Jess Wells

Author of Modern and Historical Fiction

Jess Wells

Jeanette Meyers Thurber - see blog post on Thuber and American orchestral music







Jess's books




War and Peace


5 of 5 stars




So glad I finally was able to read/​hear this book, all 43 discs unabridged, while commuting to work. He has a wonderful sense of irony, of humor, a jaded eye to the aristocracy. Marvelous ability to describe emotions in a single line. Lo...




Dear Life: Stories


5 of 5 stars




Tremendous work, though the prose is a little sparse for my taste. Nice to see a combination of both open-ended and concluded short stories. And I'm still thrilled that a short story writer has won the Nobel Prize.





The Luminaries


5 of 5 stars




Engaging, great use of language, and a fast-paced whodunit that I couldn't put down.






goodreads.com






Blog

Turn Off the Tree and House Lights for a Natural Light Christmas

November 21, 2016

‘Tis the season for increased energy usage but I’d like to suggest something else: let’s do away with Christmas lights on the tree and the house altogether. Let’s go for a natural light Christmas. #naturallightchristmas

Watching Before the Flood I am reminded that oil fuels our transportation section but the coal industry is the primary source that fuels the electrical grid so anything we can do to reduce electrical consumption can help battle climate change. Anything at all. Especially now that the White House will be driven by climate deniers and potentially even heads of oil companies, everything we can do, counts. Think of the trade-off: rising sea levels; increased tornadoes, hurricanes and typhoons; and out-of-control wildfires, versus twinkly lights inside a house that is already lit, or outside while the occupants are inside.  There have been plenty of suggestions (more…)

How and Why You Should Write the Story of Your Family and When to Veer into Fiction

November 14, 2016

Tags: the writing life

Happily, my new course on “Crafting the Story of Your Family: For Writers and Non-Writers Alike” at The Writing Salon has begun and I am reminded of what the New York City Library has listed as one of their “20 Reasons You Should Write Your Family History”: the historical and literary record needs more material from previously underrepresented people – women, people of color, the poor and working-class, the disabled. In short, if you think the historical record is too filled with privileged white men, get writing. (more…)

Thurber, Burleigh and Dvorak Were Key to the Birth of American Orchestral Music

October 26, 2016

Tags: women in history

‘Had Jeannette Meyers Thurber put her name on the institutions she established, she would be as well-known as Carnegie and Rockefeller.’ That statement piqued my interest while enjoying the lecture series from The Great Courses entitled Dr. Robert Greenberg, Music Historian-in-Residence with San Francisco Performances.

An accomplished but obscure woman? Just my sort of treasure hunt.

Thurber established the National Conservatory of Music of America in 1885 – the first of its kind and an endeavor that some say ushered in the first orchestral music with a distinctively American sound. But in a very radical stance for the day, Thurber championed the rights of women, people of color and the handicapped to attend her school, sometimes on full scholarship. This was 1885—not too long after the Civil War -- and her school was racially integrated, promoted women, and had an inclusive stance toward the handicapped.

“The National Conservatory of Music of America was the outstanding institution for professional musical preparation in the United States for some 25 years or more. At its height in the 1890s it boasted a faculty of international renown…and initiated a course of studies whose features became a basis for the curriculum now taken for granted in the colleges and conservatories of this country. Its achievements resulted from the endeavors of a single visionary: Jeannette M Thurber, a wealthy, idealistic New Yorker who devoted most of her life to the school…Although her innovative design for the Conservatory was influential in shaping the course of American music for the 20th century, Mrs. Thurber and her school have slipped into undeserved obscurity.”(1)

But the conservatory seemed to be her real love, and she grew it from 84 students when it opened to 3,000 students in 1900.(2) Her success was due, in part, (more…)

Please join me Oct. 22nd for a Special Reading at The Writing Salon, Berkeley

October 4, 2016

Tags: The Writing Salon, San Francisco Bay Area readings, literary readings

San Francisco Bay Area writers and readers: Please join me at The Writing Salon in Berkeley on Oct. 22nd, 7-9 p.m. as I read new work, introduce my student Agatha Hinman to her first public reading, and share the stage with Karen Bjorneby and her student.

