The Secret Life of Anna Blanc Through the Eyes of Author Jennifer Kincheloe

Jennifer Kincheloe Jennifer Kincheloe is a research scientist turned writer of historical fiction. The Southern California native has traveled to such exotic locales as Nicaragua, Ethiopia, and Papua New Guinea. She earned a Masters degree in Public Health from Loma Linda University and a PhD in Health Services from UCLA. Jennifer was on the faculty at UCLA, where she spent 11 years conducting research to inform health policy. During her time at UCLA, she worked on her maiden novel, THE SECRET LIFE OF ANNA BLANC.

Ms. Kincheloe set The Secret Life of Anna Blanc by Jennifer Kincheloe THE SECRET LIFE OF ANNA BLANC in 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, they’ll fire her; if her father finds out, he'll disown her; if her fiancé finds out, he'll cancel the wedding and stop pouring money into her father's collapsing bank. 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.

Q: Your novel is a work of historical fiction. Is it your favorite genre? If not, what genres do you most read? What authors most influenced you?

I love good writing, regardless of genre, and will read anything—writings of the Saints, history of the vibrator, autobiography of Ricky Martin—especially if it’s on audiobook. The author who influenced me the most was Elizabeth Peters Elizabeth Peters (a.k.a. Barbara Mertz). If you haven’t read her Crocodile on the Sandbank (Amelia Peabody #1) by Elizabeth Peters Amelia Peabody series set in Egypt in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, then do so immediately. You will thank me.

Q: Like Sarah Waters, Diana Gabaldon, and Diane Setterfield, you earned a PhD and worked in the world of academia before you became a fiction writer. How did academics influence your writing?

Becoming a competent novelist requires the same tenacity that carries you through a Ph.D. When I decided to learn the craft, I treated my endeavors like graduate school. In research, you read everything written about your topic of interest, and then you do your own experiment. I read every writing book I could get my hands on. Then I would read novels I admired five times over, picking them apart and trying to find out how the author did it. I would read a novel focusing on the use of adjectives and adverbs, and reread it looking at how the author attributed dialogue. That’s a little like scientific research.

Q: Your novel is set in Los Angeles in 1907. I know you are a native Californian but why did you select that period? Since you are a trained researcher, where did you start?

There was a female cop in 1910 Los Angeles—Alice Stebbins Wells. She inspired me to write THE SECRET LIFE OF ANNA BLANC. Anna was to be modeled after Alice, but the character flowing out of my fingertips was not mature enough to get her badge, so I set the story a few years earlier when Alice was still just a police matron. Then I ditched the whole Alice idea altogether because Anna wasn’t like Alice at all.

I did my research in old newspapers, novels and textbooks from the 1900s, memoirs of police matrons and prostitutes, doctoral dissertations, sermons, court transcripts, films from the 1900s, 1900s music—lots of primary sources. Collecting street and fashion photography from the time helped.

Q: What kind of woman is Anna Blanc?

Anna has the sharpest mind the LAPD has ever seen. She is the product of a loveless home. Really, she’s just an object to her controlling father. She’s privileged by her wealth, whiteness, and beauty, but oppressed as a woman and incredibly sheltered. As a result, she’s naïve and self-absorbed. But she cares about justice and has a great capacity for love, in her way. She grows tremendously over the course of the book.

Q: Your work is a long one. How long did it take to outline it? What is your writing process?

THE SECRET LIFE OF ANNA BLANC began as a screenplay, which is why the book seems so cinematic. I wrote a one-page outline in a three-act structure. Then I wrote a paragraph describing each scene in the hypothetical film. Then I made a Powerpoint presentation with a detailed slide for each scene. A generous screenwriting teacher from USC’s film school decided to mentor me, and we met once a week to talk about it.

Then I wrote the screenplay, and rewrote it a dozen times. It took about nine months. I took a year-long break from the story, then wrote it into a novel. That took another two years. I workshopped it with my writer’s group, who read every chapter in one form or another. Then beta readers gave me feedback. My agent had comments. My publisher had changes. It was very much a team effort.

Q: You have one of the most interesting Facebook pages on the web. How did you build it? Did it help with selling your manuscript?

Thank you! I think it’s opened doors for me. I started it after the book won a contest and I had an initial publishing deal that my agent turned down. Everyone said, “you need a Facebook page if you are an author,” so I started one, posting pictures and facts from my research for the book. By the time I got my second publishing deal, the page was well on its way.

Q: What steps did you take to build your fan base?

Facebook, Twitter, book signings, lots of radio, and blog interviews. Also, my publicist is really great, as is the Penguin Random House team that does our sales.

Q: You published with a small house. What was that process like?

Slooooooooooooooow. I got an offer in January of 2014 and it wasn’t until November of 2015 that the book was published. But small publishing houses give you more attention than the big five, and Seventh Street Books is the hot new mystery publisher. Our authors are nominated for—or win—all the major mystery prizes. We have bestsellers.

Q: What advice would do you have for authors of historical fiction?

Become an expert in your book’s setting. Use primary sources. One thing I find really helpful is harvesting slang from newspaper articles and works of fiction written during the period.

Q: Can you give your fans a preview of your next work?

Yes! I just sent it to my agent. It’s an Anna Blanc sequel set in Los Angeles’s Chinatown and it’s inspired by two true stories.

A tong (Chinese gang) leader in San Francisco believed his prize slave girls were stolen by a rival tong leader and taken to Los Angeles. It set the gangs on the verge of a war that nobody wanted. He offered a $1,000 reward for the return of the girls. The Los Angeles Police Department began hunting for the girls to return them to their “owner” because they wanted the prize money. This shocked me so much I had to write about it.

The second story happened in New York’s Chinatown. A white missionary woman was found dead, stuffed in a trunk in the apartment of her Chinese lover. He fled and the crime was never solved. Whites went nuts and there was a huge backlash against Chinese Americans. I fictionalized it and set it in Los Angeles.

Look for the Anna Blanc sequel in 2017.

If you want to connect with Jennifer online, here are her links:
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Published on April 12, 2016 09:42 Tags: the-secret-life-of-anna-blanc
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