Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Fake It Until You Make It: Jenn McKinlay on Assault and Beret

LUCY BURDETTE: First, just a reminder--our JRW Bel Canto book club day is January 18, so you still have time to read!

Now on to today's main event: You got a taste of our new Reds yesterday. But we are so lucky because both Jenn and Ingrid have new releases in January! ASSAULT AND BERET, the fifth installment in Jenn's totally charming London hat shop mystery series, is out TODAY.

And now I have a little confession: When I come back for my next life, I'd like to try being Jenn please. You'll see as you get to know her that not only is she a wonderful, funny writer, she is cool. And tall. (One example: She plays volleyball on a coed team with her hub. Me? I got a D in volleyball in high school, which had partly to do with a serve as weak as a kitten and partly to do with not even being able to reach the bottom of the net.) As I told the other Reds when we were waiting for her to say yes, she writes the best letters to readers of any authors I've seen. (So go sign up!) And I'm crazy about this hat shop series, so with no more ado--here's our Jenn...

JENN MCKINLAY: When I started writing, I was pretty sure getting published was the biggest challenge I would face, like climbing Mount Everest in a bikini and snowshoes challenging. I mean, seriously, that endeavor took years to accomplish and there were times that dying of hypothermia and exposure would have been preferable. So I figured nothing could be as soul crushing as trying to sell that first book, right? Yeah, no, the getting published part is just the first level in the quest. Who knew?

   What else could possibly be that hard? I'm so glad you asked. For me, it was having a super terrific idea for a book, which just happened to be set in a place I'd never been. In this case -- Paris! After all, who doesn't love Paris? Apparently, terrorists. My research trip was set to happen just after the bombings. Because I was planning to bring my sons, my husband and I had to have a real sit down chat about the temperament of the world and whether it was worth the risk to travel to a place that was suffering repeated terrorist attacks. After some rough language directed at people who blow things up and destroy innocent lives, I agreed that the trip would have to wait. Still, I was on deadline. 

     Now the only reason I wasn't found curled up in a fetal position, sobbing into the raspberry beret I'd bought in anticipation of my trip was the fact that I had been in this spot before. When I sold CLOCHE AND DAGGER, the first book in the London Hat Shop series, I hadn't been to London and I couldn't wedge in a trip before the book was due. Copious amounts of research were required and when I tossed the manuscript at two writers I greatly admired, who knew London better than I ever would, I held my breath until they weighed in with a thumbs up. Thank you, Rhys Bowen and Deborah Crombie! Little did I know then that I would be blogging with them as a Red now. Crazy, huh?

     So, how did I manage to write so concisely about a place I'd never been? Well, the long story is that I always knew I wanted to be a writer so it seemed to me that working with books was the proper way to earn a living while tapping away at stories in my off time. Thus, I studied library science and began a career working in a variety of libraries from private to public to academic. It honed my research skills and proved to be an excellent kick in the pants as every time the new fiction came in, I was duly motivated to become a member of the published author club. So much like the first London book, when I realized I was going to have to write about Paris without having the luxury of walking the Rue Montorgueil (or any rue for that matter), riding the Metro, or enjoying a charcuterie in an actual French bistro, well, I had to roll up my sleeves and figure out how to write about the very experiences I was being denied. In other words, I was going to have to fake it until I make it.

     Here's the nitty gritty for any would be researchers: First, I jumped onto Google Earth. Hours were spent walking the streets of Paris, virtually, scanning back and forth to see where Metro stops were located and what platforms looked like, the style of buildings in the neighborhoods I was writing about and on and on and on. Then I went onto Youtube and rode the Metro via videos shot by others (manspreading is a thing even in Europe, FYI) and then it was off to the Louvre with Rick Steves for an informative tour, which included a bit about how to skip the lines. While reading travel blogs galore, I found an even better way which I included in the book. A visit to the library I used to work for - Phoenix Public - and I was loaded down with books about Paris and I took an afternoon to study several in house only French magazines like Paris Match so that I could accurately write about the current fashions. When I wanted to describe meals in Paris, I went onto Trip Advisor and looked up the reviews of various restaurants. People are amazingly detailed in their descriptions of food - thank goodness! With all of that framework, I was then able to unleash my imagination and write ASSAULT AND BERET, which comes out today! 

