Jennifer Kincheloe is the author of the mystery novel The Secret Life of Anna Blanc and its sequel The Woman in the Camphor Trunk. The third novel in the series, The Body in Griffith Park, will be published next month. She lives in Denver.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for your character Anna Blanc?
A: She just popped out. She was supposed to be an homage to Alice Stebbins Wells, a middle-aged minister who became the first cop in LA in 1910. But Anna turned out nothing like Alice.
In some ways, I took my own characteristics at 19 and stretched them. For example, I was relatively privileged. Anna was filthy rich. I was brave. Anna's downright heroic. I was a little self-absorbed. Anna begins the series incredibly self-absorbed.
Q: Did you always know you'd be writing more than one book about Anna, and do you think she's changed at all from one book to the next?
A: The Secret Life of Anna Blanc was supposed to be my practice novel. It was my first, and I didn't think anyone would ever read it. But when my writer's group reacted favorably to the book, and it subsequently sold, I decided I'd like to write more in the series.
And yes, Anna is growing up, changing within each book in some important way. The Secret Life of Anna Blanc began with Anna seeing marriage as her only way out from under her father's repressive thumb. When The Woman in the Camphor Trunk begins, we find Anna living independently, not wanting to get married. She becomes a woman of the world.
Also, she's incredibly self-centered at the beginning of the series. But she begins to learn empathy for other people's situations.
Anna is very young and will continue to mature and grow.
Q: How did you research early 20th century Los Angeles, where the books are set, and how important is setting to you in your writing?
A: Setting is crucial. I wrote the book partly because I was missing LA. It's always wonderful when setting infuses the book and you feel its weight on the characters. I strove for that.
Researching the books took as much time as writing them, if not more. I read newspapers, court transcripts, recipe books, etiquette books, books on crime scene investigation, archaeology books, books on grooming, legislation, speeches, memoirs, eye-witness accounts, history books, doctoral dissertations, etc. I looked at photographs and collected thousands of them from the era. (You can find them on my Pinterest page.)
I could go on, but I think you get the picture.
Q: Do you usually know how your novels will end, or do you make changes along the way?
A: The Secret Life of Anna Blanc started out as a screenplay. I outlined the screenplay before writing it, so I knew how that would end. But when I turned it into the novel, I changed the identity of the villain. So yes and no. I do outline, but it's never set in stone.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: The fourth book in the Anna Blanc mystery series, which delves into the mysterious world of fraternal orders. Like the other books, it's inspired by real crimes.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: How about what I'm reading?
I just finished The Sun is God by Adrian McKinty. It's about German, coconut-eating nudists in 1900s Papua New Guinea. It's a must.
Ditto The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling. It has more insight into the horrors and joys of motherhood than any book I've ever read.
I loved traveling back in time to the ‘60s in A Stone's Throw by James W. Ziskin.
I'm halfway through Among the Ruins by the great Ausma Zehanat Khan, which my husband is reading out loud to me. Ausma's one of the best in the genre and I got to have dinner with her the other night.
I just started Mrs. Caliban by Amy Landon, which is about a bored housewife who has a torrid affair with a lizard man.
More along the lines of Anna Blanc are Elizabeth Peter's Crocodile on the Sandbank, Amy Stewart's Girl Waits with Gun, and Mary Roberts Rinehart's Bab: A Sub-Deb, which you can get for free when you sign up for my mailing list at www.jenniferkincheloe.com.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb