Author Jess E. Owen: Soaring to crossover success in fantasy and mainstream YA fiction

by Patch O'Furr

Welcome to Jess E. Owen, author of noblebright fantasy, and optimistic contemporary Young Adult writing (as Jessica Kara), whose book A Furry Faux Paw caught the notice of Dogpatch Press with a 2022 Ursa Major Award for Best Novel. It’s the story of a teen girl artist with a hoarder mom, facing isolation and family complication with the promise of a forbidden trip to a furry con. It stood out for reaching outside a typical insider science fiction/fantasy audience, with gateway appeal by using fandom as a setting for character building. It stood out even more as a furry teen story in the face of conservative backlash at books. A Furry Faux Paw was seen on a mainstream channel, before it was obvious that she was a furry insider — that’s well-rounded exposure! In fact, she laughed about her pen name maybe being too successful at separation from her best known fantasy series starring gryfon characters, The Summer King Chronicles. Here’s a creator worth interviewing about how her work gets around, one you might see soon at Anthrocon 2024.

(Dogpatch Press:) Let’s start with your background in writing and genre. Would you say you started as a furry writer, or just a writer?

I think I’ve always had a furry vibe before it was intentional; back in my mIRC days I was ‘Lyoness’ in my teen chat group and I think half of us had fursonas without realizing there was a whole subculture already happening. So I’m definitely in the furry community even if I don’t have an official gryfon-sona character or a ref sheet or anything. I think most people who know me consider me part of the birb/avian sector of the fandom.

As far as writing, when I came up with the concept of my fantasy series, The Summer King Chronicles, it was before I was really aware of furry as a whole community so I was really writing in more of the mainstream ‘animal fiction’ tradition of Watership Down, The Lion King, and Meredith Ann Pierce’s Firebringer trilogy (even though we can just call those furry, too! Tomato, to-mah-to, and all that). However, a friend made me aware of the Ursa Majors back in 2014 so I threw my hat in the ring with my eligible novel, Skyfire, the second book in The Summer King Chronicles. I won the Ursa for best novel that year, which caught the attention of other writers in the fandom, and I have been immersed in the community ever since. I’ve published short stories in a couple of fandom anthologies as well.

So to answer your question–yes! I call myself just a writer and a furry writer, and my books have crossover appeal for mainstream YA audiences and furry readers alike.

While you’re earning awards and appeal, how are things going as a career?

If the question is, can I quit my day job yet, the answer is no– but I consider it my actual career, and this true for a lot of writers. I’m happy with the books I’m putting out, I’m thrilled to have gotten a traditional book deal for my contemporary novels, and I’m in it for the long haul. I have a million stories to tell and I’m just hoping to get most of them out before I shuffle off this mortal coil. If money follows eventually, that would be nice. Some stories will continue to appeal to furry readers, some will be mainstream, who knows what else; I cannot be contained, someone stop me! (Just kidding).

I’m juggling day jobs, family, and multiple writing projects as well as marketing and pushing other creative ideas–I run a Patreon, I’m creating a graphic novel of Song of the Summer King with an artist, as well as audiobooks of the series, so I just try to keep all the pots stirred. Someday I hope for a tipping point when I’m making more than I’m spending, or at least enough to fund all my ideas.

Can you talk about your recent work, and the process of crossing outside of fandom with YA writing?

The most recent book I’ve published is Don’t Ask If I’m Okay, a contemporary YA with no furry ties except it was the second of my contractual obligations with Page Street YA, who published A Furry Faux Paw (AFFP)– so let’s talk about AFFP, a book about furries, for furries, picked up by a mainstream traditional publisher 😀

How did I go from writing fantasy to writing contemporary? Once I was immersed in the fandom I fell in love with the creative community and I started getting this idea to write a novel about . . . a furry. A person who is a furry, not “furry fiction.” I write primarily for kids and teens, and so the story happened in my mind that way–a teen in the furry fandom. Usually I’m a die-hard fantasy writer but all the people I was meeting and all the different stories I saw inspired a more realistic story, of a realistic teen, overcoming realistic teen obstacles.

