Former fiction winner gets book deal

By Elizabeth Kiem

Jessica Francis Kane is no stranger to publicity. What former winner of a high-profile local fiction contest could be? Especially one who went on to become a literary agent for Norton Books.
“It’s a little strange being on the other side of it,” muses Kane, whose short story, “Pantomime,” won the 1996 fiction contest in C-ville. “I guess I’ll have to think about it a bit.”
Coming from a fresh-faced 31-year-old with a debut collection of short stories due out in July and a novel in the works already sold to a British publishing house, such ambivalence about celebrity is charming. Coming from the author whose best stories are titled “How to be a Publicist” and “Exposure,” it seems a little disingenuous. 
“Jessica knows how the game is played,” says her current publicist at publishing house Counterpoint, John McLeod. “It’s a tough world out there for literary works, and she has a realistic view of her prospects.”
Here’s how one of Kane’s finest characters, an aging author, describes the “titanic beast” of publicity: “Lowly and fawning at first, she couples with Fame and runs over the earth, her head high in the clouds, her hands microphones clobbering writers into bloody submission.”
Recently, Kane headed out to a nearby farm with a local photographer to take author shots for her upcoming story collection, Bending Heaven. When she learned that it was the property of William Faulkner’s grandson, she shouted, “You should charge a premium for this! Do you know how many writers would kill to have their picture taken here?” Spoken like a true romantic (or a former publicist).
She’s less thrilled with Charlottesville’s public work spaces. Since returning here in January when her husband accepted an 18-month fellowship at UVA law school, Kane has searched in vain for a spot that approximates the atmosphere of the London Library, where most of the stories of Bending Heaven were written.
“When did libraries stop being quiet?” wonders Kane, mentioning cell phones and business meetings held at library tables.
However, Kane does value eye-contact camaraderie with fellow writers. And the quietest local study spot she's found– the law library– still dissatisfies her, as the smiles from fellow writers are few and far between.
Kane and her husband recently bought a house in Fry's Spring where she plans to continue work on her next book, a novel based on Clara Schumann’s celebrated Russian concert tour in 1844.
Whether Kane becomes a permanent member of Charlottesville’s author ranks depends in large part upon the law school’s interest in making her husband a tenured professor. And perhaps in larger part upon the law library becoming a more sociable workplace for a budding novelist?

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