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.


HistFic Questions On Character Development and Scene

July 4, 2018

Tags: Writer's Life, Women in History, A Slender Tether

Much of the discussion around historical fiction has centered on two questions: a) why write historical novels and b) what are the requirements for accuracy? It seems a bit narrow in focus, so I'd like to suggest discussing:

How Do You Write About Outmoded Beliefs?
* Eras in the past are marked by more than just a difference in fashion or modes of transportation; there have been profound differences in beliefs and mind-sets. How do you effectively write about people who believed that pixies and spirits sprang from the dirt or that the sun-god had a direct hand in shaping daily events, without making your characters seem foolish in the eyes of the reader? (In the movie Troy, for example, the Trojans seem silly to consult and trust in the sun-god so much.) It’s a bit like a murder mystery where the reader knows the culprit before the characters unmask him.

How Do You Capture Social Forces That No Longer Seem Relevant?
* Seems to me that some things that were of great concern in the past are not relevant or interesting any more: people’s focus on getting into heaven; the presence of the Devil in every-day life. Even social conditions that had a pervasive impact such as sexism, racism, anti-Semitism, even classism, can only be mentioned once: women weren’t allowed to do that…and the reader thinks ‘yes, yes, get on with it.’ What topics are now off-limits, or at least to be down-played? How do you handle this dismissal of such incredibly powerful social forces?
(I'm thinking partly of my project writing on Christine de Pizan; she is best known for being the first woman to make her living as a writer but saying ‘women didn’t write books back then’ isn’t really that interesting because they certainly do now. But she also wrote a manual on warfare, which elicits incredulity in a modern audience so it highlights the situation better than the book that is actually the one she’s known for (The City of Ladies, the first feminist treatise.) I’m highlighting the lesser accomplishment of the warfare manual, because it still has cultural relevance. So, in fact, you’re challenged (more…)

"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." - Review
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