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Jenny White

Question: What do you write?

Jenny White: Historical fiction in which crimes occur Crime fiction.

Question: Can you remember the first crime novel you read? What and when was it?

Jenny White: Dostoyevski.

Question: What is your interest in crime fiction? Why and for how long have you been writing it?

Jenny White: I like to read it to relax, especially if the novels are set in a different society in the past. I like to read about the customs of other places. I've always written novels, just never finished one or tried to get it published. One day in the summer of 2001, I started a new novel and it just kept going. I finished it in 2003.
Much to my surprise, it was sold to a publisher fairly quickly - and the rest is history.

Question: Name your first crime fiction publication.

Jenny White: The Sultan's Seal, New York: W.W. Norton, 2006

Question: Name a crime fiction writer who has had a particular influence on you, and why.

Jenny White: Arturo Perez-Reverte. His crime novels had wonderful, clever themes like chess moves or fencing rules or the culture of rare book collecting or art restoration. It made reading the books an intellectual adventure. They're also terrifically well written.

Question: What crime novel would you most like to have written?

Jenny White: Any of John LeCarre's novels, which all involve crimes.

Question: What are the eras and setting(s) you choose for your crime fiction, and why?

Jenny White: 1880s Istanbul, Ottoman Empire.
It was a lush, fertile period. People wore gorgeous clothing, had wonderful architecture and fascinating customs. The period was the culmination of a 500 year-old empire founded on even older civilizations, like the Byzantines. It was a truly multi-ethnic, multi-denominational empire - there were Jews, Armenians, Greek Orthodox Christians, and many others. They held important positions: the doctors, merchants, bankers, craftsmen, advisors to the sultan, as well as the servants were mostly non-Muslims. There was a lot of mingling.
But it also was a period of profound change. The elites moving toward Europe and there was a lot of French influence in the urban areas like Istanbul. You can see shape of the future (in society and politics) but it hasn't quite formed yet. People are still trying out new roles, debating things, like the role of religion in society, science, reason, slavery, women's roles. What does it mean to be modern? What are the costs of progress. They were worried about things that are familiar to us even now -- the consequences of change, the decline of the family, losing the moral fiber of society.

Question: What's more difficult to write - crime fiction or other literary genres? How would you rate crime fiction in comparison to other genres?

Jenny White: I don't like to think that I write in a "genre". I just write. Along the way, my characters happen to commit crimes. I'm not responsible.

Question: Do you have a favorite crime fiction sub-type?

Jenny White: Historical series: Donna Leon, Sarah Jo Rowland, Andrea Camilleri, etc

Question: What is your experience of German-language crime fiction, and what do you think of it?

Jenny White: I've read Boris Akunin's work in German before it was translated into English. I loved it, but that's Boris. I haven't read any German authors since I was a child and was reading "Die Försters Töchter".

Question: Describe your contact with German crime fiction writers.

Jenny White: At the annual meeting of the International Association of Crime Writers held in 2007 in Berlin. They are charming, smoke and hold their liquor well.

Question: How would you assess the treatment of crime fiction by book reviewers and book review publications?

Jenny White: In the US, crime fiction tends to be relegated to a corner in the major publications like the New York Times Book Review, perhaps because it's considered "genre" writing, which some seem to think is not the same as - or somewhat inferior to -- literature. I find this questionable, since there's some very good crime fiction out there, as well as some disappointing "literature", in which I would include several books praised by the critics. (No, I won't say which ones. That would be very rude.)

Question: Which crime fiction writers do you find overrated?

Jenny White: No comment.

Question: Which crime fiction writers do you find underrated?

Jenny White: Perez-Reverte and Boris Akunin in the US. I think American readers find them too dense or intellectual or exotic or something.

Question: Who do you write for?

Jenny White: Only myself, although my advisors (agent, editor, etc.) would like me to write so the book becomes a best-seller. There are rules about how to do this. Apparently I keep breaking them.

Question: What comes first for you when planning a new work? Plot? Character? Do you make notes? Where do you get your ideas?

Jenny White: I wait to be inspired by an interesting tidbit that nests in my brain and expands. "The Sultan's Seal" began with the paragraph where a man eats an egg in a certain, strange way. Someone had mentioned to me twenty years ago in passing that his uncle ate an egg like that and I hadn't thought about it since. Suddenly, while I was taking a walk, the entire paragraph describing this event came to me, exactly as it is in the book. I raced home and wrote it down, then called a friend and gloated, "I've just started a novel!" How I knew this egg would become a novel is a mystery. I just kept writing.
For the second novel, "The Abyssinian Proof", I tried to make a plot outline first, but that turned out to be a waste of time. It didn't work. I have to let the characters start moving about on the page, squabbling, killing each other, arguing - and THEN see where they want to go and help them get there. I did have in mind the core mystery - the Proof of God - which I had figured out after much research (although the original idea also came to me as an egg-like inspiration). The characters settled themselves around this core.

