arrow-right cart chevron-down chevron-left chevron-right chevron-up close menu minus play plus search share user email pinterest facebook instagram snapchat tumblr twitter vimeo youtube subscribe dogecoin dwolla forbrugsforeningen litecoin amazon_payments american_express bitcoin cirrus discover fancy interac jcb master paypal stripe visa diners_club dankort maestro trash

Shopping Cart

by Writing Workshops Staff

A year ago

Interview with Novelist Jennifer Collins on her "Love That Does Not Die" trilogy

by Writing Workshops Staff

A year ago

Interview with Novelist Jennifer Collins on her "Love That Does Not Die" trilogy

by Writing Workshops Staff

A year ago

Jennifer Collins, a retired physical therapist and former college professor, has carved a unique niche in contemporary literature with her Love That Does Not Die trilogy. Transitioning to writing after experiencing personal loss, Collins’s novels—starting with Comfort in the Wings and followed by Wonders in the Waves and Bridges Between Our Hearts—explore themes of grief, resilience, and the joy of new connections. Through the story of Larissa and her family, Collins offers readers insights into navigating life's ups and downs. This interview will give us a closer look at Jennifer's approach to writing, the inspiration behind her trilogy, and her plans for a non-fiction book that celebrates overcoming adversity.

Having recently received the MartinArts Council 2023 Award in the Literary Arts, Collins is recognized for her contribution to the community through her literature. Aside from writing, she runs a family business with her son and splits her time between upstate New York and Hutchinson Island in Florida. In our discussion, Jennifer, who attended Writing Workshops Iceland in 2023 with workshop instructor Amber Sparks, shares her journey from academia to literature, reflecting on the real-life experiences that inform her novels and her forthcoming project—a tribute to people, including her father, who have found success against the odds.

WW: The journey of Larissa Whitcomb across your trilogy explores deep emotional landscapes, particularly dealing with loss and grief. You've talked about transforming grief into gratitude and joy by focusing on cherished memories and the joy your children brought into your life. How has this approach to coping with loss influenced the development of your characters and their journeys through grief?

JC: This approach, which took me a great deal of time and personal exploration, is a major influence on the character development and their journeys. My hope was that perhaps the sharing of this approach would be helpful and authentic coming from an author who had traversed the almost unimaginable path of multiple losses, especially child loss.

WW: Can readers find elements of this personal philosophy woven into the narrative arcs of Larissa Whitcomb and others in your trilogy?

JC: The narrative arc of Larissa in particular is woven through the three books, encompassing decades of her and her family member’s lives. In Comfort in the Wings, Larissa is devastated. Very gradually, she faces the things about grief that anger her and set her back to her initial grief, yet she slowly realizes pathways to her own healing. In the second book, she pours her energy into finding a son she’d surrendered years ago, and in the third, she’s making new connections that both honor her losses and celebrate the present.

WW: How did your personal experience with loss as a retired physical therapist and college professor inform your portrayal of Larissa's healing process?

JC: My clinical work in physical therapy was primarily dedicated to children with multiple physical and cognitive challenges. A large part of that includes assisting parents to make the adjustment of living with and loving a child who is not necessarily the “typical child” expected. The concept that loss of expectations is a very real, painful loss which comes directly from that period of time in my career. While not consciously in my mind when I began writing, I began to realize that a deeper, more inclusive exploration of loss could include the work we all need to do when expectations or hopes are crushed. I had helped people of all ages cope in spite of setbacks they’d never anticipated and that did become woven into the stories.

WW: Writing a trilogy allows for an expansive narrative arc that deeply explores a character's growth and thematic development over time. Can you share your process for plotting and pacing the Love That Does Not Die trilogy?

JC: The process for plotting, especially the first book, is best described as a non-process! I had no formal training in creative writing – only academic and scientific papers. I started writing the story of Larissa driven by the feelings I wanted to share, and the plot emerged to support those feelings. I was also determined to put a voice to grief and coping that I’d not found in fiction. Pacing came primarily from being a life-long avid reader and a general sense of the need to build character so the reader truly cares about what happens to them.