I knew Maeve/Mauve would be a teen artist in the fandom, but it couldn’t just be about that, so the friction and plot came when I decided her mother was a hoarder, and the fandom and Maeve’s artwork were one way she distanced herself from her mother’s struggles and found her identity, and solace. So the idea developed that she’s going to attempt to break away from her mother, runs away to her first furcon, and her coming-of-age and my love letter to the fandom ensues! An agent loved it, so did an editor at Page Street YA, so that book was my first foray into traditional publishing.

My agent coined the term ‘tragi-cozy’ for my contemporary work. I definitely go for a Studio Ghibli vibe where even when difficult things are happening, there are beautiful things, friendship, and a life worth living. So while Maeve has a hard row to hoe, the book itself is cozy and mostly heartwarming and a nice little escape from the daily grind.

What reactions has A Furry Faux Paw gotten, both in general and inside fandom?

Positive reactions in general! The curious normies who have picked it up seem to come away with a better understanding of the fandom, and Maeve’s struggle with her mother garners a pretty universal emotional, empathetic response. Most furries seem to see it as a fun frolic through an accurately painted furcon, even if Maeve’s adventure doesn’t involve some issues specific to fandom and conventions (again, the fandom is not the actual focus of the story, but a loving backdrop). I’ve gotten reviews and letters from furries expressing their joy at my depiction of the fandom, and seeing themselves reflected in the pages, which was my whole goal.

I’ve had only one negative email which implies I glossed over the darker parts of the fandom and actually suggested that the book was dangerous for portraying too sunny of a picture and should be pulled from publication. (I found that pretty shocking and have not answered them). I get the sense this isn’t someone from “outside,” but someone who had a terrible experience within the fandom, which unfortunately does happen–but it happens with all groups of humans whether it’s a fandom, church, or school–not just furries. To expect a single novel to cover every base is a tall order. The novel is also from the point of view of a girl whose experience has been mostly positive, so it would be hard to address ‘everything’ without it becoming a very different book.

The book is not an exposé on the fandom, nor is it intended to explain everything about it or point a light into dark corners. It’s one (fictional) character’s (fictional) experience. It is, perhaps, a Hallmark version of the fandom, but I have personally had a positive experience overall, and I think it’s okay to reflect that. Anyone interested in researching the community further has plenty of resources at their disposal. I think we can agree the furry community has had its (un)fair share of negative press already, so I flipped the narrative.

My hope would be that if a young person is interested in the community, this book could be a lighthearted way to introduce friends and family to the positive aspects, and could open the way for conversations about how to conduct yourself and be safe in a larger community.

What’s it like to work with an agent, and how has the book sold?

Like having a writing buddy, cheerleader, and professional advocate all in one! My awesome agent, unfortunately, has decided to leave the publishing business for personal reasons, but she got me my first traditional book deal and helped me navigate some of the questions around book contracts, authors’ rights, marketing, and so on. It’s like having a go-to publishing reference because they only succeed when you succeed, so your best interests are also theirs. My agent was “editorial” in that she liked to read and make comments and suggestions on my manuscripts before sending them on submission; not every agent does that. It depends on their work style, and the writer. It was good for me because she knew the market very well and it was my first dive into writing contemporary fiction, so I valued her insight and market knowledge.

About sales numbers for AFFP; I will say sales are about ‘as expected’ for a YA contemporary without becoming a bestseller or allowing me to quit my day job. Page Street is a smaller press, so while they’re distributed by Macmillan and have vastly more reach than I would on my own, AFFP is still a niche book so it hasn’t surprised anyone with sales numbers either good or bad. My hope is that it’s still relatively unheard of and will continue to gain traction both inside the fandom and out. A few of my subrights have reverted back to me so I will be working on an audio version as well, which I’m very excited about, and I continue to push the book on my own!

You have some fun news about Anthrocon… and how else can people find you and your work?

YES! This is the year I will finally make it to Anthrocon! I’ve been to Midwest Furfest and Texas Furry Fiesta multiple times, and a couple of smaller (now defunct, sadly) cons, but this will be my first time hitting the east coast! I’ll be bringing plenty of copies of AFFP as well as my gryfon books and HOPEFULLY the much-anticipated second book in The Dragon Star Saga, Shadow Sun. I hope to see lots of folks there.

If people want to get a jump on reading, they can find my books pretty much wherever books are sold, or request them at your local library. More about my fantasy series here:, and my contemporary novels here:

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