Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Jess Montgomery

Jess Montgomery is the author of the Kinship Historical Mysteries. Under her given name, she is a newspaper columnist, focusing on the literary life, authors and events of her native Dayton, Ohio for the Dayton Daily News. Her first novel in the Kinship Historical Mystery series garnered awards even before publication: Montgomery County (Ohio) Arts & Cultural District (MCAD) Artist Opportunity Grant (2018); Individual Excellence Award (2016) in Literary Arts from Ohio Arts Council; John E. Nance Writer in Residence at Thurber House (Columbus, Ohio) in 2014.

The Stills is Montgomery's third novel in the Kinship series.

My Q&A with the author:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Though it’s two short words, The Stills works on two levels to bring readers into my novel. The Stills is set in 1927 in the Appalachian area of Ohio (the southeastern corner). Of course, 1927 is a little over halfway through the United States’ experiment with Prohibition. My series focuses on Sheriff Lily Ross, inspired by Ohio’s true first female sheriff. In my first two novels featuring Sheriff Lily, Prohibition—and moonshining and bootlegging—are in the background of the stories, occasionally brought in as minor plot points. In The Stills, bootlegging comes to the forefront, forming a main part of the plot. Lily faces off against George Vogel, a big-time bootlegger, inspired by the real-life crime boss George Remus. She can no longer think of violations of Prohibition as simply being a continuation of backwoods moonshining that has been going on for generations. George is bringing big crime—and big danger—to the heart of Lily’s county, and not long after he arrives, people start to die. She forms a wary alliance with a Bureau of Prohibition agent, as well as people in her community, to confront him.

But Lily is also still slowly coming to terms with her grief over losing her husband, Daniel, in the first novel in the series (The Widows). Other characters, too, must pause and consider how events around them impact them at their deepest level. So The Stills also refers to those quiet, still moments we all have—sometimes by choice, and sometimes as they’re foisted on us—to reflect on our situation, our beliefs, our place in the world.

The Stills also refers to extreme illness, which forces us to be still, and of course death, the final ‘stilling’ we all experience.

What's in a name?

The novels are set in fictional Bronwyn County. Kinship is the county seat. Kinship is more than a place name; kinship is also how Lily solves crimes and manages to balance her work and personal life—kinship with family, friends, and neighbors.

Each Kinship novel is dual narrated by Lily, who as sheriff and thus the detective who solves the mystery in each book, and another member of the Kinship community (thus continuing the “kinship” theme.)

In The Stills, Fiona—the wife of Lily’s nemesis George Vogel and a former Kinship resident—is the other narrator. Here I will confess that I named Fiona after the character Fiona on the television show Supernatural, which was and is a guilty pleasure for me. My Fiona and the Supernatural Fiona have only in common that they are women who are in situations where, to retain control over their lives and safety for the people they most love, they must be wily and even manipulative.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

In some ways, not surprised at all. My family of origin—all my ancestors going back many generations—is from Appalachia. I was part of the first generation born outside of Appalachia, but our trips when I was a kid was “going on down home,” meaning to my Grandma Lou’s little house in Eastern Kentucky. When I was in high school, I wrote a musical play inspired by the ballads I’d learned from my kin. So I think I would probably just smile that all these years later, I still love writing from that heritage.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I always have a sense of the ending, sometimes quite specifically, so I have something to write toward. Beginnings are much harder for me, and I end up revising them over and over, to finally get them right (I hope).

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I actually see myself in all my characters, or at least try to put a bit of myself in each character. This is true even for the “bad guys.” I think we all (well, except for the tiny percent of humans who are actual sociopaths, but so far, I don’t write about those particular types of characters) have the capacity for joy, gratitude, love, remorse, but also jealousy, fear, hate and so on. So when I’m writing about my characters, I think about what most drives them. If it’s jealousy or fear, such as with my “bad” guys, I look at moments in my own life where I’ve experienced those feelings, and then I try to plunk what that was like into my character, and exaggerate that attribute.
Visit Jess Montgomery's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Widows.

The Page 69 Test: The Hollows.

The Page 69 Test: The Stills.

--Marshal Zeringue