Monday, 20 May 2013

Meet A Writer Monday Presents...

...Jennie Giardine

1. Tell me about your book Opium Dreams and where you got your inspiration for it?

The opium den was an actual den in London at that time.  The opium master was Chi Ki, as the character is named in the book.  In addition to sailors and the Eastern people who frequented the den, it was the upper middle class Londoners who used to be taken with the idea of smoking an opium pipe with these exotics.  My main characters are from this good society.  Victorians needed to hide to have their fun, but it was a time of much unseen debauchery.  It was also a time of much addiction, as opium came in the form of pipes, pills and laudanum, the tonic which was used by many for medicinal or recreational purposes.  I also like the idea of mind elevation, and that literary figures such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Thomas DeQuincey used opium to have wild dreams and stimulate their creative process.  I did research to capture the effects of opium effects and addiction.  DeQuincey's Confesssions of an English Opium-Eater was my main source.  Two of my characters are authors who use the opium to create unique work.

2. Do you have a writing process? If so describe it. 

I write an opening scene, then figure out why the character is doing that.  I write in a stream of consciousness style, until eventually I have to make some decisions and revisions.  I write like I read, not wanting to know the end until the end.

3. If someone came up to you and wanted to tell you about an idea or a book they were writing, what would you do? Or what advice would you give?

Be a persistent pain in the neck and don’t give up.

4. How would you describe yourself in three words?

Fun, unconventional, liberal

5. Would you rather write for children or adults?

Sex and drugs in Victorian England.  There’s my answer—haha

6.  Have you ever killed someone in a novel and regretted it later?

No.  Never. Fate dictates.

7.  Which do you find more embarrassing to write, violence or sex? 

Sex.  In my first novel (that still needs to get published when I have time to revise it), I made the hero of the novel mysteriously leave town before they would have had sex.  In Opium Dreams, I finally liberated myself.  Heat level:  Highly sensual.  Sex is one thing that has to go in that unpublished manuscript!

8. What are the most important attributes to staying sane as a writer?

Self love and persistence

9.  Do you research your novels? 

Yes.  Opium Dreams has 10 sources.  Short of taking opium and time travelling, I had no choice.

10. What do you like most about being a writer?

 Finding out after I have written something why my characters are so psychologically messed up.  Oh, because I guess I am.  All my characters are parts of my personality and preoccupations.  Scary.

11. How did you come up with the title for your latest book? 

Opium users, such as literary greats, Thomas DeQuincey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge used opium to dream and write and write about their dreams.  Opium produces wild dreams and literary inspiration and causes the user to think he/she is omnipotent, strive for great, perhaps unobtainable, things, ie. dreams.

12. What are your current projects? 

My next novel is going to be set in the Prohibition years of the 1920’s, speakeasies and bootlegging, another time when seemingly good society did naughty things, like the Victorian era opium den of Opium Dreams.  Perhaps a sequel?

13. Do you recall how your interest in writing occurred? 

I am an English Instructor at Bucks County Community College and Community College of Philadelphia, so I have been teaching students how to write since I graduated from college.  I always wrote literary criticism and essays though.  However, I did not seriously try to write creatively until I was in my early 30's.and home with two toddlers.  At that time, my brain had trouble finding an outlet that didn't cost money.  That was when I wrote my first opening scene.  I wrote every night after they slept for the night and napped during the day like a baby.

14. Name one thing that drives you crazy. 

Men.  Read the novel, and you’ll see why.

15. If you gave one of your characters the opportunity to speak for themselves, what would they say?

“And she thinks I have issues.”        


Scandalous rumors of half-clothed women and good opium drew good Victorian society to Chi Ki’s opium den.  To here Alison escapes, sneaking out every night after her drunken, abusive husband sleeps, fleeing into the arms of other men, and into a trap that has been laid.  What happens when her fate is tied to an author, who coldly manipulates lives to stimulate his art, a self-absorbed, playboy criminal, and an apparently good woman who secretly loathes her?


            Roberto paused thoughtfully.

            “Did you ever see the great work of art by Piranesi?  It is called “Carceri d’Invenzione,” which means “Imaginary Prisons.”  The work reminded Coleridge of the dreaming mind on opium, and DeQuincey wrote about it too.  So vividly did Coleridge describe the etching, that DeQuincey knew of it without having seen it, for it is the quintessential opium dream world, the doom that awaits the opium addict.  The figures wander in a vaulted room with great staircases that cross back and forth, with the end nowhere in sight, solitarily wandering through some yet higher vault and some new staircase.  There is no way out.  Even every arch, which would seem to promise an exit, leads to yet another arch.  The space is limitless, but the feeling is claustrophobic.  Though the figures are solitary and do not mingle in groups, they are not alone.  They are watched.  They have invisible enemies.  They are self-absorbed and complacent, and do not know the danger in which they may be.  They could not warn each other anyway, for opium has made them scattered and solitary, with the human inclination to empathy vanished.  It is quite a powerful work of art.  You must see it.  Oftentimes, I feel like I am stuck in this same labyrinth.  I am fascinated and horrified by it all at once.”

            He grew thoughtful as he studied her face….

            Whatever relief Agatha had felt a moment ago slid away.  She shivered with a sense of foreboding.  Roberto seemed entranced by this prison, amazed at the secret insular world of it, he, to whom she had just given herself so freely.  He had just unselfishly warned her to stay away from it, yet a piece of her was already in his prison. 

About Jennie

Jennie Giardine Smith's Historical Romantic Suspense novel Opium Dreams is set in an 1883 Victorian opium den in London's East End.  Jennie teaches English Composition and Literature at Bucks County Community College and Community College of Philadelphia. She has been a union organizer, negotiator, officer and speaker at the local and national level for the American Federation of Teachers Division of Higher Education.  In addition, she has been a writer, editor and blogger for the union.  She resides in Robbinsville, NJ.


  1. Thanks for an interesting interview, Jennie and Sonnet. Opium Dreams has a powerfully individual atmosphere. I've never read anything quite like it before and recommend it to lovers of the unusual.

  2. Thank you, Sonnet, for the original interview questions. They were fun to answer. Also, thank you, Sally, for the enthusiastic review!