Interview with Jennifer Olmstead

Cycling, Dare Jordan and the premise for THE STRAY
In the U.S., this year alone, 66 million people cycle—at all levels—for a multitude of reasons. Cycling is an integral part of their lives. Readers want to know, is Dare Jordan, and his cycling fixation, obsession, real? Each of my books is borne from an actual life event—the characters, however, evolve as an amalgam of people who crossed my life at various points. In the case of Dare Jordan and THE STRAY, the concept for the book stems from a grave cycling accident involving my older brother, who is an avid cyclist, and, yes, who does own a Ben Serotta custom road bike. The event happened several years ago and devastated our family. I still remember the phone call from my brother. The paramedics were on the scene. He’s 6’8” and has a deep voice. The man on the phone squeaked out my name and could barely let out a breath. If he hadn’t used my childhood nickname, I wouldn’t have believed it was my brother. His voice was distorted because he had a collapsed lung, broken bones, and was running out of oxygen. It took quite a while for me to be able to process the potential loss there and gain enough distance from his hit-and-run and recovery to craft the accident into the story.

Although I write fiction, I pull significant elements of life experiences into the mix, and some of those experiences are extremely painful. One has to be in the right mindset to be able to go into those depths and commit to that process. I don't want to analyze Dare’s character too much, because I know as an avid reader that when I have discovered a character in a story, I don't want someone else telling me anything about that character that would sway my image. I don't want to be told that what they've done isn't possible, or that they don't look the way I’ve conceptualized them. I don't want to compare Dare to the person inspiring his creation, but I'll simply say that my brother is a wonderful guy, a great brother and uncle, a generous man. In the end, we don't write about a perfectly neutral day in our lives where everything clicks and nothing's out of sync. Who wants to read that? We’re compelled to write about things that impact us—either end of the spectrum things we can't accept—things we can't comprehend. I think one of the most important aspects of Dare Jordan is that underneath the complex layers of his personality there's a very simple issue. How much protection is enough protection, and how much protection is too much? All of us are the children of someone and when we look back on our childhood and upbringing, we can always find fault with our parents to some degree. And, as parents, we want more than anything to protect our children, but that's not always possible, nor is it always the best way to equip them to go out into the world. And then there's the question of whether when you’re protecting your children, are you actually protecting yourself?
Q. You portrayed the military aspects of the book Men Among Sirens very accurately. Are you a Navy spouse?
No. Most of the knowledge I have is passively acquired from living in a Naval port for 23 years. My father was a Navy Officer early in his life, and I dated a few “Navy Men” when I was younger. And, of course, the character of Blaine is based on a Navy Pilot I met during the first Gulf War.
Did you have an alternate ending to Sirens, or did you plan from the start for things to end as they did?
Early on, I struggled with two endings, but reverted back to the ending I eventually used, based on the characters “telling me” what they would do via their personalities and evolution throughout the book. In the end, it was the only feasible way for the story to conclude.
I got angry with Ainsley for her initial response to Chris’ accident and her decision not to make a change in her life after what he did to her. Why did she stay in the relationship?
She made her choice in response to what she had experienced with John, and her unwillingness to remain passive in the face of another loss.
I wondered if Chris knew, in the end, things he didn’t admit to knowing, about his family.
Without giving too much of the story away to those who haven’t read the book yet, I will say that he received a gift from Ainsley and Ruby, which they never disclosed to him.
None of the book's advertising or promotional material hints at Blaine's profession. Some readers might find it shocking. Was that intentional?
Men Among Sirens is ultimately about a family, and real families face issues that cross the lines of social norms and acceptability. None of us is immune to human desire, weakness, call it what you will. That includes Blaine MacGearailt, Ainsley Bohan and the rest of us. The book doesn't condone their actions, but instead follows along with them on their journey to reconciliation. I don't use Blaine's vocation as a marketing point because I don't want to overshadow the substance of the book with any kind of sensationalism, especially with what's in the media right now.
Are you from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan?
Yes and no. I consider myself a semi-Yooper, because although I was not born there, my mother’s family is from the U.P., and my siblings and I spent two months of every summer—and some holidays—from gestation to our early twenties at my grandparents’ retirement home in a small town on Big Bay de Noc. I still travel there in the summer and winter with my family to get my annual “fix” of pasties, Trenary Toast, blueberries and the lake.
Is Ainsley Bohan based on a real person? Is the book based on actual events?
All of the characters in Men Among Sirens are fictitious by definition, although aspects of each are pulled from people I’ve known throughout my life. I will say that many of the events in the book did occur, but not necessarily within my family or in any one geographical region. I interpret the adage “write about what you know” to mean “write from a place of personal perspective.” In the case of Men Among Sirens, that was more about the pathos and evolution of the characters than recording a chronology of factual events. Physically, Blaine was based on a Navy FA-18 fighter pilot I met in Virginia Beach in the early 1990's who hailed from Houghton, Michigan, believe it or not. Ren Mercer was modeled after a close family friend from Michigan. And, I'm sure some locals from both Virginia and Michigan will recognize bits and pieces of friends and neighbors mixed into the other characters in the book. I will concede, however, that Attila is based directly on one of our family dogs, who died when I was 17. He was every bit as wonderful as Attila was written. His name was Mr. Chips.
Does the Bohan’s Victorian house from the book really exist?
Yes, but not in Virginia. To protect the privacy of the current owners, that’s all I’ll say about that.
Where is Makwa Point?
In my head! That’s another question I’ll leave to my readers to try to determine.
Will there be a sequel to Men Among Sirens?
I intended the book as a single title, and I’m currently working on another book, but that question keeps coming up, so I may have to reconsider.
Published 2018-01-25.
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Books by This Author

The Stray
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 81,810. Language: English. Published: January 4, 2018. Categories: Fiction » Literary collections » American / General
Can a near-fatal cycling accident save Dare Jordan from himself? One November morning in rural Southern Point, Virginia, an out-of-control van slams into Dare Jordan's custom road bike. The crushing impact lands the OCD accountant at the foot of a ditch—and at the feet of six-year-old Hoagy Butler and his Bassett hound, Lila.
Men Among Sirens
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 65,620. Language: English. Published: November 28, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Romance » Contemporary
Be careful how hard you shake the family tree. Follow Ruby Bohan and her mother, Ainsley, on a twenty-year journey of love, loss and reconciliation set against the backdrop of the Navy hub of southeastern Virginia and Michigan's beautiful Upper Peninsula.