Edison State hosts WYSO’s Book Nook discussion with Jess Montgomery


By Dawn Hatfield


PIQUA — On Wednesday, April 19, 2023, Edison State proudly hosted author Sharon Short, pen name Jess Montgomery, as part of the One Book Many Communities program. Veteran interviewer and creator of WYSO Book Nook Vick Mickunas led the discussion with Montgomery whose Kinship series of mystery novels features the lives of women in 1920s Appalachian Ohio.

The event began with a meet and greet and book signing with Montgomery at 5:30 p.m. and was followed by a discussion of her book, “The Widows,” at 7 p.m. inside Robinson Theater at the Piqua campus. The event also reached a larger audience by way of live-stream via Facebook at various public libraries.

Montgomery, a self-proclaimed introvert, was anything but reserved in sharing the details of her life and her work as a writer. Having beaten the odds and become a published author who only earlier the same day had secured a new book deal for an upcoming stand-alone novel, “Trouble Island,” to be released in fall 2024, Montgomery explained she has “been a writer her whole life.” She shared that she wrote and sold her first book around age five to an aunt for the price of one penny. Montgomery said, “Writing is part of my DNA; I’m just going to keep writing.” She compared her ability to cease writing to that of giving up breathing. With such stubbornness and determination, Montgomery was almost certain to rise to a level of fame and success.

With four novels now amassing the Kinship series, Montgomery described “Kinship” as not just a place in her series, but an idea. Main character Lily Ross is the recurring narrator in each novel but is joined by a different co-narrator in each subsequent book. Montgomery said she enjoys providing additional points of view and found that, in the debut Kinship novel, “The Widows,” having Marvena enter the scene allowed the reader to learn more about the characters, namely Daniel, Lily’s deceased sheriff husband. After initially writing a significant portion of the book with Daniel narrating in first-person, Montgomery joked she realized she’d left him “bleeding out for 80 pages” and decided there must be a better was to delve deeply into who Daniel was. Enter Marvena, a voice from Daniel’s past who had known him since he was barely more than a youngster. Montgomery said she enjoys featuring women’s conversations and is adept at revealing the depths of her characters.

The idea for “The Widows,” which ultimately gave life to the entire Kinship series, sprang from the true life of Ohio’s first female sheriff, Maude Collins, in 1925. Montgomery described feeling “thunderstruck” when she happened across the story of Collins while researching for book ideas. Montgomery explained that even today, there have been only five female sheriffs in the state, and that having the first occur nearly a hundred years ago seemed incredible.

Writing in the setting and tone of 1920s Appalachian Ohio felt natural to Montgomery who described growing up with “one foot in Ohio and one foot in rural, eastern Kentucky.” By spending so many years “goin’ on down home” where she fell in love with Appalachian life—the quilting, ballads, gospel music, language, story-telling, and, of course, dried apple stack cake—she was only mildly surprised by how easily it all came pouring out of her. Her personal experience, coupled with incredible research and what fellow authors have hailed as “masterful story-telling” makes for a hard-to-put down series. Montgomery said one of her favorite things is to hear from a reader, “You know, you ruined my sleep—I just couldn’t put your book down!”

Fans of the Kinship series will be delighted to know there are talks of a potential television series in the works. Montgomery revealed to the audience at Edison State that she has already met in person with an unnamed television producer who is “astute and really gets the books.”

Even with so much success to stand on, Montgomery was incredibly candid about her moments of doubt, revealing that both as a columnist and novelist, there tend to be the recurring couple of minutes at the start of every writing session where she thinks she can’t do it, can’t write something that others would really want to read. But then, she begins writing, sometimes writing even her doubts on the page, knowing that the clack of the keyboard will shortly morph into the words she truly means to say.

This multi-talented writer has written multiple books under both Sharon Short and pen name Jess Montgomery, “Montgomery” chosen as an homage to her Ohio county. Under her given name, Short wrote “Sanity Check” for Dayton Daily News for more than a decade and also pens “Level Up Your Writing (Life)” for Writer’s Digest. She holds a B.A. in English from Wright State University and an M.A. from Bowling Green State University. She continues to live in Ohio, where she was born a “first-generation Buckeye,” as her Kentucky relatives so often love to remind her.

To learn more about Montgomery’s series and upcoming projects or to sign up for her newsletter, visit jessmontgomeryauthor.com. For information and interview excerpts on Book Nook by 91.3 WYSO, visit wyso.org/show/book-nook.

Reach Daily Advocate Reporter Dawn Hatfield at [email protected] or 937-569-0066.

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