INTERVIEW WITH JENNIFER S. ALDERSON
Welcome to Roxana’s blog!
Q: Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
I’m a long-time expat, an American who’s been living in the Netherlands since 2004, and the author of two novels, Down and Out in Kathmandu: Adventures in Backpacking and The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery.
In America I worked as a journalist and multimedia developer until massive burnout lead me to quit my job, buy a backpack and head off to Kathmandu to volunteer as an English teacher for three months before backpacking around Nepal and Thailand for another four. As cliché as it might sound, this trip ended up being a life-changing experience.
After several years on the road, I moved to the Netherlands. I ended up here by pure chance. After a 24 hour layover in Rome turned into a two-month tour of Europe, I arrived in Amsterdam on Queen’s Day and immediately feel in love with the city, country, culture and people. Several months of paperwork later, I returned to Amsterdam to study art history and never left!
After completing degrees in art history and museum studies, I worked for several museums before the economy crashed and the cultural sector imploded.
While apply for jobs, I wrote my first novel as a way of keeping my mind occupied. Writing about my adventures in Nepal and Thailand also helped curtail my wanderlust! I finished it between contracts, but never pursued publication.
After my son was born, I had the luxury of staying home to raise him. Writing became a way to connect with ‘grownup’ life, and gave me an excuse to visit several museums and archives I’d always wanted to check out. The Lover’s Portrait was so well-received by everyone who read it, I decided to publish both of my books and see what happened. I’ve been absolutely blown away by the overwhelmingly positive reception so far!
Q: What are your future ambitions for your writing career?
To keep writing stories about art-related events and places that interest me, and promoting those I’ve already published.
Q: So, would you mind telling us what you have written so far?
The first two novels in the Adventures of Zelda Richardson series are already out, Down and Out in Kathmandu (2015) and The Lover’s Portrait (2016). The third in the series, another art-related mystery set in Amsterdam and Papua New Guinea, will be released in 2017. These books follow traveler and culture lover Zelda Richardson around the globe.
Down and Out in Kathmandu is a travel thriller set in Nepal and Thailand. A naïve American volunteering as an English teacher gets entangled with a gang of smugglers who believe she’s stolen their diamonds. It’s gotten great reviews so far!
The Lover’s Portrait is a mystery set in present day and wartime Amsterdam which uses the context of an art exhibition to examine issues surrounding the restitution of looted art and the intrinsic worth of artwork, as well as core values such as integrity, perseverance and sacrifice. The book was awarded a 5 star medal from Readers’ Favorite and came in at number 14 in the mystery category of the BookLife Prize for Fiction 2016.
I’ve also recently started blogging about travel, fellow creatives, expat life and writing.
Q: Where can we buy or see them?
In any and all online retailers, and several bookstores in Amsterdam.
BARNES & NOBLE: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/%22Jennifer%20S.%20Alderson%22?Ntk=P_key_Contributor_List&Ns=P_Sales_Rank&Ntx=mode+matchall
AMAZON CO UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jennifer-S.-Alderson/e/B019H079RA/
Q: What are you working on at the minute? What’s it about?
I’ve got two projects in the works.
In late January I hope to release a travelogue about my journey to Nepal and Thailand, Notes of a Naive Traveler: Adventures in Nepal and Thailand. Since Down and Out in Kathmandu’s publication, I’ve been surprised by the number of readers who want to know which of the events described in my debut novel really took place. Very few, I’m afraid! Now everyone will have a chance to read about my actual journey and experiences gained while volunteer in, and traveling around Nepal and Thailand. I’ve also included several photos of places I’d visited, many of which were destroyed in the massive earthquake that rocked Nepal in 2015. Beta readers are calling it a ‘must read’ for anyone who is interested in, or has traveled to, Nepal or Thailand.
I am also busy fleshing out the second draft of the third novel in the AZR series. This one is set in present-day Amsterdam and Papua New Guinea in the 1950s and 1960s. This yet-to-be-named book will be another art-related mystery, this time about Bispoles (religious objects akin to totem poles), American anthropologists, and Dutch missionaries. I’m planning on releasing it in the summer of 2017.
