We had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Bourland, the author of the gripping mystery novel Hidden Shadow. In her debut novel, Jennifer takes readers on a captivating journey through time as protagonist Sophie Thomas uncovers family secrets, unexpected connections, and the power of the mind. As a former art and English teacher turned entrepreneur, Jennifer’s passion for writing was sparked by her love for mysteries and intrigue in human behavior. Her vivid imagination and belief in the healing power of dogs, humor, and writing shine through in her work. During our interview, we discussed her inspiration for Hidden Shadow, her writing process, and her belief in the importance of kindness. It is our pleasure to introduce you to Jennifer Bourland and her captivating novel, Hidden Shadow.
1. If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?
Creative, analytical, and empathetic.
2. Hidden shadow depicted the hidden enemy within us as it quoted; A new enemy emerged. One beyond the authorities, beyond the financial distress. An enemy within. How do you deal with this enemy within?
Sometimes we are our own worst enemy, limiting ourselves by our fears, our judgments, and our expectations. Personally, I find that one of three things usually helps quiet this enemy. I try to start with finding the positives in my life and focus on what I am thankful for. Finding some form of creative expression helps too, through writing stories, journaling, or artwork. Taking time to recharge and reflect is essential for me, whether it is in the form of listening to music, watching movies, meditation or spending time outside in the fresh air and sunshine.
3. You have intensively described the war zone and how people who are the holders of their houses become homeless. Why did you include the elements of war and its consequences in the novel?
War in this case is not necessarily on the battlefield. It is more representational of the conflict of circumstances, sometimes beyond our control but usually as a direct result of the choices we make or don’t make, along with the consequences that follow. In Hidden Shadow, Sophie, Justin, and Charlie experience these consequences. Although their stories are different, they encounter unexpected challenges and attempt to make the best choices with the information they have at the time. The goal in presenting this, is to delve into how they view their circumstances and how the power of the mind determines how they handle the consequences.
4. In the hidden shadow, the character of Justin is overwhelming, and his words like “You can create good or bad in your mind with anything” and “Just have to adapt to the change” directly touches the soul. Is Justin’s character inspired by your real life?
Yes, there is definitely a part of Justin’s character that is inspired by my real life. What started out as an idea for a mystery, became a cathartic writing experience for me. His words in the novel are a great reminder for me that we are in charge of how we view our circumstances. Using energy toward a positive focus is much more effective and being able to adapt to change is a necessary skill. This is a personal quest for me because it is not always easy to see the positive when things seem to be unraveling from the struggles and changes life presents us with.
5. The journey of revealing the truth is so dangerous and sometimes scary, but the fun is not lost on the way. How did you define these fun moments in your novel?
To contrast such a serious tone with the heightened emotions and tragedy from the past, I wanted to sprinkle in some lighter scenes and humor throughout the novel in the form of Sophie’s slight sarcasm, her interactions with different characters, the fun and excitement of solving the mystery and the celebrations along the way.
6. In Hidden Shadow, the character Sophie gradually encounters the changing of environments, careers, beliefs, and especially closed people. According to you, what were Sophie’s biggest strengths during her journey that led her to the truth?
Sophie’s biggest strengths throughout the novel were her compassion and her drive to keep moving forward. She demonstrated compassion with several of the characters through the ability to think beyond herself and view things from the other person’s perspective. At times it may have clouded her logic slightly, but overall, I think it is an important quality that is often overlooked and underestimated. Sophie also had a drive to keep pushing forward regardless of the challenges that crossed her path. These strengths led her to the truth on her quest to solve mysteries of the past to find the key to her future.
7. The little girl Hazel’s death was the crucial point of the story, but the turning point was when Sophie got to know her relationship with her. Do you think if Sophie weren’t aware of this relationship, she would have carried on the journey?
I think Sophie would have carried on the journey because of her driven, goal-oriented personality, but she definitely experiences a heightened sense of motivation as the mystery unfolds and the truth is revealed about the past.
8. The mysterious lady who continuously asked Sophie, “Did you find the keys?” What did the unique skeleton key signify in the story?
The key in this sense is not only a literal key, but it is also used as a metaphor. It is representational of the information that is discovered. The information that settles mysteries of the past to find the key to Sophie’s future. The key to knowing who she is and where she fits into her new world.
9. The relationship between Sophie, Justin, and Charlie is organic; they didn’t know each other until they shared the vibes. How did you come up with such a natural romantic story?
I wanted to keep consistent with the idea of the unexpected. An unlikely romance. Maybe even one that would go against the logic of most people. They are both finding themselves in unique circumstances that would be considered overwhelming for some, but they are both capable enough to persevere. Sophie’s compassion, courage to push on and her unrealized intuitive nature compliment Justin’s natural instincts, protective, level-headed qualities. They also both need someone they can trust. While Sophie is unsure for quite some time, the chemistry certainly exists. I wanted to create a story of two people that balance each other out but are still independent enough to contribute to the relationship. In part, I drew from my own relationship with my husband of 25 years. Reflecting on both what makes a relationship successful and also hurdles that are encountered. Ultimately, their story developed and took on a life of its own as I spent more time with it.
