Sunday, May 31, 2015

An Interview with Janet Jensen, author of GABRIEL'S DAUGHTERS

I first became aware of Janet Jensen when her book DON’T YOU MARRY THE MORMON BOYS came out. Though I’ve not met her in person, we’ve corresponded via a writers loop, and we have several mutual friends.

I’ve learned that Ms. Jensen doesn’t shy away from hard—even controversial--topics which makes her writing timely and easy to identify with.

Here’s the blurb for Ms. Jensen’s latest book:

Wrestling with issues of polygamy, homosexuality, and modernity, Gabriel’s Daughters examines them through the lives of the large, loving, and polygamous Martin family. The story is told primarily through the eyes of Zina Martin, a young girl who—upon discovering she is impregnated by her “sterile” teacher and will soon be married off to a man three times her age—escapes the enclosed polygamous town of Gabriel’s Landing, Utah. Zina then embarks on a journey of self-discovery, yet she can never fully escape the longing she has for her family and even the controversial and outdated lifestyle she once lived. Through both tears and triumph, Gabriel’s Daughters reveals a moving story that not only acts as insightful social commentary but also prompts readers to re-evaluate their lives.

I’m glad to be able to feature Janet Jensen as an author on my blog.  I’ll include a purchase link at the end of the interview.

LIZ: What inspired Gabriel’s Daughters?

JANET JENSEN: Zina’s story was originally included in early drafts of my first novel, Don’t You Marry the Mormon Boys. I began to write the stories of both Louisa and Zina in alternating chapters. That led to logistical problems as the events occur in different time periods. Zina’s story also began to take on greater significance and in fact threatened to take over the whole book. To do it justice, I had to pull it out and promise Zina her own book. She was very patient.

LIZ: Does Gabriel’s Landing have a “prophet?”

JANET JENSEN: No. I chose to create a governing body, the Council of Brothers. They are a committee of very like-minded men who govern all matters secular and religious in the community.  I deliberately avoided writing a character who was the prophet or all-powerful leader, to avoid comparisons to current events. Gabriel’s Landing is a quiet community. Though life is tightly controlled by the Council of Brothers, the extreme abuses and violence uncovered in other groups, which often make headlines, do not occur in Gabriel’s Landing. It’s a town that strives to keep the traditions of their fathers. As we know, however, not everyone in Gabriel’s Landing has a happy or satisfying life.

LIZ: Given all the recent public scrutiny, do you think polygamy will survive?

JANET JENSEN: Polygamy has always been with us throughout history, and is common in many cultures. In America, some feel that prosecuting it will simply drive its followers underground. Others, citing the significant cost to taxpayers in terms of financial assistance given to women who declare themselves to be single mothers, feel the welfare system is being abused. There are certainly no clear answers.

LIZ: How do you feel about polygamy?

JANET JENSEN: I’ll let the readers form their own opinions about that. I was very surprised, however, when doing some research on the Internet—when my own photo popped up as I searched for “pictures of polygamous women.” Yep, there I was, with my three dogs, in my own backyard. That photo had appeared on my blog and as I had written a book about polygamy, it somehow became associated with the topic, or at least the search engines thought so. There’s a lesson in this: you never know where you’re going to show up on the Internet. It’s a bit disconcerting.

LIZ: Why do quilts appear prominently in the book?

JANET JENSEN: Quilts convey our heritage and culture from one generation to another. They speak of economy and necessity as well as artistry. I think every quilt has its own story, and I love the intricate varieties of patchwork quilts, both old and new.

LIZ: Why did you choose to have Zina hitchhike to Chicago?

JANET JENSEN: Because that’s where Mo and Callie were going! I really had three reasons. First, I wanted to put some some significant geographical distance between Zina and the place where she was raised. It’s the only way she can begin to learn who she is. Second, I have always loved Chicago; my husband and I honeymooned there for three years when we attended graduate school. Third, I wanted to give a little shout-out to a city that is full of diversity and vitality and class. Chicago is a good fit for Zina, and she learns to love the city, too. 

LIZ: Andy and Louisa could have higher-paying jobs in larger cities. Why did you choose to have them stay in Hawthorn Valley?

JANET JENSEN: Andy fell in love with Hawthorn Valley when he first arrived there, just out of residency, and Hawthorn Valley fell in love with him. When Louisa married him, it was with the understanding that they would share a joint medical practice in Hawthorn Valley. It’s a place where they feel needed and appreciated. They want to give their children a healthy upbringing, and neither is too concerned about material wealth. That is consistent with their upbringing, I think.

LIZ: Why did you choose to write Simon as a gay character?

JANET JENSEN: Because he is. Seriously, I asked myself what kind of man Zina would trust, given her devastating experience with her high school teacher, and almost marrying a man twice her age. It’s not a surprise that she doesn’t doesn’t trust easily, and Simon presents no sexual issues to negotiate. He simply offers friendship and companionship to his roommate. It’s something he wants, too. And he sees Zina’s potential.

LIZ: Yes, there is a bit of the Pygmalion myth in their relationship.

JANET JENSEN: Right. I loved having Zina “bloom and grow,” to borrow from another musical. She gains some survival skills in Chicago, though Mo and Callie provide her with the tender care of parents while she acquires the ability to support herself. Her native talents and intelligence are appreciated wherever she goes. Starting with Chef Damian’s tutelage at Harry’s in Chicago, Zina continues to grow intellectually. Simon can, in some ways, give her the world. He’s educated, well-traveled, and well-read. And, most important, he is trustworthy.

LIZ: You seem to like strong female protagonists.

JANET JENSEN: I do. Girls and young women need to know they have unlimited potential, even if it means they may have to fight for it. I didn’t want a high-cheekboned, square-jawed, broad shouldered romantic knight with long, flowing golden locks to gallop into town on a white horse and rescue Zina. She doesn’t need rescuing. She’s become her own person. Readers deserve more, and so does Zina. And she may find it in James.

LIZ: What elements in Gabriel’s Daughters are based on real-life people or events?

JANET JENSEN: Quilts, hope chests, bread-baking, book-burning, a visit to Russia, the nesting dolls, and friendships between women and gay men. Oh, and a smart border collie.

My thanks to Janet Jensen for a great interview. Click here for a purchase link for her book GABRIEL’S DAUGHTERS.


Pam Williams said...

Love both of Janet's books, Don't You Marry the Mormon Boys AND Gabriel's Daughters. Janet's work is so refreshing and her prose so readable. There's nothing formulaic about it. Thanks for doing this interview, Liz.

Liz Adair said...

Thanks for the comment and apt observations on Janet's writing, Pam. I like your picture, too.