Question: Where do you write? How do you feel about writing at the computer?

Jenny White: I usually begin in longhand on lined pads, then at some point move to the computer. When I edit, I usually begin rewriting, then writing and forget that I'm on the computer. But the original creative impulse often still requires the feel of a pen in m y hand.

Question: How do you feel about sex in crime stories?

Jenny White: Love it. I always read those bits first. Although I write sex scenes as the text seems to require. Sometimes being explicit is just overkill.

Question: When you hear "women's crime fiction", what does that mean for you? What do you think?

Jenny White: They call them 'cozies', friendly stories without too much gore and violence, a decent puzzle, lots of character development, strong central women characters that often share a characteristic or perceived flaw with readers (eg being overweight, messy, cat-lovers ...). I think these stories are fine. I read them myself sometimes. On the whole, I prefer stronger meat. Besides, there are usually no sex scenes in cozies.

Question: What is your favorite weapon?

Jenny White: A knife. Clean, simple, multi-faceted.

Question: Is murder absolutely necessary in crime fiction?

Jenny White: No. Evil comes in all forms. Betrayal, for instance. But it makes the effect of it more extreme if someone dies. Death evokes extreme emotions and reactions. Mysteries have a central puzzle at their core that really matters, and nothing matters more than life.

Question: What's your favorite book?

Jenny White: I loved James Joyce's "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man", although I haven't read it in a long time.

Question: Your favorite book as a child?

Jenny White: Hans Christian Andersen's stories and the Bruder Grimm. (Perhaps my liking for dark tales was formed there.)

Question: Who are your favorite crime fiction writers now?

Jenny White: Sarah Waters' book "Affinity" was a wonderfully atmospheric crime novel, although the crime was committed only at the end.
Arturo Perez-Reverte, Anne Perry, Laura Jo Rowland, Jody Shields, Donna Leon, Andrea Camilleri.

Question: What are you working on now?

Jenny White: The third novel in the Kamil Pasha series. Kamil might have to travel to England to track down Irish revolutionaries who robbed the Imperial Ottoman Bank. But that's just conjecture at this point. It might be something quite different when its done.

Question: What's your favorite film?

Jenny White: The recent film about east Germany, "The Lives of Others".

Question: What's your favorite drink?

Jenny White: Fabulous flinty dry white wine from Franken

Question: Your favorite dish?

Jenny White: Dark chocolate. Oh, you mean cooked dish! Schweinshaxen with Sauerkraut (I'm not kidding, but I don't eat it very often)

Question: What is the significance of food and drink for you? Do you cook yourself? (please provide a recipe)

Jenny White: I love to eat and my writing is full of food, especially sensual food (see the pomegranate scene and the peach eating scenes in "The Sultan's Seal"). I find eating good food a blissful, sensual experience. I like to eat out, but also often cook myself. I like to know what exactly is on my plate. I'm a fairly good cook, though nothing elaborate.

Question: Eating out: do you like to? What kind of restaurant do you choose?

Jenny White: Japanese, Thai, Korean, Vietnamese, Asian of all kinds. Also Mexican (I used to live in Austin, Texas, and acquired a taste for Tex-Mex, although I was never able to handle Margaritas).

Question: What's your favorite article of clothing?

Jenny White: My tangerine-colored Cydwyk shoes.

Question: Football (soccer): everybody's got an opinion! What's yours?

Jenny White: Um.

Question: What is your favorite country?

Jenny White: OhOH.

Question: Your favorite city in Germany?

Jenny White: Würzburg, followed by Berlin. Or maybe vice versa. Depends what I want to do.

Question: What do you love?

Jenny White:I love writing and reading. (I know, totally predictable.) But I also love racing through the leaves in autumn and sniffing blossoms in the spring. I love gardening (and suffer from not having a garden at the moment).

Question: What do you hate?

Jenny White: Injustice.

Question: In what school subject(s) did you excel as a child? What was your worst grade, and why?

Jenny White: The first year I was in the US, I had no grades (because I didn't speak English). The report cards just said, "Making progress." After that I got straight A's in English.
I failed chemistry in college, even though I tried my best. I even hired a tutor. I just couldn't remember the formulas. I couldn't picture them in my mind.

