Because I am a sucker for heroines who are too smart and confident for their times, I loved the star of The Secret Life of Anna Blanc immediately! In my blog, I gushed about Anna’s determination to solve crimes as a new member of the police force in 1907 Los Angeles even though the men in her unit ridiculed her brilliant ideas. Anna quickly showed her value as a detective, and her passion and drive made her the best thing about the fun and frustrating novel.
For her first novel, Jennifer put together a well written story. I enjoyed this novel and am eager to continue reading about Anna’s next journey. So I was thrilled when Jennifer agreed to talk with me about her novel! 1. What inspired you to write The Secret Life of Anna Blanc?
I ran across a brief article about Alice Stebbins Wells, the first female cop in Los Angeles in 1910. She acted incredibly brave. I wrote a screenplay inspired by her life. (The Secret Life of Anna Blanc started as a screenplay. I later wrote it as a novel.) Anna Blanc rolled off my fingertips looking nothing like Alice. But they have many things in common. They both started as police matrons. They both worked at Central Station under similar conditions. They both operated in a corrupt LAPD. But Alice wasn’t the only police matron turned cop who inspired the book. I researched other women pioneers. Fanny Bixby was the daughter of one of the richest men in California. She became a police matron in 1908 when she was in her twenties. She was young and beautiful, like Anna Blanc.
2. Did any of the characters have any of your own personality traits?
Definitely. When writing a 19-year old woman, I turned to the young lady I knew best—me, back in the day. I took many of the worst and best character traits of my younger self and blew them up larger than life. Hopefully, I was never quite as self-absorbed as Anna Blanc, but I probably wasn’t quite that heroic, either. I think there is a little Anna Blanc in every 19-year old woman.
3. You make some bold statements about gender equality in the novel, what did you hope to accomplish by raising awareness of such prejudice?
A hundred years later, we still haven’t achieved gender equality. Women are underrepresented in positions of power. We are paid less for the same work. We are objectified, slut shamed, and patronized. I have a Ph.D., and I still have very simple things mansplained to me.
We are products of our culture and sometimes we accept these things because we are so used to them. I hope The Secret Life of Anna Blanc wakes readers up to the prejudice we still face. But I love men and I have great men in my life. The most loveable character in The Secret Life of Anna Blanc is Joe Singer.
4. Why was it necessary to have Anna surrounded by men who underestimated her?
That’s historically accurate. The novel wouldn’t ring true if the male characters accepted Anna as their equal or, intellectually, their better.
5. Do you feel that females in law enforcement still face prejudice from their male counterparts?
I’ve had male coworkers surprise kiss me at work. I faced prejudice at the university, which is supposed to be enlightened. I had wealthy male professors with big grants ask me to work for free. I was told that my husband should support me. At the time, I had a Masters degree, ten years experience, and two kids. They would never have asked that of man supporting a family.
I haven’t had much contact with law enforcement, but it would be interesting to interview women cops and ask them how they experience prejudice. I do know that there has never been a female police chief in Los Angeles.
6. What advice would you give to someone who wanted to be an author?
Keep writing. Hard work is more important than talent, an MFA degree, or luck. Find a writer’s group that supports you. I found mine through Meetup.com.
Read. If you don’t have time to read, listen to audiobooks. I listen while I drive, exercise, paint the house, whatever. But, keep some quiet headspace for reflection, too.
Lastly, remember that most traditionally published authors still have day jobs. If you can find something you like to do to support your writing habit, all the better. (I know, I sound like your mother).
Jennifer is a research scientist turned writer of historical fiction. She grew up in Southern California, but has traveled to such places as Nicaragua, Ethiopia, and Papua New Guinea. She earned a Masters degree in Public Health from Loma Linda University and a PhD in Health Services from UCLA. She adores kickboxing, yoga, and developing complex statistical models. She was on the faculty at UCLA, where she spent 11 years conducting research to inform health policy. The Secret Life of Anna Blanc is her first novel. She currently lives in Denver, Colorado with her husband and two children, two dogs, and a cat. Find out more about Jennifer on her website.