     Now when I do get to Paris, just as I visited London after the first book in the series was out, I will have an itinerary which includes all of the best restaurants and tourist shortcuts, without the added struggle of solving a murder case like my amateur sleuths. This book, the fifth title in the London Hat Shop mysteries, finds London milliner Vivian Tremont and her American cousin and partner, Scarlett Parker, tipping their caps to their beloved shop on Portobello Road in Notting Hill and setting off for Paris, where Viv can’t wait to teach a hat-making class. But she has another reason to travel to the City of Light: to find the man she impulsively eloped with years ago and have their marriage annulled.

     William Graham is not only handsome and charming, but he also has a glamorous job as an insurance investigator who works with priceless pieces of art, most recently a small Renoir that has been discovered in a junk shop. But when both Will and the masterpiece suddenly disappear, it’s up to the ladies from London to follow the trail of clues. They’ll need to hold on to their chapeaux, however, because someone is a master in the art of deception... 

     So, how about you? What have you had to do in your to life to fake it until you make it?  


  1. Wow, Jenn, I must say that Google and YouTube have certainly changed the way we research! Not that that’s bad, mind you, just an observation on how different it is today.

    As I think back on things, it all seems pretty straightforward, so I don’t know as I’ve had to fake anything until I made it, although that may be me sticking my head in the sand and playing ostrich . . . .

  2. I never would have guessed you hadn't been there reading the book. It felt real to me. Great job of research.

    And happy release day!!

  3. Every day I smile until it becomes real on the inside too. Always look on the bright side of life is my theme song. Bobbipad at gmail dot com

  4. Congratulations Jenn !!! This is exciting news ... and to all who haven't been swept into Jenn's worlds yet, just pull up a seat and stay awhile. You are in for a treat :)

  5. Years ago I worked as a correspondent & did some feature writing for my local newspaper. I sometimes felt intimidated on assignments with competing newspapers' journalists. My secret weapon & confidence builder was thorough research.

  6. Jenn, great background on how you researched for the first Hat Shop mystery in London. Never underestimate the sleuthing ability of a librarian and the tools and videos available on the Internet!! Looking forward to reading Assault and Beret and experiencing Paris via the printed page!

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  8. You are so resourceful! But wow, all of that research takes a long time… Did you just cram let your brain full, and then see what you needed? It will be so much fun for you to go to those places eventually… And see if you feel at home! Sometimes in research we find something serendipitously wonderful… Was there anything like that? And yay for the new book!

  9. Fake it until I make it? Well, there was the usual of course, you know.

    But the one I can talk about is my first day on the floor as a graduate nurse. I wasn't faking the care I gave to patients. That was more than passable. But I was faking experience. No one want to be told that they are your first. Except maybe in that prior example above.

  10. How did people fake it before the Internet?? Because that's what saves us over and over from ignorance.

    How many things have I written about that I faked? Not places so much as activities... I wrote a hacker. A rollerblader. Next up a doll maker. But all of it pales to the way I felt my first day teaching elementary school (6th grade) -- I was so sure the kids could see I was quaking. They were generous and gave me a 'pass.'

  11. Joan - The world has changed! As the Reds posted last week about virtual assistants, I realized how dependent I've become on the Internet, Google, etc.

    Mark - Thank you! Since you're my fave tough but fair reviewer, that means a lot to me.

    Barbara- what a brilliant way to approach each day!

    Joan and Linda - thank you!

  12. Sue - Good question! I've always loved mysteries - since Nancy Drew and then Dame Agatha Christie. I didn't think I was clever enough so I tried other genres but being a public servant for 20+ years gave me lots of opportunities to contemplate murder and I guess I got pretty good at it - plotting it, that is. ;)

  13. Congrats on the book, Jenn.

    When it became clear that a career in education was not in the cards, I had to find something else to do. What skills did I have? I could write. I applied for a technical writer job. Sure I could write about computers and the financial world.

