Jess Wells

Author of Modern and Historical Fiction, Instructor in the Craft

Workshops Conducted for:

* The Writing Salon
San Francisco and Berkeley, CA
2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2016 - 2018

*Historical Writers of America

* A Rally of Writers
Lansing, Michigan

* Saints and Sinners Literary Conference
New Orleans, LA, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013

* Other Words, Florida Literary Arts Coalition and Flagler College, 2008

* GCLS Literary Conference, 2008

* South Bay (SF) Writers Union, 2008

Feedback from Jess' Classes

Re: Workshops at Rally for Writers (Setting, and Writing Your Family Story)
“I heard great comments about your sessions in the Concourse. Someone said he would never think about setting in the same way, and another person said she got excellent ideas on how to write about her family. Obviously, your sessions were practical and inspirational...” – Linda Peckham, Organizer, Rally of Writers 2017

Re: Fundamentals of Plot and Theme
"This class was terrific. For someone with a work in progress, it was right on point, zeroing in on the issues that plague anyone trying to write a novel. I think everyone there left feeling they were taking a brand new look at their work. She was organized but flexible with the time so that it was a truly interactive class with everyone able to discuss their own projects. That’s a lot to accomplish in one day. I highly recommend it." -- Agatha

Re: How to Write Historical Fiction
Dear Jane,
"I have just returned from Jess Well’s one-day course on Writing the Historical Novel. I would like to praise it highly.
The organization was very good. We dealt with theme, characterization, place, and the art of researching; the numbered points made it easy to follow.
I liked the fact that we looked at an actual example of historical fiction, Andrea Barrett’s story about the great Swedish scientist Linnaeus called “The English Pupil.” Jess had many perceptive comments about it, using it as an example of how to use theme.
Jess excelled at analyzing and solving challenges having to do with people’s projects. She had to think very fast on her feet and did. She also continued to chat about our projects over lunch when, goodness knows, she must have been quite tired.
I might add that she showed grace under pressure. During the first part of the class, we were nearly deafened by the roar of tree work going on outside and the grinding of a giant chipper. She kept on unperturbed and took care that we could hear her.
I hope to take her course on the Short Story when it is next offered." -- Dr. Ruth A. H.

"I just attended Jess Wells' historical fiction writing workshop and I
just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed it. Even though it was
just a day, Jess packed a huge amount of useful and helpful
information but more than that, she really encouraged the class to
think about how to structure our work regardless of whether someone
was 200 pages into a manuscript or, like me, still at the 'thinking
about it' stage. She also encouraged us to share our thoughts to help
each other overcome obstacles we might be facing in developing our
stories. Unfortunately, I'm just visiting San Francisco but if I was
here for any length of time, I wouldn't hesitate to sign up for
another class with Jess or another teacher." -- Yvonne

Re: Writing with a Full-Time Job (1-day workhop)
"I thought Jess did a fantastic job in a short time of: covering many aspects of procrastination in writing, getting to talk directly to each student’s individual concerns/​issues (several times, and we all learned from this), covering issues of how we waste time, why we might be afraid to write and how to overcome. She threw in inspirational quotes and kept informing us all through lunch, which if she’s not paid for that time,I feel is above and beyond. It must have been a long day for her. She seemed extremely well informed of multiple writing styles and writer’s issues, plus had had excellent listening skills to touch each budding writer personally. The class really gave me some ideas on how to move forward with more writing in my life. I am a pruner who brings out the beauty in trees that just need a little attention to shine. I feel Jess did the same for our writer’s group. She quickly found and encouraged our specialties/​special interests. Thank you for offering the class! Thanks for snacks and tea, made my first time visit feel like I had entered one big family of writers." -- Leslie