10. In Hidden Shadow, the character Harlan becomes the torchlight for all the interconnected experiences. However, this has become a personal quest more than an intellectual one for Sophie. How did you imagine the story if there was no Harlan character?
Harlan provides Sophie with information to move the story along, shedding light on clues to bring her closer to reaching goals on her quest, but I think Harlan offers more than that. I think he and Grayce offer her a connection to a found family that she has been looking for, especially since she is lacking that connection with her biological family in Hidden Shadow.
11. The Sophie and Jamison families were both involved in the Blue Owl story, but their concerns were different. Then what was the reason that still brought them together?
Sophie and Jamison had very different connections to the past and the mystery surrounding the legend of the Blue Owl. Although each was affected differently after an event leading to generations of secrets, conflicts, both internal and external and blows to the family structure, they both had the same mystery to solve. They needed each other because they each had a piece of the puzzle. Sophie and Jamison ultimately had the same goal of interest in resolving the past and honoring its history and the people involved.
12. In the hidden shadow the mind has tremendously shown as the biggest enemy as well as power. According to you, who are the characters who didn’t become the victims of their minds?
Charlie is a character that was not a victim of her mind. She had the ability to see the good in everything. As mentioned in the novel, her past could have allowed her to feel like a victim, but her actions and words demonstrate her sense of wonder, adventure, fun and positive outlook on life.
13. All the friends got together to lead Operation Indigo. How did you come up with the name of the operation?
In the novel, The Indigo Room was the name of the underground speakeasy used during prohibition. It is located in the cellar of The Blue Owl. Given the purpose of the operation and the motivation behind it, the name seemed appropriate and fun. On a deeper level, the color indigo is associated with wisdom, intuition, and justice.
14. In Hidden shadow quoted as “Risk is inevitable. She had no choice but to rely on faith.” What is your biggest faith in your life?
Risk is a part of life. To grow you have to take chances and try new things. Some things work out and some things don’t. Sometimes circumstances in life feel out of our control and you have to rely on something larger than yourself. In my life, my biggest faith is in God. I practice getting better every day at keeping a positive focus, moving forward, and relying on God to take care of the rest.
15. What guided Operation Indigo more—the united friendship, curiosity, or the spirit of Hazel?
I think all three are important elements in the overall mystery and Sophie’s quest, but I believe that the success of Operation Indigo can be attributed to the united friendship. This operation was a huge risk and Sophie was warned of the potential consequences to her and others involved. Initially she feared going through with it, especially since it would affect more than just herself. But she turned that fear into opportunity, finally trusting her new-found friends. Having faith in herself and her new relationships, she realized there is power in numbers.
16. The Blue Owl was renamed the Blue Owl Tavern, which signified the past and present associations. While writing this, did you feel like entering the Blue Owl Tavern?
Although the Blue Owl Tavern is fictional, the building that it was based on is real. Shortly after I started writing Hidden Shadow, I had entered the building for something else entirely and after being in it a few times, I knew it would make the perfect backdrop for the story. It was for sale at the time and in need of some renovations. Dreaming of all the possibilities, I used these ideas to try to create a cozy, yet intriguing environment in the novel where people could socialize and relax. The goal was to create something that honored the past and incorporated the present at the same time, connecting generations.
17. The ending of the novel is the new beginning, where everything is going with the flow and peaceful energy. How did you see your relationship with the Hidden Shadow ?
A relationship from darkness to light. It literally started in darkness from a dream in the middle of the night. A dream nagging to be told. Then it became a cathartic writing experience, working out some of my own Hidden Shadows in my mind. While on the journey, finding opportunity in the unexpected, shifting my focus from past to focus on my own future, learning to take risks, let go and trust myself were lessons that were illuminated. There was also the challenge to be conquered. My own personal quest to finish the story and see where it took me. To conquer all the decision making, the creative blocks, the uncertainty of writing and in my own life. Finally appreciating the accomplishment and sending it out into the world ready or not.
18. In the Hidden Shadow novel, friendship has been tested many times between Jamison and Sophie, but she still stands firm. Do you think Sophie’s intuitions were powerful?
I think Sophie has very strong intuition that she doesn’t even realize yet. It was tested a few times and may have been blocked by her driving goals and changing circumstances. Sophie stands firm, guided by her compassion and empathy throughout the novel.
19. In Hidden Shadow, the character Sophie has portrayed the hidden layers of trust, as quoted as “The last time I trusted someone, they made arrangements for a different life and forgot to tell me.” Why did you focus on values such as family connections, trust, love, and personal quest ?
