Jess Wells

Author of Modern and Historical Fiction, Instructor in the Craft







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.






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Blog

Empress Deng: A Just and Capable Ruler in Second Century China

March 28, 2018

Tags: Women in History, History

In my search for women to write back into history…I’ve discovered three (so far) in The Paper Trail: An Unexpected History of the Revolutionary Invention, by Alexander Monro.

Monroe is suggesting that the inventor of paper was a Chinese second-century government official named Cai Lun. While Cai is “traditionally credited with inventing paper in A.D. 105… papermaking is in fact at least three centuries older than this, but it was nevertheless Cai who refined paper for more widespread use and who first appreciated the enormous choice of possible ingredients.” However, it was the Empress Deng who rose “up like a conductor and signaled the launch of Cai’s carefully honed substance across China, in a quest to harmonize the country to this new medium.” [Page 13]

“Deng Sui was the granddaughter of a Han prime minister. (Sometimes translated as Chancellor, this was the highest administrative post and involved setting the government budget.) She was born in 81 in Nanyang in the cattle country of the near North. By the age of six she knew Confucius’s Book of Documents and at 12 she had read the Classic of Poetry and the Analects, according to her official biography. (more…)

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New Book Club Guide for A Slender Tether

March 23, 2018

Tags: A Slender Tether

Description of the book: Amid the violent weather of Europe’s Little Ice Age, A Slender Tether offers three compelling tales of self-discovery, woven into a rich tapestry of 14th century France. Christine de Pizan, daughter of a disgraced court physician and astrologer, grapples with her ambition to be the first woman writer of France. A doctor finds an unusual way to cope with the death of his wife. And opportunity alternates with disasters in the life of four commoners, yoked by necessity: a papermaker struggling to keep his business, a falconer with a mysterious past, a merchant’s daughter frantic to avoid an arranged marriage, and a down-on-his-luck musician with a broken guitar and the voice of an angel.

Discussion Questions:

“Raptor Among the Bluebirds”

1. Christine de Pizan works in the library where there was not a single volume written by women. How do you imagine she would feel as a result? Have you ever felt alienation at this level or exclusion?

2. It has been documented that Christine’s father was more supportive of her scholarship and desire to write than her mother. What do you think the mother’s motivation (more…)

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A Salute to Our Stone Age Sisters

March 8, 2018

Tags: Women in History, History

Studying history means actively looking for surprises, despite the fact that it is focused on events from centuries and even millennia in the past. And I know enough to understand that “progress” through history is not a consistent march uphill but a journey during which we have frequently gotten lost, sometimes forgetting things for hundreds of years before circling back and re-learning them.

What has surprised me most recently is the number of important concepts and everyday items still in use that were developed in the Stone Age – the Paleolithic time from 2.7 million years ago up until 10,000 years ago.

Here’s what One Million Years in a Day(1) and other sources say that our Stone Age Sisters knew to create or use:

The sewing needle, the oldest of which dates back 60,000 years , which also means an understanding of the components of all clothing elements – the hat, cape, sleeve and pant; form-fitting boots and shoes; and the geometry to construct them
Linen, developed 30,000 years ago
Jewelry, the necklace, earring (including for pierced ears), bracelet and pouch – 40,000 years ago
Plates, bowls and vessels
Insect repellent and mattresses, “…ancient mattresses were lined with leaves from River Wild-Quince, a tree that naturally produces an insect repellent chemical, and this may have minimized the lethal scourge of malaria. (more…)

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Chicken or Egg? Hobby or Character Development?

February 23, 2018

Tags: Writer's Life, History

Where can I learn to be a blacksmith, I muttered to myself last week, as I decided to put a blacksmith in a new book/project. Might be fun to learn, I thought.

The night before I had packed away my (at this point fairly extensive) collection of chocolate molds and tools, having recently sold my new novel, Straight Uphill: A Tale of Love and Chocolate to Fireship Press.

So it made me wonder: which came first, the desire to learn something like confectionary, or the desire to have a character work in a trade that, for the sake of verisimilitude, I need to learn. I don’t necessarily need to master the craft, but I need to know the smell of it, the heat, the feel of the tools in my hand. One can learn the process from a book but there’s so that you have to actually experience.

So, which came first?

I wrote the chocolatiers in Straight Uphill because I was taking on chocolate as a hobby. (I’ve never actually had a hobby. Work, writing, motherhood, relationship, house; that was all I could handle. I had never even asked myself what I might want to do as a hobby, that’s how remote the prospect was.) Chocolates moved from a temporary pastime to a dedicated hobby when I realized that I had just spent hours, transfixed, as I worked with the stuff. The ‘languid quality’ described in the WWII section of the book is how I felt making my first ganache. So, in the case of Straight Uphill, the hobby came first.