I'll be reading from my unpublished collection of short stories, The Disappearing Andersons of Loon Lake, featuring a story that is particularly appropriate for an audience of writers.

The event is free but space is limited. Refreshments will be served and my books will be available for sale.

Please join me at The Writing Salon, 2121 Bonar St., Studio D on the Second Floor, Berkeley CA, 94702, October 22, from 7-9 p.m.

Looking forward to seeing you!
Jess

Hubris and Wonder in China, 1986 - #3 - Bobble Heads and Beijing Lessons

September 3, 2016

Tags: travel, China, Tibet, humor, adventure, women traveling

Part #1: A Trio of Maps and a Challenge
Part #2: Screaming Through a Hole in the Window

This post, Part #3: Bobble Heads and Beijing Lessons

On the day of the flight from Shanghai to Beijing we arrived at the airport and I sought out the wisdom of an Irishman – his red hair and trim suit in such contrast to all of the Mao blue. Did he have any suggestions of places to stay, I asked him, since our hotel adventure in Shanghai had been so taxing. He looked at us incredulously. You come to China without hotel reservations? But he tilted his head and reached in his pocket. Go to this hotel, he said. My company keeps a hotel room there rented all year so their employees have somewhere to stay when they come to Beijing. Don’t go to the main desk, he said, go around the main desk to a small room behind it – Room 101 – and tell them that you’re there to do business with me. I was wary of his advice, (more…)

Hubris and Wonder in China, 1986 - #2 - Screaming Through a Hole in the Window

August 20, 2016

Tags: China, travel writing, adventure, Tibet

This is the second of three posts on my initial trip to China in 1986 -- light-years from the China I'm about to see in September, 2016...

Part #1: A Trio of Maps and a Challenge
This post, Part #2: "Screaming Through a Hole in the Window"
Part #3: Bobble Heads and Beijing Lessons

With our money in hand we headed out to make reservations to fly to Beijing. Our driver to the Waste Garden had told us it was very important to get the reservations right away and to be sure to go to the foreigners and diplomats line – both pieces of advice that I would never have taken during European travel. We got lost again looking for the main travel bureau, still operating under our American assumption that important things have big buildings.

The building we ultimately determined to be the main ticketing hub for all of Shanghai was tucked behind a cluster of abandoned buildings. It was a one-level, low-ceilinged building with half-dome roof tiles. When we stepped inside, it was filled, wall-to-wall, with men standing shoulder to shoulder (in matching Mao outfits of course.) There was no way to know which window to go to within the large general area and so I broke my own rule and went to the diplomats and foreigners window in the corner, the only sign in English. I bent low and talked through a hole in a plastic window to the woman to make arrangements – this was how I did all of my business in China, trying to communicate with women who were shouting at me through holes in plastic windows. To get to Beijing we had to rearrange our flight back to the US --back and forth numerous times. Had there been someone to help us translate? Did the driver help us? Doubtful. I was exhausted, riddled with anxiety (more…)

Full-Body Swimwear Liberates You from the Tyranny of the Bikini

August 14, 2016

Tags: burkini, bikini, feminism, fashion, beachwear, swimwear, skin cancer, Cannes, Solumbra, Stingray, full-body swimwear, rash guards

I write to protest the recent decision by the city of Cannes in Southern France to outlaw full-body swimwear. My reasons involve both health and feminism, though not the feminist line that one is currently reading, but because I maintain that this full-body swimwear is incredibly liberating and long overdue.

I have had four surgeries for Basel cell skin cancer and after my first surgery started to treat sunshine as if it was secondhand smoke – a carcinogen lying in wait for me. I not only upped my SPF, but started wearing full body suits from both Solumbra and Stingray, an Australian company. This was 16 years ago, before the rash guard, when the only full-body covering was a wet-suit. I looked like a professional kayaker or diver in the wrong place. I looked odd, I knew, and when I was on the beach in Italy, I quickly learned the phrase “contro il sole” – against the sun – when the matronly women on the beach gestured and asked.

