Today I have the pleasure of welcoming Jennifer S Alderson to Chat About Books 🙂
Happy Publication Day, Jennifer 🙂
For those who don’t know already, could you tell us about yourself and your book(s) please?
Hi, Kerry, and thanks for inviting me to share more about my books with your readers!
I am an American expat and author of four books. I was born in San Francisco and raised in Seattle, Washington, a gorgeous yet rainy city on the West Coast of America. A serious dose of wanderlust combined with burnout drove me to quit my job and travel through Asia, Central America, Europe, and Oceania for four years. I even lived in Darwin, Australia for eighteen months, until the heat and cyclones got to be too much. Home is now Amsterdam, where I live with my Dutch husband and young son.
My journeys inspire and inform my writing. The Adventures of Zelda Richardson mystery series transports readers to exotic locations around the globe. Down and Out in Kathmandu: A Backpacker Mystery is about a volunteer English teacher who gets entangled with diamond smugglers. The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery, my second book, is a suspenseful “whodunit?” that transports readers to wartime and present day Amsterdam. Art, religion, and anthropology collide in my third novel, Rituals of the Dead: An Artifact Mystery – available on April 6, 2018 as paperback and eBook!
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 artifacts, or gotten caught up in a diamond smuggling scheme.
I’ve also released a travelogue – Notes of a Naive Traveler – about my own experience volunteering and backpacking in Nepal and Thailand.
Where did/do you get your ideas from?
From everywhere! Seriously, a newspaper article, museum exhibition, chance conversation overheard on the tram, an issue at work, how a barista complains about a co-worker – these tiny snippets of information can all provide inspiration for a character, plot twist or even storyline.
I am a culture lover and spend a lot of time in museums and galleries as well as reading about art, so a lot of my ideas flow from a painting or sculpture I’ve seen, a biography of an artist I hadn’t yet read about, or a robbery at a local museum or gallery.
The nefarious characters and wonderfully kind locals I met in Nepal and Thailand inspired the plot of Down and Out in Kathmandu. The Lover’s Portrait draws heavily on my own experiences as a collection researcher and exhibition assistant at several Dutch museums. Rituals of the Dead is an artifact mystery about Asmat bis poles, missionaries and anthropologists in Dutch New Guinea (now Papua). The storyline was conceived during my time as a collection researcher at the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam, for a fascinating exhibition of Asmat bis poles held in Dutch museum collections.
Are any of your characters based (however loosely) on anyone you know?
Virtually every character I have created is based on a conglomeration of people I met while traveling and working, or those I’ve known all my life. However, none are based solely on one individual. For instance, my main character Zelda includes aspects of my personal history, combined with character traits of several friends, acquaintances and former co-workers, as well as people I don’t really like. She is not me, despite us having similar backgrounds and ambitions.
How do you pick your characters names?
My protagonist, Zelda Richardson, is named after my first cat; a petite black stray I found when I was eleven years old. She was my favorite pet. No one in my family knows why I chose that name and I can’t remember either. I was recently asked if I’d named her after the video game Legend of Zelda. To my relief, the game came out in 1986, three years after I found her! When I was trying to sort out the name of my mystery series’ protagonist, Zelda always topped the list. Because of the video game, I resisted for months. Yet I never did think of a name that felt right, so Zelda stuck.
Because the other characters in my novels are from all over the globe, I search for the most popular first and last names for a male or female in that country, born within a specific period. It is incredible what you can find on the internet these days!
Can you share your writing process with us, in a nutshell?
I’m a big believer in writing up 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. I prefer to write out the first draft as quickly as possible, so I can get the essence of the story down on paper. When I sit at the computer to type it in the first time, I also do the first round of editing, add in descriptions or characters and settings, and tighten up the action and dialogue.
The initial outline and first draft have to be written in order. Once I get to the second draft, if I’m having trouble working out a chapter or scene, I’ll skip ahead and come back to it the next day. That happens quite a bit, so I guess it’s become part of my process.
Who are your top 5 favourite authors?
Honestly, the answer changes weekly! Here are five authors whose books have left a deep impression on me, for a variety of reasons.
Alex Garland’s novel The Beach is the reason I wrote my first book, Down and Out in Kathmandu. It made me realize travel fiction could be thrilling, as well as convey a strong sense of place. I’ve read his other books but they didn’t grab me like The Beach did.
I read all of Agatha Christie’s mysteries when I was a girl. I know they influenced my decision to write mysteries later in life. For this reason, she’s probably my favorite writer!
Chris Pavone’s The Expats is a thrilling amateur sleuth mystery and adventure through Europe. It’s a wild ride of a story, with excellent characters and plot twists. His other books are also interesting.
Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti series is one of my favorites. Each book is a wonderful trip to Venice and the surrounding countryside, as well as a tightly constructed mystery. How she’s able to write so many wonderful books set in the same city leaves me in awe!
Victoria Blake’s Return of the Courtesan (in hardback: Titian’s Boatman) was my favorite read of 2017. I also enjoyed her crime fiction novel, Jumping the Cracks. Titian’s Boatman is a captivating contemporary and historical fiction novel set in London, New York and Venice. As you can see, I have a thing for Venice (and Italy in general) and love to visit it via fiction.
If you could meet any author, who would it be and what would you ask them?
Donna Leon. Not only because she’s an incredible author, but also because she is a longtime American expat. I would ask how she stays inspired to create engaging, interesting mysteries set in the same small city. Where does she find her inspiration? And after so many years as an expat, does she still consider herself an American? Does she think she could have written her Commissario Brunetti novels if she had stayed in America?
