I have been quite excited to talk to Jen because the premise of this mystery series involves a cult. I was involved in a cult for ten years in the 1990s, so I wanted to know more from Jen about how she came up with the premise. And also how she did such an amazing job capturing the twisted and dangerous motives and personal interaction in a cult.
We talk about this and much more during the interview.
Jen’s five book series is unique because the plot arcs through all five books. By the end of book 1 (All the Blue-Eyed Angels) many questions about the mystery have been answered, but others are raised. FYI, Jen has a special deal on the entire series right now. You can get all five books for 50% off the regular price. I HIGHLY recommend these books. I could hardly put book one down and can’t wait to dive into the next one. (Plus, main character Erin Solomon has her dog with her throughout the book and any mystery author who can write about a dog so skillfully is tops in my books.) 😉
You can also click here to watch the episode on YouTube.
Transcript of Interview with Jen Blood
Alexandra: Hi, everyone. I’m Alexandra Amor, and I’m here today with Jen Blood. Hi, Jen!
Jen: Hi, Alexandra.
Alexandra: How are you today?
Jen: I’m great. I’m very excited to be here.
Alexandra: Oh, good. I’m so happy to have you here. I’m going to give everyone a bit of introduction about you. Jen is the author of the best selling Erin Solomon mysteries. Jen Blood taps into a background in freelance journalism in the heart of mid-coast Maine, to write mysteries rich with atmosphere, action, romance, character, and serpentine plots.
Her award-winning series has been hailed by critics and readers alike for its sharp wit and well drawn characters, with all of her novels to date hitting multiple best seller lists in mystery, suspense, and thrillers. And yes, Jen Blood is her real name. Because that was my first question when I started looking into you. I thought “Oh that can’t be real,” but it is.
Jen: Yeah, it is.
Alexandra: That’s awesome. So as I mentioned, just before the call, I read the first book in the Erin Solomon series over the Christmas holidays and just loved it.
Give us a bit of background about Erin and where the story starts, and then I’m going to ask you a few questions.
Jen: Sure. Basically, the story starts and Erin Solomon is an investigative journalist, and she decides, for a variety of reasons, to return to her hometown to investigate a crime that’s basically haunted her for her whole life, or for most of her life, which is an alleged cult suicide that happened when she was 10. The reason it’s haunted her is because her father was actually a member of this religious community and he was the only survivor, aside from herself, though she was no longer a member at that point.
So, it’s a small Maine town and the religious community had been on an island off the coast of Maine. Erin goes back to this place and really starts to delve into her own past and her memories of this island and what actually happened, and trying to figure out and piece together all that happened.
Alexandra: So here’s the reason I connected with it so much, apart from the amazing writing and the great characters. I just love Erin so much. I’ll talk about her in a minute. I was in a cult for 10 years in the 1990s. It was here in Vancouver. When I started reading the plot, I just thought “Oh my goodness.” And so one of my questions is…
…were you ever involved in a cult? What made you choose that plot point?
Jen: I was never actually involved in a cult, but my early years were in a Pentecostal church, and so there was certainly that element. I think those formative years and seeing the intensity of that experience for so many people who were members of the church, it was a strong experience for me. So I was always very interested in that, and from there, had done a lot of research into religious extremism and fundamentalism and all of those different elements. That’s really kind of where it’s rooted. A little bit with angels and then with books further on, I explored that fundamentalist tie in a little bit more, especially in the third book.
Alexandra: Okay, yeah, because I was just so impressed with…there were so many things where you just nailed it exactly what it’s like to be in that kind of group. In fact, I’ve got my iPad here, and I highlighted something while I was reading. There’s a section in…I don’t know what chapter we’re in here, where you say, “In Waco, the pressure from the government was the final straw; a visit from Senate investigators set Jonestown into motion.” So for people who don’t know, a visit from Senators down to Guana, which is where they started the whole fire storm that set that thing in motion.
“The Solar temple had been preaching the same dogma since their inception,” and so you go on to say that there wasn’t really anything like that with the fictional church that you’re talking about in the book. The question is, what would cause this event to happen, this mass suicide that happens in the narrative?
