Friday, July 1, 2016

A Look at the Author Behind the Story: Alice K. Arenz ♦ Portrait of Jenny

Please welcome my guest today, author Alice K. Arenz while she shares the story behind her new release: PORTRAIT OF JENNY. 

Not even a beautiful woman can save Richard Tanner from his past.

Following an explosive—and public—argument with his ex-girlfriend, artist Richard Tanner races into a rainstorm, gripped by a powerful migraine. He wanders to the gazebo in University Park, where he meets the beautiful and mysterious Jenny—a brief encounter that leaves an indelible impression on his mind—and in his paintings. 
When Detective Jack Hargrave accuses Richard of the brutal assault on his ex, he finds himself confronting demons of a past he doesn’t remember. A time when little Richie Tanner walked into University Park whole, was beaten and left to die…a time that may hold the key to his future.
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Alice, I can’t wait to get inside your head about this book. It is so unlike anything you’ve written before—and I’ve read them all—this one totally blew me away! I don’t even know where to start this interview. But we’ve got to start somewhere, right? So, here we go . . .

Peg: Where on earth did the idea for Portrait of Jenny come from?

Alice:  First, I want to take this time to thank you for inviting me on your blog—it’s nice to be here. Especially for this novel!

Ok, to the question.  I’ve always said that my ideas, inspiration, etc., come from God. Jenny is no different in that matter than anything else I’ve ever written—published or unpublished.  I was first “given” this title what seems a million years ago as it was back in high school. What triggered it? I’ve no idea. The title came into my head with the admonishment that I wasn’t to forget it—there was a story here that would come later.  I never forgot the title or that promise.

Peg: Portrait of Jenny is told solely through the point of view of Richard Tanner. What made you choose a male protagonist?

AliceI don’t want to sound like a broken record, but have to restate that whatever I do isn’t me per se, but what God gives me.  That said, I remember mentioning to my husband (now ex), that I’d been given the name “Richard Tanner” to go along with that old title that was rumbling around in my brain. He knew that I usually wrote things in the first person and told me rather emphatically that there was no way I could write anything from a man’s point of view. I recall stating that if that’s how God wanted the story told, that’s the way it would be.  A definite point of contention. But then, he also didn’t really believe I “heard” from God on these things. Not that I blamed him; it does sound a little nutty.  Anyway, when I finally sat down at a typewriter, there was no preconceptions of what I might or might not write, or anything at all.  Like most of my work, what I feel is the best of my writing, comes without any conscious thought. By the time I quit that writing session, the first chapter of Portrait of Jenny had been written with Richard Tanner telling his story.

Peg: The presence of constant rain and thunderstorms add to the overall darkness of the story, and it works well. In fact, you might say “rain” was one of the characters. So, this may be like asking “Which came first . . . the chicken or the egg” but, at what point in Portrait of Jenny did the storms come into play?

AliceI write chronologically—totally a seat of the pants writer, as described above—so the answer would be immediately. And, I agree, the rain/storms are definitely lead characters. ;)

Peg: Okay, now tell me about Jenny, the elusive, ‘now you see her, now you don’t,’ who is herself one of the lead characters.

AliceJenny is mystery personified—as you said, elusive. From the moment she is introduced in the first chapter, the reader should be as intrigued by her as Richard is.

Peg: Well I certainly was!  So, Richard is an artist, and you depicted the process so expertly—at least I thought so. What kind of research did you have to do for those scenes?

AliceIn the late eighties/early nineties I watched every “learn to paint” show I could find to tape on my VCR. I painted in oil, acrylic, and sometimes watercolor. I’d pour over books on painting for beginners and was constantly writing things down, trying to learn a language that was so awesome and descriptive it produced a world all its own. I’d no idea when this fascination struck me that it would one day be used in a book. God works in mysterious ways, doesn’t he?!

Peg: Ah, that explains a lot! That brings me to the matter of the migraine headaches. Both my ex, my daughter and youngest son suffer from them, sometimes quite debilitating. How did you learn about them in order to write about Richard’s?

AliceFirst, from what I remember of my mother.  She would get them so badly that she would shut herself up in her bedroom. It would be so dark that you couldn’t see a thing. It terrified me.  Picture it: winter in Alaska—a cloudy day when there was little light anyway, blinds drawn, dark curtains pulled, and total silence as my baby brother and mom snuggled in that darkened room.  The memory is not something easily forgotten.  Years later, I discovered that migraines were a curse in my family. I don’t have them often, praise God, but I know what they can do to a person and those around them.

Peg: Back to Jenny. Without giving anything away, how did you come up with her and that whole concept?

AliceBeyond what I’ve already said, I don’t have an answer. She just belonged to that story.

