Today, I’m delighted to welcome Darlene Jones to Virtual Book Club, my interview series which gives authors the opportunity to pitch their novels to your book club.
Darlene Jones is a retired educator and writer. A graduate of the University of Alberta she was a teacher, principal, second language consultant, and staffing officer with Edmonton Public schools. Her multiple roles included second language curriculum development for secondary students. After retiring she continued to provide educational workshops for teachers in the province of Alberta.
She began her career as a volunteer with Canadian University Services Overseas. She taught school in Mali and it was the plight of the Malians that inspired her to write her first novel described by readers as a “think piece.”
She continues to write fiction that incorporates topics such as world affairs, aging, and Alzheimer’s, with the added mix of mystery, adventure, romance and humour. Today, we’ll be talking about her novel, When the Sun was Mine. But first, the blurb:
Her dream was to go to university. Instead she’s working in a nursing home hunting a killer.
When high school graduate, Brittany Wright, gets a job cleaning at Happy Hearts nursing home, she is terrified of old lady Flo and desperately wishes she could be in college instead.
As an unlikely friendship develops between the two, Brittany discovers that Flo, who may or may not have Alzheimer’s, is in grave danger. But, from whom and why?
As Flo’s condition worsens, Brittany scrambles to save her. But, ironically, it may be Flo who saves Brittany.
When the Sun was Mine: If you like suspenseful mysteries with complex and strong characters you’ll love this adult read, hopeful and humorous in spite of the ugliness of Alzheimer’s.
Have you always felt driven to write or was there a particular trigger?
I’ve been an avid reader all my life—no television on the farm and, oh, the joy of discovering the bookmobile when we moved to the city. From a very young age I dreamt of writing a book, but it wasn’t until much later that I actually attempted my first novel.
The trigger? Living in Mali, the fifth poorest country in the world (at the time), opened my eyes to poverty and injustice. The wide warm smiles of the children were heart wrenching. I wanted to wave a magic wand to make things “right.” Those fanciful wishes became the core of the story for the four books of my sci-fi series.
From there I moved on to When the Sun was Mine.
Who gave you your first encouragement as a writer?
I had the great good fortune to attend a week-long workshop with Robert J. Sawyer. We were a group of novice writers, but Rob treated us as equals. He was kind and generous and a natural teacher. Without his encouragement, I never would have finished my first novel.
And I have an amazing writing partner who has kept me going over the past several years.
Jodie Archer said that when she worked at Penguin UK, she found that manuscripts by new authors were too ambitious, like a painter who can’t settle on one colour and uses the whole paint box. How has your writing style changed over time?
Yes, yes, yes, Ms. Archer.
My first novel was all over the place and I eventually cut out 10,000+ words to tighten it. Now my writing is more restrained and focused. I try to tell the story succinctly, but with enough characterisation, setting, and description, to provide a rich reading experience.
What is it about When the Sun was Mine that makes it particularly suitable for book clubs?
Life issues in my story that most of us will face at some point encourage discussion:
aging, Alzheimer’s elder abuse, nursing homes, cost of post-secondary education, single income families, the working poor, friendship, parent/child relationships….
Was the seed of your story an idea or an image?
The seed for When the Sun was Mine came from an idea that flashed through my mind one day. What if a young girl, who desperately wants to go to university, but can’t afford it, ends up working in a nursing home?
The, perhaps unusual pairing of young and old, makes sense to me because I worked with teens for over thirty years as an educator, and now I’m approaching those “senior” years so the issues of aging and nursing homes loom rather ominously.
Your protagonists are Brit, the teen, and Flo, the elderly lady. How would you describe them?
Both are tenacious, gutsy, determined, and strong minded. Strong enough to get what they want and trap a killer.
‘I usually avoid reading stories wrapped around Alzheimer’s because it is such a fearsome disease, but Jones’ story doesn’t live there. Flo, the woman afflicted with the disease is a person of imagination and zest, involved in one more powerful round with life. As a former journalist and war correspondent, fearless in the face of what sends others away terrified, she brings that spirit to this story. Thus it is not a tale wallowing in sorrow and despair, but one of defiance and humor and delight from a lady who lived with verve.’ Extract from review.
What is the central conflict in your novel?
Can friendship and love span generations? If so, what can the old and the young accomplish working together?
Are you looking to entertain or illuminate?
Both. I read about a study done in Britain that showed readers overwhelmingly want to read novels that they learn from. (Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to track down the study for this interview.) I know this is true for me too. I love a book called, Domingo’s Angel. Set in Spain, the story vividly portrays the struggles of the people living under Franco’s rule. Beats reading a dry old textbook.
I always hope that readers enjoy my books on more than one level. Did I accomplish that with When the Sun was Mine? I think so.
‘It takes a talented author to bring us contemporary issues that not only entertain but cause us to pause and wonder at the possibilities for our dreams, no matter our age or condition. And Darlene Jones has achieved that in her latest novel, When the Sun was Mine.’ Extract from review.
Did you know the ending to your story when you put pen to paper? If so, have you ever changed the ending after you started to write?
Well, I thought I did with my first novel until the characters took over. Now I know better. I work from a rough outline, knowing that ideas will come as I write, characters will demand certain concessions from me and I’ve learned that it’s best not to ignore them. For example, Brit dragged her friends along to help Flo and that turned out to be a bonus.
At what point in writing the book did you come up with its title?
I was struggling with a title when I sent the manuscript to a young friend in Nigeria for comments and critiquing. I asked him to think of titles as he read and he came up with When the Sun was Mine.
How do you feel when you have finished writing a novel? Are there any particular characters that you have found it hard to let go of?
Is it okay to be a little in love with the hero? I hope so, because it’s happened to me more than once. Of course, I don’t tell my husband.
Writing “the end” is painful. No matter how often you reread your novel, you will never quite have those characters to yourself with the same intimacy as while you were writing.
Perhaps I’m obsessive, but I think of Flo and Brit and the characters in the companion piece, Whispers Under the Baobab, almost daily. Fortunately new ideas for new novels present themselves and I can move on to the next loves of my life, never forgetting the friends I’ve already made as I wrote.
Want to know more?
Visit Darlene’s website.
Follow her on Twitter @darlenejones47
Remember, if you enjoyed this post please share it. If there’s anything else you’d like to ask Darlene please leave a comment.
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Written on February 6, 2018 at 12:10 pm, by Jane Davis
Categories: Author Interviews, Blog, Homepage, In-depth, Virtual Book Club | Tags: Action and Adventure, Aging, Alzheimer’s, Darlene Jones, friendship, Humour, Intergenerational friendship, mysteries, Romance, When The Sun Was Mine, Whispers Under the Baobab, World affairs
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