The other day I realized how lucky I am to know so many incredibly talented writers. I’ve been the willing participant in several interviews on other authors’ blogs, and thought it would be fun to return the favor and spotlight as many as I could
bribe cajole into giving up some of their precious, hard-earned non-novel-writing time to answer my burning questions.
The first in the series is mystery author Jen Blood. I discovered Jen a while back when I read a review she did for BAD SPIRITS. I was impressed with her ability to pen a pretty bitchin’ review and was curious about her talents as a writer, so I downloaded the first book in her Erin Solomon mystery series, ALL THE BLUE-EYED ANGELS. To say I was hooked from the first page is an understatement. Here was an indie author who knew how to write, and write well. She has just released the third book in the series, SOUTHERN CROSS. It’s another stellar mystery by an author who I believe is on her way to a long and rewarding career. So let’s get to it, shall we?
D: Why don’t you tell us a little about yourself and your new release, SOUTHERN CROSS?
J: A little about myself… I’m author of the Erin Solomon mysteries, the first of which was released in February of last year. I have an MFA in Creative Writing/Pop Fiction from the University of Southern Maine, and have worked as a freelance writer and editor (among many, many other jobs over the years) for a little over a decade.
SOUTHERN CROSS is the third novel in the Erin Solomon pentalogy, and finds Erin and her best friend (and sometimes more) Diggs investigating the murder of one of Diggs’ childhood friends, in rural Kentucky. But that single death is hardly the only bizarre occurrence in Justice—soon, power outages, explosions, standoffs, and conspiracy rock the small town, and fundamentalist preacher Jesup T. Barnel claims he knows the reason for the madness: The end times are upon them, and judgment will be fast and furious as the clock winds down.
D: The series character, Erin Solomon, is a wonderfully flawed protagonist who has to deal with the aftermath of having spent much of her childhood in a religious cult with a Jim Jones-style leader. As I dove into reading Southern Cross, I realized religious zealotry and its repercussions are recurring themes in your work. What prompted you to delve into the psychological fallout that occurs from blind obedience to an obsessive, charismatic religious leader?
“I’ve always been fascinated with the extremes of religious fanaticism, and as a kid actually attended a church where speaking in tongues and being felled by the holy spirit were par for the course.”
J: Believe it or not, in early incarnations of the first novel, Erin Solomon was a theologian whose work focused on religiously motivated crimes. The vocation just didn’t work for the character—something I only realized after spending a decade or so working on that first novel. When I made the switch to Erin as a reporter instead, it made all the difference in the world… but I wasn’t ready to give up the lure of those charismatic cult leaders I’d been researching for so long. I’ve always been fascinated with the extremes of religious fanaticism, and as a kid actually attended a church where speaking in tongues and being felled by the holy spirit were par for the course. Those emotionally charged scenes made a big impression, and somehow those scenes found their way into my work today.
D: The over-arching mystery in the series keeps referring back to the original tragedy that occurred (detailed in the first book, All the Blue-Eyed Angels), and the reader is given clues throughout to a more sinister motive than what is revealed in books 1 and 2. Why did you choose to write the story this way? How many books do you envision to complete the series?
J: I knew from the start that the story I wanted to tell couldn’t be contained within a single novel. I’m a huge fan of serialized… everything. I love well-written TV (my graduate thesis was on television as modern literature), and I’ve been devouring every mystery novel series I could get my hands on since I was a kid. AND I love puzzles and conspiracy. So, I decided now was the time to play with all of those elements and make them come together in one colossal project. I’ve had the end game in mind from the beginning for this; I just wasn’t clear before on exactly how long it would take to get to that end game. Now, I know that this particular mystery will be resolved with the fifth book in the series, THE BOOK OF J. After that, I have any number of novels and series arcs in mind for the characters, but my focus now is on completing this pentalogy.
D: Now for some questions on process: SOUTHERN CROSS uses multiple first and third points of view (POV). How do you decide which POV to use in a book?