When you were investigating cults and that kind of thing – because you were an investigative journalist as well – were you doing that as part of other stories that you wrote or? You’ve talked a little bit about it. So far it came from your Pentecostal growing up. Did you follow up?
Jen: I did so much research into it. I became really fascinated with it, and I started writing this in 1999, I believe, or 2000. So it took me a really long time to get that first book written. I spent a lot of time really researching the different cults that are out there and the mass suicide. Not just the mass suicide, but the religious communities where nothing cataclysmic happens.
It’s just that they’re out there, and some of them are benign and some of them are a little more malevolent. Looking at that and trying to be…when I really went into the series, trying to do was not be judgmental and drag my own perspective on all of this into it. I really wanted to look at it as with everything. There are extremes and then there are things that happen everyday, and it’s the norm for some people. So kind of looking at that.
Alexandra: Right. That was one of the things that I really noticed about this book, was that I could feel your empathy toward the people who are involved in this church. And also perhaps that understanding that when someone is involved in a cult, it’s not hell from morning to night. There are elements of it that are positive, and those are the things that enable people to stay. That’s why people stay a lot of the time, because it’s not all awful. So I thought that was incredibly interesting, that you tied in that kind of a story.
The other thing that I loved was Erin. I was thinking about her afterwards. She’s such a great character because she’s intelligent, and I love her relationship with Einstein, her dog, of course. You’re a big dog lover as well, I know.
She’s on a mission to figure this thing out, the mystery, and very capable, like I said, very intelligent. She’s also a bit of a hot mess, which I just loved. She wasn’t a cardboard character. Her relationship with her mother is kind of a disaster. So talk a bit about her…how much is she like you? Not the hot mess part.
Jen: It turns out that she’s a lot more like me than I originally thought. I didn’t think that she was, but then my brother actually told me that he thinks of Erin as my shadow. I’m not as hot headed, and she says a lot of things that I may think but I don’t usually say. I think I’ve got a handle on things in general. Her character came to me when I was an undergrad. I wrote a short story, and it was about this character who came home after a divorce and was trying to piece her life together.
I think it’s maybe 2,000 words and it’s about her getting a haircut. But that character, she made such an impression on me just with that one thing. I really started to want to spend more time with her and find a vehicle that would be strong enough to carry her. So that’s where it came in.
And do you think Erin has taught you anything? I always wonder that when authors are so close to their main character. Is there anything you’ve learned from her?
Jen: I think absolutely. I think that with Erin, she really does have a journey that she goes on from books one through five, and there’s a very clear arc that I love about her. Watching the way that she matures and comes to this understanding of who she is and a reconciliation of her own weaknesses, the things that she struggles with. I think definitely taught me a little bit about being more forgiving of my own shortcomings and that kind of thing.
The other thing is how much people loved that character, and that was nice, because a lot of the stuff about Erin is not pretty stuff. She’s got some dark stuff. And the fact that people were as open and as welcoming to that, was a nice reminder that all of your sides don’t have to be so pretty all the time for people to still embrace you.
Alexandra: Great point. That’s so great. Yeah, she is so multifaceted. The other thing I loved about the book too is the setting. Setting is always a big deal for me when I’m writing. You, as we’ve said, set these books in mid-coast Maine. Although I think the second one, does it go over to the west coast of…?
Jen: The setting is actually in northern Maine.
Alexandra: In northern Maine, okay. I haven’t started it yet.
The ocean and the fog and the rain, it was all so atmospheric. That must be important to you, too.
Jen: Absolutely. I grew up in mid-coast Maine. I know this area really well, and love this area. I have a really strong connection to it. I love the people. So that absolutely helped. I grew up absolutely loving the Gothic mysteries and the Gothic romance where there’s that mystery element in there, like Daphne du Maurier and Victoria Holt. All of those, I just absolutely loved when I was junior high to high school. That was a big thing for me. So, setting, definitely that’s such a strong element in those works. I really saw that as a character in the books I’m writing now.
Alexandra: I guess Maine lends itself a little bit to some of the Gothic stuff because of the fog and the rain and the ocean and…
Alexandra: Because you were an investigative journalist, do you do a lot of research for your books, and do you enjoy that?