WW: How did you ensure each book stood on its own while contributing to the overarching narrative and character development of Larissa Whitcomb's journey?

JC: This was a significant challenge, especially in the second book. I had to pay very close attention to giving enough background for the reader who had not read the first book without being redundant. In the midst of the third book, I attended the Writing Workshop in Iceland. I was struggling with the issue of so many characters and their experiences, particularly because my chosen voice was first person narrative. Similarly, restricted (or so I thought) by that voice, I was challenged to move the story forward in time. I won’t give away how I ended up solving the dilemma, but it was from some of the ideas shared at the Workshop about changing things up in your writing, playing with voice, and experimenting with point of view. So far, the feedback on how I accomplished the continuity while ensuring the book could stand on its own has been terrific!

WW: The challenge of keeping readers engaged across three books is a significant one. How did you approach the evolution of your writing style or techniques throughout the trilogy to maintain reader interest and investment in Larissa's story? Were there any specific strategies you implemented to keep the narrative fresh and compelling with each new installment?

JC: One technique that served this purpose was changing the setting in each book. I discovered I’d like to feature, and pay tribute to, beautiful geographical locations that were examples of places where people could discover the healing qualities of being near water and gathering inspiration from their surroundings. The focus on particular characters evolved as well. Larissa is consistent throughout, but her family members and friends become progressively more important across the three books.

WW: Wonders in the Waves introduces a significant shift for Larissa as she embarks on a quest to find the son she surrendered for adoption. What research or preparation did you do to accurately and sensitively portray the complexities of adoption reunion stories?

JC: For the more factual aspects, I researched the adoption laws during the appropriate time period, focusing on the states I was considering for the setting. I also consulted with a family law attorney who has represented people during the adoption process both for accuracy and for validating some of the potential pitfalls and emotionally sensitive issues. Finally, I knew more people than I realized who were either adoptees themselves or adoptive parents and shared drafts of some the pertinent scenes with them. I was pleased with how well received those passages were and encouraged by their comments.

WW: In Bridges Between Our Hearts, Larissa faces changing family configurations and the challenge of building new connections. How do you believe your stories reflect the broader societal conversations about what constitutes family and love in today's world?

JC: These ideas posed challenges for me because I was truly surrounded by immediate family for as long as I could remember. When my close-knit family was thrown into upheaval over broader issues such as chronic illness, substance use, and sudden loss, my own definition of family broadened to include the dear friends who provided love and support during traumatic times. Friends became family, the acceptance of difference became more critical than ever, and the idea of a close circle who moves in to lift up people in pain became survival. I wanted to delve into broad conversations without being “preachy” or politicizing the issues. As cliché as it may sound, my driving force was the power of love, acceptance, and grace for dealing with the tough times in life. I hoped to encourage others to be open to opportunities for building bridges rather than tearing down connections.

WW: Throughout the trilogy, the natural world is crucial in Larissa's journey, offering wisdom and insights. Why did you emphasize the environment, and how do you think this connection to nature aids in exploring your themes?

JC: I truly believe that long walks, immersed in nature, with an openness to signs, are the way that I got through tremendous grief – especially during the early months and years. A butterfly that lingered on my shoulder for minutes rather than the fleeting experiences I’d had at other times in my life. A heart-shaped cloud appearing on my son’s birthday, and countless other examples. As I began to share those experiences with other parents of child loss, or people who had experienced loss of any loved one, I repeatedly heard similar stories. It seemed to me that using them as symbols for a belief that those we love never truly leave us might resonate with readers. Admittedly, a particular type of reader, but the heartwarming correspondence I’ve received and the stories people share at my book events affirm that these are meaningful, and often healing. I also delved into the idea of communicating with lost loved ones by way of a psychic medium and found that this also captured the hearts of many. The theme of finding healing from signs in nature, proximity to water, and making connections offers solace to many.

