B. Aline Blanchard is a writer, sculptor, and visual artist based in Sarasota, Florida. We discussed writing for a presentation to the Kanaya Book Club. This is the conclusion of that Q&A.
Detective stories generally follow a formula. How does being an independent publisher allow you to deviate from that formula?
I don’t follow a formula, but there are general principles that apply to both commercial and independent crime fiction. Start with the end in mind and work toward it. Give your characters challenges but don’t make them insurmountable. Provide subplots that are more personal than professional. And if you raise a question, try to answer it.
The process of setting up an independent publishing company and marketing a book is quite complex. You have now published nearly a dozen books under the imprint of Allusion Books. How does the cover design impact sales?
The goal is to make an independently published book indistinguishable from a commercially published one. That means engaging professionals to edit, proofread, and design the interior and the exterior of the book. As long as the cover looks professional, I don’t know that it affects sales as much as reader reviews.
Your newest book, Distant Early Warning, is based on a flood that took place in 1955. Were you living there at that time?
Yes, but I was too young to know what adults did and why. Unfortunately, I never asked my parents about their experience. I was able to talk to neighbors and share experiences through social media. Memoirs from that period provided more hands-on experience.
Did you interview people to see how it changed their lives?
Every few years, the local newspaper published a special section about the flood. I was assigned to interview a woman whose family had survived by climbing into the attic of their house. The water rose quickly and trapped them. There were no windows, no way to escape. The woman read the Bible and prayed. On the trip back to the office, I passed the creek that had taken so many lives and had the unnerving sensation that the flood could happen again, at that very moment. That story has haunted me for decades.
How much research did you do to write this book?
I spent six months reading books about the DEW Line and the 1950s in general. That included government publications about building a fallout shelter and surviving an atomic attack. I watched the movies and television shows young Wil Andersen would have watched to gain more insight into the culture. I watched and read with an eye toward placing myself in the position of the characters who not only coped with the flood but dealt with the challenges of the culture, from clothing and appliances to geography and weather. That even included charting the position of the stars on one fateful night.
Your descriptions of the flood and its devastation brought goose bumps. How did you put yourself into so many characters’ lives?
I interviewed as many people as I could about their lives during and after the flood. I also read personal accounts posted by several Facebook groups. Their stories inspired me to dig deeper into the experience.
The conflict, man against nature, is particularly potent with all the floods we’ve had recently.
Those of us who live in Florida expect major storms. The idea that back-to-back hurricanes could devastate the Northeast is sobering. It’s an object lesson for all of us.
Research for the crime fiction is ongoing. For Distant Early Warning, I spend a good six months reading about the 1950s and watching dozens of movies and television programs from the era. Research into the Flood of ’55 was especially intense, given that my parents had lived through that natural disaster.
Jeff Widmer’s latest book is Distant Early Warning, a novel of the Cold War.