? 

JEN: Erin evolved over time. I started writing the first novel in the series, ALL THE BLUE-EYED ANGELS, when I was an undergrad at Goddard, in 2003. It took nearly a decade to get her voice right, and to mesh that voice with all the components at work within the mystery. The experiences I’ve had freelancing as a journalist certainly helped, but there are a whole host of other elements that went into creating Erin, pulling traits from folks I admire in real life, favorite literary characters, my own foibles, and even popular music. Like a mother doesn’t give birth to a fully-realized human being, I think it takes time for us writers to shape the characters we send out into the universe.  

SUSAN: The series is part thriller and part mystery, with a touch of romance and elements of religion. The mysteries in Erin’s childhood involve a cult, and SOUTHERN CROSS focuses on a different cult. Did that subject evolve as you moved from plot to plot or did you intend from the beginning for these books to examine cults? And why? 

JEN: The notion of religious zealotry and all that it encompasses fascinates me, and I knew I wanted it as a central focus in at least part of the series. My mom grew up in a fundamentalist home, and I spent a few years of my childhood attending the same church, complete with revivals, speaking in tongues, mysterious healings…the works. We hold such a tight grasp on reason and decorum (especially here in Maine, where everyone is oh-so-reasonable and understated) that going into these churches where, suddenly, people were being felled by the holy spirit and writhing in the aisles was such a difficult dichotomy for my child’s mind to grasp. All the drama and mystery and mysticism lacking in the rest of my life, were brought to the fore in those Sunday night revivals and weekend prayer meetings. It seemed natural to incorporate those experiences into the fabric of who Erin is and the mystery she’s striving to solve.  

SUSAN: SOUTHERN CROSS takes Erin and her editor friend Diggs out of Maine. Tell us a little about this book. 

JEN: In SOUTHERN CROSS, Erin and Diggs head to western Kentucky after Diggs’s childhood friend is murdered. That single murder kicks off a series of bizarre events revolving around a fundamentalist preacher who claims to have received a message from on high that the end of the world is a mere forty-eight hours away. That ticking clock defines a large portion of the novel, as Erin and Diggs become enmeshed in a host of cataclysmic events apparently set in motion by the preacher’s message, ultimately building to a barn burner of a climax and some new revelations about the larger mystery Erin has been investigating since the first novel.  

SUSAN: This leads us to your writing process. Do you outline or just jump in and let the creative processes take over? Or a combination of both? 

JEN: I’m a lunatic for a good outline. I don’t let it define the process for me, and I usually spend the first couple of months of a new novel writing chunks of the book in whatever order I please, simply because that’s where the muse is taking me. But I always have an outline in mind, and a clear idea of which clues need to be integrated into the plot at which point to make the larger mystery work. The outline shifts a great deal from the time I begin a novel to the time I finish, but if I didn’t have something connecting the dots for me, I’m pretty sure I’d just write in circles for days on end.  

SUSAN: Jen, thanks so much for a great interview. I’m sure our viewers will have comments and questions for you, so stick around.  

Readers can find Jen Blood’s Erin Solomon series at most online vendors. To read more about Jen and her books, visit



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  1. Great interview questions and a testimonial to all teachers.

    A question for Jen Blood: you mention that you “always have an outline in mind.” Is it a written outline, or is it, literally, in your mind?

    • Jen Blood says:

      Hi Virginia, I’m glad you enjoyed the interview — it truly was an honor. And Susan is absolutely a testament to the power of a great teacher! Great question, as well. I misspoke: my outlines are definitely written. My mind is far too tangled to keep anything too complex straight! Additionally, I just started using Scrivener, a program I highly recommend for anyone trying to keep track of several threads in a work at one time. It’s simplified the process for me tremendously!

  2. Thanks, Susan, for introducing me to Jen Blood! Great interview. I’ve downloaded the books, and I can’t wait to start reading. 🙂

  3. Great interview. ladies. The books sound intriguing. I’ll be sure to check them out. I have a similar question to Virginia’s above. Is this an outline as in “English-Teacher Outline?” Or are you referencing charts with post it notes? These questions presuppose you write something down. My mind boggles at the idea of anyone keeping a series strain all in the writer’s head! 🙂

    • Jen Blood says:

      Hi Marsha, Thanks for stopping by. I’m almost embarrassed to say that my outlines are indeed English-Teacher Outlines, complete with Roman numerals and everything. I typically write using a three-act structure for my novels, so I begin there and include things like major plot points, the primary character arcs, changing locations, and any clues that need to be incorporated. I feel like it gives the left side of my brain a workout, since I spend most of my time with the creative part of the job.
      Thanks for the great question!

  4. Linda Style says:

    Nice interview! I outline in much the same way and can’t imagine anyone keeping all the threads of a complex plot in their head. Thanks also for the heads up on Scrivener. I’ve been thinking about checking it out. I’ll also be checking out your books, too, Jen. 🙂

    • Jen Blood says:

      Thanks, Linda! You’re so right — I’m in awe of anyone who can just write by the seat of their pants, particularly in plot-driven work. As for Scrivener, I can’t recommend it highly enough, and the price is very reasonable. It’s been a relief to switch over to virtual bulletin boards and note cards, rather than the ones that had been littering my office!

    • Just saying, Hi, Linda. Nice to see you posting here. Hope everything is going well for you.

  5. I’m a huge fan of Scrivener. I don’t write with an outline, so the ability to easily find and review (and move around!) each chapter and scene is necessary to my writing. 🙂

    Your series sounds awesome, Jen. I’m going to check them out! And I love that Susan taught you in your earlier grades. That’s so cool!

    • Jen Blood says:

      I’m glad to hear the series sounds appealing, Sheila! And likewise glad to find a fellow Scrivener fan — I was skeptical until I actually began using it, but then was surprised at just how easy it was to pick up.

      I’ve been lucky to reconnect with Susan in the past year or so since my first novel was published, and it’s been such fun getting to know her as a peer (and stellar author!) when I held her in such high regard in my youth. Such is the beauty of being a writer in Maine — it really is such a small, tight-knit community!

  6. Megan Macijauskas says:

    Great interview! Your story sounds so interesting––cults are as disturbing as they are fascinating! And I love hearing writers’ processes. We all attack our stories so differently! I’m amazed by writers, like you, Jen, who can write scenes out of sequence. All the best!

    • Jen Blood says:

      Thanks for the comment, Megan! I agree: the writing process is always fascinating, and I love hearing how others tackle their work. I’m equally as amazed by writers who can stay on task and write a story from beginning to end — I don’t know that I’ll ever be such a linear thinker, but I truly admire those who are!

  7. I’m definitely going to check out your book. It sounds fascinating!

    I’m so happy to hear there are others who write scenes out of sequence. It makes the process so much quicker for me! There are many times when I’m stuck on a scene and it’s freeing to put it aside and work on another.

    • Jen Blood says:

      I’m glad to hear my book sounds interesting to you, Evie! And how exciting to find a fellow non-linear writer! I think there are definitely times when we as writers have to take the hard line with ourselves and just write that scene we’ve been dreading, but I think you’re right: sometimes, all it takes to get un-stuck is moving onto something else for awhile, and allowing the subconscious to ruminate on just what, exactly, has us stuck in the first place.

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