Guest Interview: Jeanne DuBois

Before the interview, I’ll let you in on a special deal. If you like music and short mystery stories, you’ll want to get the Music Mystery Bundle. Peace, Love, and Crime: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of the ’60s (the anthology for these author interviews), The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Joni Mitchell, and Only the Good Die Young: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Billy Joel is a 3-pack of short stories that can’t be beat.

We’re resuming our guest author interview series with Jeanne DuBois. Let’s hear what she has to say about her short story, “Wooden Ships,” writing, and what she’s working on now.

Jeanne DuBois

Meet Jeanne DuBois

CAM:   Crosby, Stills, & Nash’s “Wooden Ships” was released in 1969, just making the cut for this anthology. It was one of my favorites throughout the ‘70s and still evokes a mystical sensation when I hear it. What in that song spoke to you so directly? Was it the lyrics, the beat, or … ? Tell us about it.

JDB:
I loved the sound of “Wooden Ships” in the ‘70s, and I loved it when I heard it again at a Woodstock 50th Anniversary Party hosted by friends of mine in 2019. I was thinking about Sandra Murphy’s submission call at the time and wanted to use “Wooden Ships” as my song, but I had no idea what the lyrics meant. Silver people, purple berries, wooden ships? How could I incorporate any of that into a crime story? I soon discovered the song was about a nuclear war. The silver people were survivors, perhaps military personnel, wearing protective gear. The purple berries were iodine pills, taken to ward off radiation poisoning. Ships of wood were necessary as metal would become radioactive. I had no idea; the song sounded so peaceful. Maybe that was the point. 

CAM:  The lyrics are credited to Paul Kanter (Jefferson Airplane) and Stephen Stills (CSN), and both bands released slightly different versions of the song. If you could meet one of them, what would you ask that’s related to the song?

JDB:   I’d ask: Are you as worried now about a nuclear holocaust as you were then?

CAM:  Have you written to other themed anthologies? Do you find it more difficult to come up with a compelling story when you’re trying to fit it to someone else’s overall vision?

JDB:   I like writing for themed anthologies because it gives me a starting point and a deadline, both good things for a dedicated procrastinator. When the story I’ve written doesn’t fit with the editor’s vision and gets rejected, it will need to find a new home. But it’s still fun to try. My first published story appeared in Murder of Crows, an anthology which asked for stories related to the names for groups of animals. I couldn’t believe no one else chose “A Troubling of Goldfish.” A recent anthology asked for stories with moonlight and some form of misadventure. Adding the moon to an historical mystery helped me bring cohesion to the story.

In the case of “Wooden Ships,” the lyrics gave me the clue I needed. When I realized that divorced parents fighting over custody of a child could be in another kind of war without a winner, I was off and running.

Jeanne DuBois

CAM:  When did you write your first story? Tell us a little about that journey that brings you to today’s life as an author. 

JDB:   I don’t remember the first one. I remember one I wrote in high school that prompted my father to comment: “That sure is a lot of adjectives.” I have loads of stories stored on printer paper, old hard drives, floppy disks, diskettes, and flash drives. I always considered fiction writing an activity meant to give my brain a break. I wasn’t very good at it, but I kept playing at it, as one does a fun hobby. The bulk of my life’s writing mostly consisted of reports, lesson plans, grant applications, evaluations, and IEPs. Until now.

CAM:  Indeed, once bitten with the writing bug, it gnaws at you and works it way out however it can.

What’s your overall short story process? Do you begin with an idea or theme and see where it takes you, or do you have certain characters in mind and play with that to see what trouble you can get them into? 

JDB:   You’re exactly right, I begin with an idea and see where it takes me. In the case of “Wooden Ships,” the lyrics gave me the clue I needed. When I realized that divorced parents fighting over custody of a child could be in another kind of war without a winner, I was off and running. I was visiting my sister in St. Augustine Beach at the time, and before I knew it, I had the main characters in my mind, knew where they lived, what their houses looked like, and where relatives would stay on their visit. That’s when I started writing, but the story began with a song about wooden ships sailing away.

CAM:  What’s your favorite novel or short story that you’ve written? Tell us a little about that.

JDB:   My favorite short story is my most recent one, which happens to be set in 1921 Atlantic City. Historicals are the hardest ones to write for me. History lover that I am, I want to add every detail I discover, much to the detriment of the plot. Nobody cares what kind of food they served in the hotel’s dining room at the time of the story. (For those of us who do, I have a collection of vintage photos, including Haddon Hall’s menu from the Twenties, on Pinterest.) “Moonset” will appear in the anthology Moonlight & Misadventure due out on June 18.