I learned to ride a horse for two reasons: (more…)

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New Book Club Discussion Guide for The Mandrake Broom

February 14, 2018

Tags: Writer's Life, The Mandrake Broom, History

Book Club Guide for The Mandrake Broom

Description of the book: A historical novel set in Europe 1465 – 1540, The Mandrake Broom dramatizes the courageous fight to save medical knowledge during the witch burning times and answers the question “what if the witches had fought back?” Based on extensive research of historical sources, herbal remedies and the medicines of the time, this novel has been called “is "stunningly good...tremendously involving and impressive." Meet:

Luccia Alimenti, daughter of a medical professor at the University of Salerno, Italy, destined to carry ancient texts and herbal lore into the dangerous and groundbreaking future.

Fiona, her Irish godmother (more…)

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Remove Native American Racist Statues, Too

January 15, 2018

Tags: Modern Life

Justification to remove statues of Civil War generals is straightforward – there are no statues of Hitler in Germany so there should be no statues built to American proponents of slavery. (I was shocked to hear that 35 Confederate statues have been erected in North Carolina since 2000!) And we should take note that the Germans have taken a very thorough approach to removing visual reminders of World War II, as described here.

But I would also join the chorus of voices calling for the removal of statues that celebrate the racial oppression of Native Americans, perhaps starting with “End of the Trail,” a heartbreaking reminder of brutality (more…)

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Cigarette Use in Movies Rises 72%

January 9, 2018

Tags: Modern Life

At first, I thought it was just because I was watching period dramas and that it lent verisimilitude to the piece to have a character smoke a cigarette, but the more frequent the occurrence, the more suspicious I became and yes, in fact it’s true: the incidences of tobacco use in movies has increased 72% according to a Center for Disease Control report issued in July 2017! And it is up 43% in the youth-focused films. Women are smoking as they sit on sofas, when they walk through the kitchen pondering. Characters are chain smoking, using cigarettes as a pause in the dialogue. Men smoke cigarettes in cars.

And the CDC again reiterated that “there is a causal relationship between depictions of smoking in the movies (more…)

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The Ascent of Woman: Excellent Series on Netflix

December 24, 2017

Tags: Women in History, History

Empress Theodora

 I discovered The Ascent of Woman on Netflix, an excellent piece by Dr. Amanda Foreman that is quite unique in that it isn’t simple, flashy biographies of a couple of women through history, it is a clear, accessible, and well-written series on the overall rights of women through history as well as revelations of great women of the time, not as an anomaly but as key players in history who have been written out.


Dr. Foreman says that the condition of women is not a straight-forward march from darkness to light, from subjugation to freedom but a journey (more…)

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A Free Press Needs an Advocacy Program

November 13, 2017

Tags: Modern Life

Journalists need a good advocacy program, some serious public relations efforts to remind people why journalism is important, why a free press is so essential. Here are some suggestions that aim to inform the public and change their attitude toward the press:

1. Fact checking:

Why doesn’t the New York Times and other newspapers make it clear front and center what they do to verify facts?

o Make it clear that there are multiple sources and statistics are always backed up.

o Make public the number of people whose sole job it is to check the facts.

o Make more prominent the relationship between newspapers and fact-checking organizations.

o Spell out the fact that journalists are not allowed to vote, protest, and remind people of how much they give up because of their work on our behalf in the name of truth.

o Let’s develop a way that it’s easy to compare publication to publication, some chart almost like calories on a package of food. PolitFact ranking of X vs. Fox News ranking of Y

2. And speaking of truth, (more…)

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Differences Between Fiction and Non-fiction: More Complex than Just True or Imaginary

August 2, 2017

Tags: Writer's Life

I am preparing to teach a new class entitled to “From Daydream to Story: An Introduction to Fiction” – a class specifically designed for nonfiction writers and journalists, or people with story ideas but no experience in fiction. In the process, I have discovered that most explanations for the difference between nonfiction and fiction have to do with the reality of the material in nonfiction. Nonfiction is true and fiction is from the imagination. I would suggest, though, that there are a number of other distinctions:

Fiction is a close-in view of life. Think of going from nonfiction to fiction like the process of Google maps as it zooms in from a position in the stratosphere, zooming down into your backyard. And even closer than your backyard, zoomed in to the exact expression on someone’s face (more…)

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"What really ties the stories together is Wells' wry sensibilities and lyrical prose. She mixes tragedy and comedy to great effect; producing stories that feel true as if it were gossip heard first hand." - Amazon.com Review
Historical Fiction
"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
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