"I have never felt so energized after a class before. Strike that. I have never felt energized with such a sense of direction before. Though I often come away from a writing class with a great deal of excitement and fresh enthusiasm about my writing dreams, the energy often fizzles and I get little accomplished. Now, I have a plan to help my writing dreams come true. It’s only been a few days, but I have already stuck to that plan. I have the satisfaction of actually getting writing done for a change. Additionally, I’m really happy with the writing I’m producing.
I enjoyed Jess’ relaxed and casual, but passionate nature and her ability to be tough and honest with us about prioritizing writing over other things in life (even going to the gym! even walking your dogs! even cleaning your house!) Her story about writing in the storage room at 4 am wrapped up in the mummy bag was inspiring. She’s really been through all of this before and has made it work. With 13 books and a successful day-career under her belt, she is definitely a qualified instructor.
I thought that the workshop was full of practical suggestions, tips, and practices. The only exception is when we talked about countering fear of writing. That part didn’t seem so practical; there weren’t many concrete ideas for what to do to move past your fear. It was more inspirational, with a focus on quotes. I didn’t mind it though, because that isn’t as big of an issue for me right now. My big issue was overcoming procrastination and making time for writing. My favorite parts were when we talked about brainwaves and when we talked about giving your writing life structure (discipline, deadlines, etc). These two sections were transformative for me. One crucial question was, when is the best time of day for you to write? I learned about following your natural creative rhythms and giving your writing life the same importance as other areas of your life. More importance, perhaps. It taught me how I can schedule my life around my writing, without quitting my job.
Administratively, I was really happy to have been able to register at 11:45 the night before and still make it in to the class. I got all the necessary emails in time and Jess was very accommodating the day of, even though I don’t think she was expecting me. I also enjoy the one-day Saturday classes. I often find that a 5-week evening class is too much of a commitment for me, and the one-day intensive workshops are perfect for my life and learning styles. Also, Jess told us about some of the other classes she offered. All of them sounded good, but I was particularly interested in the one about creating credible worlds.
Okay. There you have a novel about the class. Does this count as my writing time for the day?" -- Leah

Re:Fundamentals of the Short Story
"I just wanted to tell you how great Jess’ short story class was yesterday. It was exactly what I was looking for!
We talked about the differences in content and structure in short stories vs the novel. We discussed how novel focus more on emotion and character and short stories focus more on theme and plot. We talked about how every character in the short story somehow expressed the theme or relates to the theme in a different way. We talked about keeping our characters limited to 3-4. And we discussed how the plotting is different in the short story as well. It sort of all came together for me. Now I just have to write it! (The easy part right?).
We also workshopped the stories we’re working on then worked through the seven basic questions as they apply to our stories. We even talked about the history of the short story.
Anyway, I highly recommend this class and Jess as an instructor.
I always feel more creatively motivated when I take classes from her. She is also very adept at interweaving positive feedback with what we need to improve on in our work. That, at least for me, is really important, especially as a beginning writer. She knows her stuff and she knows how to explain it well. So hats off to Jess and the short story class! (And the other classes she teaches, such as her Historical Fiction class). I hope it’s offered again." -- Reed G

"I just wanted to tell you what a wonderful experience I had at Jess Wells’s short story workshop this past weekend! Jess gave insightful and concrete suggestions–I really feel prepared to move forward with my writing project thanks to her help. She was very engaging, passionate, and inspiring as well. Many thanks to Jess and the Writing Salon!" -- Christine

"This class exceeded my expectations. Jess is an excellent teacher. She's funny, empathetic and to the point. She conveyed a lot of information, but didn't just lecture. She asked excellent questions that prompted realizations and thoughtful responses from the attendees. I was so pumped up from the workshop that I came home and wrote for three hours." -- Shelley

"I just wanted to tell you how great Jess' short story class was yesterday. It was exactly what I was looking for! I highly recommend this class and Jess as an instructor. I always feel more creatively motivated when I take classes from her. She is also very adept at interweaving positive feedback with what we need to improve on in our work. That, at least for me, is really important, especially as a beginning writer. She knows her stuff and she knows how to explain it well.

So hats off to Jess and the short story class! (And the other classes she teaches). I hope it's offered again."-- Reed G, San Francisco

"I just wanted to send a note to say thanks for the swift kick in the pants through your master class session "Finding Time for Creativity" this weekend at the Saints and Sinners festival. I'm up before the sun is and I'm incorporating some of your ideas into my life already." -- Timothy S.

