This Week’s Featured Author Interview with
Jennifer S. Alderson
Hi Jennifer S. Alderson, welcome to the Indie Publishing Group website. Introduce yourself to us. Tell everyone who you are, where you’re from, what do you enjoy doing, hobbies and interests.
Thanks for inviting me to the Indie Publishing Group, Ben!
I was born in San Francisco, raised in Seattle and currently reside in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. I love to travel and never pass up the opportunity, whether the destination is a few hours away by plane, train or automobile. Nowadays I have a young son and husband in tow; luckily they both love to experience new places and cultures as much as I do.
In Seattle, kayaking in the Puget Sound was my favorite pastime; now it’s biking through the Dutch countryside and quaint villages surrounding Amsterdam.
I’m also the author of three published books. My debut, Down and Out in Kathmandu: A Backpacker Mystery, is a travel thriller set in Nepal and Thailand. The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery, is an amateur sleuth mystery set in present day and World War Two Amsterdam. These are the first two books in what I hope will be a long-running series following the adventures of my culture and travel loving protagonist, Zelda Richardson. The third novel in this series, Smuggler’s Deceit: An Art Mystery, will be out in January 2018. This time readers will be transported to Papua New Guinea and follow along on anthropological expeditions as they try and solve mysteries of the past and present.
Like the star of my mystery series, I am an avid traveler, multimedia developer, journalist, and art historian. Unlike Zelda, I have never been threatened with jail time, chased after by art thieves, tasked with tracking down illegally acquired antiquities or entangled with a diamond smuggling ring.
When did you start writing and why?
Writing began as a childhood game played by my father and me, a series of ‘what ifs?’ that usually resulted in a short story. At school I always wrote for school newspapers and yearbooks. After completing a degree in journalism, I worked as a columnist, investigative journalist and newspaper editor before life took me in other directions. Only after my father died, did I attempt to write a novel worthy of publication. In many ways, doing so was a way of honoring his memory.
Which is your favorite book you have written and what gave you the idea for it?
The Lover’s Portrait, my second novel, is my favorite. It gave me a chance to write about museums, Amsterdam, and art – topics near and dear to my heart.
During art history lectures at the University of Amsterdam, the complexities surrounding the restitution of artwork stolen by the Nazis was often discussed. I found myself wondering what would happen if two people showed up seventy years later and claimed the same painting. How would the museum and national press react? This question became central to the plot of my amateur mystery.
How did you come up with the title for your book?
For too long The Lover’s Portrait’s working title was ‘Girl with Vase’. I knew it was a terrible name but couldn’t come up with anything better. Only during the final edits, did the current title come to me. It refers to a portrait central to this art mystery. To my delight, many readers find it intriguing.
Who helped you with the cover? Or did you design it yourself? What was your inspiration for your cover design?
The talented James of GoOnWrite.com has made all of my covers. The Lover’s Portrait is about a painting gone missing in the 1940s. The gilded frame, wallpaper, and even typeface James used, represents the story perfectly.
What are some of the themes of your story?
The Lover’s Portrait uses the context of an art exhibition to examine issues surrounding the restitution of looted art and the intrinsic worth of artwork, as well as core values such as integrity, perseverance, and sacrifice.
What’s your process when you sit down and decide to start writing a book? What is your process and do you have a system?
I’m a big believer in writing out a tight outline before beginning the first draft. It takes a lot of time to work out all of the details and twists, but I’ve found it to be crucial for the book and my own motivation. When I have a clear idea of where the story is going, I’m more apt to jump behind the computer or pull out my notebook, than when the story is still floating around in my head.
When starting out, my main focus is building a credible plot. There’s got to be a compelling reason for one person or group to want the object or information in question to remain hidden, but also an important reason for another party to want to locate or reveal it. That is probably the most difficult part of writing a mystery, creating a ‘secret’ worthy of being kept and working out the motivation of all of the parties involved. The next step is figuring out how my series’ heroine fits into it all.
Archival research plays an important part in the development of all of my novels. Learning about the diamond trade and smuggling in Asia was crucial to ensuring the plot of Down and Out in Kathmandu: Adventures in Backpacking was realistic. Book two, The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery, demanded extensive research into several aspects of life in Amsterdam during the 1940s: specifically art dealers, galleries, museum collections, restitution of looted artwork, the methods Nazis used to justify their confiscation of artwork, and homosexuality in the Netherlands and Europe as a whole.
Smuggler’s Deceit: An Art Mystery required research into anthropologists and missionaries who worked in the Netherlands, the United States and Papua New Guinea during the 1950s and 1960s, the Asmat culture and the symbols they carve into their religious objects, the shifting policies underlying the collection practices of ethnographic museums, the debate around aesthetic beauty versus the cultural value of an object, the use of human remains in exhibitions, physical anthropology as a ‘science’, and Michael Rockefeller’s disappearance in Papua New Guinea.
Who are some of your favorite characters and why?
I’m a big fan of Bernie Gunther (star of Philip Kerr’s novels set in World War Two), Comissario Brunetti (Donna Leon’s novels set in Venice) and Stephanie Plum (Janet Evanovich’s hilarious detective series).
Have you got anything you’re working on now?
I am weeks away from finalizing my third novel, Smuggler’s Deceit and getting quite excited to share it with the world! Art, religion, and anthropology collide in this exciting third installment of the Adventures of Zelda Richardson series. It is an art mystery about Asmat bis poles, missionaries, and anthropologists. I hope readers will join Zelda on her journey to discover the truth about a missing anthropologist and rumors of a smuggling ring interested in ancient artifacts.
The storyline was conceived during my time as a collection researcher for a fascinating exhibition of Asmat bis poles at the Tropenmuseum. While searching through photographs and film fragments of Asmat tribes, missionaries and anthropologists working in Papua New Guinea during the 1930s through 1960s, I discovered that a well-known Dutch missionary – Reverend Gerard Zegwaard – was one of the last people to see Michael Rockefeller alive. During their meeting, they’d made an appointment to meet again after Rockefeller returned from an acquisition trip upriver. The young American disappeared days later, resulting in one of the most famous unsolved mysteries of our time. That little detail about his un-kept appointment with Reverend Zegwaard stuck with me and eventually inspired this novel.
If you could have any superpowers what would they be?
Though I am terrified of heights, I would love to be able to fly. Don’t ask me why.
If you could travel to any location in the world where would you go?
Kenya is a country I have wanted to visit for quite a while. While at the Tropenmuseum, I worked on a historical photography project in conjunction with the Nairobi National Museum of Kenya. Archival research was also part of this assignment. It is a fascinating land with diverse cultures and a turbulent history.
Where do you hope to be in 5 years’ time?
I hope to have several more books in the Adventures of Zelda Richardson series out by then, as well as have added more stamps to my passport from ‘research trips’. Writing about an avid traveler does have its benefits. J I already have plans for Zelda to travel to Egypt, Costa Rica and Australia in future mysteries.
Thanks so much for taking the time to do an author interview, Jennifer. Take a minute and check Jennifer S. Alderson out on the links below. Jennifer S. Alderson’s book, The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery, is available for purchase HERE.
Jennifer S. Alderson Author Website
Jennifer S. Alderson Author Blog
Jennifer S. Alderson Twitter
Jennifer S. Alderson Goodreads Author Page
Jennifer S. Alderson Author Facebook
Jennifer S. Alderson Amazon Author Page