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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

History Buff and Mystery Writer, Coralie Hughes Jensen, Tells us About Her Latest Book, Winter Harvest

I have been fascinated since childhood by different cultures when my parents explored their forebears as religious pioneers in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. I saw firsthand how spiritual beliefs have affected these cultures.

Often traveling to far corners of the earth, I now research my stories by living with the residents and visiting their churches. While I did not have to drive far for Winter Harvest, I did have to travel back in time. The author of three other books about life and spirituality, I finally write about something closer to home.

A native of California, I have lived in Oregon, New Mexico, Texas, and the Netherlands. I now live with my husband, and golden retriever in Massachusetts.

Tell us about the genre of your work.

 My latest book, Winter Harvest, is a historical with romantic and suspense elements. It is set in a Shaker Village in the 1830s in western Massachusetts. In the late 1700s, Mother Ann Lee opened several communes to house followers of her religion, the “United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing.” The religious community is noted for dancing as a form of worship and celibacy. Hoping to keep the community going, they brought in children indentured to them, offering an education in return for work in the fields and eventual membership.

Why did you choose this genre?

I am a history buff. Growing up, I read many books, dreaming about what it was like to live in another time. Yes, the historical novel cannot be written quickly. Even though I think I already know about the setting or the history, I still have to do more research than I intend. I have to find out how people dress, eat, live, and worship. What I can look up on the Internet has to be verified by at least three sites or a book.

What are some of your books, stories that have been published?

 Besides Winter Harvest, I have three other published books. L’Oro Verde is a mystery with a nun detective living in Tuscan village. Lety’s Gift is a novel about a woman with a paranormal gift that becomes the first female Anglican bishop of western Newfoundland. My first book, Passup Point, is a quirky novel about a small town in Labrador. I have three short stories in an anthology, and some of my short stories are published in magazines.

Coralie, tell us more about your books and where we can find them.

Winter Harvest 978-1-59414-889-7 is available on Amazon and The ebook version is coming soon. Intending to return for her, the Hammonds indenture their young daughter, Lucy, to the Shakers, a religious group of celibate families living at Hancock in western Massachusetts, when a recession forces them to move west. The girl finds a loving new family among the members, but disturbing events lead to mayhem within the quiet and thoughtful sect.

L’Oro Verde 978-0-9787318-7-8 originally under the pen name L. E. Chamberlain, it is available on Amazon and It is now published under Coralie Hughes Jensen on Kindle and Nook. When Bernardo’s body is found inside the church in her village in Tuscany, Sister Angela investigates, trying to understand the victim’s relationship to the powerful families involved in the production of l’oro verde, the region’s famous olive oil; its green gold.

Lety’s Gift ISBN# 978-0-9787318-0-9 is available on Amazon and and on Kindle and Nook. Born with a gift, Sophie Hawkins is about to be consecrated the first woman Anglican bishop in Newfoundland’s Eastern Diocese and stops to relate her story to university students. She was born illegitimate in a poor fishing village in the 50s. After her mother’s death, the young child was left to be raised by a cruel grandmother, a sexually abusive minister, and the sadistic overseers of a prison-like orphanage, leading her to a breakdown.

Passup Point ISBN# 978-0-9787318-1-6 originally under the alias is available on and is coming soon to Kindle and Nook. Jonah Devlin arrives in an isolated fishing village in Labrador to serve as pastor of an abandoned community church. He meets Gabrielle Pye, a young waitress struggling to raise her two younger brothers in the depressed economy of maritime Canada.

How do you come up with the names of places and characters in your books?

 I do lots of research. If part of the novel doesn’t involve real names and places, I hunt for location names on maps and make up similar ones. For people, I look up lists of censuses or cemetery records for the location and time the book takes place. 

How did you develop the character of your protagonist in this book?
 I love to give my protagonist a personality. For my female protagonists, I usually make them observant first and develop them by making them stronger and able to face terrible obstacles. The possible love interests for my protagonists are strong but intelligent and caring men. I have one manuscript for a mystery that is in the male protagonist’s point of view. He is a rogue and doesn’t deserve the interest of women with whom he connects, but women fall for him because he’s sympathetic and a brilliant detective.What about an antagonist…is there a unique “bad guy” or a recurring nemesis of any kind?

I do have antagonists. In Winter Harvest, the antagonist is the one who causes a death inside the community. In my worlds, most antagonists cannot help what they do. Most have been hurt somehow. Characters in my books are complex. It makes it more difficult for the protagonist to want revenge.

What’s your favorite thing about your book?
 In Winter Harvest, it is Lucy’s decision whether or not to pledge to the community when she turns eighteen. Forces pull her in both directions. She is grateful to the community that raised her but discovers advantages to living among the outsiders too.

How is writing in the genre you write, different than other genre?

 Few of us understand different cultures that existed before we did. If people do know enough to write about others 60 or more years earlier, they probably studied them for years. Historicals require research. Writers of this genre have to love reading nonfiction books detailing life and events from the past. The authors have to be detectives that want to check out every fact about the time, including food, clothing, lovemaking, childrearing, etc. before the manuscript goes out the door because skipping over the details makes the historical novel much less interesting to the historical reader.

Why and when did you begin writing?

 I wrote stories and poetry all through elementary and high school but had little encouragement to continue until after I worked and lived in the Netherlands. On my return I began my first novel. It was never published, but I kept writing. I am on my tenth novel so far.

What is your writing schedule?

 For at least an hour, I try to write, either fiction or nonfiction—I do freelance—every morning. Much of the day is spent planning what I am going to write the next day and reading novels and research books. I cannot emphasize how reading nonfiction—including news stories—gives me ideas for future novels. Reading other novels gives me format ideas, including creative ways to use POV, jumps in time, and how these tools affect the story.

What projects are you working on now, or plan for the future?

I am currently trying to sell two manuscripts, one a historical set in Tudor England and another, a mystery, set in New Zealand. I stayed in New Zealand a few years ago to do research for the mystery and went to England to interview Anglicans for the historical. I have also started a new novel. It has a contemporary setting with flashbacks to WWII France. I hope to make it back to France again soon but have visited the places I am including in my books several times already.

What kind of advice or tips do you have for someone who wants to write and get published?

Get into a local writing group. I go to Sisters in Crime meetings. I also started attending the New England and Rhode Island Romance Writers groups a few years ago and am currently on the board of the New England RWA. They give workshops full of writing tips—even if you are not a romance writer—and opportunities to meet agents and editors. I am also 2012 chairman of the agents and editors for their annual conference.

Are there any other comments, advice or tips that you would give to beginning writers?

Read about your genre and know your grammar. If you want an agent or editor to even look at your manuscript, you have to present it with as few errors as possible. While proofreading seems difficult and a long process at first, you can actually train your brain so that it gets faster and easier editing later manuscripts.

What do you do when you are not writing? 

I walk my dog. I administer communion to shut-ins, and take art classes.

What “Made It” moments have you experienced in life?

Anytime I get published, I feel I have made it.

Note from Sylvia: You can visit my other blog at: features a preview to my new book, Traveling a Rocky Road with Love, Faith and Guts.


Anonymous said...

Coralee, great interview & through it all you find time to read to shut-ins. That is very wonderful!

Coralie Hugthes Jensen said...

Thanks, Shimerfall. I am busy, but I make time to visit the shut-ins. Their stories are important to me.