I chose to focus on these values because I believe they are important foundations of life. I think family connections, whether they are biological or family you choose to create along your journey, help provide strong roots, support, and history. I consider trust and love essential elements for healthy relationships. Personal quest provides a purpose; everyone needs something to solve, create or chase.
20. It was very surprising and fascinating to know that you choose primarily your mother to do proofreading. What inspires you to choose family over others?
I did mention in the acknowledgements that my mother was my first proofreader. She happened to be the first person to read my manuscript and I’m sure on some level, being my first novel, I was looking for the safe route to put myself out there, hoping her of all people, would have something good to say about it. Being that she had some proofreading experience, she took on the task of checking the mechanics before I sent it out in search of a publisher. During the publishing process with Atmosphere Press, I had the opportunity to work with a few other proofreaders on a more professional capacity. It was of great personal sentimental value to have my mom read my novel, but I also think having a more objective view, on a professional level is important to produce a polished product.
21. In contemporary times when materialism is overemphasized, rationality is overemphasized, and believing in kindness is undermined. How do you think we can practice kindness in our everyday lives?
Kindness often times seems viewed as weakness. I think it is very much undervalued and underestimated. I believe the first place to start is with ourselves. Being kind to ourselves by being less judgmental of ourselves, less harsh on ourselves, allowing failure as growth, accepting responsibility for mistakes, and allowing for us to be ourselves and not trying to compare to others. We are all unique beings with different gifts to offer the world. If we can start there, I think branching out and reaching out to others will follow and become more organic. Important ways to accomplish this in our everyday lives is to be aware of our own thoughts, words, and actions and to be open minded enough to try to view things from other perspectives.
22. As a believer in kindness, have you ever felt that you are more kind to others than yourself? What do you appreciate more kindness to others to oneself?
Yes, I have felt at times that I am more kind to others than myself by being more friendly or considerate. I appreciate both kindness to others and to oneself and believe they are equally important. I think that being kind to oneself and being more at peace puts you in a better position to be kind toward others.
23. “Good humor pokes fun at the powerful, not the weak ” Mitali Perkins Do you ever try to work on this in your books or thoughts ?
I think humor is relative and it depends on what you consider weak and what you consider powerful. Overall, I think humor should be tactful and without intent to offend your audience. I think one exception is when someone is making fun of their own weakness. I think it is more acceptable and makes them more relatable, human, and authentic. Being able to accept flaws, laugh at yourself and not take things too seriously is healthy. I appreciate a good sense of humor and I try to keep things light and convey this in my writing.
24. Writing the first lines of a novel requires a huge amount of self-introspection and self-correction. How did you come up with this story?
A story sparked by a dream, turned into a novel. I have always had vivid dreams. About 10 years ago I had a dream that stuck with me for days after, nagging at me to write down the details. I was finally able to get it down on paper. A week after that, it occurred to me that it might make an interesting story. I dove a little deeper into the thought and then had this seemingly unreachable idea at the time, of writing a novel. I started writing more frequently coming up with more ideas. There were writing sessions where creativity was ignited, and the ideas flowed. There were also writing sessions where I had no idea where to start or what to write. I started paying more attention to details and of the people around me for inspiration – dialogue, descriptions, personalities, etc. I started paying more attention to plot, structure, conflict, and character development in the movies I was watching and the books I was reading. I just decided to spend more time with it and see where the idea took me. With so many decisions to make and being a bit indecisive at times, this was great practice for me and to conquer a seemingly impossible task. Ideas would lead to other ideas and the excitement from the sparks of creativity would motivate me to do more. The story took on a life of its own. I think the best advice I got when I started was to write a story I would want to read. That was the guiding idea I set out to follow.
25. Everyone has a story behind their titles but choosing hidden shadows which is used by many of the authors. Why did you still opt for this title?
I chose Hidden Shadow because I thought it was the most fitting and significant title for this story. It also sounded intriguing to me, and it was ambiguous enough to fit various elements. The novel explores the power of the mind and its effects on our circumstances, behavior, and consequences. A few of the characters experienced their own Hidden Shadow in the novel.
26. Writing is not just a professional practice; it can be emotional, healing, roller coaster-like, or even a spiritual practice. What is writing to you personally?
To me, writing is a creative outlet. I have a need to create things and explore my imagination. It can be entertaining, inspirational and motivating to come up with ideas for stories and look at things from different perspectives. It is also very therapeutic. If there are challenges or overwhelming circumstances that I find invading my thoughts, I will get them on paper and out of my head. I can acknowledge them and then analyze the root cause if I can find one and then look at different ways to solve or overcome the challenge. Writing things down provides a visual representation to make it easier to accept what it is and find a way to deal with it in a positive way to find the best outcome.
