I've always been a big fan of books set in Los Angeles, even before I moved there and eventually set a murder mystery there. I also love stories about the City of Angels set in the past. Today's guest in My Writing Corner meets both of those criteria. Meet Jennifer Kincheloe, whose latest mystery is set back in early 1900s Los Angeles.
Did you always want to be a writer?
No! When I was young I wanted to be a jungle doctor in deepest darkest Papua New Guinea. But I changed my mind. I learned I could have a bigger impact on the world if I used public health interventions to protect whole populations instead of dealing with individuals the way a doctor would—one on one. I got a Masters in Public Health and then a PhD in Health Services Research. I did research at UCLA looking at how to improve the health of vulnerable populations. It wasn’t until I was in my forties that it even occurred to me that I could write novels. Before that, it was scientific articles and policy reports.
Where do you get story ideas?
Old newspapers. I read them cover to cover—everything from want ads to the fashion section to crime. I read memoirs. In my first book, THE SECRET LIFE OF ANNA BLANC, there is a character called The Boyle Heights Rape Fiend. He comes straight from the memoirs of an LAPD officer who used to dress up in women’s clothes and stroll out on the arm of another cop in order to capture the criminal.
Tell us about your writing process. Do you plot carefully or wing it?
The first book started out as a screenplay. I wrote the screenplay using a plotting system from a book called SAVE THE CAT. Lots of fiction writers use it as an outlining tool. It basically helps you think of the book in a three-act structure. Although my second book (which is coming out in Fall of 2017 and is yet to be named) never was a screenplay, I still used SAVE THE CAT to do the outline. Same for book three (coming out Fall 2018)
THE SECRET LIFE OF ANNA BLANC is just out on audio. I wrote it as a tribute to Alice Stebbins Wells, the first female cop in Los Angeles in 1910. But when I began writing, the protagonist flowing out of my fingertips—Anna Blanc—was nothing like Alice Stebbins Wells. Alice was a middle-aged, middleclass, former Christian minister working as a police matron, helping women and children who came into contact with the criminal justice system and protecting them from the cops. She was promoted from matron to cop and given full police powers.
Anna Blanc is young, beautiful, rich, naïve, and self-absorbed. In that way, she’s nothing like Alice. But she’s incredibly brave, grows immensely, and in the end we see what she’s truly made of.
Anna does all the same work that Alice did as a matron. However, I didn’t think Anna was quite ready for full police powers in book one. (For one thing, even male cops had to be at least 26 years old and Anna is only 19) We’ll see what happens down the line.
Your newest book is also being put on audio. Tell us about that, and any special challenges you faced.
Yes! It’s a dream come true for me, but I faced an enormous obstacle in casting it. When THE SECRET LIFE OF ANNA BLANC took place, people were pouring into LA from all over the world. LA tripled in population between 1900 and 1910. My characters reflect this diversity. I had to find a narrator who could do lots of different accents: English, Scottish, French, Mexican, German, East Coast, Southern, Midwestern, and Californian. She had to do both male and female voices, upper class and lower class.
The narrator I found—possibly the only person on the planet who could pull this off—was Emmy, Audie, and Audible Book-of-the-Year award-winning actor, Moira Quirk. Fun fact about Moira: she’s English. At one point, I have her singing in a male, American voice and she manages to make him sound kissable. Now that’s AMAZING.
How about a blurb?
RT Book Reviews describes the novel as “I-Love-Lucy meets Agatha Christie,” which I think really fits. But here’s what’s on the back cover:
It's 1907 Los Angeles. Mischievous socialite Anna Blanc is the kind of young woman who devours purloined crime novels—but must disguise them behind covers of more domestically-appropriate reading. She could match wits with Sherlock Holmes, but in her world women are not allowed to hunt criminals.
Determined to break free of the era's rigid social roles, Anna buys off the chaperone assigned by her domineering father and, using an alias, takes a job as a police matron with the Los Angeles Police Department. There she discovers a string of brothel murders, which the cops are unwilling to investigate. Seizing her one chance to solve a crime, she takes on the investigation herself.
If the police find out, she'll get fired; if her father finds out, he'll disown her; and if her fiancé finds out, he'll cancel the wedding. Midway into her investigation, the police chief's son, Joe Singer, learns her true identity. And shortly thereafter she learns about blackmail.
Anna must choose—either hunt the villain and risk losing her father, fiancé, and wealth, or abandon her dream and leave the killer on the loose.
How can readers reach you or find you online?
Readers, please reach out. I’d love to hear from you. If you like old pictures from around the turn of the twentieth century, that’s another reason to find me on line. I’ve collected thousands while researching my books.
Follow me on Facebook and Twitter, and check out my Pinterest page.
Becky, thanks so much for having me!
Thank you for being my guest. Any comments or questions for Jennifer?