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What propels a mother to suddenly ‘snap’ and murder her own children?

janeology_9lziThe premise for Karen Harrington’s first novel, JANEOLOGY, is certainly ambitious and fascinating. I couldn’t help thinking, with a premise like his, she better know how to pull it off.

Tom and Jane are the ‘perfect’ American couple. He is a college professor, she is a homemaker. Together, they are parents of two beautiful twins. That is, until one day Jane ‘snaps’ and decides to kill her toddlers. She succeeds in murdering one and almost killing the other. We later find out that she previously ‘rehearsed’ on their family dog.

The story beings after Jane has been sentenced to life in an asylum for murder under temporary insanity, so the reader won’t have to go through any type of gruesome child homicide descriptions. The main focus now is Tom. A year after the sentence, Tom is charged with negligence and failure to protect the children, and for not being able to forsee his wife’s mental instability and somehow prevent the murder. After all, who knows a wife better than her own husband? Or so it seems. Of course, the answer is a lot more complex than that.

Tom’s ambitious attorney decides to take an unusual approach to the case and brings forth a psychic (who’s also happens to be Jane’s relative) to help them. The psychic is able to ‘see’ into the past and through backflashes we get a glimpse of Jane’s troubled ancestors and the mental instability prevalent in her family history. Should Tom have seen through his wife’s depression and prevented the murder? What propelled Jane to murder her own children? How much is her DNA at fault?

JANEOLOGY is an engrossing, fascinating read, though I have to say that after a great beginning that succesfully grabs readers by the throat, it slows down in the middle as we go through the past lives of Jane’s family members. I was surprised by Harrington’s psychic in that for me it took away a bit of the serious tone presented in the first chapter. This is, however, a minor criticism. Harrington’s prose is forceful and compelling, and her style elegant and evoking. Tom’s character is excellently drawn, so much more than Jane, who for me stays shrouded in mystery somewhere in the background. The dialogue sparkles with genuinity. The ending is surrounded by ambiguity–Jane’s reasons for murder and Tom’s level of guilt, if any.

JANEOLOGY is one of those books that stay in your mind for a long time after you’ve read it–if only because you’ll keep trying to come up with answers! Karen Harrington is a new talented author to be reckoned with and I seriously look forward to reading more of her work.

Visit the author’s website at www.karenharringtonbooks.com

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Karen Harrington's novel, Janeology, is a controversial work about a man trying to understand why his wife suddenly snapped and drowned their toddler son. This psychological thriller was just released by Kunati Books. In the short time Kunati has been on the publishing scene, it has become known as a company with a taste for controversial subjects. In this interview, Karen talks about her inspiration for the book, her writing habits, and a few other things of interest to writers.

When did you decide you wanted to become an author? Do you have another job besides writing?

It was a dark and stormy night. No? Well, I wish it had been. It wasn’t that mysterious when I decided to write. I really can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing stories or making up plays with my siblings. And I’ve always been fortunate to write for a living. Most of my corporate gigs – from receptionist to speechwriter – involved lots of written communications. Besides writing, I am a full-time domestic diva.
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Tell us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write such a story.

Janeology is about one man’s struggle to understand why his wife Jane suddenly snapped and drowned their toddler son. The story revolves around Jane’s genetic inheritance and nature and nurture in a search for clues about who she really is.

Two things really jumpstarted the writing of Janeology. First, I have a passion for genealogy, mostly because I never knew any of my grandparents. I had their pictures and many of their belongings. All my life, I looked at these things and thought, “What if these pictures could talk? What if this necklace could tell me something about my grandmother?” So I wanted to write about a character from the perspective of her genealogy.

And second, as a new mother myself, I wondered how mothers of previous generations handled the everyday stresses of caretaking. At the same time, I could not ignore the headlines about mothers who kill. What would make a mother take the life of her own child? This question wouldn’t let go of me. I wrote this book, in part, because it seems to me that this grim story is a recurring issue in American society today. Thus, Janeology is a cautionary tale about one man achieving an understanding about his wife, despite it being too late to reverse her deeds.

How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?

I first wrote a short story about Jane at the age of nine. I wanted to be a “fly on the wall” to a pivotal day in her childhood that altered the course of her life. After writing that story, I decided to write about her as an adult. Then, I began wondering about Jane’s mother and father and so on. Before long, I had a string of stories about her ancestors that really formed the first draft of the book.

From the moment you conceived the idea for the story, to the published book, how long did it take?

The process took several years, mainly because I had two other productions working (read: I had two children) during the time I was writing Janeology.

Describe your working environment.

I’m very fortunate in many ways, not the least of which includes the fact that my study overlooks our pool. I have a huge window facing the water and a replica of the Bird Girl statue (the memorable figure from the movie Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil) looking back at me. It’s a wonderful view. I come into this room every morning, open the windows and listen to the fountains run while I’m working. And inside my office, I have pictures of all the places I’ve traveled or would like to travel to. Travel is my motivator.

Are you a disciplined writer?

I think I am. I was a speechwriter for most of my 9 to 5 career. That role requires that you sit down and leap into the page within minutes. I was always writing on deadline. I think that experience was a God-send for a fiction writer. I don’t have a writing schedule now, but when I sit down to write, I can.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? What seems to work for unleashing your creativity?