27. Meanings are embedded in the strong photographs, as your cover page reflects in its vivid elements. Would you like to share with us how you came up with this cover page for your book?
I worked on the cover design with Ronaldo Alves, the Art Director at Atmosphere Press. I shared some of the important elements of the story and examples of minimalist, eye catching covers with bold colors that appealed to me. I also wanted the cover to signify the past and the present. Ronaldo sent me a few options to choose from. I knew right away which option was my favorite. I was immediately drawn to the vivid blue, although they were all great designs. Matthew Fielder, one of the designers on his team came up with cover I chose. I think he delivered all that I was looking for in the cover design. I requested a few minimal changes and asked if they could slightly enhance the owl shadow that I saw in the top right corner. Ronaldo informed me that there was no owl shadow on the cover but reminded me of the phenomenon Pareidolia, where the brain identifies or recognizes an image (sometimes significant or meaningful) that isn’t really there. Like looking at the sky and finding shapes in the clouds. Another reminder of the power of the mind with a little humor added in.
28. Healing can be defined as freeing ourselves from the clutches of locked doors. Why do you think dogs have healing powers?
Sometimes our emotions are clouded by the complexities of our lives or the locked doors, as you mentioned. I think healing can take the form of letting go of these complexities and being reminded of the simplicities. Dogs remind me of this. Most importantly, they make me smile which is good for the body and the soul. They have a calming effect. They are always happy to see you, they are loyal and simply want to spend time with you. I have always had an appreciation of dogs and currently have two at home. They bring us joy and entertainment every day. There is nothing as free as seeing Mozzie laying on his back, sleeping, with no care in the world or seeing Moose wagging his tail so much that his whole back end is wiggling.
29. Your working areas have been diverse, from being an English and art teacher to an interior designer, entrepreneur, writer, and “forever learner.” Which area inspires you the most, and why?
Anything creative is the most inspirational for me. I enjoy the challenge of channeling the energy of my imagination, giving it a focus, and stretching beyond what I think I can do. If I can do that and help other people at the same time, that is an ideal combination for me.
30. Sometimes creating a character becomes a therapy process for us. Which of the characters in “Hidden Shadow” has acted therapeutically?
For me, many of the characters acted therapeutically. This included Sophie’s courage to keep moving forward, pushing through her changing circumstances and new adventures. It also involved Justin’s protective nature and natural instincts, along with his approach to adapt and adjust no matter what he encountered. Both finding opportunity in the unknown. Charlie’s sense of wonder, her ability to see the good in everything and her appreciation of the little things was a great reminder to enjoy each day. To me, Macie represented sort of cautionary tale regarding emotions, behavior and consequences.
31. Do you have other writers in the family?
Currently, I do not know of any other writers in the family, unless they write for enjoyment or have not realized their talent yet. I would guess my daughter has some undiscovered talent in there somewhere.
32. Can you share any upcoming projects or works in progress that you’re excited about?
I am very excited to continue on to the next book in this series. The goal is to create a total of four books for this series that will follow Sophie and explore more of her intuition. I also have a few other ideas for novels and short stories. So, I am hoping that this is just the beginning of much more to come. I think this a great starting point but now I am looking forward to growing and improving my writing and to see where this journey takes me.
33. What advice would you give to aspiring writers, particularly those who may be struggling to find their own voice or develop their own unique style?
There are three pieces of advice I would give aspiring writers. First, the best advice I got was to write a book that I would want to read. Chances are if you like it, there are others out there like you that will enjoy it as well.
Second, stop and take a minute to write from your heart and let that navigate your course. Whether it’s an experience, a hobby, a challenge, an opportunity, a skill, or whatever, be the authentic you.
Third, realize and accept that the writer roller coaster is real. At some point you will be confident that there is something to your story. Then, just as quick, you will wonder what you are doing, sure that nobody will like what you wrote. Then, the cycle repeats. Just ride it out.
34. What’s one thing that readers might be surprised to learn about you or your writing process?
Since I have started writing, part of my process is to read more books. Discover other authors, step out of my genre, and increase my knowledge on good writing. Most people I have talked to recently about my novel and the process were surprised to find out that I am actually a slow reader, usually due to distractions, which is why I probably lean toward mystery, suspense and psychological thriller books that are fast paced. I really didn’t even get interested in reading until I was in my thirties. But I do find that putting on low volume background music like blues helps.
Hidden Shadow by Jennifer Bourland is a captivating mystery novel that will keep you on the edge of your seat. With an intriguing plot that takes place during the Prohibition era, the story follows the journey of psychologist Sophie Thomas as she inherits the haunted Blue Owl estate and uncovers the secrets of the past. The relatable characters and vivid descriptions make for a gripping read, while the constant surprises and subtle humor keep the suspense and entertainment levels high.