Interview with Jennifer Kincheloe Author of The Secret Life of Anna Blanc


Interview with
Jennifer Kincheloe
Author of
The Secret Life of Anna Blanc

What was your writing process like? Were there any major challenges?
Book one flowed from my fingertips like superhero zapping magic. I joyfully rewrote it a thousand times, whether I needed to or not. I wrote at soccer games, on car trips, anytime I got a minute, and I ignored everything around me. Book two has been really painful--months of writer's block, terrible self-doubt. But I understand that's typical for a second book. The success of book one puts a lot of pressure on me to meet or exceed reader's expectations in book two. Also, book one dealt with sexism, which I'm well familiar with. Book two has race issues. As a white person, my learning curve was very steep. I spent a lot of time frozen with terror.

Tell us a little about who you are in addition to being a historical novelist. 
I'm a research scientist by trade and did research at UCLA for eleven years. I quit to write THE SECRET LIFE OF ANNA BLANC, which is like throwing my Ph.D. out the window, but I did it. I live in Denver, CO with my two adorable teenagers and my "patron-of-the-arts" husband. I have a beagle, who I don't think even likes me.
 

My other pets like me fine, so I don't think it's me. I've got a sweet black muttlet, and a gray cat. I'm a voracious audiobook listener, and I download random books that I know nothing about from the library. I'll read any genre. And I study books for craft. If I think an author does something well, I might read their book five times.
 
My favorite book is Pride and Prejudice, but I also love Neil Gaiman's stuff like American Gods and Anansi Boys. I used to kickbox fiercely for fun, but currently have an injury and am doing water aerobics with old people (There is a woman with an oxygen tank in my class. No joke. She puts it on one of those floaty things).

How did you start writing and how did you start writing this book?
I started writing precipitously, madly, and without warning about five years ago. Heaven knows why. Screen plays seemed like they would be easier, so I started with them. They aren't easier. I wrote three pretty awful ones. But one of them became THE SECRET LIFE OF ANNA BLANC, which got me an agent and a book contract.

How did you decide on the time period and what do you like most about it?
Alice Stebbins Wells was a police matron who worked for the Los Angeles Police Department in the 1900s. She did social work and kept women and children who had contact with the criminal justice system safe from the criminal justice system. Before there were police matrons, many of the women and children in custody were abused. Matrons also interviewed women suspects, searched for missing persons, and occasionally solved crimes. In 1910, Alice became the first woman cop in Los Angeles.
 
I saw an article about her on the internet and it inspired me to write a story in her honor. My character turned out to be nothing like Alice, who was this very sober-minded, middle-aged minister. Anna Blanc is young, privileged, beautiful, and desperately flawed. She's a mighty fine crime fighter, though. So, learning about Alice determined the period I would write about.
 
What kind of research did you conduct for the book?
I knew nothing about the 1900s when I started, so I did research before I wrote the book, and continually throughout the process. And since I'm a little obsessive, I tried to cover every base. I read more from the period than about the period. For example, I read the memoirs of a prostitute, because part of the book is set in the brothels. I read a series of letters to the editor in the Los Angles Herald about how the city should deal with prostitution, in order to learn how the public viewed the brothels. I read court transcripts from when the mayor of LA was caught in a corruption scandal involving the brothels. That kind of thing.
 
One of my characters is Catholic, one is Protestant, so I read a sermon about how Protestants ought to relate to Catholics. I read a whole book about how to do laundry that was written for young wives in the 1900s.That's the level of detail of my research. I collected tens of thousands of digital photographs from the Progressive Era—everything from clothes by Anna's favorite designers, to street photography and art. I even had a historian who specializes in 1900s LA read the book cover to cover. One thing I couldn’t get was access to LAPD archives. You literally have to get permission from the chief of police.

What kind of historical experience will readers get from your book?
Readers say it's like no other book from the period. I think that's because it's humorous, and a lot of the humor comes from highlighting mores that we think are absurd today. Also, it explores social issues we still face—sex, sexism, poverty, corruption. But it has a light touch. It's still a lighthearted book.
 
Are you working on anything new? What kind of books do you see yourself writing in the future?
I'm just finishing a rewrite of the sequel to THE SECRET LIFE OF ANNA BLANC. It's set in LA's Chinatown in 1908 and is inspired by two true stories. In 1909 New York, a young white missionary woman was found murdered in a trunk in an apartment in Chinatown. The second happened in 1908 Los Angeles among the Chinese gangs (called tongs). A tong president in San Francisco had two beautiful slave girls. The leader of a different tong kidnapped them and took them to LA. Their "owner" offered a $1,000 reward for their return. Here is the interesting part. The LAPD were hunting the slave girls to RETURN THEM TO THEIR OWNER and collect the reward. That shocked me and I wanted to write about it. 

Is there anything else you'd like readers to know?
If people sign up for my newsletter they get free books from around the turn of the 20th century, and other swag. Just go to my website at www.jenniferkincheloe.com 
 
I also have a Facebook page where I post gorgeous, silly, or surprising pictures from the Progressive Era. I've been shocked by it's popularity (10,000+ followers and counting). If readers are interested in historical fiction or history, design, the suffrage movement, I think they'd really like it. You can find it at at www.facebook.com/TheSecretLifeofAnnaBlanc
 
I also have a Pinterest page with over 30,000 pins mostly from the 1900s and 1910s—lots of gowns, shoes, hats, and hairstyles. But it also has pictures of virtually everything else—poverty, advertisements, Suffragettes getting arrested. So have a look at Pinterest www.pinterest.com/jrobin66


About Jennifer Kincheloe
Jennifer is a research scientist turned writer of historical fiction. She grew up in Southern California, but has traveled to such places as Nicaragua, Ethiopia, and Papua New Guinea. She adores kickboxing, yoga, and developing complex statistical models. THE SECRET LIFE OF ANNA BLANC is her first novel. 

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www.jenniferkincheloe.com

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About The Secret Life of Anna Blanc
 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 and stop pouring money into her father's collapsing bank. 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, fiancĂ©, and wealth, or abandon her dream and leave the killer on the loose. 
 
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