    They hired me and I stayed 12 years. I must have put on a good show. :)

  14. Jenn, thank you for affirming the possibility of writing about experiences we have not actually had. That's what our imaginations are for, right?

    I actually found Assault and Beret at Barnes & Noble yesterday! The clerk said they change the store out on the first work day of the month, and I guess it escaped onto the shelves ahead of time. Happy book birthday!

    My most memorable faking it experience was the first time I ever spoke to a large group, over 400 people. I was still writing my first book, and was not even close to publication, but was asked to give a keynote speech to an industry luncheon. I kept having to pee out of nerves, and was in the restroom one final time when I ran into a local woman I highly respected. She gave me a big hug and said I'd be fine, just speak from the heart. And it worked. And every other time I spoke in public after that it was much, much easier than that first time.

  15. I know life and its challenges are not easy. I feel that every day is fake it until I make everyone believe that I know what I'm doing. Also, congratulations on your latest release.

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  17. Lucy - Thanks so much for the lovely intro. Hub and I actually have volleyball tonight - one of us worked out over the holiday break and one of us ate cookies, I'll let you figure out which just let me brush the crumbs off my shirt. LOL. Yeah, so that should be fun!

  18. Thanks, Mlips 19! You're a sweetie to be so kind.

    Joan - I know exactly what you mean. I used to work for a hospital library and my boss, Mary Lou always said, "Knowledge is power!" like a battlecry, which was very heartening for our patients.

    Thank you, Grace. Librarians rule!

    Hank, I did cram my brain full to bursting and through research I discovered the number one thing I now must see when I get to Paris - the bouquinistes - the booksellers that line the banks of the Seine. Can't wait. In fact, I think our Kaye is headed to Paris and I'm going to badger her to visit them for me :)

    Ann - you're hilarious :) My best friend is a nurse and she said she felt like a fraud until she brought back a patient that coded on her watch. Nurses are amazing people!

  19. Hallie - 6th grade is s tough crowd - sounds like you wowed them. I have always wanted to write a hacker. The lingo intimidates me but your right the Internet puts it all out there - good and bad - doesn't it?

    Mary - Technical writing is tough! I remember Mary Higgins Clark saying that she got her start that way. She said it honed her skills and that instead of writing - She glided like gossamer on a summer breeze through the congested room - she learned to write - She walked across the room. Or something like that - still makes me laugh.

    Karen - how lucky to run into that woman before you had to speak. I don't mind public speaking but I know a few authors who would prefer to face a firing squad.

    Thanks so much, Grandmareads :)

  20. Happy pub day, Jenn!! I'm looking forward to visiting Paris via "Assault and Beret"

    Since writing is such intensive work, I've found that it's critical I write about a place that I find engaging. Is there a setting you would love to write about or maybe a place that you would never choose as a setting? I realize that you may not want to share any details if you have an idea percolating!

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  22. Jenn, have you read Mark Pryor's The Bookseller? It's about the bouquinistes.

    And when do you think you might actually get to Paris?

    You have been to London since you wrote the first Hat Shop mystery, I think. How did the real thing, especially Portobello, compare to your research?

    And I do a lot of the same things as you, even though I've (mostly) been to the places I write about. Google Earth and Google Maps are godsends!

    I've ordered Assault and Beret--with a sniff....

  23. Ingrid - Funny you should ask - I really want to set something in Iceland. Oh, wait, that's how the whole London/Paris thing started. I wanted a vacation so I picked a city I wanted to visit and then...hmm, I think I see a pattern emerging. Okay, Paris first then Iceland -- characters and plot to follow, I hope. I can't think of a place I wouldn't set a book because you just never know, you know?

    How about you, Reds? How do you pick your settings?