CAM:  What is your greatest challenge as an author?

JDB:   Devising a plot with a twist at the end is my biggest challenge as an author. Plotting is difficult enough on its own. Oh, and writing in present tense. Elly Griffiths does it so well in her Ruth Galloway series that I’m inspired to keep trying.

CAM:  Describe your space or place writing?

JDB:   When I was teaching, I wrote on a computer situated by my front window where I could look out on the green wilderness that is my front yard. Now I write on a laptop/tablet set up on my dining room table. However, the distraction caused by wildflowers, butterflies, and hummingbirds is nothing compared to Google.  

CAM:  If you could go somewhere for about a week to just write, where would it be? What would you need to take with you?

JDB:   Ireland. Definitely, Ireland. Wait, no. I’d never write if I were there. Too much to see, too many wonderful people to meet. How about a cross-country/continent train trip? With a private sleeping compartment? I could write at night. All I’d need would be my laptop, mobile phone, and a change of clothes. Oh, and binoculars. For the daytime.

CAM:  Do you write in genres other than crime fiction or mystery?

JDB:   Not at present. But I like reading YA and history, so perhaps in the future.

CAM:  Any particular writers from your early years who still resonate with you or inspire today’s stories? What comes to mind when you think of or mention their name(s)?

JDB:   I loved reading Margery Allingham. I remember how I felt when I read the passage about the long-dead knight who guarded the chalice in the tower. It was seriously chilling. I had goosebumps. I sewed my own clothes at the time and still remember the young woman’s dress fabric as having sprigs of red flowers. Allingham’s ability to make me feel and see things so clearly comes to mind when I think of her writing.

I also loved Dorothy Gilman, who I find a little silly now. Still, her writing flows easily and naturally; her settings are colorful and interesting; and her characters are appealing and (mostly) believable. I’m not buying Mrs. Pollifax finishing off a line of bad guys with a repeated karate chop, but she’s always fun to read about. It was a simpler time then.

CAM:  What other talents do you have up your sleeve? Feel free to let us in on your creative side a little more.

JDB:  I can manage a room full of elementary school children on my own for an extended period of time, with or without electricity. Or five kindergartners. For fifteen minutes. And I’m an excellent dog-walker. But I saw on FB that you’ve taken up painting. That mountain scene looked really interesting. What a creative challenge! 

CAM:  Thank you. I find it very relaxing but also a challenge.

You have a recent story, “Speak of the Devil,” in the June issue of Mystery Weekly Magazine and another story, “Moonset,” coming out on June 18 in the anthology, Moonlight & Misadventure.

What’s next for you? Are there other stories in the pipeline?

JDB:   I have some rejections I still need to find homes for, some submission calls that look interesting, and some half-finished stories, but I spent most of this past winter and spring clearing out weeds, growing native wildflowers from seed, and walking my greyhounds twice a day. Soon it’ll be too hot to work outside any time of day except early morning, when I’ll be walking the dogs, and then I’ll get back to my dining room table and get to work.

Bio:  Jeanne grew up in New Jersey, studied English and history at the University of Michigan and, after twenty-nine inches of snow in twenty-four hours, moved to the Florida Keys where she waited tables, drove the bookmobile, and fished. When her son was six, they headed north. She earned an M.Ed. at the University of Florida and taught elementary school. She lives with two retired greyhounds and still teaches from time to time.

You can find Jeanne at jeanne-dubois.com and on Pinterest:

https://www.pinterest.com/jeadub/j-dubois-historical-background/

There are more interviews coming, along with other posts. Until next week, happy reading.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Wendy Harrison

    Thanks for such an interesting interview. I was surprised to hear the meaning behind the “Wooden Ships” lyrics, and I share your fondness for down-the-rabbit-hole research. I loved your take on the lyrics in your story, and the twist at end was a delight. I’m sure Clare would give Mrs. Pollifax a run for her money!

    1. Jeanne

      You’re too kind. I hadn’t thought about it before, but Clare (the character) was a bit like Mrs. Pollifax, wasn’t she? Older, lives alone, romantically involved with a gray-haired man…and always positive. Thanks for that insight!

  2. Sandy in St Louis

    Great interview, Jeanne and Claire! I loved the characters in Wooden Ships the first time I read the story. I hope to see them again sometime. Soon!

  3. Jeanne

    Thanks, Sandy, for the kick in the pants! I’m a go write…

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