Jennifer Kincheloe, John A. Connell, Bryan Robinson
What are you most looking forward to as a debut author in 2016?
More than anything, I look forward to connecting with readers. When someone approaches me either in person or on-line to say that they read my book and liked it, it sends me over the moon. Readers sometimes tell me who they want to play Anna Blanc in the movie, and that’s fun. I hope someone will make Anna Blanc fan art! It would make my day.
What drew you to the time period? (1907) and how did you go about the research of that period?
THE SECRET LIFE OF ANNA BLANC was my first foray into fiction. Before I wrote Anna Blanc, I’d written some bad poetry, and a contemporary screenplay about two kids who travel the world hunting down a terrorist (also dire).
By chance, I stumbled across a short article on-line about the first female police officer in Los Angeles in 1910. Her name was Alice Stebbins Wells, and she began her career as a police matron. Later, she was promoted to cop.
Alice awed me, and I wanted to write something in her honor. THE SECRET LIFE OF ANNA BLANC takes place in 1907 among the police matrons of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).
Researching the era was an enormous undertaking, and listing all my sources would crash the website. I’ll mention a few. History books tend to leave women out, and this was a novel about women. So, I relied on primary sources, especially those written by, for, or about women. I read newspaper articles on lady cops, police matrons, prostitution, and crimes against women. I dug up court transcripts, eyewitness accounts, and the memoirs of a police matron. Because my protagonist is a socialite as well, I read etiquette guides, grooming how-tos, and marriage and courting advice books.
To master the zeitgeist of the era, I immersed myself in popular culture—movies, dance, music, humor, and cartoons. Also, I collected thousands of pictures of clothes, jewelry, art, architecture, as well as street photography.
(Check out my Pinterest Page at https://www.pinterest.com/jrkincheloe)
(Check out my Pinterest Page at https://www.pinterest.com/jrkincheloe)
The same year the fictional Anna Blanc was hired by the LAPD, Mary Roberts Rinehart, known as the American Agatha Christie, was writing her own female sleuth in The Circular Staircase. This and other novels (Sherlock Holmes, Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz, to name a few) were great sources for cultural references, social mores, and slang.
After finishing the book, I contacted a historian who specializes in 1900s Los Angeles and had her read the novel for accuracy. She gave it the thumbs up.
That’s the short version.
Final Words of Wisdom:
Writing can be a brutal road, and very few of us make a living at it. The trick is to be grateful—grateful for the time you have to write, for your community of fellow writers, and for every single reader.
Also, if you don’t have a supportive writers’ community, find one. They will see your potential, encourage you, and make you better.
John A. Connell
How has living in Madrid impacted your writing?
My wife and I moved to Madrid 4 months ago, but before Madrid I lived 11 years in Paris, France. So, I can speak more of the impact on my writing from my experiences in Paris than Madrid.
When many people learned that I lived in Paris, they said, “Oh, Paris must really inspire you.” Well, yes, the beauty and history of that great city have been inspiring, and many great American writers have spent time there, but great writers have lived and written everywhere, so there’s no particular magic in the air in Paris. I will say the crappy weather nine months out of the year inspired me to stay inside and get my work done. And nothing puts me in a better mood to write about murder and mayhem than a gloomy day. Now, I’ll just have to adapt my writing to more sunny climes of Spain!
My expat experiences, that notion of being a foreigner in a foreign land, has had an influence on how I developed my protagonist, Mason Collins. And it’s why I’ve chosen to keep Mason in the “Old World” of Europe in successive books. I’ve gained a different perspective of who I am living away from the land and people where I grew up. What’s interesting—at least to me—is that I wasn’t aware of how my expat-ness had seeped its way into my protagonist and my story until later, after I had finished the first in the series, Ruins of War. That’s when I decided to make both Ruins of War and SPOILS OF VICTORY a kind of the origin story for Mason’s future wanderings—masterless, homeless, and always short of cash, like the errant knight or wandering samurai. In fact, Toshiro Mifune’s character in the films Yojimboand Sanjuro were inspirations for Mason’s journey—the wandering samurai, irascible and stoic, who gets deep into trouble because of his compassion and sense of justice.
How did working in the film industry impact your writing?
I’ve had the privilege to work with some great directors, screenwriters, and cinematographers, and my writing is, in part, a product of what I learned from those artists. My position as a motion picture camera operator gave me the opportunity to be up close and personal with many of the inside workings on the set. Everything I observed has in some fashion found its way into how I approach my writing. I’m not going to claim to have reached that level of artistry, but I keep them in mind, like added tools in the writing toolbox.
Actually, the projects that have inspired me the most were the TV shows I’ve worked on: Picket Fences and The Practice by DavidE. Kelley, and the most influential of all, NYPD Blue. David Milch, the creator of NYPD Blue, was a significant inspiration. He was often unsatisfied with what we had just filmed, so he would break the crew and proceed to “re-write” the scene in his head, as he wandered around the empty set, analyzing a character, or dictating new action and lines of dialogue to the script supervisor. I always elected to stay on the set during those times and watch him work, and what he came up with in those spur-of-the-moment sessions always made the scene and dialogue much more powerful.
There was also executive producer of NYPD Blue, Bill Clark. He was a retired NYPD police detective and often talked to the actors about his time on the force, what really happened behind the closed doors in interrogation rooms, or the peculiar symbiotic relationships that could develop between cop and criminal. This concept of the cop/criminal relationship intrigued me so much that I just had to include it whenever I could in my stories. I learned a lot about that world just listening to Mr. Clark’s candid remarks.