  24. Debs. I did go to London in between book one and two. I was so overly prepared I could order from the menu at the Earl of Lonsdale Pub from memory. Ha! Even with all of the research, the city surpassed my expectations in every possible way. And Portobello Market was the BEST - especially the food area. I can still see the stacks of bread and fresh flowers. There was even a stall that was nothing but hat pins.
    Yes, I did read the Bookseller and the Paris Librarian - love Hugo Marston. I also immersed myself in Cara Black's Aimee Leduc series. Paris makes such a great backdrop. I'm hoping to get there within the next year - I will definitely keep the Reds posted.
    You're a dear to order the book - XO

  25. I'm imagining a Jungle Reds tour of London...

  26. My sister-in-law is about to leave for a 10 day trip to Reykjavik because she's always wanted to see and experience Iceland in the winter--not much daylight to be had! Maybe that's why a lot of Icelandic mysteries are dark...

    I had to fake it or make it when I started working for a Congressman in the early 80's as a legislative correspondent (still using typewriters, memory typewriters though -- computers and the internet were just a dream back then--still using BASIC). Thank goodness for the Library of Congress and the wonderful people there who would do the research for me, the legislative hearings and the Document Room. Congratulations of your book release -- I can't wait to read it!

  27. Faking confidence when I'm I'll at ease. Cantvwait for the book.

  28. When I was a young child, I lost my hearing. Although I was an excellent lipreader, there were times when I could not understand the speaker because they mumbled.

    I would fake it when I pretended that I understood what they said

  29. What I really want right now is a beret. I love the raspberry one!! A good friend, who is also an "oldest" child in a large family said once that we were never really instructed how to do things, we were just expected to do it. That is definitely a form of faking it, because it is figuring things our for oneself.

    I still sort of jump into things. And I love our new Reds, and look forward to reading their books.

    Thank you.

  30. Celia - Do report in when your sis-in-law comes back. I am fascinated by Iceland, especially by their custom of spending Dec 24th reading - sign me up! I love the Library of Congress - always wanted to do a librarian tour of duty there. Someday!

    Donamae - Yes, sometimes faking it is the first step in a solid escape plan.

    Anonymous - What a challenge to take on so young. I've pretended to hear a few low talkers when I get tired of asking them to repeat themselves - always hoped I didn't agree to something awful when I did it.

  31. Hi, Denise Ann! I'll have to ask my older brother about that - I'm the horrible younger sibling who imitated everything he did. Huh, no wonder we got into so much trouble! And, yes, everyone should have a raspberry beret. I bought it for Paris but then it came to mean so much more when Prince died.

  32. Jenn, I'm pretty sure most of adult life is faking it until making it! I love your research techniques - I'm so stuck in the 20th century that Google Earth and YouTube videos never occurred to me. Off to add some more stops to my research bookmarks...

  33. Reds go to London! Ingrid, I'm so in.

    And oh, you know, the dedication of my book WHAT YOU SEE is to my dad. As it says,
    we had a conversation in 1971 went something like this:
    Hank (at age 25) Oh gosh, I have no idea what I'm doing. I'm just making it up as I go.
    Dad: Oh, honey, everyone is making it up as they do.

    That conversation changed my life.

  34. I'm in for London, and Iceland, too! Although we hear that Iceland is flooded with tourists so may wait a bit until it's not such a hot destination...

    About no one wanting to be told they were the first victim--in graduate school, our psychotherapy instructor told us that if a patient asked, we were absolutely to tell the truth--they were our first. Not a good idea to start a therapy relationship by fudging the truth! And besides, everything said in that room is grist for the mill:).

    I can also remember a good friend being chosen to assist in a family evaluation--the first in our class to do so. But he wasn't dressed professionally and had to dash out and buy a collared shirt and tie. We were all watching him through the one-way mirror and could see the folds in the shirt, fresh out of the package. And even a straight pin that he'd missed!

    And Jenn you are welcome! My book is arriving today--hooray!

  35. I am impressed with the dedication and passion you had to dive into this exploration of research for the book. Your books are so wonderful Jenn and I just love reading them. As for the faking - I'm a retired teacher who is/was a major introvert. So being outgoing and funny to a class of middle school students was a definite fake for me until it became a part of me. My students were always shocked to find out how shy and introverted I really am.