Question: What's your dream job?

Jenny White: Getting paid to write what I want.

Question: Do you know why you've answered all these questions?

Jenny White: Because Thomas Przybilka is a great guy.

Recipe "Turkish Lamb".
The dish, according to Jenny White, is easy to cook. Enjoy your meal!

This was the first thing I learned to cook: Turkish Lamb
Leg of lamb, garlic cloves, cinnamon stick, cloves, butter, chunked tomatoes, potatoes. Paprika, salt
Cut garlic clove into thin slivers; Break Cinnamon into small thin sticks.
Stab the leg of lamb with a sharp knife all over (crime fans will love this part);
Into each cleft, push a sliver of garlic clove, a clove and a piece of cinnamon stick.
Rub leg with salt and paprika.
Heat butter in big pot. When very hot, sear the meat on all sides until golden.
Remove meat. Clean pot.
Put in fresh butter and add meat and tomatoes.
Put meat back in. Fill pot halfway with boiling water. Cover.
Let cook on low boil for a LONG time. I usually give it two to three hours at least.
At some point during that time turn the meat and add a bit more water (not too much, just if it looks like it's going to dry out. The pot should always be at least a quarter full of broth).
The longer it cooks, the more tender the meat. It will fall off the bone and the spices will have been absorbed into the meat.
About half an hour before serving, add more tomatoes and the potatoes, so they'll be cooked, but not overcooked, when you serve the dish.
Place the lamb on a big platter and arrange the tomato/potato/broth mixture around it. Place a large knife on the table. Look fierce. Begin.


Jenny White

Jenny White is a writer and a social anthropologist. She was born in Würzburg, Germany, and emigrated to the United States as a child. Her first novel, The Sultan's Seal, was published in February 2006 (W. W. Norton). It has been translated into twelve languages and was shortlisted for the 2006 Ellis Peters Historical Crime Award. Booklist named it one of the top ten first novels of 2006. The sequel, The Abyssinian Proof, will be published in February. Both are set in late nineteenth-century Istanbul. Jenny White also teaches social anthropology at Boston University and has published two scholarly books on contemporary Turkey. At various times, Jenny White has been a switchboard operator (the old kind with cords!), bookkeeper, librarian, file clerk, language teacher, receptionist, patient assistant in a clinic, copyeditor, research assistant, teaching assistant, tour coordinator, professor, and now novelist. She lives in the Boston area and wavers between being exhausted and exhilarated.

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Crime novels:
2006, The Sultan's Seal, W. W. Norton
(Top 10 First Novels of 2006 -- Booklist
Top 10 Historical Novels of 2006 -- Booklist
Shortlisted for The CWA 2006 Ellis Peters Historical Crime Award
2006, Das Siegel des Sultans, Blanvalet Verlag
2008, The Abyssinian Proof, W. W. Norton

This survey was completed without witnesses in October 2007.

Stand: Stand: 10.12.2007
© Gisela Lehmer-Kerkloh & Thomas Przybilka

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Die Befragenden:

Gisela Lehmer-Kerkloh rezensiert Kriminalliteratur. Sie ist Mitglied bei den Sisters in Crime, bei der GVM (Genootschap van Vlaamse Misdaadauteurs), sowie Amiga im Syndikat.
Bei den Alligatorpapieren veröffentlicht sie regelmäßig ihren "Krimi-Kurier" Letzte Buchveröffentlichung:
Siggi Baumeister oder: Eine Verfolgung quer durch die Eifel. Die Eifelkrimis des Jacques Berndorf.
84 S., 2001; EUR 10,50
NordPark Verlag

Thomas Przybilka verdient seinen Lebensunterhalt als Buchhändler. Er ist langjähriges Mitglied der "Autorengruppe Deutschsprachige Kriminalliteratur Das Syndikat". 1989 baute er das international bekannte "Bonner Krimi Archiv (Sekundärliteratur)" [BOKAS] auf. Bei den Alligatorpapieren veröffentlicht er regelmäßig seine "Krimi-Tipps zur Sekundärliteratur zum Krimi." Zahlreiche Publikationen zur Kriminalliteratur in Fachanthologien und -magazinen im In- und Ausland. Kriminalgeschichten in Deutschland, Bulgarien und Spanien. Letzte Buchveröffentlichung:
Siggi Baumeister oder: Eine Verfolgung quer durch die Eifel. Die Eifelkrimis des Jacques Berndorf.
84 S., 2001; EUR 10,50
NordPark Verlag

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