November/December interview with Lynne Kennedy

                                          Lynne Kennedy 
Blog interview with Lynne Kennedy

This month I welcome author Lynne Kennedy who deftly combines fiction, history and science to create gripping mysteries. Her latest is “Deadly Provenance” about a Van Gogh painting that’s been missing since it was taken by the Nazis in WWII. I have eagerly started reading the book, curious to find out where this author will take me during the dreary and dark December days.

Lynne, welcome.

1. You write fiction yet use real life mysteries, or unsolved crimes, as the jumping off point and then you apply a healthy dose of science to solving the mystery. It’s a neat concept, how did you come to it?

For almost thirty years I was a science museum director, so science is my life. I particularly loved our programs and exhibitions on forensics and loved working with the police department to solve mysteries with modern forensic technology. 

History is my second love so naturally I looked for a way to blend the two in my writing.  The first book I wrote was “Time Exposure,” a mystery which revolves around Civil War photography.  The idea happened by chance.  The Smithsonian was in San Diego presenting programs at the various museums. We sponsored two talks at our science center.  One on space science and the other, ironically, on Civil War photography.  I sat in on the second one and was hooked.  I knew I wanted to write about Civil War photography.

But how would I blend this with modern forensics?   Through digital photography.  It really worked.  My modern character, a digital photographer, stumbles upon a mystery through a Civil War photograph.  Through her analysis, she comes up with the killer.  Well, something like that.

2. Your latest book “Deadly Provenance” deals with a beautiful Van Gogh painting, missing since WWII. How did you even find out about its original existence? And where has your search led you so far?

Besides the Civil War, World War II has always fascinated me.  Years ago, I saw a movie called “The Train” with Burt Lancaster.  It made me start thinking about the Nazi confiscation of art.  I started reading up on the subject and found a book (and later a movie) called “The Rape of Europa.”  I was astounded to learn the extent of the looting that was done at the time.  I knew this was going to be a book.

As I kept researching, I found a number of paintings that were still missing, one of which is Vincent Van Gogh’s Vase With Oleanders.  Since he’s one of my favorite painters, I decided to check further and found this amazing story of what had happened to it. 

I wrote “Deadly Provenance” and came up with a fictional ending to the painting.  But now I wanted to find the real painting.  You can read about my “hunt” on my web page: 

By the way, I’m still looking!  Got quite a bit of publicity on it too.  This is a KPBS radio interview several months ago:

I was even featured on the front page of the San Diego Union Tribune:

What’s amazing is that Nazi stolen art works keep appearing in the news today.  History never ends. 

3. How do you start one of your books? Do you have an idea of where it will go before you even start your research?

My last weekly blog is on this subject exactly.  It’s about jump-starting your book.  Rather than repeat, here it is.

4. What has your journey to publication been like and why did you choose self-publishing, as so many are doing these days? 

I landed an agent for my first book but she was not able to get a publisher interested.  The general response was: great writing, characters, etc, but too complicated a story to market.  Right.  So I tried with my second and third books, but, frankly the response was the same.  Marketing was always the issue.  Is this a mystery?  An historical mystery?  What?  The two storylines threw them into a tizzy.  You’d think they’d be excited to have something different.  So I decided to self-publish. I’m not sorry, but learning how to do it correctly was a real struggle.  So I wrote a blog about this in two parts.  The first part is “Self-Publishing: Dream or Nightmare.”  Kind of says it all.  Here’s the link:

The second part is “The Good, The Bad and The Real Ugly:”

5. eBook vs Traditional?

This was a no-brainer.  I wanted to hold my precious books in my hands so I had to do a traditional, albeit, paperback version.  E-Books were the wave of the future (still are) so of course, I produced that version too.  Now I’m a real e-book fan.  I rarely buy hard or paperbacks anymore.  Sad in a way. 

6. Pen & Paper or a computer?

Always the computer, although, occasionally, when I’m out having a Starbuck’s or something will jot down notes with a pen and scrap of paper.  I make too many changes to not be able to delete!

7. What do you think is the most important thing a writer can do, aside from write well, to increase their odds of a successful career?

Read, read, read. Re-write, re-write, re-write.  Find a fabulous critique group and do it all over again.  Basically, the first step is to write the best book you can.  Then, whether you self-publish or publish traditionally, you will have to learn the marketing business.  Social Media is key, but other marketing avenues are necessary too.  Wrote another blog on that, ha! The point is not to let marketing take over your writing life:

8. What secret talent do you have, which everyone reading this blog will keep secret? Or, what’s the craziest thing you’ve done in the name of research?

Oh, if I had a secret talent, it’s hidden from me too.  Or have something crazy I did in the name of research.  Nah, I’m just persistent.  I try to find answers to fill in the details of my stories.  What kind of dress would my character have worn in 1911, if she only had $2 to spend?  What sort of camera would a Nazi photographer use in 1942?  What kind of foods would be on the table of a rich patron during the Civil War?  Those are the details I love to ferret out, and hopefully, my readers enjoy!

Thank you, and I look forward to your next mystery!