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    Photos by Chris Witzke​​

    There’s a metallic click as the front door opens, followed by the sound of an unusually high-pitched woman’s voice, somewhere north of Glinda the Good Witch, but without the warble.

    “Whooo!” it calls. “Archie! Archie! Come on!” The woman is shouting out the front door, not quite drowning out the breathy peel of the little girl who has just noticed her father in the front room. “Hi, Dad!” the five-year-old sings, bouncing into the room on tiptoes. As the girl chatters, a beautiful blond retriever, Naamah, wiggles past, trailed by Archie, some kind of lab mix, and together the dogs tour the house, nosing each person in a sort of a canine attendance taking.

    The woman with the voice is very slender, with green eyes and pale-pink, makeup-less skin. She wears shorts and a Hanes T-shirt and looks nothing like the person I’ve spent nearly five hours talking to in recent weeks. Instead of the impressive swoop of blond that haloed her face during previous visits, her hair is pasted to her head, like she just got out of the shower. Gone are the carefully lined lips, the penciled brow, the light touch of blush to her cheekbones, the marquis diamond post earrings with the lustrous pearl drop. The transformation is startling. Stick around, she tells me, her voice now lower by a good octave and a half, and I might just see her in her pink bathrobe — her work uniform.

    This is Jessica Bird making a rare appearance as Jessica Bird. When I met her earlier, she was in her elegant costume as J.R. Ward, the penname that appears on most of her romance novels. J.R. Ward usually wears black and white. J.R. Ward favors expensive jewelry. J.R. Ward is comfortable in black patent-leather platform heels, and as she sits talking, she uses those shoes like pointers, stretching out a long leg and gesturing — a living-room Rockette.

    In a sense, J.R. Ward is the character Bird created while she wore that pink bathrobe and sat down to write, which she does daily, no matter what else is going on.

    “I work all day, 365 days a year. I don’t take vacations,” she says.

    Even when you’re out of town?

    “Yes.”

    Does it throw you to be in a different environment?

    “It is unacceptable for me to be distracted.”

    What does that mean?

    “I’m just not distracted.”

    People know not to bother you?

    “I don’t allow myself to be distracted.”

    OK.

    “It’s not acceptable to me.”

    Why do you say it like that?

    “Because that is my personality. I’m very disciplined. I’m very focused. I’m about performance, excellence, hitting goals.” She’s almost ferocious on this point, her voice growing more insistent. “I’m very focused, very detail-oriented, and not really in to people; I’m very introverted. You know, I fit the perfect profile for a creative person, but I don’t consider myself as creative.”

    Wait…what? Not creative? In her slew of bestselling books she’s shaped an entire world with its own species, religions, crisscrossing plotlines and hordes of personalities. And she’s not creative? 

    “No, I’m just…I’m a businesswoman first. And this is my business.”

    So there you have it: a bestselling romance author with more than 30 books to her name (actually, nine to her name and 25 to her penname’s name), published in 25 countries in several languages; a bestseller in the U.S., Germany, the United Kingdom and several countries in South America, with 16 million copies in print, and she makes it all sound as romantic as the small talk at a soft drink bottlers’ convention. 

    Jessica Bird: romance author as the anti-romantic.

    We’re sitting in one of the three formal living rooms on the first floor of the big columned house across from a golf course in the East End. The wall covering around us features birds sitting on trees, each trunk growing up from the white baseboards. The author seems to wear an ornate golden headdress, the result of her seat immediately in front of a mirror with an elaborately filigreed gilt frame.

    Her latest book is The Angels’ Share, the second novel in what will be at least a three-volume series. It’s set in a Louisville-like locale and includes a lovesick playboy returning to the estate that bourbon built and his poor, disfigured older brother, who summons pricey call girls because he can never have the woman he truly loves, the heiress of a competing bourbon empire. Then there’s the dashing-yet-heart-sick lawyer too injured to understand that the self-involved bourbon heiress he loves (named Gin, of all things) just might be ready to grow up. Or not. Even the master distiller is smitten with his new employee. Everyone is in love! (Or else they’re having lots of cold, calculated sex, but never mind.) So with enough passion to fill the Ohio River and send it lapping over the floodwalls and into downtown New Albany, what does the creator talk about?

    Coke. 

    Or Pepsi.

