Greetings from “June is Bustin’ Out All Over” Seneca, South Carolina! I am enjoying my yard and flowers as well as the opportunity to introduce you to a book and an author I know you’ll enjoy too!
Welcome, Jolene Philo, to the CAN blog! Please tell us about your book.
When Jane accepts a teaching job in a tiny South Dakota town and learns that a hit-and-run driver left a woman for dead, her own mother begs her to come home. Jane won’t let go of her new life, choosing instead to find the killer and seek justice.
Wow! What inspired you to write this book?
I taught country school for five years in a small town similar to the fictional Little Missouri, South Dakota, where this story takes place. It was (and still is) a unique and remote community like none other. During the years my husband lived there (1978-1985), a rancher disappeared. To this day neither he nor his body have been found. I wrote See Jane Run! to provide one possible explanation.
I can see why you would want to turn that into a novel. What was the hardest scene to write?
The school scenes with the seven students, hands down. To help readers keep the kids straight in their minds, each child needed a clear physical description and distinct personality and behavioral traits. At the same time, the story had to keep moving along. These scenes were a chance to enter the world of childhood, which made them the most fun to write too.
And I’m sure you wrote them well. What’s your favorite scene in this book?
The day when Jane, her students, and their parents release the monarch butterflies after they emerge from their cocoons. Jane describes the moment as a holy one, had she believed in such things. The scene reminds me of the closeness that developed between my students and their parents in our country school, and it encapsulates Jane’s struggle to believe in a God who allows children to suffer.
What themes do you return to again and again in your writing?
My nonfiction books are for the disability and special needs communities. Many of the topics those books address—accessibility for all, childhood trauma, grief and loss, and how to find or cling to faith in those experiences—have become themes in my fiction, too. That said, this is a very funny book, thanks to growing up with a disabled father who had a stellar sense of humor.
That’s so interesting, Jolene, since I was already familiar with some of your writing for caregivers. Why do you love writing?
I come from a family of readers and storytellers. They taught me to love both. Writing allows me to collect stories, create worlds, and invite readers into them.
I love it. What talents do you have aside from storytelling?
I love to bake. Bread, cinnamon rolls, pies, and cookies are my favorites. My daughter says that my homemade biscotti is Paul Hollywood handshake-worthy. My love of baking explains why there will be a recipe at the end of each book in this series. Here’s the link to the biscotti recipe.
What a high compliment from your daughter! What are you reading right now?
My favorite genres are cozy mystery, biography, and literary fiction. I loved Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire books long before the Netflix series came out because he captures the Western landscape and culture so well. Kent Krueger’s Cork (O’Connor Mysteries), Jacqueline Winspear (Maisie Dobbs), and Louise Penny (Inspector Gamache) are also favorites.
I can definitely see some influences there. Do you have a “day job” or a previous career? Does it influence what or how you write?
I was a teacher for twenty-five years. Obviously that experience has a direct impact on The West River Mystery Series. The organizational and communication skills I honed as a teacher impact my writing and book marketing, too.
God puts it all together for us. Tell us about your next project.
See Jane Sing!, the second book in The West River Mystery Series, releases in September 2022. It begins with Jane snowbound after Thanksgiving and ends with a chase to catch a killer shortly before Christmas. The middle is a riot of clues, red herrings, and her students’ hijinks during school Christmas program rehearsal.