Susan Vaughan (http://www.susanvaughan.com) 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 http://jenblood.com.