Interview with Jen Wright
Jen Wright, author of two Jo Spence mysteries, Killer Storm and Big Noise, lives up North outside Duluth in Clover Valley with her partner, Kari, and furry family, Buddy and Stella. Wright recently spoke with Lavender.
Have you always written, or come recently into being a novelist? How does one go about it?
I started writing about five years ago. My friend and publisher, Charlene Brown [of Clover Valley Press], and I were talking one day. I told her that I thought I’d like to try writing a murder mystery. I’m an avid reader, and when I’d finish a good book, I’d say to myself, “I just might be able to do that….” She said, “Go for it. Why not try?”
I never would have done it, or tried it, without her help. I started sending her the draft, and she mentored me. She’d say things like, “You can’t leave that question unanswered for the reader.” Or, “The reader needs to know what that smells, looks, and feels like.” She was very gentle with my rookie mistakes, and encouraging at the same time. It was a blast!
Like Jo, you’ve worked in probation and corrections, and are currently Court and Field Supervisor for Arrowhead Regional Corrections. Do the people/emotions/problems you encounter impel you to write? Your own rural life?
I have worked in Corrections/Probation for 23 years now, and I love the work. I use my work experience as a springboard, as well as my experience living in Clover Valley. Clover Valley has a strong contingent of lesbians, and has been a safe haven as well as a second family for me.
I discovered my friends in Clover Valley when I was fairly new in my recovery process from alcohol and drug addiction. In my writing, I portray a healthy, nonalcohol/drug-centered lifestyle. I want to be there for those who are just figuring out who they are. They need examples of how to be healthy in this world.
When I was coming out at 18, I found a lot of comfort and information from reading lesbian novels. I looked to novels to provide me with a framework for what being a lesbian could mean.
When Jo meets Zoey in Killer Storm, it’s clear that love will be a problem as well as a blessing.
I drew from my personal experience there, as well as wanting to have the characters grow in not only the book, but also the series.
In Big Noise, Jo and Zoey, now lovers, have gone up North to be alone. Might we assume something related to Jo’s work is going to put the kibosh on that plan?
It makes for a good story. Jo is trying to balance her dangerous job with her love for Zoey and the need for some normalcy in their relationship. This real drama exists for everyone who works in a dangerous job. It also plays nicely into the ever-present danger and suspense in a murder mystery.
You need stress and tension for the story, but what do the characters learn from their experiences?
Both Jo and Zoey have a deep need to help people, because of unresolved issues within themselves. They’re learning that what they do externally is a reflection of their internal selves. Figuring all that out while being chased by murderers, trying to build a relationship, and balancing work and home life provides ample opportunity for the characters to struggle and learn.
I hope readers see a little of themselves in Jo and Zoey, and that helps them along their own journey. I recently got an e-mail from a retired probation supervisor who told me that Big Noise helped her realize what she had been holding back in her quest for love. Wow! That felt great.
Does the fictional Big Noise reflect existing lesbian communities?
Some parts of the communities in Killer Storm and Big Noise are fictional, and some are drawn from my own personal experiences in Clover Valley, or while traveling to similar communities. One of the creative forces behind Big Noise was my desire to portray a loving, cohesive community of lesbians for the reader to aspire to create or join.
Do lesbians move to such towns, or might they simply remain where they grew up?
I think some are drawn to the Northwoods because of the vast freedom and beauty of the land. The outdoor activities are incredible, and the air is fresh and clean. We have the privacy to live our lives with few prying or judgmental eyes. I was drawn to the people, love of outdoor sports and activities, and the protection and support of a lesbian community.
Are Minnesota villages of this ilk generally accepting of lesbians? Gays? How about transgender individuals?
Clover Valley is a small community north of Duluth along the shores of Lake Superior. There are other friendship circles situated in and around the cities of Duluth, Virginia, Hibbing, Ely, and in rural Minnesota. I’m sure there are trans folks throughout Minnesota, but none live in my tight-knit community. I believe we would be welcoming.
Killer Storm explored the court system, while Big Noise focused on Jo and Zoey’s relationship. What about number three?
I have just finished my first draft of Dead Ahead—working title. Jo and Zoey’s lives are threatened by an unknown stalker. Zoey absolutely loses it, and Jo has to reach deep inside herself to try to save not only their lives, but also their relationship. Jo’s beloved motorcycle becomes almost a central character in this novel. She has to rely on the agility of her Honda Silverwing to maneuver out of several threatening chases.
Killer Storm: A Jo Spence Mystery
Clover Valley Press
Big Noise: A Jo Spence Mystery
Clover Valley Press