"I attended a workshop that blew me away. The workshop, entitled "Finding Time for Creativity" gave wonderfully practical advice about managing our daily lives and creating. I felt that the workshop was ultra-realistic with hints and suggestions that catered to working people. Aside from time-structuring advice she made really wise comments about eliminating fear and moving beyond blocks. It has completely altered my view of creating and making time for my writing." -- Steve R.

"I recently attended your "Finding Time for Creativity" workshop at the Saints and Sinners Festival. I found it extremely invaluable and would definitely recommend it." -- Val L.

Workshops with Jess Wells

- "From Daydream to Story: Learn the First Steps in Fiction"
- "Writing the Story of Your Family "
- "How to Write Historical Fiction"
- "Fundamentals of the Short Story"
- "Creating Credible Worlds: Settings That Work Hard for Your Story"
- "Works in Progress Workshop for Returning Students"
- "Theme is Where the Art Is"
- "Making Time for Creativity: How to Write with a Full-time Job"

From Daydream to Story: Learn the First Steps in Fiction

Whether you are a nonfiction writer who wants to break out of the mold or a daydreamer who wants to get those stories down on paper, join us for this fun and informative course in the essential elements of fiction.

In this class, you’ll get in touch with the fanciful, daydream side of yourself and also work with the core elements of storytelling that will help you transform your ideas into art.

“It’s a real joy to build stories in your head, but when it’s time to share them, there are structural things you need to know to help you recreate the excitement and experience of that story,” instructor Jess Wells says. “This class will help you get comfortable with the key elements of a story, such as the classic three-part story structure, point of view, and the role of the protagonist, antagonist and even ‘the sidekick’.”

This course will be a combination of short lectures on craft, in-class writing exercises, fun homework assignments to use new skills in building your fictional world, and readings of great stories. We may also have informal discussions on topics like how to battle writer’s block/​procrastination and ways to validate yourself as a writer.

"Writing the Story of Your Family"

Many families have fascinating pasts driven by courageous ancestors and wise elders – great material for either biography or historical fiction. Have you inherited letters or diaries? Have you heard a story at Thanksgiving that is just begging to be written? How do you go from items in the attic to fully-realized characters on the page? Could adding a fictional character increase the thematic clarity of the project?

We will work with some of the powerful writing techniques and keys to storytelling to craft either fact-based biography, fictive biography, or historical fiction. And if you have already started a project we’ll help you untangle your plot or bring verve to your language.

"How to Write Historical Fiction"

Historical fiction can transport you and your writing 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? And since any story more than 50 years in the past is considered historical fiction, sometimes one’s own childhood tale can be the source of your inspiration.

Although historical fiction is an increasingly popular and legitimate genre, it has its own unique demands. 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: it’s like a three-dimensional chess game with the bottom layer as the character’s story, the middle layer as the unique historical setting and events, and the top game being played with language.

Either during the 1-day workshop or in each session of the 5-week class, we’ll have a lecture on an aspect of the craft of historical fiction (and great writing in general), some enjoyable in-class writing assignments, and a discussion on research opportunities.

Nearly all sessions involve a segment spent on your specific project, looking either at plot development, character development, or assisting you in your research.

Our reading may involve passages from the greats of historical fiction:

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind
“The English Pupil”, a short story by Andrea Barrett
Gentlemen of the Road, by Michael Chabon
and others.

My goal is to help you identify an era and an area that speak to you, determine where and how to research, and when to stop researching. We’ll explore the requirements of accuracy vs. entertainment, discuss where to publish your historical work, and do what it takes, as a group, to move you toward your goal of creative, credible historical fiction.

"Fundamentals of the Short Story"

The short form – the short story and novella – is my absolute favorite literary form. They are multifaceted, beautifully compacted pieces of art. But they are not a snapshot or a verbal photograph – they have very hard work to do in a very short time frame. In this class we will examine and practice both in class and as homework each of the five key topics that can make a tremendous difference in your crafting of short stories:

• How to develop the emotional arc of characters by looking at their desires and the catalyst that makes them change
• The classic 3-act structure of a story; the importance of internal theme and how it matches an external statement on humanity
• Powerful beginnings that hook the reader immediately
• Setting as a plot driver
• Internal conflict and dialogue as characterization

In each session I will give a short lecture on the craft. We'll work with your material and my worksheets on the topic (or sometimes as homework as well). Together we’ll read short story masters like Andrea Barrett, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and James Joyce, and discuss how their work illustrates the topic of the week. We’ll also make time to workshop specific pieces from those who volunteer, with group suggestions and kudos.