No. I don’t really believe in writer’s block. I think it’s writer’s fear – fear of being perfect. Sometimes I wish I suffered from perfection. Writer’s I know who are perfectionists are spectacular when they write, but sometimes limited in what they produce. If I have something I want to write about, I can’t wait to get it on the page. I subscribe to the advice my writing professor told me. Use the BIC method. Bum In Chair. You can always write a sentence or two if you are in your writing chair.

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?

Yes, I would love for everyone to stop by www.karenharringtonbooks.com to say hello, read an excerpt of Janeology, read my blog or view the haunting trailer for the book. Let me know what you think!

Thanks for stopping by! It was a pleasure to have you here!

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The Author:
Karen Harrington is a Texas native who has been writing fiction for more than twenty years. Her writing has received honors from the Hemingway Short Story Festival, the Texas Film Institute Screenplay Contest and the Writers’ Digest National Script Contest. A graduate of the University of Texas at Dallas, she has worked as a speechwriter and editor for major corporations and non-profit organizations.

She authored and published There’s a Dog in the Doorway, a children’s book created expressly for the Dr. Laura Schlessinger Foundation’s “My Stuff Bags.” My Stuff bags go to children in need who must leave their home due to abuse, neglect or abandonment.

She lives in Plano, Texas, with her husband and two children.

You can visit her website.

The Book:

Tom Nelson is struggling after the death of his son at the hands of his wife Jane. While Jane sits in a Texas mental hospital for her part in the crime, prosecutors turn their focus to Tom. They believe Tom should have known Jane was on the cusp of a breakdown and protected his children from her illness. As a result, he is charged with “failure to protect.” Enter attorney, Dave Frontella, who employs a radical defense strategy – one that lays the blame at the feet of Jane’s nature and nurture. To gather evidence about Jane’s forbears, Frontella hires a woman with the power of retrocognition – the ability to use a person’s belongings to re-create their past. An unforgettable journey through the troubled minds and souls of Jane’s ancestors, spanning decades and continents, this debut novel deftly illustrates the ways nature and nurture weave the fabric of one woman’s life, and renders a portrait of one man left in its tragic wake.

Read the excerpt:

PROLOGUE

I stared at my attorney as he began his defense that I did not share the blame in the murder of my son. That I was not neglectful in leaving my two children in the care of my wife Jane, who drowned my two-and-a-half-year old boy.

Dave strode his six-foot-three frame across the room as he launched into his opening argument.

I had read that you are supposed to make yourself appear larger when threatened by an animal in the wild. Apparently, Dave believed this posture was helpful in the courtroom too because he stretched the expanse of his arms as he began speaking in a low voice, the kind of voice that beckons its listeners to lean forward, lest they miss something. His tone ramped up as he declared my innocence and stared at the prosecution’s table, allowing time for the pregnant pause. He walked a few steps toward me. The jurors’ faces were pinned to him and even the courtroom sketch artist looked up from her pad.

When the silence had passed, I knew he was about to make the suggestion that gave me unease, and with any luck, would give the jurors reasonable doubt. That Jane’s genetic hard wiring might have been the chief culprit in her murderous actions.

“But, fellow taxpayers,” he said. “the prosecution wants you to believe that my client bears partial responsibility for the commission of a crime at which he was not even present. That he should have been paranoid because his wife was depressed after a miscarriage. That he should have assumed her depression would lead to violence. Well, if that is a crime, then this whole courtroom is at risk of being tried. Millions of American parents take antidepressants. Millions seek counseling for any number of reasons. Should we call child protective services right now and rip the children away from those parents?”

Here Dave paused long for effect, and I found myself waiting to breathe. I noticed a young female juror glance at Dave and smile. It probably didn’t hurt my defense that he was so good-looking. It’s not that I am unattractive. I’m tall, fit, green-eyed and still have all my hair. But cast us together in a movie and Dave Frontella is James Bond and I’m Man in elevator #2.

Dave stopped in front of the jury box and rested his hand on the polished wood. “Don’t you think Tom Nelson wishes he had perfect understanding of his wife? That he has spent countless hours reviewing all he knew about the wife he loved in search of some tell-tale sign? Don’t you think he would trade his own life to have his son’s restored? For himself and the sake of his son’s twin sister, now left without a brother and for all intents and purposes, a mother?”

So he was going to use the rhetorical question as a persuasive technique. It would only work, I knew, if the majority of the jurors possessed a sense of irony. And from their stony faces, I could not be sure whether they sized me up as a whiny victim or a simple cad.

“The real tragedy here,” Dave said, “is that Jane grew up in an abusive situation, raised by a parent who grew up in an abusive situation. Her children were in greater jeopardy because of her genetic inheritance than from her husband’s lack of psychic powers. Yet, would you blame her ancestors for the death of Simon Nelson? If it sounds bizarre, that’s because it is.”

His emotional staging complete, I took a drink of water and looked thoughtfully at the jury box, focused on no one in particular. It was enough though. It rendered me able to endure the remainder of the prosecutor’s nonchalant disclosure of what I had come to call the “other” Jane.

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Buy from Amazon.
JANEOLOGY VIRTUAL BOOK TOUR ’08 began on May 1, 2008 and will continue all month. If you would like to follow Karen’s tour, visit Virtual Book Tours in May. Leave a comment on her blog stops and become eligible to win a free copy at the end of her tour!

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Karen Harrington’s virtual book tour is brought to you by Pump Up Your Book Promotion Virtual Book Tours and choreographed by Dorothy Thompson.

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