Making a living writing about secrets from the dead

Shelly Frome
Special to The Black Mountain News


Jill Jones found her genre - romantic fiction - on a lark accompanying a friend to a writing seminar.

For years, behaviorists have tried to differentiate between personality types such as practical-minded and intuitive/creative. Along comes romantic novelist Jill Jones, who suggests, in the words of the old Gershwin tune, “it ain’t necessarily so.”

To illustrate how easily she can segue from practical considerations to creativity and back again, let's begin in the summer of 1986, when she and her husband were living south of Houston.

“At the time,” Jones said, “a friend of mine was so excited about a Romance Writers of America conference in Dallas. (She) had just been given a hot new Corvette, and she invited me to go with her. My ad agency, along with the rest of the economy, had just taken a tumble, and so I was open to something different.”

There, in a hotel ballroom, she discovered 800 women writers. In short order, the whole experience opened her eyes. She had a degree in journalism, was well acquainted with works of literature and loved history, but found the formula too predictable (dashing boy meets girl, boy/girl have issues, issues are resolved). However, it was a field a woman could break into. And there was an opportunity for heroines to evolve.

Not long afterward, delving into spiritual exploration, she attended psychiatrist Brian Weiss’ seminar in Miami and encountered "past life regression." Looking for a storyline she could make her own, she experimented with a guided meditation.

“You have to start with a question,” she said. “The one I came up with was, 'show me the person that could influence my writing.' Presently, I saw myself on a high hill. There was a man with his back to me and a woman with a white dress blowing in the wind. I felt a  sadness and emotional turmoil because I knew this couple weren’t supposed to be together. Then the screen in my mind went blank. Then the words 'Emily Bronte.' Then the word 'poetry.' And it all dissolved.”

Knowing little about Emily Bronte (she hadn’t even read "Wuthering Heights"), she set out to do research, reading stacks of books on the Brontes. Soon she was engrossed in her first award-winning novel, "Emily’s Secret,"  based on an imagined, undiscovered diary centering on the last two years of Emily Bronte’s life, 1847-1848.

Jill Jones has written 11 novels, and now, in her secluded mountain home, is working on one set in the Blue Ridge.

“What I did,” Jones said, “was devise a timeline of what Emily actually did during those two years when she wrote her book. I said to myself, ‘What if? How did an Anglican spinster who never had a boyfriend come up with the classic dark hero Heathcliff?’  And that became Emily’s secret.”

Jill Jones found her genre - romantic fiction - on a lark accompanying a friend to a writing seminar.

Believing her novels should be firmly grounded in a sense of place, Jones went to Haworth in the north of England and took in the entire ambiance of Bronte’s world.

Each of her 11 novels turns on  a secret from the past and a contemporary figure trying to uncover a past life (of, say, Lord Byron or Jack the Ripper). Some of her works have gone so far as to include ghosts, séances and  haunted houses.

Recently Jones took a part-time job as director of the Swannanoa Valley Museum and later directed marketing and communications for The Blue Ridge Natural Heritage Area, headquartered in Asheville.

As a result, she became absorbed in the settlement, music and storytelling that evolved in Western North Carolina in the 1750s.  Needless to say, it all became grist for the current novel she’s developing in the seclusion of her home high in the reaches of North Fork Right Fork.

The screw turns this time around an Irish woman who, for some mysterious reason, wants to emigrate to the Blue Ridge frontier and live among the highlanders and Cherokees. What transpires, as always, is Jill Jones’ secret.