Please bring a laptop or tablet, if possible, and work you have already created; or just come with your imagination and a desire to have fun.

"Creating Credible Worlds: Settings That Work Hard for Your Story"

Setting is not simple backdrop, like a green screen on which on film is shot. Setting in fiction plays an important role in theme, plot, genre, and even characterization. It’s no accident that your intrepid heroes have to ride through a narrow mountain pass: it’s the way the author forces friend and foe into a meeting. It’s helpful that your main character is the village doctor, hosting family after family during their crisis in a little room in the front of the house. Even the relentless dark and biting wind of a distant planet illustrates both the physical challenges facing the colony of scientists but also their brooding cruelty to one another.

Whether your write sci-fi, historicals, erotica, or modern fiction, your setting can make or break your story. In this one-day class, we’ll look at:
o What are the key to a well-drawn fictional world?
o What elements assist in creating an effective setting and better yet, an efficient setting that works hard for you in your story?
o How can a setting be drawn to challenge the protagonist in his/​her quest?
o How can a setting allow the author to control movement of the characters and introduce diversity of events and characters?

We may look at the opening pages and/​or the maps of well-known books from different genres, including perhaps:
The Lathe of Heaven, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Red Dwarf, Perfume: Story of a Murderer, The Hobbit, and The World Beneath.

We may also take a free-form map and create a world of our own to see what a setting requires.

And of course we’ll tip our hats to the amazing power of a beautifully written setting that transports us, transfixes us, lets us smell the flowers of a foreign land.

"Theme is Where the Art Lives"

Go from a wordsmith to an artist by understanding the key role that theme plays in your fiction. Deft handling of theme and its multiple facets is what drives plot, characterization, setting, in short…it’s the key to making art. Work with me on identifying the theme in your work, crafting the “only to discover that” moment in your plot/​story-arc/​characterization, and the way to make your characters the embodiment of theme.

This course has been offered as a Master's Class at the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival, New Orleans.

"Works in Progress Workshop for Returning Students"

Move your plot from stuck to thriving, pare down your cast of characters to a harmonious bunch, and discover the theme that makes your work uniquely yours. In short, get guidance, feedback and support from Jess and fellow students that will move your work — novel, short story, historical or fantastical fiction, or memoir — toward beautiful, satisfying completion.

Each workshop meeting will begin with instruction on a key to great writing and/​or the writer’s life, and then go into a round-robin where each attendee can discuss plot developments, show work, ask questions, and receive support for being a writer. There may be homework, exercises and suggested readings, examples of the greats of the short story etc., if the class wants it.

Whether you’re moving from nonfiction to fiction, from corporate writing to fantasy, from a great outline and concept but few pages, from a beginning short story or a written novel that’s overly tangled, our work together can help you. If writer’s block or a busy life get in the way of progress, we can discuss that as well. It’s your time and it’s all about you.

"Making Time for Creativity: How to Write with a Full-Time Job"

People everywhere wish they could find the time to express themselves. Meeting rooms, construction sites and classrooms are filled with people who can't re-orient their priorities to make room for art in their life.

Even those who identify themselves as artists are constantly plagued with a shortage of time to create, and students, ready to tackle a new life, need instruction on how to build a lifestyle that is conducive to their visions.

This workshop will:

• Empower the participants with practical, hands-on ways to carve out time for their art
• Instruct in priority building
• Confront the obstacles, internal and external, to a creative life
• Develop techniques for maximizing time
• Reveal the famous writers who produced great works of art while gainfully employed
• Provide guidance in building a writer’s life and budget
• Introduce the business work-ethic into the creative process
• Plan a new writer’s life that can start tomorrow

Through a combination of worksheets, discussion and lectures, participants will walk out with a plan of action that works!

"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