Book & Author details:

The Book by Jessica Bell
Publication date: January 18th 2013
Genre: Adult Contemporary (Novella)



I knew nothing at all about The Book going in – hadn’t even read the synopsis.  So imagine my eyebrows arching when I opened it to find it begins with the syrupy –sweet, tired awe of new parents writing to their infant daughter in a diary.  It is the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me—to see you being born…” the father rhapsodizes in the first entry.  Later, Mummy confides, Being your mother is the most rewarding occupation. When I feel those tears coming on, I just look at your face, and it helps me keep them hidden until I go to bed at night…”

I remember those feelings.  I remember wanting to chronicle every little spectacular and mundane detail of my child’s existence – and my utter failure to keep up once the reality of parenting kicked in.  I smiled at the time gaps between the entries, how Bonnie leaps from newborn to her first Christmas to toddlerhood in just a few pages.  We have the best of intentions when we start out as parents, don’t we?

So I could relate,  but I was skeptical about what I was reading, and why. Epistolary fiction – a story in letters – is a challenge.  A little risky, not easy to do well.  Where was the author going with this? More importantly, would it work?  

I’m happy to say that, yes, The Book worked for me.  I found the structure interesting: I like how we gain insight into the characters through a variety of narrative techniques and points-of-view.  Bonnie’s parents use The Book – a shared diary – not just as a record of Bonnie’s early life, but as a means to communicate with their future daughter (and, sometimes, with each other). Later, five-year-old Bonnie speaks for herself in first-person narrative, with a strong, precocious voice.  Aware of The Book but not its purpose, Bonnie wonders why it seems to make her mother cry or her stepfather angry, and develops some surprising ideas – a neat twist.  And through transcripts of Bonnie’s taped sessions with a therapist, we see her from an outside, more clinical perspective.  The Book is complex, intelligently crafted and, so far as I know, quite unique.

Because it is heavy on narration and dialog, the actual story within The Book isn’t made explicit.  We aren’t given a blow by blow of how Bonnie’s parent’s marriage dissolves, for example, or the circumstances and relationships that arise between the characters afterwards, since the characters are writing to each other or narrating to themselves.  They have little need to spell things out in exposition.  Thus the story sneaks up on you bit by bit; as often you figure out what’s happened through what isn’t said, or what’s between the lines. 

I like that.  I’m a fan of subtle.  I’m a fan of stories that get under your skin without you realizing it until you’re hooked.  I read The Book in bits in pieces, usually over coffee while my son was eating breakfast.  I remember one scene in particular took me by surprise, and I had to keep reading in that peeking-through-your-fingers kind of way to find out what would happen. We ended up late to school that day.  I guess that’s when I figured out for sure that, yup, The Book is good.

There were a couple of things that I didn’t love.  Bonnie’s mother was weak in character in a way that chafed my feminine sensibilities.  I kept wanting her to get a backbone and stop being so dependent on men.  It is what it is and didn’t hurt the story, per se, but I don’t know how central it was either. I would have liked to have at least seen her weakness rooted in something, explained or justified, resolved and maybe overcome in the end.  I’m not sure that it was.

And though I admire the way the character of Bonnie just explodes off the page (somewhere I saw the author mention it was more like channeling than writing, and that definitely shows), there were times that I couldn’t quite get comfortable with Bonnie.  She is uncannily precocious for her age (it is eventually stated that she’s something of a prodigy).  Yet, at the same time, her narrative is riddled with a typical five-year-old’s corrupted spelling/pronunciation and contextual misunderstanding, to the point of redundancy.  Plus Bonnie is also an Australian five-year-old, and I’m NOT, so I think some things were lost in translation. (What, exactly, is “making doll’s eyes”? An unblinking stare? Batting your lashes??” I googled it, but I still can’t tell.)

As a result, Bonnie’s narrative often called attention to itself, which kept me from being as immersed in the story as I might have been.  But I can’t deny that Bonnie is a stand-out character.  I loved her forthrightness, her insights.  I loved her questions about human nature, and I was moved by her father’s attempts to answer them at the end of the book.  This is definitely a kid who sticks with you even after The Book is done.

I’m not going to go into too much more detail, because I think a little bit of mystery makes this an enjoyable read.  I’ll just say, overall, I was pleasantly surprised, and look forward to more from Jessica Bell in the future.

I would definitely recommend The Book to anyone who relishes smart and innovative literary fiction.


