November 2015 Author of the Month: Jessie Bishop Powell
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We call this site “Our Write Side” because that’s what it really is. We want you to meet and mingle, find great new reads, a new author, maybe even a guiding light. We want to pay it forward to the same writing community that has treated us with such love and support.
This is why every single month we will host one author; one outstanding writer to showcase for the whole month.
This month we honor one of our favorite writers.
Our Write Side is pleased to introduce you to the Authoress, Jessie Bishop Powell, otherwise known as the Jester Queen in blogland.
Jessie Bishop Powell grew up in rural Ohio. She now lives in Montgomery, Alabama with her husband and their two children. She has Master’s Degrees in English and Library Science from the University of Kentucky.
She and her children have Asperger’s Syndrome, though their issues differ drastically from those of William and Sara. The first book in this series, The Marriage at the Rue Morgue, was published by Five Star in 2014. Her first novel, Divorce: A Love Story, was published as an e-book by Throwaway Lines. Both titles are available on Amazon.com. You can find out more about the author and her works on her blog, Jester Queen.
Name: Jessie Bishop Powell
Latest Book Released: The Case of the Red-handed Rhesus (forthcoming November 2015)
Contact Info: firstname.lastname@example.org
Preferred Genre: Mystery, Fantasy
We are so honored to have you as our Author of the Month! Thank you for sharing your words with the world! Let’s talk about your latest released book.
Tell us a short blurb about the book, please?
In The Case of the Red-handed Rhesus, newlywed primatologists Noel Rue and Lance Lakeland juggle competing demands and struggle to protect the ones they love. At work, the orangutan lets himself out at night, a run-amok capuchin nearly wrecks the sanctuary’s annual fundraiser, and the spider monkeys use their nimble tails to steal evidence from the police. At home, the couple navigates a hasty move into town while raising three foster children, two of them on the autism spectrum.
When a decapitated body disrupts a morning feeding and a severed head tanks the most important job interview in Noel’s career, it becomes clear that time is running out. Will Noel and Lance solve the mystery or be the next ones to lose their heads … literally?
Where did your idea for the story come from?
The first novel in the series, The Marriage at the Rue Morgue, stems from my tendency to flub words. Talking Poe with my husband, I said “marriage” for “murders” and knew I had a killer title. But that was all I had. I decided to look for other contrasts, which is how the only certain fact in the first book was that the killer was not an orangutan. The series grew from there.
How long did it take you to write it?
The first draft? Around six weeks. The revisions? Ugh. I had the wrong killer. I had to revise the whole thing when I realized I had pinned the crime on the wrong guy. It took me the whole summer.
How did you come up with the title?
Because The Marriage at the Rue Morgue was a play on a mystery title, this book is also a title play. All of those Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew books have similar sounding names. The Case of the Mystery of Something Semi-deceptive. For instance, while the Nancy Drew title The Secret of The Old Clock does indeed feature crucial evidence hidden inside a clock, and Nancy spends the whole story looking for said timepiece, it only shows up towards the end. And it’s what’s hidden inside that really matters. So The Case of the Red-handed Rhesus features a nonexistent variety of macaque in the title, and the reason the monkeys are crucial to the story only becomes clear once the whole plot unfolds.
It’s not really a single line. I loved creating the younger children’s language. They are twins and are both autistic, but they don’t resemble each other in any way. The boy, Will, is quieter, and he has a receptive language delay that’s key to the mystery. (More about that below.) He calls garden squash “lemon-nanners” and cameras “cheese-lights”, for instance. And the girl, Sara, is an absolute chatterbox who subverts language to meet her own needs. Among other things, she can’t recite ordinal numbers correctly, so she says “firth” instead of “first”.
Noel and Lance find themselves sucked into the twins’ vocabularies. Towards the end of the book, Noel is exhausted and trying to figure something out, but she thinks “firth”, then wonders “Firth? Were my ordinals devolving into lemon-nanners?”….only to realize later “Yes, lemon-nanners and cheese-lights”.
I like it because it makes no sense outside of the story’s context, but it explains Noel’s state of mind at that moment perfectly.
There’s a lot of talk in the writing community about “writing what you know.” Does that apply to this book?
It’s advice given backwards. Writing only what you already know is pointless. Far more useful is “Know what you write”. An author may have no subject knowledge and still compose well on the topic. But a good author comes back and fact checks. Whether I have foreknowledge or not, I put a lot of research into my work. I have Master’s degrees in English and Library Science. I can research like a demon.
