I have a confession to make: I love crime fiction.
This may not seem like a revelatory admission, but I’ve been writing literary novels for a long time now and genre snobbery is, I’ve discovered, a real thing. When I was in university, I worked at a bookstore and it was there I learned that everybody has a different, very valid reason for choosing books. Some people read to learn something new. Some read to be entertained. Some read to feel an emotional connection to the characters. When you’re an author or a bookseller, the only thing that really matters is that people are reading. Full stop.
For most of my life, I’ve hidden my obsession with romance and crime novels (yes, I love romances too, partly because they’re really useful when you’re worried about writing a sex scene and need to look at how other writers structure them, but also because there is an intense sense of satis
faction when everyone loves exactly whomever makes them happy) because literary fiction has always been my first love. It’s a funny predicament to love too many genres at once (am I poly-biblio-amorous?), especially as someone who was an English Literature major, but none of it really came to play until I began publishing novels.
I had thought about writing a crime novel for a while, the sort of gloomy novel where te investigator is tough and gritty and spends his days looking for clues in gloomy, rainy places. As time went on, however, I came to see that it would be more fun if I could write an homage to crime fiction instead, one that utilized my experience in literary fiction and challenged what we think of the usual relationships between investigator, victim and perpetrator. As well, I had worked in social services for years (back when I had normal jobs) and I wanted to write a story about children in government care, specifically children who have been removed from their homes by a largely White social services workforce that often struggles with the diverse backgrounds of these families. In The Conjoined, my new novel that addresses all of this, the girls who disappear are Jamie and Casey, two sisters from a Chinese Canadian family that is stuck in a cycle of poverty and isolation, and who live in Vancouver’s beleaguered Downtown Eastside. The investigator is a social worker named Jessica Campbell, who finds their bodies in her dead mother’s freezers, years after they lived in their home as foster children. The perpetrator? Well, I can’t tell you who that is!
The Conjoined, then, is my love letter to the crime novels I devour, but it’s also my love letter to literary novels, and to the world of social services. It’s a polyglot of a book, to be sure, but then, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Jen’s third novel for adults, The Conjoined, was released by ECW Press in September 2016. A popular radio personality, Jen appears regularly as a columnist on The Next Chapter and Definitely Not the Opera, and is a frequent co-host of the Studio One Book Club. Born and raised in East Vancouver, Jen now lives in North Burnaby with her son and hoodlum of a dog.