Discussion with author Jennifer S. Alderson and her book Death by Windmill
For July, my book club here in The Hague had the opportunity to meet with Indie author Jennifer S. Alderson to discuss her book Death by Windmill (the 3rd book in her Travel can be Murder Cozy Mystery Series). It was a wonderful meeting in the Palace Garden. We had a picnic lunch with various sorts of sparkling wine, though we had a small issue with two police officers on horseback. We weren’t aware that during COVID we aren’t allowed to have alcohol in public spaces. Thankfully they just gave us a warning and told us to hide the bottles. Well, you learn something every day
The novel is about a tour guide, Lana, from Seattle, Washington, who brings a group of American tourists to Amsterdam. Amongst the tourists is her estranged mother and, unbeknown to Lana, the person who destroyed her career as an investigative journalist, Priscilla. Early on in the trip, Priscilla falls from a windmill balcony at Zaanse Schans. This is when the story really starts. Was Priscilla murdered and, if so, who murdered her? Will Lana’s mother end up spending the rest of her life in prison?
Death by Windmill is a great read if you are coming to The Netherlands and plan to tour around Amsterdam and just outside. It includes several of the major tourist destinations in and just outside the city; such as the Keukenhof, the town of Geithoorn, and the Zaanse Schans windmills. There is even an Indonesian restaurant suggestion in the book that really does exist, Kantjil & Tijger. Unfortunately, due to COVID, the Museum of Purses has permanently closed though. It would have been a great place to go for high tea while touring Amsterdam. Included, however, is a link with a list of recommended high tea spots in Amsterdam in case it interests you.
During our meeting, we had lots of time to ask Jennifer questions and she was very open to discussing them with us.
One of our first questions for Jennifer was if there were any similarities between herself and the character Lana in the book.
Jennifer confirmed that there are indeed some similarities to her life and to Lana’s character. Jennifer herself is American, born in San Francisco, but grew up in Seattle. At one point in her life, she was also an investigative journalist for a newspaper. Unlike Lana, Jennifer is not adopted and her mother and her have a good relationship.
It turns out that most of her Travel can be Murder readers are also Americans aged 50 to 70. Our diverse group of international women was not her typical reader, at least by citizenship; there is only one American in the group.
When did you start writing?
Writing for Jennifer started young. She wrote her first book when she was twelve. In high school, she wrote for the school newspaper. She has also worked as an investigative journalist for newspapers, in multimedia development, and in art history.
Have you visited the places where your novels take place? Do you choose the place then go, or do the circumstances choose you?
Jennifer tries to write about places she has travelled to or lived in. She is well travelled having lived on at least 3 continents; North America, Australia, and now Europe. In addition, she has spent a great deal of time travelling through Central America and Asia. She moved to Amsterdam to study art history, thinking the course was in English. However, it turned out it was in Dutch and she had only a brief period to learn the language. While at school she met her Dutch husband and has lived here ever since. Death by Windmill is definitely set in a location she is knowledgeable on. It has happened though that she has written about places she does not have first-hand experience with.
Can you provide us with some information on your writing habits?
This surprised me, Jennifer writes the first few chapters of a book by hand! For her, this is what works to get her story started. Once her characters are set and she is in a rhythm she can move to working on a computer.
Where do you write (answer written by Jennifer)?
Before coronavirus, I truly thought that I could only write in busy cafes while sipping on a cup of mint tea. Whenever I tried to write at home, it didn’t work because there were too many distractions.
Obviously, I had to adapt my writing routine after measures to curb the coronavirus shutdown pretty much everything in the Netherlands. It took a few weeks to get into the “working from home” groove – and several conversations with my husband about how we were going to divide up the care and homeschooling for our son. Since the first lockdown in March 2020, I have written six books from home and don’t think they are any less interesting than those I wrote in cafes!
How long does it take you to write a book (answer written by Jennifer)?
Each of the four Zelda Richardson art mysteries took about three months to research and another nine to write. The Travel Can Be Murder cozy mysteries take about five months per book. That rapid pace is only possible thanks to an extensive outline that I made of the first nine books in the series, before I began writing book one! That has saved a considerable amount of time, though I do allow myself to change the storylines when necessary.
Does writing energize you (written by Jennifer)?
Writing the initial draft and puzzling out the motives, characters, and general setup of the story is extremely energizing! It is, however, all-consuming – in the sense that it is really difficult not to think about the storyline during that phase! Because an inspiration for a piece of dialogue or a character’s action can happen anywhere, I tend to carry around a notepad and pen until the first draft is complete.
After the first full version is in the computer, the real work begins. It is difficult to retain that initial level of enthusiasm throughout the remaining writing and editing phases because I am reading the manuscript as critically as I can while searching for any holes in the plotline, location’s descriptions, or character’s subplots, that need to be fixed. However, once it is complete and I think that the book is ready for publication, I like to read through it once more. That final read-through usually energizes me so much that I begin writing the next book the same day that I publish the current one!
There are 6 Travel can be Murder books now and if you are travelling to any of the destinations, I would recommend picking one up. They are nice easy reads and provide you with some idea of the sites you will be seeing at your destination.