What I discovered, though, was that walking around with my thighs covered was tremendously liberating -- I moved with ease, bent over, sat in the sand with my legs spread, frolicked as I hadn’t when worried that my suit would ride up, would expose my bum, gap at the breasts. Now there was no gesture or movement that would compromise my privacy. So I was free (more…)

Hubris and Wonder in China 1986 - #1 - A Trio of Maps and a Challenge

August 4, 2016

Tags: travel, China, Tibet, humor

In 1986 you could do the bootleg thing – meet a guy in a café and slide an envelope of money to him, he slides you two round-trip tickets to China issued under someone else’s name. Granted, there were visas and passports but the swap at the café was just the first of many incidents that broke what was my own convention, defied my understanding of how it was done, and made it a trip that started out with hubris and wound up filled with wonder.

That was my first trip to China and now, in 2016, I am returning, though just for a quick touchdown in Chengdu after flying nonstop in the United Airlines “Dream Machine,” (though since I am traveling coach I am sure it will not be that dreamy.) And my ultimate destination is the occupied zone of Tibet, which ensures another unique view of life in China. These are things I remember from the initial trip 30 years ago, recounted in three blog posts...

This first post: A Trio of Maps and a Challenge
Part #2: Screaming Through a Hole in the Window
Part #3: Bobble Heads and Beijing Lessons

This was the time before Google Maps and Google Translate, even before the Internet and cell phones, when an intrepid traveler had a guidebook and maybe pulled the pages out after she’d been to a place, (more…)

Reading and Writing -- Pleasures from the Same Wellspring

July 10, 2016

Tags: writers on writing, historical fiction

It is my contention that the desire to read and the desire to write come from the same place – a longing to live in fantasy. They are both great brain candy (but good for you so perhaps ‘brain fruit,’ though more substantive than that so perhaps ‘brain kale’ but that sounds unpalatable. Clearly the metaphor needs some collective work.) An interesting piece recently ran in the New York Times Book Review, in the back section called “Bookends” – always one of my favorites in the newspaper because of the quality of the writing and the subtlety of what they discuss. On Sunday, June 12, 2016, the question was whether or not it is harder to be transported by a book as you get older. And what Benjamin Moser says is “the problem is that the deeper you go into your own writing, the harder it becomes to enter someone else’s. If pursued seriously, writing demands a kind of obsessive concentration that came, at least for me, to preclude reading.”

Reading great stories or novels adds another dimension to one’s life as if having a secret (more…)

Join Me in the Workshop: How to Write Historical Fiction, in Berkeley, CA

May 21, 2016

Tags: Writing instruction, historical fiction, workshops, The Writing Salon

Really happy to be back to teaching, and back to The Writing Salon. If you're anywhere near the SF Bay Area, I would love to see you at this fun and affordable one-day workshop:

Writing Historical Fiction – Weaving Past and Present into Art

Historical fiction can transport you into worlds that are incredibly fun to write. Do you want to reintroduce a little-known hero/heroine into popular culture? Would you like to tell the sweeping saga of your own family’s struggle in America? Is there an event from long ago that seems hauntingly relevant today? Any story that is more than 50 years in the past is considered historical fiction, so sometimes one’s own childhood can be the source of inspiration.

Historical fiction has its own unique demands, though. I'm fond of mentioning that “You can’t just throw a tapestry over the flat screen TV in your scene and call it historical. There are real differences between modern life and life in the past, which require real differences in your writing. And that, to me, is the greatest thing about it.”

In this lively, one-day workshop, we will:
• Identify where each of you is in the process of your project – idea, complete research, plot obstacle
• Discuss how to research and when to stop researching
• Discuss how settings can help your plot
• Consider how to tell the story of famous people told from a fresh angle
• Identify ways in which historical stories illuminate modern truths
(more…)

Historical Fiction
The early adulthood of Christine de Pizan, called "artfully captured with economy and delicacy [that] comes across beautifully in this well-written and researched work." - The Historical Novels Review
"Historical events…are elegantly woven into the plot. The well-rounded characters, constant action, and captivating subject matter unite (in The Mandrake Broom) to enlighten as well as infuriate as the atrocities of the time period become real through Wells’ vivid writing…. Reminiscent of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon series, Jess Wells’ third novel belongs on everyone’s reading list”– The Historical Novels Review