Wednesday, March 6, 2013

See what bestselling author Jeanine Cummins has to say about her new release in our exclusive interview

The Crooked Branch

Please welcome Jeanine Cummins who is celebrating the release of her second novel The Crooked Branch with us today, she’s also published one previous novel The Outside Boy and one poignant best selling, very personal memoir, A Rip in Heaven, about the murder of her two cousins in St. Louis, MO. The author was born in Spain but grew up in the Washington DC area. Her background in the publishing business made it possible for her to be on the sales force for her first book A Rip in Heaven. She now writes full-time, lives in New York with her family and is a founding member of The Dorks of the Roundtable, a small tight-knit community of New York writers.

Jeanine, welcome to my blog.
Hello! Thank you for having me.

Tell us a bit about your new novel The Crooked Branch.
The novel is half-set in contemporary Queens, where a feisty young mother is struggling to find her way after the birth of her first child.  Alternating historical chapters follow the ordeals of another mama, this one fighting to keep her family alive during the famine times in Ireland.  It’s a reflection on the trauma and exhilaration of motherhood.  But I promise, it’s funnier than it sounds.
Jeanine, your first published novel, The Outside Boy and this novel The Crooked Branch are Irish in nature.
Will your next novel have an Irish framework as well?
I just started writing the next book and, while there are some Irish characters, it is set mostly in California and northern Mexico.  It’s about the practical and emotional difficulties of immigration, and the main character, like me, is an American who has Irish and Puerto Rican heritage.

What do you hope your readers discover about you by reading your work?
I always want to write about injustice, in some way.  I don’t want my books to read like soapbox diatribes, but the world is so rife with material for humans misunderstanding one another.  As a writer, I love the opportunity for illumination.  I want to be able to tell stories in a way that makes a reader think about an injustice he or she may not have considered before.
The Crooked Branch, for example, is set against the backdrop of a famine that should never have happened.  I’d like readers to fall in love with the story, yes, but I also want them to think about how preventable and unacceptable famine is, especially within the context of a modern, global economy.

Are you a reader? 
Yes!  I am a book lover in every way.

Fiction or non-fiction? 
I am mostly a fiction reader, but I enjoy non-fiction every once in a while, too.  I’m a sucker for beautiful words in any form.  Sebastian Barry, William Trevor, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, A.M. Homes, and Leah Hager Cohen are some of my favorite contemporary authors, but I love the classics, too.

Who is your biggest inspiration?
Oh, this is always such a tough question.  I love to read, but I don’t understand the magic of the creative process enough to know how all that reading really influences my work.  I will say that am very moved by music, and that, since childhood, I think it was music, even more than books, that inspired me to create.  All of my favorite musicians are storytellers: people like Paul Simon, Dar Williams, Missy Higgins, and my favorite new genius on the scene, Bhi Bhiman.  I have always been jealous of really good musicians – there is something so powerful in the beauty and brevity of a story told through song.  I wish I could do that.

If you had one piece of advice for an aspiring writer, what would it be?
Don’t give up!  That’s the whole secret.  Keep working on your craft, keep improving, keep writing.  Don’t quit just because you get a few (or a few dozen) rejections.  Rejection and revision are all a part of the process, so as long as you can learn to accept it, and fold it into your writing life, it can only make you better.

Jeanine, I’m a St. Louis native, where your first published book, your memoir A Rip In Heaven about the murder of your two cousins the Kerry sisters and the attempted murder of your brother Tom took place.
Was the book a catharsis of sorts?
Absolutely.  I started writing that book about six years after the crime, and I didn’t even realize, until I wrote it, how arrested I was in that moment.  The trauma of that one day in my life had come to define me almost entirely, and I didn’t even know that until I started writing about it.  A Rip in Heaven allowed me to take ownership of my grief and get on top of it.  It also gave me an outlet for my enormous rage, which I really needed.  That book was a voice for my brother; it was a love letter to my cousins.  And it helped me to heal in ways I never expected.

Are you surprised that the book is being used in criminology/victims programs?
I guess everything about the success of that book surprised me.  You never think your own private grief will speak to so many people.  But I am delighted that it’s being used in victimology programs.  It’s vital for police and other criminal justice professionals to consider the victim’s perspectives, and all too often in the quest for justice, the suffering of victims gets overlooked.  I hope that criminal justice students who read A Rip in Heaven might have a greater sensitivity for victims, and they’ll carry with them into their important careers.

Jeanine, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions.
Good luck on the new novel.
Thank you so much! 
Visit Jeanine’s website here.

Jeanine’s first novel The Outside Boy 
the-outside-boyMy debut novel, The Outside Boy, went on sale June 1, 2010, and it garnered some pretty astonishing early reviews.  Order it now!  Click here.
The Outside Boy

Jeanine’s non-fiction A Rip In Heaven 
rip-in-heavenMy memoir was published in 2004.  It is the story of a tragedy that my family endured when I was a teenager.  It is my brother’s survival story, my family’s grief-story, and for me, it’s also a battle cry for victims’ rights.
A Rip in Heaven



  1. Wonderful interview Deb and I thought the fact that A Rip in Heaven is being used in criminology/victims programs. The Crooked Branch and its alternating timelines sounds fascinating.

    1. Thanks Kim, when I had a chance to interview this author I jumped at it. The murders were very troubling and I still can remember the news feeds all these years later.