HANSON — Jennifer-Lyn Keniston has completed a 10-year labor of love in the publication of her first novel “Afta-U,” a title inspired by her grandfather’s sailboat.
She will hold a book signing, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, June 4 at the Café Deli, 1280 Main St., Hanson. The restaurant is a favorite of her mother, and Keniston wanted to do a signing in her hometown.
“This will be a meet-and-greet, signing books,” Keniston said. “Talking to people, talking about the book.” There will also be a raffle for Café Deli gift certificates, copies of the book [210 pages, Tate Publishing, $16.99 softcover] and more.
“I hope people enjoy reading it,” she said.
In fact, the fictional town of Graytown, Mass., in her book takes inspiration from some of the locales and people Keniston remembers from her childhood.
While the Hanson native uses the boat as a touchstone in the mystery novel, it is more of a metaphor that hope floats. In fact Hope is also the name of a main character not really there — the childhood best friend of the narrator Jean Cartwright Rhodes, who is literally haunted by Hope years after her friend’s tragic death at age 11.
A dark, complex mystery, “Afta-U” is less a whodunnit that a why they did it as Jean reflects on her faith and past to reveal long-buried truths about the tragedy she had hidden away in her psyche. Much of the incident is also unknown to her husband and teenage daughter, making for some strain in he family — all witnessed by the silent spectre of Hope.
“Afta-U” has been a labor of love and the expression of a lifelong dream,” said the Plymouth State (N.H.) and Bridgewater State graduate who now works as a project manager for a Cloud software products company.
Her master’s degree in English and minor concentration in philosophy are felt in her approach to her subject matter, as is her faith. “Afta-U” is rich in Christian messages and each chapter ends with a poem reflective of a theme touched on in the chapter.
The Express spoke with Keniston on her book and approach to writing last week.
Q: Have you always wanted to be a writer?
A: “I did. Ever since I was a little girl, my dream has been to write a book.”
Q: How did you find a publisher? That can prove difficult for new writers.
A: “It was quite an ordeal, initially. But it was an exciting time. I submitted a bunch of query letters looking to get an agent and, in the end; Tate [Publishing] works with the author. They’re more of a hybrid publisher, as I refer to it, they’re not self-publishing … they work directly with an author and not an agent.”
Q: Your book had something of a gothic feel to it, was that the genre you aimed for?
A: “It’s not a gothic book at all. It does have the apparition, ghost, about it. It’s a darker novel but it’s got a lot more Christian themes throughout it. The main character Jean grapples with a lot of those, like ‘Let go, let God.’ It’s more of a mystery/suspense novel, I call it.”
Q: Your reasons for including Christian themes?
A: “I feel it’s things I have probably grappled with, too. Even though it’s a completely fictional story, obviously some of the characteristics and traits of Jean are drawn from myself and people that I know, along with some of the other characters. Even though the town is fictitious, it’s from my hometown, which is Hanson.”
Q: Are you worried people might recognize themselves in the book?
A: “Maybe. [laughs] Some people do recognize themselves in the book, yes. I get more people who say Jean reminds them of me or my voice coming through, which is kind of funny. People who grew up in my neighborhood, I think they find some enjoyment [with locales].”
Q: There are a lot of literary references, especially Shakespeare, in your book. Does that reflect your interests as well?
A: “Yes. ‘The Great Gatsby,’ also referred to throughout the book, is actually my favorite story. It even has the nine chapters in Roman numerals to match ‘The Great Gatsby.’ I wanted it to be a story that people could read for the story and there’s a bunch of other stuff intertwined throughout the story.”
Q: What is your writing process?
A: “This one took me about 10 years to complete. I don’t expect the next one to do that. Basically, I write everything out of order. I’ve done that throughout college and high school working on research papers, too. I do an outline last. I really kind of write all over the place and then pull it all together.
I brought up a screen one day, typed what is now a couple pages in [the book] and titled it ‘Afta-U,’ which is my grandfather’s boat. … I had no idea who the characters were, no idea what the story was, so it’s kind of exciting to write it like that because characters just kind of talk to me and come to life throughout the pages. And I put it down for months and years at a time.”
Q: Aside from Jean, who is based a bit on yourself, is there a character you would consider a favorite?
A: “I loved writing Michael, which surprised me because it was a dark novel. I had to step away from it to get into those inherently evil characters. They’re actually a lot of fun when you allow yourself to do that, but in the beginning I was kind of taken aback at trying to make them that way. He’s a mixed bag of a character. At different points some people are angry with him, or hate him, and then perhaps that all changes as the story unfolds.”
Q: This is going to be a series?
A: “It is. I see it being a trilogy. In the second book, the characters carry over but it’s really more of a mystery unfolding where everyone’s trying to solve it, including Jean. But it really stands alone.”