J: I listen to the characters, really. When I first started writing ANGELS, it was written in limited third person from Erin’s point of view. It didn’t work, though, because I wasn’t able to get the strength of her voice across that way. So, I switched to first and it made all the difference in the world. Diggs tells things from his POV, but in SINS OF THE FATHER (the second novel in the series) I have alternating chapters between Jack Juarez (Erin’s other love interest) and Erin. Erin is first person, Jack is third. It has to do with the way the character views the world: Erin and Diggs are strong, opinionated characters whose voices are deeply rooted in humor, inflection, and internal process. Jack Juarez is more about action, reason, and ordered thought. It didn’t feel necessary to go with first person with him, because his external actions typically reflect his internal thought process so thoroughly.
I love playing with POV, and I adore getting inside the characters’ heads. It’s a tricky process, and you always have to walk that fine line between doing too much and not doing enough to make the trip to another perspective worthwhile. Barbara Kingsolver does it masterfully in POISONWOOD BIBLE, which I’ve read about a hundred times. I always go back to that when I start to worry that I’m taking on too many voices at one time.
D: You certainly can’t go wrong with Barbara Kingsolver. Do you outline or are you more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer?
J: I’m definitely, definitely, definitely not a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer. I greatly admire them, and I’ve done it in the past with less intricately plotted work. With the novels I’m writing now, though, I would get so tangled up if I wasn’t following an outline that I’d lose my mind within a day. I start with an intricate outline at the get-go, and that outline evolves as I get to know the story a little better. It’s always vastly different from the time I start to the time I finish, but at this point—because I’m solving a mystery with elements from five novels—it’s integral to the process that I have a clear idea where I’m going, where I’ve been, who I’m working with, what we know so far, and what needs to be resolved. There are so many threads to keep track of these days!
D: What are you working on now?
J: The fourth book in the series, BEFORE THE AFTER, which I’m tremendously excited about. This one answers a huge number of questions about the initial mystery in ALL THE BLUE-EYED ANGELS, by relating the first days of the Payson Church of Tomorrow from Erin’s mom’s perspective. Meanwhile, of course, the majority of the novel is told in the present from Erin’s perspective. Lots of action, many secrets revealed, and the ending for this one changes the direction and flow of Erin’s entire character arc. So… yeah, I’m excited about this one. I feel like, of all of them, this is the most epic novel I’ve written thus far.
D: Give us a ‘day in the life’ of author Jen Blood.
J: A day in the life, huh? It’s really pretty dull. I get up at around seven, walk and feed the hound, do yoga, feed myself, and then hit the computer. I’m usually working on either writing or social media and marketing stuff from nine to five, with a lunch break in between. Then dinner, hound walk, workout, and I typically finish out the day with a couple of hours of free writing (longhand, working on the next chapters of the novel) before bed, at around midnight or so. That’s my schedule—with little variation—six days a week, and then on the seventh day I usually run errands and do a lot of free writing. Things look to be shifting now, though, as I’m starting to get more requests to do readings, signings, and seminars… For April, it looks like my ‘days in the life’ will be all over the place!
“…while two years ago if you had six unpublished manuscripts in your sock drawer and you decided you’d just publish and wait for the cash to start rolling in, now it’s more clear than ever that you need a better plan than just hitting “Publish Now” …”
D: Where do you see yourself in five years?
J: Ideally, making a good living from my writing. That’s the hope, anyway. I have a bunch of other novels in the Erin Solomon series in mind going forward, but I also have a YA dystopian trilogy that I’ve been working on for a long time… I can’t wait to get to work on that again. So—Five years down the road, I hope that I’ll have a slew of publications under my belt, a solid fan base, projects in the works, and enough cash coming in to keep a roof over my head and the hound in dog chow.
D: Where do you see the publishing industry in five years?