Finally, my work as a camera operator has influenced me in many ways. Consequently, I’m a visual guy, and I try to apply that in writing descriptions. As a camera operator, framing of a scene is vital: What to reveal and how to reveal it, whether it’s a big wide frame, showing everything, or a close-up of someone’s eyes or hands or feet. When peering through the viewfinder, you forget the lights, the cables, and the crew, and watch the actors and action like a privileged observer. And that’s exactly how I construct a scene, visually imagining it before I write it.
Any final words of wisdom for aspiring authors?
I’d say the most important advice, and one that I still apply to my writing, is to forgive yourself for bad writing. Hemingway said, “all first drafts are s#&t.” And I’ve heard the same thing from many successful writers, though in less colorful terms. I have to remind myself everyday that the writing doesn’t have to be brilliant or perfect the first go around. In fact it rarely is. You will have good days, where the writing flows out onto the page, and that’s great. But there will be many more days when it seems that everything you’re putting on the page is total crap. When I was first started writing, that inner critic would shut me down. Ignore that voice! I recite Hemingway’s line almost everyday, then I put my head down and keep going. You have to know that you can fix it all in the rewrites. Rewriting and more rewriting is what’s going to make to make your manuscript shine.
How has your career in psychotherapy impacted your writing?
Psychotherapy has indeed affected my writing in many ways. My protagonist in the mystery series is Dr. Brad Pope, a psychologist, who is able to solve murders by looking beneath the surface into the depths of human behaviors. A reluctant sleuth, he outsmarts the cops when they fumble the ball.
A second advantage is that my experience with the mind allows me to bring in psychological terms and techniques in a very readable way and to show the internal conflicts of my protagonist who, although a psychologist, has his own internal demons with which he struggles.
In the nonfiction realm, I have come to realize that while there are numerous books on writing craft, there are none on the psychological aspects of writing and how to develop perseverance and resilience in the brutal publishing world. To that end, I just signed a contract with a mystery publisher for my book, Don’t Murder Yourself Before Finishing Your Mystery: Daily Meditations for Writers’ Resilience, which is a self-help book for aspiring scribes and seasoned writers on hanging in there and not giving up, no matter what.
In some ways, most writers—especially mystery writers—are psychologists as they write the motivations for murder and get inside of the mind of their characters. The concept of Limestone Gumption comes from solid theory and research—that yielding to the forces we cannot control empowers us—that grass grows through concrete. Many of the characters in the novel must call on their limestone gumption to get through troubling times, especially the protagonist who finds his gumption when accused of the murder. In psychotherapy, having limestone gumption is equivalent to being your resilient zone—that place where you feel confident, calm, clear, and courageous.
I think being a psychotherapist helped me use real-life settings to mirror a character’s mood and mindset. I use the Suwannee River and underwater caves as essential inter-workings of the minds of the characters. I use the river and caves as threads to weave parallels to the plot and character development. For example, the title of the book originated from the fact that for centuries the Suwannee River has cut through limestone, forming huge underwater caverns. The limestone yields to the force of the river instead of resisting it. Through yielding, the limestone becomes a feature of the river, a beautiful and smooth, well-polished cavern, and the strength of its true character is revealed. Limestone gumption is a metaphor for when the main character—after being accused of cutting the guideline of a popular local cave diver who drowns—must call upon his limestone gumption to deal with overwhelming forces.
What does being a Southern writer mean to you?
I adore Southern fiction that expresses the beauty and paradox of Southern nature and small town life. I once had a second home on the Suwannee River outside of Gainsville, Florida and the culture fascinated me. In LimestoneGumption, the area I write about is primeval and prehistoric in nature: the Spanish moss draping the ground from the twisted live oaks, manatee, alligators, wild boar but at the same time this beauty has a brutal side of survival. In fact, a Mastadon molar was found beneath the Suwannee River and many cave divers have gotten lost and drowned in the caves underneath the Suwannee. So I am fascinated with the Tao (opposites) of the beauty and the brutal and the paradoxes that I show in the novel: the townspeople of Whitecross (my fictional small town) doddering along in their pickups, throwing friendly hand-waves at strangers, their shotguns perched firmly behind their heads just in case you’re an outsider or the church ladies planning a reunion under the shade trees in the churchyard while shunning outsiders because they’re “different.”
It is challenging to write about the balance between the beauty and brutality of small-town Southern life without idealizing it, yet without vilifying it, either.
Final Words of Wisdom
If you want to become a published writer, it’s impossible to do that unless you’re resilient and willing to deal with rejection. No successful author has gotten to where they are without rejection. So be prepared for it, welcome it, and use it to hone your craft, but don’t ever run from it or whine about it. Literary agents tell us that the number one quality you must have to become a successfully published author is PERSEVERANCE, even more than good writing.
If you have idealized a writer’s life, let me give you a reality check. It is full of agent rejections, blistering reviews, unmet publisher expectations, deadline pressures, no-shows at bookstore signings, and agonizing writer’s block. Writing is hard work. It isn’t something you dabble in. It is a job, not unlike bricklaying according to Stephen King, but instead of laying bricks, writers place one word beside the other in just the right way. But it is also full of fulfillment when you cradle your first published book in your arms or are asked to speak at a library, bookclub, or bookstore about your novel and its characters. What it boils down to is if you write for your love for writing NOT for fame or money. You have to love it enough to keep doing it. And if you pick yourself up just one more time than you fall, you can become a successful writer.