WW: As an author, you've made a mark within contemporary/Women's Fiction through the Love That Does Not Die trilogy, navigating the intricate terrains of loss, love, and resilience. What does it mean to you to contribute to this genre, and how do you see your work impacting discussions around the complexities of women's lives and experiences in the contemporary world?

JC: Frankly, it was challenging for me to place my work in a genre. I did not consider these themes to be solely “women’s” experiences, but it is clear that women constitute the majority of the readers. Once I dispensed with trying to make it appeal more widely, I embraced the idea of writing primarily for women. Conversations around women’s friendships and women’s changing roles in family as they age pose interesting opportunities for shared life stories.

WW: Winning the MartinArts Council 2023 Award in the Literary Arts is a significant achievement. How do you feel this recognition has impacted your writing and career, and what does it signify for you personally and professionally?

JC: This recognition means a great deal to me. When I was notified of my nomination, I was somewhat taken by surprise when asked to write an essay about my journey as an artist. It had not occurred to me until that moment that I was creating art. The act of consciously reflecting on my writing as a creative endeavor inspired me and provided an explanation for why the whole experience had made me feel so vulnerable. Writing in a way that touches people to feel something in response to words is an honor and a privilege. Affirmation from MartinArts that my words are worthy of recognition signifies that this immense leap I took into writing is meaningful. It is my way of forging new connections and building bridges.

WW: Looking ahead, you've mentioned a non-fiction project titled Funny Thing About Luck…. Can you discuss the transition from writing emotionally driven fiction to focusing on real-life stories of resilience and success against the odds? What excites you about this new direction, and how does it connect to your overarching interests as a writer?

JC: I suspect that there will continue to be evidence of emotionally driven writing in this non-fiction project. Real-life stories inspire us because of the people and how they make us feel when reading about qualities such as resilience. I’ve chosen to embark on this for two reasons. The first is that my true passion as an academic researcher was discovering how people make meaning of complex constructs through qualitative research – specifically using semi-structured interviews to find themes shared by people in the study. I found that work to be both fascinating and rewarding, largely due to the new understandings and connections made. I plan to employ these methods to interview people, hear their life stories, and share vignettes with readers that provide a window into what makes some people “go for it”.

The second driver for this project is to honor my father. After being kicked out of high school for punching a teacher, he spent a year driving across the country, working odd jobs, and probably pondering what he was going to do with himself. Ultimately, he overcame obstacles to be a business owner, entrepreneur, and mentor to many in his field. I’m guessing that the people I interview will share many qualities with Edward “Ted” Collins and that their stories will coincide with his beliefs about hard work.

I’m excited to use my research skills to investigate something so near and dear to my heart and to use my writing to honor a man whose journal and poetry writing inspired all of us close to him. It is one small way that I can pay tribute to him, his legacy, and people who are focused on making their way in spite of obstacles – perceived or real. I’m hoping to uncover qualities and strategies that will empower them to persevere.

WW: You enrolled in a Writing Workshop after having independently published two novels. What did you gain from that experience?

JC: Besides the opportunity to learn about and tour a fabulous country on my bucket list, Iceland, the workshop benefitted me in ways I hadn’t anticipated.

I never expected to feel so much in the minority: one of only two participants over 60; one of only a couple who had not had any formal training or academic experience in writing; and the only person who had taken the leap into independent publishing. For the first couple of days, this intimidated me and made me wonder whether I’d made the correct decision. There was language/lingo I’d never heard (like what in the world is flash fiction?), and fantasy was clearly the favored genre.

However, as the exercises in point of view, dialogue, and other aspects of writing unfolded, I began to step out of my comfort zone and try an array of new strategies with the characters and themes I was exploring. Pushing myself to explore approaches I’d initially discarded was a true growth experience. Not only did I find solutions to some of the roadblocks that had popped up in writing my third book, but I gained confidence in thinking about how I could assist others to take a risk at a late point in life to try writing. I’m facilitating my first creative writing workshop for a group of over-65ers this week and cannot wait to see how it goes!

Jennifer attended Writing Workshops Iceland in 2023, and we couldn't be more excited for you to read her trilogy of novels, which you can order here.

How to Get Published