Jen: Yeah. I was a reporter. I was never necessarily a…I mean, I did some research and stuff, but I don’t know that I was technically an investigative journalist. But it was always what I wanted. I wanted to do that and sort of realize that the problem with investigative journalism is you have to be honest about things and stick to facts, and sometimes facts are kind of boring.
I was going to go with fiction. But I love the research aspect of things. I have to discipline myself not to get completely lost in that aspect, but it’s a lot of fun. I love learning, and especially in this day and age where information is just at your finger tips. It’s a wonderful thing.
Alexandra: That’s great. Another thing I really enjoyed about the book was the little bit of romance or relationship stuff that’s going on between Erin and Diggs, her childhood friend. And then, is it Jack? The other fellow?
Alexandra: Who’s new to her and also a little bit mysterious. I won’t give anything away, but there’s some stuff that goes on at the end of the first book with Jack, where you wonder what’s going on there. You mentioned in your bio somewhere, I saw, again, that Gothic novels influenced you a little bit to weave a bit of relationship stuff through your mystery novels. That was something I really liked.
I really felt bad for Diggs, I have to say. I felt a lot of sympathy for him.
Jen: Yeah, he kinda has his hands full with Erin, a lot of the time. I think, throughout the series, you get to know him a little bit better and know their history a little bit more. What I like, as that plays out, again, without spoilers, is that you do get a better sense of the fact that the relationship is actually pretty balanced in terms of when you look at what’s come before for the two of them and the other side of things for them.
Alexandra: You have a little prequel.
Is it like a short novel? Is it from Diggs’ point of view?
Jen: It is. It’s actually a full length novel that is from Diggs’ perspective. That’s Midnight Lullaby, that just came out a little while ago. He proved to be very popular from the start with readers. With the first draft of the novel, Diggs was a guy named Danny who was actually the villain; he was the bad guy.
The more I got to know him, the more that just didn’t work for me. He just never shuts up, in my head. He’s always got things to say. I really like that voice, so I came up with the idea for Midnight Lullaby a little while ago. I tried to tell it from Erin’s perspective, and it’s not her story; it really is Diggs’ story.
Alexandra: That must have been fun to explore a story from somebody else’s point of view.
Jen: Yes, definitely. I loved doing that.
Alexandra: The Erin Solomon series has five books. Are you going to continue writing…which are complete? They’re all out?
Jen: Yes. Well, here’s the problem. It was meant to be a five-book series, and then I wrote the prequel. But then people kept clamoring for more of Erin. I came up with other ideas. There actually will be more Erin Solomon. There’s a complete arc from books one to five. It’s kind of a serialized mystery within those five books.
But beyond that, there will be more Erin Solomon mysteries that are going to be standalone, rather than a larger arc. I have one of those that I’m working on, but I’m also working on a new series about a character that’s introduced in Sins of the Father, and so she’s going to carry a new series herself. She’s a trainer of search and rescue dogs.
Alexandra: Oh neat. Wow.
Jen: So, yeah, I’ve been working on that quite a bit recently. That’s the endeavor that I’m working on right now.
Alexandra: Okay, cool. Another one of the things that I liked about the first book in the Erin Solomon series is that by the end of the book, a lot of the questions are answered but more are opened up.
There is this arc over all five, which is a really nice thing to be able to sink one’s teeth into and really follow these characters on this long journey. I look forward to doing that. Had you planned it that way right from the beginning?
Jen: I did, just because there are things in it that follow…the mystery is so tightly entwined in those five books that there are clues in book one that helped solve the ultimate mystery in book five, so I really needed to be pretty clear on what that arc was and what was happening throughout so that I could weave it in each of the novels.
Alexandra: We should mention too that the first book, All the Blue-Eyed Angels, is available for free. You can download it from all the different online book stores, at no risk.
Alexandra: This has been so awesome, Jen. Thank you so much for connecting with me today and talking a bit about your books. Tell people where they can find more information about you.
Jen: Sure. The best place really, is to go straight to the website, and that’s JenBlood.com. That’s where links to all of the book’s information about all of them. Right now, actually, you can get the whole starter library, which actually includes Midnight Lullaby, free by signing up at the website. So that’s a good place to go.
Alexandra: Yes, exactly. All right. Well, thanks so much, and take care.
Jen: All right. Thank you.
Alexandra: Bye bye.