Welcome to Shelfbuzz, Jen. Towards the end of the year we combed through our stats and discovered that, according to our readers, All the Blue-Eyed Angels was the most popular mystery novel we featured in 2015. So we thought it would be fun to dig a little deeper and learn more about the novel and you. Where did you get the idea for All the Blue-Eyed Angels?
I actually started out with this idea back in 1998, when I was an undergrad in college. It began with a short story called “Anna’s Hair,” about a listless woman in her thirties who returns home after her marriage fails. I kind of fell in love with the character, and couldn’t let her go. Anna eventually became Erin. Nearly twenty years later, she’s become a very comforting — though sometimes confounding — part of my world.
Tell us more about Erin. What drives her?
Erin Solomon is an accomplished freelance journalist who’s spent her entire life haunted by a single event: the alleged mass suicide of the religious community to which she and her father once belonged. She’s smart, she’s feisty, she’s funny, and though sometimes she’s a little hapless when it comes to the men in her life or the situations she finds herself in, ultimately she has a good heart and an unstoppable desire to get to the truth at all costs. Erin has taken some pretty serious hits personally in recent months, and she’s trying to piece herself back together by going back to the single event that she perceives as the catalyst to who she is now, and everything that’s gone wrong for her to date.
Who might play Erin in the movie version of All the Blue-Eyed Angels?
Anna Kendrick!!! Not that I’ve given it any thought, you understand.
What were some of the themes and issues you thought about while writing the book?
As the book took shape I couldn’t get the Bible verse “The truth shall set you free” out of my head. Ultimately, that became a central theme in the book, and that theme continues throughout the course of the series, as Erin struggles with the malleability of the truth, her own perception of past events, and how all of that impacts the woman she is today.
The tagline on your website is “Mystery, Mayhem, Maine.” How important is the Maine setting of your novels?
The Maine setting is integral, in my opinion. I grew up in midcoast Maine, where the novel takes place, and have always had a love for Gothic mysteries like those written by Daphne du Maurier, Victoria Holt, Phyllis Whitney, and the Bronte sisters — books where the setting is a character unto itself, and creates a kind of tension that just wouldn’t exist if the story was set anywhere else.
Did you have to do a lot of research for All the Blue-Eyed Angels?
Yes. Over the course of multiple drafts for this book, I met with an investigator with the Maine State Fire Marshal’s office, read countless books on cults and cult behavior, studied conspiracy theory and some of the most pervasive conspiracies in American culture, and did intensive research on how to structure and pace a mystery well. Much of that work was done through my studies as an undergrad at Goddard College, and later studying Creative Writing/Popular Fiction at the University of Southern Maine.
It sounds like a multi-year effort.
It was. I started writing it in 1999 or 2000, and continued through the final years of my undergraduate study and on through graduate school. After I finished grad school in 2005, I put it away for a few years, and then took it out again with the intention of self-publishing around 2010, before ultimately publishing in February of 2012.
All the Blue-Eyed Angels has won several awards, and earned the AIA Seal of Quality and the B.R.A.G. Medallion for excellence in independent publishing. What were some of the things you did to achieve this high level of professionalism?
As I mentioned, I did the first drafts in school and then continued honing using feedback from readers and fellow writers on the website YouWriteOn, so I really got an incredible amount of helpful advice during the writing phase. The novel received enough positive votes at YouWriteOn to be selected for feedback from a professional editor back in 2011, which proved incredibly helpful. I was also part of a writing group that provided great insight. As for the cover design, I purchased the first cover for a hard-earned $100 shortly before publishing. The novel got a facelift in 2014, when I’d earned enough to start working with the talented folks at Damonza.
All the Blue-Eyed Angels is part of a five-book series. Is each one a standalone mystery or is there an overall story?
The first five novels in the series are tightly interwoven. Not all of Erin’s questions are answered in All the Blue-Eyed Angels. She continues her search for the truth in Sins of the Father, the second Erin Solomon mystery.
Thank you so much, Jen.