Posted on 07/20/2018 at 08:00 AM by Sadye Scott-Hainchek
Here’s a dare for even the most committed homebody: Read Jennifer S. Alderson’s author bio, let alone her published works, and just try not to get the travel itch.
Though she had a job, an apartment, and a social circle, the West Coast native had a nagging feeling during her mid-twenties that she was missing out on something.
So she took a leap of faith and signed up to teach English in Nepal — which she’d never visited before — and built in a trip to Thailand afterwards.
Alderson went back to the U.S. after that, but her wanderlust wasn’t going anywhere. She tried living in Australia after that, and though that didn’t pan out, her return trip to Seattle didn’t settle her back in the U.S.
A daylong layover in Rome turned into a European tour, which then turned into a final move to the Netherlands, where she has established a family and a writing career.
Upon a fellow author’s suggestion, we chatted with her recently about the dream life she’s lived, and how her hard work made it happen.
SADYE: Your nominator said of you: "She selflessly puts her time and effort into supporting other authors.” What ways do you try to support other authors?
JENNIFER: Well that was extremely kind of my nominator to say!
Writing can be lonely, and I do enjoy connecting with other authors writing in my genres. Every few weeks I feature an author on my website’s blog, usually an interview or new release spotlight.
A year ago, I created a virtual community for authors and readers on Facebook called Travel By Book. The group is an eclectic mix of readers, bloggers, and authors who are interested in (or write) fiction and nonfiction strong in setting.
We all love to share reviews of our favorite reads as well as blog posts and travel and writing. Authors are allowed to self-promote and give away their books.
About once a month, I create group promotion posts based around a different theme – audiobooks, books set in Oceania, Summer Reads, et cetera.
These group posts are turning out to be a great way for all of us to find new readers while supporting each other.
SADYE: You were between jobs when you wrote your first novel. What prompted you to choose that as a way to keep yourself occupied?
JENNIFER: Writing a novel has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, my father and I would write short stories together.
Those sessions inspired me to try writing my first murder mystery when I was thirteen – a horrid detective novel à la Sidney Sheldon involving identical twins.
That one will never see the light of day, but luckily I’ve kept at it! I never really stopped writing, but my demanding careers in journalism then ICT left little time for anything creative.
After burnout struck in 1999, I took off to travel the world and find myself. Almost immediately, a voice in my head began reminding me of my childhood dream to writing a publishable novel.
While traveling, I began outlining a new manuscript about a naïve volunteer who gets entangled with a smuggling ring in Nepal, yet struggled with the plot structure.
Only after I attended an Avron workshop led by authors Alan Bissett and Val McDermid was I able to actually get on track and finish the first draft of Down and Out in Kathmandu.
SADYE: What was your journey to publication like?
JENNIFER: I have gone through stages of denial, resignation, acceptance, and pride during this two-and-a-half year journey.
After finishing my first two books, I spent a year querying agents and small publishing houses about Down and Out in Kathmandu, then The Lover’s Portrait. Several nibbles never led anywhere.
After accumulating a shoebox full of the nicest rejection letters you will ever read, I realized I could either let my books rot in a drawer or try self-publishing them and see what happened.
I will admit it took months to get over the feeling that self-publishing was akin to giving up.
While preparing Down and Out in Kathmandu for publication, I think I made every mistake they warn first-time authors about, without ever trying.
Looking back, my favorite “what was I thinking?” moment is my choice of publication date.
I truly believed releasing my debut novel on December 22 – yes, three days before Christmas – would be the perfect time to attract new readers. (Tip: If you are an unknown author, it’s not.)
About six months after publication, I finally realized I needed to hire a professional cover designer and editor, as well as create a social media presence, if I ever wanted to sell a book to someone who didn’t know me personally.
Only after I did these things and began experimenting with paid marketing was I able to check my sales dashboard without cringing.
Nowadays, when I check sales, I become filled with pride and gratitude towards every agent and publisher that turned me down.
I still have much to learn, but I keep at it and hope that future sales will reflect any improvements I make.
SADYE: Beyond your travels to your books’ settings, where do you find inspiration?
JENNIFER: Perhaps not surprisingly, the ideas for my art history-based novels come primarily from museum exhibitions I have seen, real-life thefts, and art history mysteries, as well as off-the-wall newspaper articles and documentaries.
Somehow these tidbits combined together in my head and form a new idea.
For example, the plot of my current work-in-progress — another art-related mystery — was inspired by the spectacular robbery and discovery of two Vincent Van Gogh paintings stolen from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in 2002, several odd art thefts mentioned in regional newspapers, and articles and documentaries about the Italian mafia in the Netherlands, Croatia, and Turkey.
I feel a research trip coming on!
SADYE: After all of the places you’d seen, how did Amsterdam stand out as the place to settle?
JENNIFER: It was never my intention to move here permanently. ... (But) I fell in love with Amsterdam the moment I stepped out of Centraal Station.
It’s a vibrant city with a palpable, creative energy. The museums and art galleries are numerous and world-class.
Pretty much any rock band that matters plays here. Every week another incredible café or restaurant opens.
My main mode of transportation is now a bicycle, which is freeing after years of long car and bus commutes, though perhaps the most important reason for settling here is love.
After returning to study art history at the University of Amsterdam, I met my husband, an artist and (then) owner of the backpacker hotel I stayed for three months while searching for an apartment.
We are now the proud parents of a wonderful, rambunctious seven-year-old. I can’t see us moving back to the States anytime soon!
SADYE: What is the most important task an author has?
JENNIFER: To create an entertaining and reasonably believable story with a well-described setting, cast of characters, and plot that readers can get lost in!
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Categories: Author Interview