The News EMC – March 2006

Fans can expect two more in Jennifer Bannon series
By Steve Fouchard

Westboro resident Brenda Chapman is rolling out her second novel this month, volume two in the ongoing adventures of her teenage heroine, Jennifer Bannon.

Hiding in Hawk’s Creek is Ms. Chapman’s follow-up to Running Scared, which introduced Jennifer to readers. The author makes no bones about calling them mysteries, and herself a mystery writer, but her young detective is investigating her own life as much as any foul play.

Running Scared saw Jennifer wrestling with the split of her parents and events around it while the sequel follows her attempts to escape that life during a summer getaway to the eponymous northern Ontario town, where she nonetheless finds more dark secrets.

While she considers herself a student of literature in general, Ms. Chapman says she’s always been drawn to the process of solving the mysteries the genre presents.

“When I’m writing, I know the ending that I want to reach. I just don’t know how to get there. I know other writers will plot a lot. I’ve never done that before.”

Mystery or not, a good story needs strong characters and Ms. Chapman has endeavoured to make Jennifer a fully fleshed out young woman with realistic problems.

“There’s trouble in that family and she’s trying to figure out what’s going on. Her parents split up, so she’s trying to get the family back together by being really good and not really saying what she’s thinking. I like the relationships between people – what is said and what’s not. The subtle things.”

Subtlety would seem to be a key word for Ms. Chapman, who says she doesn’t have a lot of time for the more overtly horrific trappings that colour some works in the mystery genre.

“I don’t even watch the true crime on TV. I guess I like the puzzle of it more than the gore.”

That hasn’t kept Ms. Chapman from writing for adults. In addition to an as-yet-unpublished novel, her short story My Sister Caroline appears in a 2005 anthology called When Boomers Go Bad.

The volume’s cover – depicting a skeleton behind the wheel of a dilapidated 1960s vintage Volkswagen van – would seem to indicate a potential for scares beyond Ms. Chapman’s M.O. An excerpt from the story on her Web site (brendachapman.ca) leaves one wondering who’s going to kill whom as a pair of very different and largely estranged sisters prepare to meet.

“With her Peggy Lipton hair and dreamy blue eyes, Caroline never had to try to be popular. She just was,” says the narrator. “I was the intense one – a Scorpio to the tips of my toes – secretive, jealous and brooding; never quite fitting with the in crowd. Entering the teen years, I grew to envy my sister’s free spirit and her ability to slide from one situation, one relationship, to another without a backward glance.”

It begs the question; and the answer is yes, the author has a sister.

“I don’t know where that story came from. I showed it to my sister. She was here for the summer. She was fine with it. My sister and I get along really well.”

There are no dark secrets behind her development as a writer either.

“I always liked reading a lot when I was a kid and writing,” Ms. Chapman notes. Though she ultimately chose teaching as a vocation, she did not stray far from those early passions and taught reading to special education students.

As a stay at home mother raising her two daughters, Ms. Chapman kept active in teaching as a tutor. She recalls an awakening which occurred when a student read aloud from a mystery story during a session.

“She was reading out loud to me and I thought, ‘This is an awful plot. I could do better.’ I think that was the moment. So I wrote a mystery for my two daughters and they liked it enough that I thought, ‘Hmmm, I could get this published.'”

Among her primary influences is late British author Enid Blyton. Some estimates put the prolific writer’s output at 600 books before her death in 1968. These ranged from straightforward boarding school dramas to more fantastical tales of pre-teen adventure, such as The Secret Island.

Looking ahead, Ms. Chapman reveals that two more Jennifer Bannon stories are on the way, but adds that book four will probably be the last. Unlike long-running characters such as Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys, Jennifer is subject to real world continuity.

“I age her in every book,” the author explains, “and she may be getting too old.”

While fans may clamour for more, Ms. Chapman feels confident that the fourth installment is a good place to leave Jennifer’s world.

“I think where it is now I could leave it.”

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"Deeply atmospheric and tightly plotted, Cold Mourning is Chapman’s sharpest mystery yet.” ― C.B. Forrest, author of the Charlie McKelvey mysteries

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