    Certainly not romance. “I think of myself as a commercial author,” Bird says. “What that means is, I have a market presence that is like Coke or Pepsi, right?” Or, more accurately, “Coke or Pepsi, plus or minus 10 percent.”

    Pepsi or Coke? Not wish fulfillment? Not guilty pleasure? 

    Nope. Think brand loyalty. Her output is a commodity that must meet certain consumer expectations. Remember New Coke? People didn’t want New Coke; they wanted same-Coke-every-time. As do her readers, Bird explains. Her readers demand “the same kind of emotional journey over and over again.” And the differences in plot and conflict and characters from book to book, that’s the plus-or-minus-10-percent part. “You have to be new and fresh while providing the same entertainment experience,” she says. That’s the challenge. It’s output. It’s product. What it’s not, Bird says, is creative. She is adamant that she creates nothing. 

    And this is where it gets weird. Bird, who is 47, denies being creative because she doesn’t imagine the stories in her books so much as she channels them. “The way it works for me is, I have pictures in my head,” she says. “There are stories. The stories are completely separate from me. I cannot influence them. I don’t have any sway over them. They show up, and they have nothing to do with me. My job is to transpose into words what I see in my head such that other individuals can read the words and get an approximation of the film reels that roll in my head.” Feeling romantic yet?

    I guess it’s like taking notes at the movies. For instance, the night before our first meeting, she had turned in the final draft of the second book in her new Black Dagger Legacy series, a spin-off from her blockbuster Black Dagger Brotherhood series. (These are stories of superhero vampires with amazing abs and pecs. The vampires battle slimy enemy minions and fall in love with a series of everywoman vampires, or mostly vampires, and mostly women.) Anyway, with that book behind her, out of nowhere, her internal screening room opened for business, and suddenly it was show time on the third Legacy book — not what was on her schedule. “When the pictures come to me, I can’t see anything in front of me. Everything else goes away, and all of the sudden I’m looking there and I see Novo, who’s one of the characters. I can see exactly what she’s dressed in, what her hair looks like, and where she is in the club, and what she’s thinking. And then, I see the man who’s like coming into the picture, and I understand their relationship, and I can see the two of them together…I didn’t intend to start outlining today, but then: Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! These pictures go blllllp! And it’s like, it’s my job to put that into chronological order, do you know what I mean?”

    She says “Do you know what I mean” a lot, 28 times in one interview, and sometimes I don’t know what she means. This is one of them.

    She says she’s had these impromptu matinees since she was seven years old growing up in upstate New York. “It’s not anything mysterious, and it’s not anything special, and I’m not brilliant. It’s just sort of like people have an affinity for math. That’s just the way my head works.”

    So the words in the book are hers, and the decision to include some scenes and delete others are hers, and the order in which scenes appear is her call, but the stories and the characters — about 80 percent of the final product, she estimates — come from Elsewhere. She doesn’t try to figure it out. She just goes with it. Her personal deus ex machina plot device: a great big deus pulling her strings, or at least whispering in her ear. Is that romantic?

    Her husband, Louisville native Neville Blakemore, compares it to something that happened to him on their first date. (Blakemore, the Democratic candidate for state treasurer last year, spends most of his time working with community organizations and is chairman of Great Northern Building Products on 15th Street.) They were at the Four Seasons in Boston on New Year’s Day. He’d been pushed into the rendezvous by a coworker, Ellen Trager, in the Boston law firm where he was director of marketing. Trager’s was an irresistible presence. “You walked into her office — it was a corner office — and everything was like wood, and ornate, and little spindly legs, and an armoire, and scarves. Everything beautiful. No computer. And she just really sort of pounded people, pounded men, with her femininity and her ovaries,” Blakemore says. One day, she stopped him and said, “I have the perfect girl for you. Call me.”

    “So of course I ignored her. It was the only way to deal with her, to sort of put her at arm’s length or she would pound you into submission.” But there was no escape. “She had me paged into her office. And as I came into her office, she informed me that this woman, Jessica, was on the phone, and I needed to pick up and talk with her right then, right now.” What else could he do? He settled into the loveseat in Trager’s office, and picked up the extension on the coffee table, and had his first chat with Jessica Bird while Trager listened in on an extension.