Q: What genre are your books and what draws you to this genre?
Mystery, travel, adventure and thrillers are the genres my books fall into. I love to travel and mysteries have always been my favorite genre as a reader. When I set out to write my first novel, combining the two came naturally.
Q: What was the name of your last book? Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special? What’s it about?
As the name suggests, Zelda Richardson is the main character in The Adventures of Zelda Richardson series. The Lover’s Portrait is the latest book. Zelda is a headstrong young woman who’s determined to find a way to love what she does for a living. After burnout drove her to Nepal, she turned her back on the ICT sector and moved to Amsterdam to study art history. Her goal is to work as a curator or exhibition maker in a museum. She’s book smart but socially not always on point. Her doggedness gets her into sticky situations, but she’s able to get herself out of most of them without much help.
Q: Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead character from your most recent book?
Jennifer Lawrence often plays roles that remind me of the sassy and independent Zelda Richardson.
Q: How much research do you do for your books?
Research plays an important part in the development of all of my books. Learning about the diamond trade and smuggling in Asia was crucial to ensuring the plot of Down and Out in Kathmandu was realistic. Book two, The Lover’s Portrait, demanded extensive research into several aspects of life in Amsterdam during the 1940s: specifically art dealers, galleries, museum collections, restitution of looted artwork, the methods Nazis used to justify their confiscation of artwork, and homosexuality in the Netherlands and Europe as a whole. These were all topics I spent several months learning about before finalizing the plot and storyline of my second novel.
Book three required research into anthologists and missionaries who worked in the Netherlands, the United States and Papua New Guinea during the 1950s and 1960s, Asmat culture, shifting policies underlying the collection practices of ethnographic museums, the debate around aesthetic beauty versus the cultural value of an object, use of human remains in exhibitions, physical anthropology, and Michael Rockefeller’s disappearance in Papua New Guinea.
Q: Tell us about the covers of your books. How did it/they come about?
Both of my current covers were created by James of GoOnWrite.com, a very professional and talented English bloke living in Spain whom I highly recommend. The cover for The Lover’s Portrait was actually a pre-made that fit perfectly with the story – right down to the stenciled typeface! The current cover of Down and Out in Kathmandu is the second version, a custom job built around a cutout of Swaymbunath Temple my husband created.
Q: Do you think that the cover plays an important part in the buying process?
A great cover is of tremendous importance. I made the same mistake too many Indie authors do and designed the original cover myself. Though I worked in the computer industry as a website and multimedia developer for several years, cover design proved to require a different set of skills. When the first reviews came back and were positive over the story but tore the cover apart, I knew I had no choice but to upgrade. Since then, I’ve gotten several compliments on the cover from readers and book bloggers!
Q: What are your views on social media for marketing? Which social network worked best for you? Any tips on what to do and what not to do?
Before I published Down and Out in Kathmandu, I wasn’t active on any social media networks. When it came out, I focused all of my attention on Goodreads, with positive yet limited results. Two months before The Lover’s Portrait came out, I finally created Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pinterest accounts.
I have not yet mastered any social network, but am slowly learning. Like most authors, I’ve learned the hard way that “buy me” posts don’t work on any platform. What’s surprised me most is how the same post will be ignored on Twitter, yet on Instagram and Facebook is shared and liked by many. Short excerpts of reviews with or without a visual, work best for me on these platforms. On Twitter posts of reviews with a visual image attached spread like wildfire, as do posts I retweet from travel blogs and adventurers. These seem to appeal most to my travel fiction fan base on Twitter.
Q: Did you do a press release, Goodreads book launch or anything else to promote your work and did it work?
Goodreads giveaways have been the best way for me to reach potential readers who add my book to their ‘to read’ shelves, though I see more spikes in sales after I promote new reviews on Facebook and Twitter.
I did write and send press releases to local, national and international organizations and news media before The Lover’s Portrait was released; all were resolutely ignored.