  36. Jen, when I was reading your fascinating account of how you wrote a book about somewhere you hadn't physically visited, I was reminded of Diana Gabaldon and her first Outlander book. As a fan of that series, it had always interested me that she hadn't been to Scotland before writing that first book. And, your methods of research, including the Youtube videos rang another bell for me. Recently, my husband's recent trip home in December from Kansas to Kentucky was the first time I used the Youtube videos that showed people riding along a particular stretch of road or area. He was on I-70 in Missouri with horrible driving conditions, and I was able to get on Youtube and travel along the highway with him through posted videos of others having traveled the road. I could apprise him of upcoming exits and visitor centers.

    Being such a fan of Debs' series mainly set in London and living vicariously through her trips to London and her mentioning Portobello Road so often, I can't wait to red your Hat Shop Mysteries, Jen. Happy Book Birthday today for Assault and Beret.

  37. I was often called upon to give tours at the newspaper where I worked. It took a while for me to get used to doing that, but I managed to fake my way through.

  38. I'm all in for a REDS tour of London!

    Kathy, I had no idea that Diana Gabaldon hadn't been to Scotland when she wrote Outlander. And I'd lived in Scotland!! Kudos to her.

    Anonymous, I'm partially deaf, so I can't imagine how hard it would have been to lose your hearing at a young age. As it is, I do a lot of faking it in noisy environments. So if you should see me nodding agreeably when you've just asked if I would kill your horrible neighbor, you can bet I didn't understand a word you said...

  39. I think all new teachers have to fake confidence until experience makes it more real, and cheerfulness on some low-energy days, and stern disapproval even when laughing inside at some bit cheeky misbehavior. Students have told me, though, that they saw through the "I'm stern and tough" facade about 15 minutes into the very first class.
    I remember that Stephen Crane wrote RED BADGE OF COURAGE without ever having seen a battle, and discovered later as a war correspondent that he'd gotten it right. You're in good company!

  40. Fake it when I am in a bad mood and it helps lift me up. So that is my version of faking it... :-)

  41. Oh, Jenn, sounds terrific, and very, very brave!

  42. You're right, Julia, it is the way of the adult!

    Hank, I love that line from your dad. What an epiphany!

    Lucy - I love that he had creases and a pin - such a writer's detail! Thx for snagging the book!

    Eileen- you're like a CIA operative with a whole different persona. Definitely, the way to survive middle school.

  43. Kathy - that's amazing! You're giving me new ideas on how to track my hooligans! I love Deb's series, too. It's like visiting family every time a new one comes out. I didn't know that about Diana Gabaldon - amazing!

    Patricia - it's amazing what we can fake our way through when we have to!

    Storytellermary - I didn't know that about Stephen Crane either. Makes me appreciate the power of the imagination all the more!

  44. Jnalpath - Brilliant! I love it!

    Kait - brave or foolish - hard to say! :)

  45. Reds tour of London - fabulous idea, Ingrid! I'm in!

  46. We'd have to visit book locations, of course, but I would also insist on tea at Fortnum and Mason, chocolates from Thorntons, and a swing through the Harrods Food Hall. Then we could walk it all off in Hyde Park and finish the night in the West End!

  47. Really, London tour is a great idea. Could we really do it?

    And yes Jenn, I think of it every day. xoxoo

    Patricia P, we should talk.

    Storyteller MAry, you never cease to amaze me.

  48. I want all your books now, Jenn. I love starting a new series.

    I love Google Earth. I'm always exploring Debs' locations while I read. I just finished all of Adrian McKinty's Sean Duffy series and Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series and I constantly had Google Earth open to find the locations in those books. It's a new added dimension to reading. I can certainly see how it can be used to research a book as well.

    I make quilts and I'm self-taught. I'm still faking it!

    Thanks for sharing with us and I look forward to getting to know more about you and your books.

  49. Thanks, Marianne! I love quilts - it's on my bucket list of things I want to learn. Right now I'm in the thick of mastering knitting - Fair Isle in particular.

    Lucy - because you mentioned my volleyball league, I have to share. New season started tonight and we went 3-0. My team is made up of forty and fifty yr olds while the rest of the teams are twenty and thirty somethings. We were pretty tired by that third game but we fought it out! Booyah for the oldsters!