When Jess Montgomery was six, she wrote one of her earliest stories, “The Fireman,” in which a fireman rescues a kitten from the top of a tree. For those of us who know Jess Montgomery (a pen name for author Sharon Short), the topic of that story is not surprising. Jess is one of the most genuine people I know and a woman with a huge heart; I’m pretty certain that if she found a kitten in her tree today, she’d be on the ladder, trying to coax it down to safety. When Jess isn’t saving cats or writing, she serves many other roles: newspaper columnist, writers’ workshop executive director, mentor for an MFA program, mom, wife, baker, music lover, and generous literary citizen, to name a few. Her novel, The Widows, is the first in her Kinship Historical Mystery series. Set in 1925, it’s a story that’s inspired by Ohio’s first female sheriff, Maude Collins. The book is set to launch on January 8, 2019, by Minotaur Books (see pre-order details and information for a giveaway after the interview). As always, I’m grateful that Jess found the time to answer my questions, considering all of the items she has on her plate these days.
Christina: In addition to “The Fireman,” you also wrote, “Just an Old Ballad,” a musical that you even produced and directed in high school, which means you’ve been writing in some capacity for most of your life. What do you do to keep from getting burned out?
Jess: I do take breaks–some by choice, some just because life occasionally forces them. But I find if I go more than a week without writing, I become restless–almost physically itchy! Perhaps I caught a writing bug years ago? Anyway, I find if I get stuck, then taking a break to do something physical–a walk, baking, a bit of straightening up around the house–helps to get my creative juices flowing each day. I think showing up each day to do the work–no matter how well or how poorly it goes–is essential for keeping a creative rhythm going. Any break jars me out of my rhythm, and it’s harder to get into. I do, however, try to not write on Sundays as a way of honoring a day of rest. (However, if I’m on deadline, I write on Sundays.) At this point in my life, I probably have more ideas than time left on this earth, so I am always eager to get to my keyboard or notepad.
Christina: Your website is very forthcoming with details about your life and some of what has inspired you over the years. What has been the greatest source of inspiration for you?
Jess: I love to come across unusual, forgotten or overlooked bits of quirky history. Often that will spur an idea for a novel. For short fiction, it’s different–usually something that bemuses me in a wry sort of way will inspire a piece of short fiction. I’m still exploring that, finding my way with short fiction. For essays, I have several experiences that call to me to be written about. Writing is often how I make sense of the world, or try to at least, so that’s what inspires me for personal essays–writing into personal experiences as a way of understanding them.
Christina: You’ve said that you “come from a long line of story-tellers.” If you weren’t a writer, what other profession could you see yourself pursuing?
Jess: Hmmm. That one is tough, as I’ve wanted to write ever since I can remember. I started writing at age six, and knew I wanted my stories to be read by others! But if I had to choose, I’d probably say “baker.” I love to make pie–as anyone who knows me for five minutes quickly learns–and occasionally bake other items. Scones and bundt cakes are my favorite non-pie bakes. I’m also intrigued by the notion of running a café or B&B–but I know it would be a lot more work than I can even imagine. On a related note, I think it would have been fun to be an event planner–but again, a lot more work, I’m sure, than I realize. Then again, writing is a lot more work than most people who talk or think about writing, but don’t do it as a profession, realize!.
Christina: You’re very generous with your time and talent and serve as both an official and an unofficial mentor for emerging writers. What is the best piece of advice you can give would-be writers or the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Jess: Read, read, read. Read your genre. Read outside of your genre. Read craft books. Learn your craft, but also learn the business of publishing and writing, and realize that like any business or industry, there are set processes in place for submitting your work and working your way up in the industry. Don’t fool yourself into thinking those processes don’t apply to you because you’re work is so terrific. No matter how terrific your work is, it won’t get read or published if you ignore the industry’s standards, expectations and processes. Learn them, respect them, follow them.
Christina: Knowing how much you love to read, do you have a favorite fictional character? What makes that character your favorite?
Jess: There are so many to choose from, so I’ll take the easy way out and pick a childhood favorite–Harriet the Spy. I choose Harriet because she is gutsy, feisty, spirited–and a writer. She learns it is OK to be different, but also to respect the people around her and like them for who they are. I re-read that novel literally 13 times in junior high–the reason, I think that I survived junior high!
Christina: Many of us know that you love pie. Which type of pie is your favorite and why? And if you could be any pie, what would it be?
Jess: My favorite, and the pie I’d be, is buttermilk. Buttermilk pie is a little unusual–not the first choice that comes to mind. It’s simple and quick to make, though, and combines sweetness with just a bit of tanginess. And I’ve found that people who initially think they won’t like buttermilk pie actually do–once they give it a chance. I think I’m a lot like buttermilk pie!
Two very important items before we close:
- The Widows is available for pre-order! Those who pre-order will receive a pre-order “thank you” gift from Jess–just email her at email@example.com to let her know you pre-ordered! You will also be entered into a drawing for a piece of art inspired by The Widows. Visit Jess’s website and/or Facebook Author page for details.
- Minotaur Books is offering a final giveaway of three Advance Reader Copies of The Widows, December 1-8! To enter, visit Jess’s Facebook Author page. Go to the giveaway post, pinned at the top. *Like* and *share* the post for a chance to win. Winners will be drawn at random on December 9.
Thanks to Jess for agreeing to this interview! If you know of an author who’d like to be featured in an interview (or you are an author who would like to be featured), feel free to leave a comment or email me via my contact page.