Q: What do you think of “trailers” for books?
Personally I’d never watched a book trailer all the way through until I decided it was important to make one. I haven’t bought any books that way. However, I know some potential readers do enjoy them, meaning my trailer may help to reach a slightly different audience. In this crapshoot called marketing, I’m trying everything once!
Q: Do you have a trailer or do you intend to create one for your own book/s?
Here is a link to the trailer on YouTube: https://youtu.be/nqe0f5wh7aE
I did make a trailer for The Lover’s Portrait and am busy storyboarding one for Down and Out in Kathmandu. After much trial and error, I ended up filming snippets of life in Amsterdam – where The Lover’s Portrait is set – and superimposed a few teaser lines about the book over the images. It’s been well received so far and viewed hundreds of times on several different platforms (Goodreads, Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo and Twitter).
Q: How do you relax?
In Seattle, it was kayaking and hiking. Here in the Netherlands, long bicycle rides through the Dutch countryside and swimming are my favorite ways to unwind.
Q: Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?
Alex Garland, author of The Beach, would be high on my list. His debut novel blew my mind, and those of many of my generation. Thanks to books like his, I dared to write Down and Out in Kathmandu. I bet we could have fun swapping travel stories.
Q: What is your favorite motivational phrase? What is your favorite positive saying?
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” reminds me that growth is impossible without pushing your own boundaries.
Q: What is your favorite quote?
““I haven't been everywhere, but it's on my list.” This quote by Susan Sontag speaks to my fascination with other ways of living, and my intense desire to see and do everything!
Q: Where can you see yourself in 5 years-time?
Still writing fiction and learning about the world.
Q: What advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t stress so much! Things usually do work out in the end, though perhaps not how you expect them to.
Q: How can readers discover more about you and you work?
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Jennifer-S.-Alderson/e/B019H079RA/
BARNES & NOBLE: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/%22Jennifer%20S.%20Alderson%22?Ntk=P_key_Contributor_List&Ns=P_Sales_Rank&Ntx=mode+matchall
Amazon.co.uk: AMAZON CO UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jennifer-S.-Alderson/e/B019H079RA/
Thank you very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to take part in this interview.
By Jennifer S. Alderson
Zelda Richardson is the lead character in the Adventures of Zelda Richardson series, and her travels and undertakings provide the thread connecting these standalone books. During this interview she’s busy solving the mystery of The Lover’s Portrait.
Down and Out in Kathmandu: adventures in backpacking (Adventures of Zelda Richardson Book 1) by Jennifer S. Alderson
4 stars out of 5
When I started reading this book I thought I was going to read a travel book (that’s what happens if you don’t even bother to read the blurb). I must admit that I wasn’t very thrilled with the prospect. So imagine how thrilled I was when I realized that the book was much more than that!
The author has a knack for describing places and people making everything interesting – no boring details. She pictured Kathmandu and Thailand with enough detail to bring them before my eyes and make me want to have a chance to see them as well. I can see that she has a good knowledge of Kathmandu and the town itself becomes like a pivotal character of the novel, betrayed by smells and sounds and by its underground life.
The characters are well-developed and believable. Zelda Richardson is a Canadian who decided to go to teach in Kathmandu (despite her lack of experience) and she walks the line between self-confidence and self-doubt almost all the time. Overwhelmed but determined, she fights back in all instances. She tangles with the Australian trekker, Ian, a former teacher, who succumbs to drugs and to the shoddy part of life. The third character is Tommy who, surprisingly, is based not in Kathmandu but Thailand and quite a good slice of the story takes place there.
At a certain moment, the action becomes a little far-fetched, however, it is fiction, and that is understandable. The twists in the plot are good enough to keep the reader’s interest.
Born sometime in the past century, living in the 21st century.
Sometimes I have good ideas... (what do you think?)
Sometimes fascinating guests!
(that for sure!)
Sometimes I have to share some of my frustrations,..
(not too tempting, huh!)
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