Were you a big reader as a child?
I was an avid reader and still am. My parents are too, and that helped get my brother and I interested in stories and reading in general. I devoured my mother’s predominantly cozy mystery books and many of my father’s horror and thriller novels before I reached puberty.
When did you start to write?
My fascination with writing fiction stems from a childhood game my father and I played; a series of ‘what ifs?’ which resulted in a short story. After completing a degree in journalism, I worked as a columnist, investigative journalist, and newspaper editor before life took me in other directions. My father’s unexpected death at the age of sixty-one motivated me to try writing a novel worthy of publication. It took eight years to finish my first, Down and Out in Kathmandu, but I did it!
Is there a book you wish you had written?
There are so many! The Ghost by Robert Harris is a thriller that keeps you guessing right down to the last word. I am in awe of his writing, pacing, storyline, characters, and subject matter. It’s truly a brilliant book!
If you wrote an autobiography, what would your title be?
Adventures in Living. My life has been a series of happy coincidences I cannot fully explain. For whatever reason, I’m now in Amsterdam and love my expat life. I am truly thankful for every experience I’ve had along the way, even the bad ones.
If you could invite any fictional character for coffee who would it be and where would you take them?
It would be fun to walk around the Rijksmuseum with Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon and check the artwork for hidden clues.
Tell us about your last release? Do you have a new release due?
Rituals of the Dead is a thrilling mystery about Asmat artifacts, missionaries, smugglers and anthropologists. I cannot wait until April 6, when it is released as paperback and eBook!
It is set in present-day Amsterdam and Dutch New Guinea in the 1960s. I wanted to write a mystery around a bis pole, an ancestor object similar to a Native American totem pole. They are carved by the Asmat in Papua, a region in the Indonesian half of the island. Amsterdam plays a role because Zelda is working at an anthropological museum in the city on an exhibition of Asmat artifacts. However, Zelda’s experiences are far more thrilling than my own!
The storyline was inspired by collection research I conducted for a fascinating exhibition of Asmat art and artifacts called Bis poles: Sculptures of the Rainforest. It was held in the Amsterdam’s Tropenmuseum in 2008. While researching the histories of Asmat objects held in Dutch museum collections, I came across many bizarre stories about headhunting, crazy explorers and daring anthropologists. Those stories stuck with me long after the exhibition opened and eventually inspired this novel.
My intention in writing this book is not only to entertain readers, but also to inspire them to learn more about the Asmat and their fascinating culture. I can’t wait to share Rituals of the Dead with mystery and thriller fans!
What are you working on right now?
I am currently working on book four in the Adventures of Zelda Richardson series. Zelda is once again embroiled in an art-related mystery. Italy will feature heavily in this novel about the mafia and art theft. It’s been fun researching the plot! Readers will have to wait a while for this one to be published as I’m only flushing out the first draft now. Though I think Zelda’s fans will enjoy the direction the series takes and the next art-related mystery to be solved.
What do you generally do to celebrate on publication day?
An extended happy dance then a delicious meal and fine wine. The next day, it’s business as usual.
How can readers keep in touch with you?
I love to hear from readers! Facebook, my blog and Goodreads are the best places to ask questions or leave comments. You can also join my newsletter or connect with me on social media:
Instagram link: http://www.instagram.com/JSAauthor
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Jennifer 🙂
Thank you for interviewing me, Kerry! I appreciate your insightful questions and interest in my books. Take care!
Rituals of the Dead: An Artifact Mystery
Art, religion, and anthropology collide in Alderson’s latest art mystery thriller, Rituals of the Dead, Book three of the Adventures of Zelda Richardson series.
Art history student Zelda Richardson is working at the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam on an exhibition of bis poles from the Asmat region of Papua – the same area where a famous American anthropologist disappeared in 1962. When his journal is found inside one of the bis poles, Zelda is tasked with finding out more about the man’s last days and his connection to these ritual objects.
Zelda is pulled into a world of shady anthropologists, headhunters, missionaries, art collectors, and smugglers – where the only certainty is that sins of the past are never fully erased.
Join Zelda as she grapples with the anthropologist’s mysterious disappearance fifty years earlier, and a present-day murderer who will do anything to prevent her from discovering the truth.
Rituals of the Dead is now available as paperback and eBook on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, and Smashwords.
Purchase Book Links:
Jennifer S. Alderson was born in San Francisco, raised in Seattle, and currently lives in Amsterdam. Her love of travel, art, and culture inspires her ongoing mystery series, the Adventures of Zelda Richardson. Her background in journalism, multimedia development, and art history enriches her novels.
In Down and Out in Kathmandu, Zelda gets entangled with a gang of smugglers whose Thai leader believes she’s stolen his diamonds. The Lover’s Portrait is a suspenseful “whodunit?” about Nazi-looted artwork that transports readers to wartime and present-day Amsterdam. Art, religion, and anthropology collide in Rituals of the Dead, a thrilling artifact mystery set in Dutch New Guinea (Papua) and the Netherlands.
Her travelogue, Notes of a Naive Traveler, is a must read for those interested in learning more about – or wishing to – travel to Nepal and Thailand.
When not writing, Jennifer can be found in a museum, biking around Amsterdam, or enjoying a coffee along the canal while planning her next research trip. Visit Jennifer’s website to learn more about and buy her books: http://www.jennifersalderson.com/.