I know a little about autism, but I know nothing of police work, monkeys, or foster care, three of my main themes.
I run everything “cop” by Chief Deputy John Schadle, a detective with the Adams County, Ohio police department. I check all ideas “sanctuary” with Melanie Bond, a volunteer with The Center for Great Apes, whose expertise spans many years of primate care. She has been a godsend because she isn’t just an ape expert, she’s also an amazing writer and editor. She’s read my drafts and given sublime critique. She’s also introduced me to other experts, like Robert Ingersoll, a primate activist who answered my six million questions about rhesus macaques.
In this second novel, I feature children in the foster care system, and I had to research that, too. I read books and talked to foster families, social workers, and degreed experts like Lisa Harvey, who used to run Trifecta. I did take creative liberties with the system, but not huge ones.
I also needed to research autism. Though my kids and I have Asperger’s, one of my primary goals was to portray the ways that autism can manifest itself so differently in even closely related people. The little boy, Will, has what’s called a receptive language delay. That means he struggles to understand others’ language. My friend Dawn Beronilla shared her son Xander’s adventures with that condition to help me get a feel for Will’s voice. I made up most of Will’s words, but one of them, “cheese-light” is an irresistible Xander original.
Finally, I have no expertise whatsoever with poems. In fact, my poetry is rather awful. But one of the characters is a poet. The one poem in the book is by my friend K. Donovan
How did you find “your voice?”
I checked under the sofa. It’s where my kids chuck everything.
In all honesty, though, I’m still looking. I find that each story I tell has its own voice, and that I have to bend to its needs. There’s a fine line between a writing tell, a repeated mistake that gives a writer away, and a writing voice, a collection of unique characteristics that define a writer.
Do you stick to one genre or do you dabble in others, too?
No, I write whatever comes to mind. My first novel was an e-book published by a micropress called Throwaway Lines. It’s about a woman who is her rock-star father’s road manager and is best described as women’s or literary fiction. I’ve also written several fantasy short stories, and I’ve got a full draft for a fantasy novel that needs more editing.
Right now, I’m finishing the third title in this series, The Mysterious Affair of the Spider Monkey, editing that fantasy novel (currently called The Thief’s Bargain), and trying to actually get my shit together to finish a blog entry.
Which manuscript did you have the most fun working on?
At what stage? There’s a Facebook meme about the various points of writing a novel, and I go through all of them. It seems like whichever one I’m currently working on is the one I like least, but as soon as I switch to another, I want to be back with that first one again.
What is your best one sentence advice to other writers?
Your gut matters more than the experts will lead you to believe.
Let’s talk about you, the author, now. What do you do when you aren’t writing?
I teach college English online. (I’d rather not say where, as I try to keep my two personas separate). I chase my kids. Our whole family has been taking taekwondo classes and loving them.
If you had to sum your life up in 3 words, what would they be?
Really fucking weird.
What motivates you?
I wish I knew. I’m not very goal oriented, though people perceive me this way, and I’m much more of a “shiny object” person who leaps from one fascinating amusement to the next.
Tell us about your favorite cause.
Autism awareness, in particular, the autism self-advocacy movement.
Identify your superpower.
A complete inability to think like others.
What’s your favorite ….
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
Sorry, too many to choose only one. I have read The Lord of the Rings more than any other books I own, though.
Star Wars, the real Trilogy, or The Princess Bride
Like the books, too many to choose between. I enjoy everything but new country and hip-hop. I’ll always blare Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, Holst’s The planets (especially Mars, The Bringer of War right now!), Lola by the Kinks, Ramblin Man by the Allman Brothers, and Amie by Pure Prairie League. I also turn up the volume for just about anything by Queen, Annie Lennox, The Ramones, They Might Be Giants, The Black Crowes, The Black Keys … at the moment I’m into The Head and the Heart, Houndsmouth, George Ezra, Hozier, Chvrches …. you see why this one is a lot harder for me to pin down? Rock and symphonic are my favorites. Let’s leave it there.
Here my true nature appears. Ribeye steak, rare to medium rare
Are you coffee or tea?
And lastly, what is the one thing you wish people who DON’T write would understand about writing?
That a novel is worth a hell of a lot more than a cup of Starbucks, and it will last you longer.
Thank you for answering our questions.
To find out more about this fabulous writer, please follow her social media and author pages below.