Monday, February 24, 2014

A Conversation with Novelist Tilia Klebenov Jacobs

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Tilia Klebenov Jacobs
with Tilia Klebenov Jacobs

We are delighted to welcome novelist Tilia Klebenov Jacobs to Omnimystery News today.

Tilia's new thriller is Wrong Place, Wrong Time (Linden Tree Press; October 2013 trade paperback and ebook formats) introduces Tsara Adelman, a Jewish mother and wife who finds herself abducted and on the run after she learns her uncle is holding several children captive on his property. Originally a project for National Novel Writing Month in 2009, Tilia's book is packed with action and emotion, presenting ethical questions and unpredictable drama on every page.

We recently had the chance to catch up with the author to talk about her work.

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Omnimystery News: In our introduction we applied the label "thriller" to your new book. Would you agree with that description?

Tilia Klebenov Jacobs
Photo provided courtesy of
Tilia Klebenov Jacobs

Tilia Klebenov Jacobs: When I was sending Wrong Place, Wrong Time out to agents, I variously assured them that it was a thriller, a mystery, a hostage drama, literary fiction, women's fiction (whatever that means), or chick lit (ugh). About the only designation I never claimed for it was Amish incest. But the only genre on my mind as I wrote the book was "fiction." Rather than sussing out a particular category, I wrote it because I fell in love with the story and the characters.

Genre is useful for marketing: it dictates where a book is going to sit on the shelves at Barnes & Noble. Booksellers and buyers are happy to figure that out. Characters and plot, by contrast, are the writer's responsibility. Given that writing a book is usually a very long labor of love, I feel that writers should write the story they love the most, and let someone else worry about the genre.

OMN: Tell us more about your writing process.

TKJ: I am a demon for details! I outline the book chapter by chapter before I start (though I am happy to admit that by the final draft the chapters have often drifted free of their moorings and fetched up somewhere else altogether), and I do detailed biographies for all the major characters. I love this process, partly because designing people for my story is just so much gol-danged fun; and also because if I've done it right, by the time I start writing I know my characters very well and I can just let them respond to the situations I put them in.

The importance of doing this became very clear to me when I neglected to do it. I have two FBI agents in my book, and I conceived of them as minor characters — so minor, in fact, that when it came time for them to enter the story I realized I had forgotten to give them names. Since I was writing at Starbucks, I glanced around the room and swiftly decided to call my agents Via and Tazo.

Happily, I soon had the good fortune to interview two real FBI agents for the book; and partially as a result, the fictional ones morphed into much larger characters. Which was a problem. As I hadn't given them bios, I really didn't know who they were or what they would do when I dropped them into the plot. As a result, they did very little, and even that seemed false.

So I retrofitted backgrounds to them. I figured out what kinds of marriages their parents had and how many kids were in their families and the contents of their refrigerators growing up. I also renamed them Erin Spaar and Victor Galen. It turns out Spaar was an only child of an abusive marriage, and Galen was the oldest of ten kids in a large Catholic family. Spaar's nickname is Sparks, and she likes Heart and Springsteen. (I found that out when my husband put together a playlist for her on my iPhone.) Galen is from the South and has a military background.

Once I had all of that, Spaar and Galen blossomed into real people who not only affected the plot but also helped provide the moral backbone to my book. I am very grateful to them, and also to the process of discovering them.

OMN: How true are you to the setting of the book?

TKJ: Wrong Place, Wrong Time is set primarily in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, but I call them the Silver Mountains. There are two reasons for this. One, I thought "Silver Mountains" was too gorgeous a name not to use. The second is more pragmatic: I wanted to be able to insert caves and cataracts as my plot demanded, rather than being shackled to piffling details such as reality.

Most of the various New Hampshire towns I describe are also fictional, but I did my best to capture the essence of the friendly, tough people who live in the North Country. That corner of New England is one of my favorite parts of the world, and I hope I did it justice.

OMN: How involved were you in the design of the book's cover?

TKJ: The artist for my cover is Melody Simmons of Ebook Indie Covers. We worked on the project together, which was very satisfying.

I found Melody through another author who recommended her highly — and, it turns out, deservedly so. When I contacted Melody, she asked for a synopsis of the book so that she could be sure her cover reflected not only the genre but also the general feel of the story. I sent the synopsis, along with an excerpt describing the dramatic New Hampshire mountain wilderness that forms the backdrop for much of the action. I also stressed that my protagonist was in her forties, though healthy and athletic. Melody quickly sent me rough versions of several possible covers, along with the dry comment, "I must say that finding an image of a lady that looks 40 years old but that still looks attractive and that doesn't have her smiling or advertising face cream or doing yoga poses has been quite a challenge."

Ultimately Melody rose to the challenge, and we worked out a cover that I love. I have gotten nothing but praise for it. This is important because, contrary to cliché, you can judge a book by its cover. Melody's work makes my book look exciting and classy, which I like to think it is.

OMN: Do you have any favorite series characters?

TKJ: I would have to say Robert B. Parker's Spenser, for his warmth and humanity, his loyalty and humor — and his ruthless efficiency in getting the job done, but without sacrificing his principles.

OMN: What are some of your favorite films?

TKJ: The first titles that come to mind are Star Wars, The Fugitive, The Sting, and The Flame and the Arrow. There is just nothing like a high-stakes adventure story featuring a smart protagonist with everything on the line. I did my best to capture that feeling with Wrong Place, Wrong Time.

OMN: What's next for you?

TKJ: I'm hard at work on my next novel, Second Helpings at the Serve You Right Café. Here's a teaser:

"Dating is hard. Where should you meet? What should you order? And when exactly should you mention that you're out on parole?"

Second Helpings is not a sequel to Wrong Place, Wrong Time, though it shares some of the same themes. I'm very excited to be falling in love with this book just as I did with the first one!

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Tilia Klebenov Jacobs holds a BA from Oberlin College, where she double-majored in Religion and English with a concentration in Creative Writing. Following an interregnum as an outdoor educator with the Fairfax County Park Authority in Virginia, she earned a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School and a Secondary School Teaching Certification from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Tilia has taught middle school, high school, and college, and has won numerous awards for her fiction and nonfiction writing. In addition, she teaches writing in several Massachusetts state prisons.

Tilia lives near Boston with her husband, two children, and two standard poodles. For more information about the author and her work, please visit her website at or find her on Facebook.

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Wrong Place, Wrong Time by Tilia Klebenov Jacobs

Wrong Place, Wrong Time
Tilia Klebenov Jacobs

When Tsara Adelman leaves her husband and two young children for a weekend to visit her estranged uncle, she little dreams he is holding several local children captive on his lavish estate. Mike Westbrook, father of one of the boys, kidnaps her to trade her life for the children's.

Soon Tsara and Mike are fleeing through New Hampshire's mountain wilderness pursued by two rogue cops with murder on their minds. Print/Kindle Format(s) Print/Nook Format(s)


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