I sent Jennie a few interview questions so you can get to know her better:
1) Tell us about you!
I was born in Montreal but my family roots are in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley, and we moved ‘back East’ when I was a teenager. I have a Masters in microbiology and my B.Ed. Over the years I’ve worked as a research technician, a math and science teacher, and – for one surreal year – an insurance agent.
I’ve been writing since I was very young, with long dry spells here and there. I play guitar, love to cook – and eat! – and have dabbled in watercolours, though that’s something I haven’t done for a few years now. My partner and I have been together for seventeen years. He’s a professional quality musician, and we met when I took guitar lessons from him. When he stopped charging me for the lessons, I knew I was in trouble.
2) Is there something you’ve done or said that would surprise people who know you?
A lot of people who know me from the math/science side of my life are very surprised to find out that I write. That always strikes me as a bit strange, since for me the writing came first. I didn’t really take to science until high school. It’s an interest, but writing is my passion.
3) What prompted you to write Shattered?
Shattered is set in 1917 at the time of the Halifax Explosion, an accident of war that devastated the city’s North End. It’s a major event in our history, and I taught for ten years in one of the few North End buildings to survive. For me, the neighbourhood has a unique energy - and then a friend of mine told me a story that set my imagination spinning. Her home was built on the foundation of a house that was destroyed in the Explosion. One day she came home from work, glanced in her kitchen window and saw a man in old-fashioned clothes, sitting at her table. While she was looking at him, he vanished. That story perked in my mind for years, and her ‘visitor’ became my inspiration for Liam Cochrane, the hero of Shattered.
4) I find that I often research really interesting things that I just don’t have room to put in a story. What interesting research did you end up leaving out?
I’m such a research geek. I found all kinds of interesting factoids about the Explosion that didn’t make it into Shattered. For example, the youngest victim was six days old. Halifax’s first motorized fire engine, the Patricia, was destroyed responding to the emergency. And, in Halifax in 1917, you could get a roast chicken dinner with all the trimmings, plus coffee and dessert, for fifty cents.
5) We both have a huge affection for a breed of dog that isn’t familiar to a lot of people – the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. Can you introduce us to Chance and Echo? What led you to the Duck Toller as a breed?
I love my Tollers! We’ve had Chance since he was a pup, and we got Echo from the same breeder as a two-year-old a couple of years ago. Here’s a picture of them in their natural element at our family cottage, and another of them hogging the couch. Chance is the larger of the two.
Tollers were originally bred to look like red foxes, which gave them their sharp faces, coppery coats and white markings. In my biased opinion they’re beautiful, and it’s uncanny how much Echo looks like your Dreamer! When we decided to get a dog, we chose a Toller because friends of mine had one and we liked her. We’ve never regretted it. Tollers are compact, athletic, smart and very strong-willed. Chance will be eleven in March, and he still won’t give up a toy without a tug-of-war. They can be a challenge to train, but we love their spirit. I swear they have a sense of humour. Some people say that as a breed Tollers are a little bit aloof, but my two are lap dogs. (Donna's note: Every time I see Echo I get this jolt. Her face is so much like Dreamer's! My friend calls them "Love Bug Eyes".)
6) What are you working on right now?
I’m writing a sequel to Shattered, with the working title Deliverance. It picks up the story of Carl O’Neill, a secondary character. Carl’s a bit of a bad boy. In Shattered, he’s home on recuperative leave after escaping from a German prison camp. He goes AWOL from Halifax to avoid being sent back to the trenches, and ends up in a small town in Saskatchewan, where he’s dumped off the train drunk and ill with pneumonia. He’s taken in by the town doctor, whose daughter, Naomi, spent two years overseas as a Red Cross nurse.
Naomi has her own struggles dealing with her war experience, and she’s also a rape victim. Carl’s hiding his identity and Naomi is hiding the fact that she’s had an abortion, but as they get closer, they both find it harder and harder to lie. I have lots of stones to throw at these two.
Here’s an excerpt from Shattered, where we meet the story’s main couple, Liam and Alice – and Carl as well. The scene is a fundraising social for the war effort. It’s early in the story, when Liam is keeping company with Alice’s sister Georgie. See what happens when a pair of Irish hotheads collide.
“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s wonderful to see you all here, supporting our parish’s efforts to ease the suffering of helpless civilians overseas. There is more than one person here tonight who could tell us first-hand just how severe those sufferings have been and what our sons and brothers have sacrificed in the effort to end them. The least we here at home can do is––”
“Shut up. That’s the least you can do.”
The words carried clearly from the corner nearest the O’Neills’ table. Every head swiveled. Georgie blushed deep red. Alice’s face blanched pearl-white. In the shadows just beyond the lighted platform, Carl leaned against the wall, his face flushed with heat and liquor. No one at the table had noticed him come in.
An older, heavier Carl than Liam remembered, with a harder face. The tough kid had grown into a tough man, with an added belligerence. One look at his glazed eyes told Liam Georgie’s brother was a loose cannon.
He and Stephen got up at the same instant and started toward the corner. Stephen got there first and planted himself in front of Carl.
“You’ve said enough. Your sisters are here.”
“I’m not leaving ’til I make my point.” Carl pushed Stephen back and raised his voice again. “That old windbag hasn’t got anyone at the front. She doesn’t have a clue.”
The scathing words on Liam’s tongue died there. Up close, Carl reminded him too much of men he’d seen in hospital, men who woke in the night screaming as he’d done more than once. Men who spent their days looking at the world through vacant eyes. And Mrs. Henneberry annoyed the hell out of him, too.
“You’re right, Carl. She doesn’t. This isn’t the place for either of us. Come outside and get some fresh air.”
Fists clenched, Carl took a step forward. “Don’t bullshit me, Liam. I’m not going anywhere until I’m good and ready. Who do you think you are, anyway? Your little brother isn’t the only one who’s been killed overseas, you know. Just––”
Liam didn’t hear the rest of the sentence. Rage blotted out his compassion, rage and the memory of Michael-John’s wide, sightless dark eyes. His first punch landed hard in Carl’s belly. The second hit his jaw, knocking him backward and throwing Liam off-balance. They hit the floor, fists flying. The next thing he knew, Nolan was dragging him to his feet while his father and Stephen pinioned Carl. Liam shook his brother off and dove at Carl, only to have his bad leg collapse and land him back on the floor. Nolan helped him up again and got a firm grip on his arms.
“What the hell? Liam, stop it!”
Thanks for visiting Jennie - and I'm SO excited for Carl's story. I can't wait!