Jennifer Murphy grew up in Stevensville and graduated from Lakeshore High School during the late 1970s, but as a child, the Lake Michigan shoreline of South Haven always drew her attention.
That’s why she decided to choose South Haven as the setting for her newest book, “Scarlet in Blue.”
“I’ve always loved South Haven,” said Murphy, who now resides in Houston, Texas.
“Scarlet in Blue” revolves around the relationship between 15-year-old Blue and her mother, Scarlet. They’re both on the run from someone her mother insists is chasing them from town to town, referring to the man simply as “HIM.”
When staying in each town, Scarlet, who is an accomplished artist, insists Blue adapt to new names in an effort to conceal their identities. Mother and daughter make a game of it: Scarlet pulls out a variety of crayons, her daughter shuts her eyes and chooses one. Thus, when they move to South Haven from Erie, Pa., in January of 1968 Maize becomes Blue.
“The book is all about color,” Murphy said. “It serves as a metaphor and sets the mood. They didn’t pick their names, willy-nilly.”
Although her new name sets wells with Blue, the young teen is sick of her mother’s nomadic lifestyle. She falls in love with the lake and the downtown, meets several new friends, enrolls in South Haven High School – something Scarlet dreads, and falls in love with her first boyfriend. A budding pianist, she even finds a private teacher to give her lessons from her.
But as Blue thrives in her new surroundings, she becomes increasingly worried about Scarlet, who creates paintings that scare Blue; paintings whose meanings the young girl doesn’t understand.
Scarlet, as Blue soon finds out, has a very deliberate reason for moving to South Haven – she wants to finally escape the shadow from her traumatic past, no matter the cost.
Although Scarlet in Blue is filled with mystery, intrigue, and and ultimately a murder, the novel is rooted in the complicated yet loving relationship between a mother, who is suffering from schizophrenia, and the daughter who loves her, according to Murphy.
Her debut award-winning novel, “I Love You More,” also explores the relationship between a mother and daughter, though the daughter is much younger than the character, Blue, in the second novel.
“The first book is somewhat lighter in tone. “It’s about a father who is narcissistic, with three wives. I got into the character of the little girl,” Murphy said. For her second novel, she wanted the plot to be somewhat darker so that the reader could better understand how Scarlet attempts to cope with her mental illness while also raising a daughter and escaping from her troubled past, when she was a little girl dealing with very traumatic events.
“I think Schizophrenia is an illness that we don’t understand very well,” she said.
Although Murphy has found success as an author of short stories and now, novels, she pursued a career in art. She obtained a master of fine arts degree in painting from the University of Denver and a master of fine arts degree in creative writing from the University of Washington and went on to found Citi Arts, a public art and urban planning company has developed public art master plans for airports, transit facilities, streetscapes and cities throughout the United States.
Yet writing has always been her first love.
“I’ve been writing all my life, but my brother was the writer and I pursued art,” she said. Over the years, she has found success with Citi Arts, but she remained attracted to writing, I finally decided to seriously pursue it.
Her first book, “I Love You More,” published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group and distributed by Random House, found immediate success, winning the Nancy Pearl Book Award for Fiction. Her short stories of her have also won awards.
“When I sat out the first book I got three offers, I was so lucky,” she said. She hopes Scarlet in Blue will find similar success with readers. The book is published by Penguin Random House and is now available.
Murphy will be in South Haven in June for a series of book signing events and discussions.
She will be at Black River Books from 1-4 pm, Saturday, June 4; South Haven Library at 2 pm, June 6 and she will be the featured speaker at the Scott Club’s annual luncheon at 1 pm, June 7 at the Senior Services of Van Buren County’s new Senior Village.