J: That’s always a tricky question—especially right now, when everything is changing so quickly. I think independent publishing will continue to grow, and traditional publishers, literary agents, and any non-writing folks who have historically made their living from we lowly authors will continue to try and establish their role in this new paradigm. Now that the initial enthusiasm has worn off and most self-published authors have recognized that this isn’t actually a get-rich-quick scheme just waiting to happen, I think we as authors are more likely to recognize the importance the so-called “gatekeepers” in the industry play in helping us get noticed. So, while two years ago if you had six unpublished manuscripts in your sock drawer and you decided you’d just publish and wait for the cash to start rolling in, now it’s more clear than ever that you need a better plan than just hitting “Publish Now” on Amazon or Createspace.
At the same time that we are recognizing that agents and traditional publishing houses are not actually obsolete yet, I also think that this whole revolution has put untold power in the hands of the author. I’m currently seeking an agent and I wouldn’t be averse to a traditional publishing contract, but I know at this point that if I don’t get either of those things, I’ll still be all right. I can still make a living at doing what I love.
D: Anything I missed?
J: I think that about covers it, really. Thanks so much—this was so fun!!
D: Thanks for being here, Jen! How about giving readers a little taste of SOUTHERN CROSS ?
J: The following excerpt is from chapter four of SOUTHERN CROSS. Here, reporter Daniel Diggins (Diggs) has just returned to western Kentucky to bury his childhood best friend, who has been murdered. Predictably enough, madness ensues.
I spotted a dozen photo albums lined up on one of the shelves, and stepped inside the shed. It smelled of sawdust and cigar smoke, two of George’s favorite things. I grabbed a couple of the photo albums without checking the dates on the spines and strode back across the shed toward freedom. Since the caves and tunnels of the previous summer, enclosed spaces weren’t a favorite of mine. Something clattered against the outside wall. I whirled toward the sound, heart racing.
“Solomon? Is that you?”
I turned back around just in time to watch the door swing shut.
“Buddy? All right… Good one, guys. You’re friggin’ hilarious.” I reached for the door and tried to push it open. It didn’t budge.
Something scratched against the outside of the shed, just below the window—like someone was scaling the wall. The clattering could have been a ladder, I realized. And this was George’s idea of a practical joke: his way of welcoming me back to the fold. I wet my lips and reminded myself that panicking at this point was exactly the kind of story that would follow me to my grave, once the lights came on and the idiots pulling the prank were revealed.
Better to play it cool. Ride it out.
“All right, you got me,” I said. “I’m trapped in the shed. In the dark. You guys are comic geniuses.”
Something scratched against the windowpane. I trained my flashlight beam in that direction, but all that did was reflect the light back at me.
I realized then that there was no way Solomon was behind this—she knew too well what we’d gone through six months ago. And she wouldn’t let the others do anything like it, either. Sweat beaded on my forehead and the back of my neck. Just outside the window, I heard a faint rattling sound.
“Harvey?” I said quietly. If Sheriff Jennings had found out I was back in town, this might be the kind of thing he’d pull to welcome me back. “Is that you?”
The rattling got louder.
I pulled my cell phone from my jacket pocket and hit number one on speed dial. It went straight to Solomon’s voicemail. Perfect.
My pulse was racing.
The window opened, the sound of metal against wood like a scream in the stillness. I grabbed the closest thing I could find—a hammer hanging on the pegboard—and held it aloft, my back pressed to the far wall, waiting to see what would happen next.
D: Great excerpt, Jen! SOUTHERN CROSS is filled with heart pounding suspense that kept me up way too late reading 🙂 I’m now eagerly awaiting the fourth book in the series… To find out more about Jen and her Erin Solomon Mysteries, check out the links below:
Jen Blood is a freelance writer and editor, and author of the bestselling Erin Solomon mysteries. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing/Popular Fiction from the University of Southern Maine, and has publishing credits in Down East, Pif, Vampirella, Bark, and newspapers and periodicals around the country. Jen lives in midcoast Maine, where she scribbles madly, hikes with her hound, and leads the occasional seminar on online marketing and social media for authors in her spare time.
ALL THE BLUE-EYED ANGELS*
Barnes and Noble/Nook
*ALL THE BLUE-EYED ANGELS is currently free for Kindle, Nook, and on Smashwords
SINS OF THE FATHER
Barnes and Noble/Nook