This book is not The Book. The Book is in this book. And The Book in this book is both the goodie and the baddie.

Bonnie is five. She wants to bury The Book because it is a demon that should go to hell. Penny, Bonnie’s mother, does bury The Book, but every day she digs it up and writes in it. John, Bonnie’s father, doesn’t live with them anymore. But he still likes to write in it from time to time. Ted, Bonnie’s stepfather, would like to write in The Book, but Penny won’t allow it.

To Bonnie, The Book is sadness.
To Penny, The Book is liberation.
To John, The Book is forgiveness.
To Ted, The Book is envy.
But The Book in this book isn’t what it seems at all.

If there was one thing in this world you wished you could hold in your hand, what would it be? The world bets it would be The Book.

If Jessica Bell could choose only one creative mentor, she’d give the role to Euterpe, the Greek muse of music and lyrics. This is not only because she currently resides in Athens, Greece, but because of her life as a thirty-something Australian-native contemporary fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter/guitarist, whose literary inspiration often stems from songs she’s written. Jessica is the Co-Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal and annually runs the Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca. For more information, please visit her website:

When a friend invited me to participate in an upcoming pulp-inspired “giant monster” anthology, I initially turned him down – something to the tune of “well I don’t… do? giant monsters?” But he asked me to think about it, and I did, and I’m glad. I won’t say too much, as the project is still pulling bits of matter into it’s orbit, but I started with a “what if”, and ended up somewhere I never expected to go:


Mosaic of the Schiaparelli hemisphere of Mars – USGS Astrogeology: Martian Hemesphere Images












I’ve decided I like writing to themes. I like challenging my own habits and tropes, trying out my voice to other people’s songs. The resulting arrangements can be very interesting – like…

pagan gods and terra-forming


‘Sapporo Underground Pedestrian Space Station Road”’ in Sapporo, Hokkaido prefecture, Japan} by 663highland











magic, black-eyed maidens, and destiny –


“the goddess” by Eddi van W.




Mercury Spacesuit – NASA







– on Mars.


Speaking of Mars, and playing outside our comfort zones, here are some interesting Red Planet-related oddities I discovered while writing my story:



942_streamPRINCESS OF MARS – by Chase Toole

Searching for illustrations of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars series, I stumbled across this image by contemporary artist Chase Toole.  I honestly thought at first that it was taken from some 60s pulp cover.  Although the heroine in my story is (mostly) fully dressed, I’m in love with this girl.  Just look at those colors, and contrasts.



Featured recently on NPR, The Mars Society is an organization dedicated to “furthering the exploration and settlement of the Red Planet” through “Public outreach fostering Mars pioneers, worldwide support for government-funded Mars research and exploration, and private-enterprise Mars exploration and settlement.”


I didn’t know there was such a thing – did you?

Want to sign up?

Or, you could just SEND YOUR POETRY TO MARS and touch the cosmos that way.


“haiku” – Monrovia Public Library


A part of the Going to Mars Project, NASA has invited citizens of earth (yes, you!) to write  mars-related haiku.  Three global winners will be recorded on a dvd that’s to be sent with the MAVEN spacecraft into – yeah – outer space.
Everyone who participates will get their name on the dvd, at least.  To find out more, visit Going to Mars with MAVEN.



Want to know more about giant monsters, beautiful (clothed) ladies, and colonies on Mars? WATCH THIS SPACE – there’s more info to come!




The editors at The Alchemy Press have been posing Q&A to the writers of the Book of Ancient Wonders


Read the original interview at the publisher’s blog ALCHEMY PRESS

Q&A: Shannon Connor Winward

Under the spotlight today: SHANNON CONNOR WINWARD
Tell us a little about yourself, and what you like to write?

I’m an American author and poet. Most of what I create is speculative – some sci-fi, fantasy, and what’s been called “mythpunk” – though I write a little bit of everything. On my blog I talk about real life: the writing process, the emotional ups and downs. I chronicle my experiences raising a child with special needs, because I feel there’s a lack of information and empathy for families who have to go through this, and it’s my way of contributing to a larger conversation. I like to write about what touches me, what fascinates me. A lot of my stories deal with death and madness, but not in a macabre sense. I like to explore liminalities.

What inspired you to write Passage?

I minored in anthropology as an undergrad, with a special interest in the Celts of Britain and Ireland. I was writing a thesis on Celtic death rituals, which is largely speculative due to a scarcity of archaeological evidence. I came across a discussion of how the Celts may have used the monoliths as a means of connecting themselves psychologically to the landscape, since they had emigrated there, and places like Newgrange and Stonehenge predated their culture considerably. I became so distracted with the idea that I wrote “Passage” instead of what I was meant to be working on. I scribbled it in the middle of my research notes.

