Before They Were Authors: Jennifer Alderson

Jennifer S. Alderson

Jennifer S. Alderson worked as a journalist and website developer in Seattle, Washington before trading her financial security for a backpack. After years of traveling the world, she now calls Amsterdam home. She’s the author of two novels, a travel fiction thriller set in Nepal and Thailand, Down and Out in Kathmandu: adventures in backpacking, and a suspenseful whodunit set in Amsterdam, The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery. Here’s more about Jennifer, in her own words:

I’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge and I love learning new things. As a result, my career path has taken many twists and turns along the way. Before my novels were published, I worked as a journalist and editor for regional newspapers, then as a multimedia developer for large corporations, before finally transitioning into my latest role as collection researcher and project assistant for museums. All of the jobs and experiences I’ve had have influenced my writing by inspiring and informing storylines, plot twists, and characters.

The University Library (UBA) is the largest library at the University of Amsterdam.

When burnout forced me to rethink my career in the ICT sector, I moved from Seattle, Washington to the Netherlands to study European art history at the University of Amsterdam for a year. At the time, art history seemed like the perfect antithesis to sitting behind a desk pushing pixels all day long. I’d minored in the subject while majoring in journalism and figured doing something completely different would help me find my path in life again.

Those first few months of classes were a revelation. I loved the subject matter, lectures, and numerous field trips so much that I ended up staying longer and earning a Master’s degree in Museum Studies. Unfortunately the world-wide economy crashed in 2008 – the year I graduated – and my dream of becoming a senior curator at the Van Gogh Museum was never realized. However, I was lucky enough to work for several museums in Amsterdam before subsidy cuts for cultural institutions translated into massive layoffs.

Museum Willet-Holthuysen on the Herengracht canal in Amsterdam

One of my favorite assignments was creating an exhibition plan for Museum Willet-Holthuysen in Amsterdam, a well-maintained canal house bequeathed to the city in 1895 by its’ last occupants on the condition it become a museum bearing their names. It’s still filled with the former owners’ impressive furnishings and extensive collection of sculptures, paintings and decorative arts. Technically my title was collection researcher and my goal was to find connections between the many tomes on ceramic in Abraham Willet’s extensive library and his collection of European ceramic objects. To what extent did he follow the advice and trends mentioned or discussed in his books, the majority of which he purchased himself; exhibition catalogues, contemporary art theory and other guides containing the latest trends and tips for collectors. My research into his collections, as well as my observations of the dynamics inherent to a museum’s exhibition project team, inspired several of the characters and scenes in my second book, The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery

My work as a collection researcher for an exhibition of Bispoles at Amsterdam’s Tropenmuseum directly inspired my current work-in-progress, the third book in the Adventures of Zelda Richardson series. During my search through photographs and film fragments of Asmat tribes, missionaries and anthropologists working in Papua New Guinea during the 1950s and 1960s, I discovered that a well-known Dutch missionary – Reverend Gerald Zegwaard – was one of the last people to see Michael Rockefeller alive. During their meeting they’d made an appointment to meet up after Rockefeller returned from an acquisition trip upriver. The young American disappeared days later, resulting in one of the most famous unsolved mysteries of our time. That little detail about his un-kept appointment with Reverend Zegwaard stuck with me and eventually inspired me to write my next art mystery, about missionaries, anthropologists and Bispoles. If all goes well, it will be released in the summer of 2017.

Find out more about Jennifer and her books at





9 responses to “Before They Were Authors: Jennifer Alderson

  1. Thanks, Kristina! It was a lot of fun to do and I feel honored Judy asked me to participate. I look forward to reading about you on this blog, one day soon. 🙂 Take care and best of luck with Mystery Thriller Week!

  2. Kristina Stanley

    I’d love to!

  3. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Thanks for stopping by Kristina. One of these days you’ll have to share your BTWA story!

  4. Kristina Stanley

    Great to read a bit about you, Jennifer. I aways like to see what lead up to being an author.

  5. Hi eightpawswriting, thank you!

    I was always fascinated with modern art (even minored in it during college). During my travels through Asia I became interested in ethnographic art. I moved to Darwin, Australia and earned a degree in cultural anthropology there, with an emphasis on ritual objects. During my study, I came into contact with researchers and exhibition designers at the local aboriginal museum. I’d never though of working in a museum before then!

    After learning much about presentation and research in a ethnographic museum, I realized I needed to study more in order to work as a curator or exhibition designer. Darwin was 40 degrees Celsius and I couldn’t adjust, so staying there wasn’t an option!

    I headed home to Seattle and had a 24 hour layover in Rome. After taking a bus downtown and stepping out in front of the Colosseum, I called my travel agent and changed my ticket! During my two months bumming around Europe, I landed in Amsterdam and found out about an art history degree at the city university. And the rest is history, as the saying goes!

    Thank you so much for reading this feature and asking this question. Have a great day!

  6. Judy Penz Sheluk

    thanks for stopping by Sheri. I KNOW. Jennifer has led a very interesting life!

  7. eightpawswriting

    Wow, Jennifer. You have had many interesting careers. I’d love to know what drew you to be a collection researcher and work in museums. I bet you your knowledge has created fascinating stories. Thanks for sharing with us.

  8. Judy Penz Sheluk

    So happy to have you and glad we sorted out the “block!” Delighted to hear there’s a 5-star coming my way 🙂 I have you in my ever-growing TBR pile!

  9. Thanks for having me on your site, Judy! It was a fun assignment and looks lovely, especially with the photos. I look forward to having you as a guest on blog on February 20, when I officially present my 5 star review of Skeletons in the Attic. 🙂 Good luck with Mystery Thriller Week!

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