Peg: You have a warning on the book about bad language and implied sexuality, which I thought was done well, by the way. What made you decide to write the book with that sort of content?

Alice:  Thank you. First, please know that what I’ve said here, that my words, the stories come from God. I am literally not smart enough to do the writing on my own. Not at all smart enough!  That said . . .
Ok, out of 150,000 words I counted 100 swear words—including “questionable” ones. This count was done on the final reading before going to the publisher. And trust me when I say that during the four previous readings, I’d changed many of these for others—on my own—only to realize that I had to change them back.  There was a lot of prayer going on here—A LOT OF PRAYER.  And a lot of time that was spent agonizing over things.  But I finally got it, LISTENED, truly listened when He said “Stop preaching to the choir. Let it stand.”  That’s when I was finally able to finish what we’d started.

As for the “implied sexuality,” you’re right, it’s there. Richard’s best friend, Chuck, is a womanizer, and proud of it. Richard frowns on Chuck’s activities, but they’re still friends. Richard also acknowledges his own desire for a real relationship.  So, yes, there is mention of sex, but NO SEX ACTS. Sensuality, yes, but NO SEX.

Peg: To date, Portrait of Jenny has six five-star reviews on Amazon. Congratulations! (I’ll be posting one, too, after this interview goes live.) But I’m curious. Was this a hard sell to your publisher?

AliceNo, it wasn’t.  We’d had several conversations about it, and she has always been there to reassure me.  It was published with the “warning” so that readers who were used to my totally Christian books would be aware of the content in advance.

Peg: I know you have extremely sensitive fingers and sometimes use the eraser end of pencils to write on the keyboard. So how did you manage to write such a long book, and how long did it take you to finish it?

Alice:  When the book was originally written in 1993—I think it was—I didn’t have those issues to contend with.  Some of it was written on the typewriter in my university office—pre-approved by my wonderful supervisor Dr. Betty.  We were beginning the recertification process on the state and national level, and while things were slow, she said I should “keep busy.”  After reading a manual on Word 11 (a DOS based word processing program), learning it and disseminating the info to secretaries and admins who would be assisting their chairs in the process, I didn’t have anything to do for a while.  Ok, TMI.  J

Anyway, between the typewriter and my DOS based Leading Edge computer at home, the book was written and then submitted to the agent I had at the time.  Fast forward to last September and me facing over 500 typed pages and wondering how with my hands and brain that doesn’t always work right, how was I going to ever get this book rewritten.  Answer:  my brilliant SIL Greg.  When I finally got around to asking him, it took maybe a week, if that long, for him to write a program that took the manuscript out of the old word processing program and into Word.  Then it was up to me to fix the formatting and start bringing it back to “life.” But I had a hang-up; I was worried that it wouldn’t be accepted by the people who’d come to know my writing—that they wouldn’t accept me.  Then, I stopped worrying about ME and remembered WHO had told me to get this book out of mothballs in the first place.  God.

I’m Irish and German; stubborn, hardheaded, a fighter (that comes in handy when you have so many chronic disabilities), and not always the best listener.  But I finally got it.  Finally understood.  So, in answer to how long this book took me—a lifetime.

Peg: Is there anything else you’d like to add that I haven’t covered?

Alice:  Thanks for asking. Now, I have a question. What would happen if Christians only wrote books that appealed to other Christians? The searchers might not find what they need—no, make that WHO they need. And if a book has a character who is also searching, well then maybe . . .

Not every book is right for EVERY person.  Sometimes things can be light, funny, other times, dark and “stormy,” but they can all be good—even if they aren’t exactly right for you.  Change is inevitable.  It’s not always good or bad, just is—just like books and authors.  And sometimes, even when you’re not sure you’re doing the right thing for others, it just might be the “right thing” for you . . . That, my friend, is between you and God.  And I’m not ashamed of what He’s given me.

Thank you so much Alice, for your time here and for your frank and honest answers. I wish you well with this book. Your transparency is refreshing.

Romantic mystery/suspense Portrait of Jenny is the newest book of 2010 ACFW Carol Award winning author, Alice K. Arenz. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers, her first three novels were honored by two finals and one win in ACFW’s Carol Award: cozy mysteries The Case of the Bouncing Grandma (a 2009 finalist), The Case of the Mystified M.D., (2010 winner), and mystery/suspense Mirrored Image (a 2011 finalist), all re-released by Forget Me Not Romances, a division of Winged Publications. Last August, An American Gothic, also a romantic mystery/suspense, was released by Forget Me Not Romances.

Visit her at her website


  1. Thanks for the wonderful interview! God bless, alice

  2. Having you here has been a pleasure, Alice. Thanks for filling us in on your new release. Blessings, Peg