If the TARDIS could drop you off to any one site in its heyday, where would you go?

I’d love to visit Great Britain in the Iron Age – though, to be honest, if the Doctor came to get me, I wouldn’t be picky.

What appeals to you most about ancient sites/landscapes?

I feel a closer kinship to ancient religions than to modern ones, at least in a spiritual sense. Our ancestors were more intimately tied to nature and her cycles, and that is reflected in their sacred sites.

What do you have coming out next?

I have poems due out in various magazines, all TBA, and I’ve been invited to participate in some local fiction anthologies. Right now I’m working on a sci-fi story inspired by Egyptian mythology and Edgar Rice Burroughs, and a modern-day fairy tale about a wicked librarian. I’m also working on my second novel, an urban fantasy, and my first poetry collection. I publish updates and links to my work on my blog.

[Shannon Connor Winward’s writing has appeared in many venues including: Pedestal Magazine, Flash Fiction Online, Strange Horizons, Illumen, This Modern Writer [Pank Magazine], Hip Mama Zine and the anthologies Twisted Fairy Tales: Volume Two, Jack-o’-Spec: Tales of Halloween and Fantasy and Spectacular: Fantasy Favorites. Her poem “All Souls’ Day” is nominated for a 2012 Rhysling Award.]

I have discovered that writing short stories is dangerous to my mental health.

I strive for balance. I’ve said this before – my dearest wish is to portion out my have-to’s (housekeeping, exercise, balancing the checkbook, doctor’s appointments, childcare), want-to’s (gardening, meditating, learning), and MUSTS (writing… also, writing) in some kind of predictable routine. I want to feel peaceful, accomplished, and satisfied in life


rather than constantly fighting to catch up with one thing or the other.


As it turns out, though, my muse is a bipolar bitch who refuses to be yoked.

After months of crippling writer’s block, largely due to frustration with my current novel, I started work in February on several short stories I had promised to anthologies. Moving them out of my mental queue would be helpful – obligations to other people always loom large in my mind. I feel guilty, and distracted from anything else I mean to do.

Plus, I figured that short story work would help me transition back into writing the novel – being shorter projects, self-contained and conscripted to a certain theme. Like running sprints to get ready for a marathon.


And I was right – come April, I’ve gotten back in the habit of writing, got the juices flowing, won my confidence back. And I think I’m ready to start the long journey once again, for all those reasons…

but also because, damn. Writing short stories is apt to kill me.

It’s like this: when I start a project, I start out slow. I like the 250-words a day challenge – a promise I can keep on any given day, doable even over morning coffee while the Kinglet eats his waffles and watches Spongebob before school. If I don’t know where I’m going yet, or need to think about a scene, I can write enough to still see the story grow, even if I don’t come back to it for the rest of the day.

Eventually, the daily wordcount gets higher. I get to know the characters, get invested in what’s happening. The project blossoms from something to play with into something I need and want to do. Then – voila – I’m writing a story.

With novel writing, this process works great for me. I can build a routine around it, writing something almost every day, feeling good that I’m chugging along, every day another step in that journey of a thousand miles…

The trouble with shorts, though, is that it only takes a few days of writing before you can start to see the end. For me, that’s where the crazy kicks in.

I think, oh, look. I’m almost there. If I push it, I can make it… just a little farther. Come on now, girl, work it. Dinner? What? No. Mommy’s working. Let me just kill of this character, finish this scene, search and replace all those -ly words, wait. This passage isn’t working, I just need to DAMN IT LEAVE ME ALONE.


No more writer’s block – now I’ve entered into a compulsive, manic creative state. When finally (HUZZAH!) the draft is finished, I look up to realize it’s eleven PM, my child has been sent to bed without a hug, my husband has slunk off to amuse himself with Netflix, my back hurts from sitting so long, and (lately) I’ve chain-smoked my way through an entire pack of Djarum specials. *cough*

BUT THE DRAFT IS DONE. Now what do I work on next? Hmmm. What about that other story…

I’ve completed three shorts since February, two for the anthologies and one I hope to start shopping soon. But I think now, for the sake of my family and my sanity, I need to chill.

Novel writing is hard – damn hard – but at least the end-game madness is a long time in coming.