Jennifer Kincheloe - Rewriting the Same Book 160 Times
Jennifer is a research scientist and writer of historical mysteries. Her novels take place in 1900s Los Angeles among the police matrons of the LAPD and combine, mystery, history, humor, and romance. As our Author of the Day, she tells us all about her book, The Secret Life of Anna Blanc.
Please give us a short introduction to what The Secret Life of Anna Blanc is about.
It’s about a sheltered, 19-year-old socialite in 1900s Los Angeles who buys off her chaperone and secretly gets her fantasy job with the Los Angeles Police Department.
And it all goes terribly wrong.
What inspired you to write about a young socialite who gets a job with the LAPD?
I ran across a brief article about the first female cop in Los Angeles in 1910—Alice Stebbins Wells. I thought she was terribly brave to break into a traditionally male occupation back when women were basically property. She did more than just policework. She deputized club women to go patrol the dancehalls and roller rinks to protect young girls. She founded an international organization for police women and traveled the world promoting women in law enforcement.
I wrote The Secret Life of Anna Blanc in her honor. But when Anna emerged on the page, she was nothing like Alice. Alice was a sober-minded, middle-aged, middle-class former minister.
Tell us more about Anna Blanc. What makes her tick?
Anna is the product of both extreme privilege and the oppression of women. She’s raised to be lady-like, look beautiful, marry well. She doesn’t know any different. But she’s brilliant and bored, and when she meets a police matron at a suffrage march (and inadvertently gets her arrested), she can’t forget about it.
Because of her upbringing, she’s naïve, spoiled, and self-absorbed. She lies to get what she needs. But she’s also incredibly brave and has an enormous capacity for love and self-sacrifice. She changes dramatically over the course of the book.
Why did you pick 1907 Los Angeles as the backdrop for your story?
I moved from LA to Denver and I missed LA. The book’s a love letter to old Los Angeles.
How much research did it require from you to describe the setting accurately and make the history part feel authentic?
Years of research. I read books about the Progressive Era. I read novels and text books written in the Progressive Era. I read maps, court transcripts, the City Directory, newspapers, almanacs, doctoral dissertations. I listened to the music, studied the fashion, watched videos of the dances, read diaries, read eye-witness accounts, watched silent films from the era. I read etiquette books, grooming books, and books on how to do laundry. I read an entire book on underwear. I collected over 30,000 photographs of shoes, purses, hairstyles, corsets, jewelry, street photography, locations in Los Angeles. I really could go on forever.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I’m a research scientist. And I kickbox.
This book was very well received and earned several awards. What surprised you most from readers' reactions?
This was the first fiction I’d ever written. I had intended it to be my practice book and had no idea whether it was any good. So, the awards and the positive comments from readers were a big surprise.
But that makes it sound too easy. I have 56 different versions of the screenplay on my hard drive (I wrote it as a screenplay first) and 108 different versions of the novel. Some people write ten books before they get one published. I rewrote the same book 160 times.
You also included some romance in this story. Why?
Because the oppression of women can’t be separated from marriage and courtship practices. And because people think women in the 1900s were not sexual. Women haven’t changed at all.
And because it’s fun.
This is the first book in a series. Can it be read as a standalone? How do the other books in the series tie in with this one?
They do stand alone, but it’s more fun if you read the series in order. The Secret Life of Anna Blanc comes first, followed by The Woman in the Camphor Trunk. The Body in Griffith Park comes out July 16th. I expect there are more Anna Blanc books in my future.
What are you working on right now?
A grant proposal to study the impact of overtime, secondary employment, and long shifts on the health, safety, performance, and quality of life of corrections officers.
And a fourth Anna Blanc book about a mummy they find bricked up in a wall. It’s loosely based on a true story, like all the storylines in Anna Blanc novels.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
I love interacting with readers! I Skype into book clubs. (Just ask). You can email me.
You can join my mailing list on my website www.jenniferkincheloe.com and get fabulous free books. I have the Los Angeles Times Cookbook from 1905. I’ve got a coroner’s manual that covers crime scene investigation from the 1890s. There’s Bab A Sub-Deb a bestselling romantic comedy from the 1910s.
My Pinterest page has 39,600 pins that I used for research. I regularly post on Twitter and Facebook.
It’s easy to find me.