    So the date at the Four Seasons was their first unsupervised conversation. Waiting for their table, Bird began to describe the kind of life she hoped to live: a big house, parties. And something happened to Blakemore as he listened. “I really was struck with a very strong premonition, kind of a tingle down my spine. I’m going to marry this woman. I didn’t say anything at the time, because I thought that would be a little weird on a first date.”

    This momentary premonition, he says, is a small taste of what his wife goes through when these tales are “downloaded” — her word. “While I don’t experience that, I understand it,” Blakemore says. “I totally understand it. It makes sense to me…It’s like tectonic plates. It’s like the iceberg. It’s below. It’s things shifting. I just felt it.”

    Who’s the romantic now?

    And it all came true. The wedding, prominent enough to merit announcement in the New York Times. The big house. The parties. Everything.

     

    Dominique “Nique” Freeze and Mindy Wiseman have a better-than-front-row seat on all this. They work for Bird three days a week, gardening and helping with the couple’s frequent entertaining. Every January, they begin planning for the annual extravaganza that is the Oaks Day Brunch, which Bird and Blakemore have hosted for four of the last five years. (The couple took 2015 off so Blakemore could campaign.) This year, 712 people came to the morning gathering. Word is, this party generates the biggest florist bill for a single event in Louisville all year, although I wouldn’t know how to verify this. The cost of flowers dwarfs the $5,000-plus liquor bill. The flowers cost more than the food, Blakemore says. They come in boxes, and vans, and truckloads from South America and other places in the three or four days before the party. “It’s the most extraordinary thing you’ve ever seen,” Bird says. “It’s buckets and buckets of tuberoses and tea roses and miniature roses and peonies and viburnum and, oh my God, hydrangeas! And the colors!”

    In the six years Freeze and Wiseman have worked for Bird, they’ve all become close. First Bird would invite them into the house, out of the hot sun, during their lunch breaks. Then she began to join them. “At 12:30, we would break for lunch, and she’d text us and would be right down,” Freeze says. When the flowers are delivered for the Oaks bash, Bird can’t stay away. She joins the women in the basement as the blooms are cleaned and clipped and put in buckets by variety. “It’s a really special, fun time for us,” Freeze says. “And she gets excited about every bouquet Mindy designs.”

    And it has made them semi-famous. They are both in the Bourbon Kings series. Unlike Bird’s previous books, in which there are no references to real people, the Bourbon Kings series includes portraits of several Louisvillians (or Hoosiers, in Wiseman’s case). Wiseman is the model for Bourbon Kings heroine Lizzie King. They’re not the same person, by any means. For one thing, Wiseman’s not having a tumultuous affair with the scion of a bourbon empire. But Lizzie has a farmhouse in Indiana, and so does Wiseman. Lizzie drives a Yaris and a truck. So does Wiseman. Lizzie is levelheaded and mostly imperturbable. So is Wiseman. (“Jessica says that I might lack a central nervous system,” Wiseman says.) Lizzie has a best friend and coworker who protects her like a mother hen and mutters to herself in German. So does Wiseman. That would be Freeze, model for Greta von Schlieber in The Bourbon Kings. The two women in the book work on the bourbon maker’s estate, Easterly. Wiseman and Freeze work for the author. The two women see other resemblances between themselves and their characters. “Nique says it’s almost like she (Bird) has hidden little recorders everywhere, and she’s constantly listening to us talk,” Wiseman says. “She puts in the book conversations that we have.”

    “It’s amazing,” Freeze adds. “It’s like she’s right there with us.”

    “Like she read our mail,” Wiseman says.

    Not all of this crossover between reality and fiction is comfortable. With the exception of the Christian romance sector, sex is essential to this genre. And Wiseman’s fictional doppelgänger has plenty. Thirty-nine-year-old Wiseman is untroubled by this. But Freeze can’t bear it.

    “I skipped it,” Freeze says. “I’m like, I’m not reading about her sex life. Not happening.” The sex in other J.R. Ward books has always presented a little challenge for Freeze, who found herself slamming books shut if she thought her hairdresser, for instance, might notice the explicit action on the page.

    Wiseman remains unflappable. “Jessica gave me the manuscript and I took it to my mom,” Wiseman says. “I thought, if it made Nique uncomfortable, it’s going to make my mom uncomfortable.” It did. “But I’m like, It’s a character!

    Another character, the rakish lawyer Samuel T. Lodge, was inspired in part by Blakemore’s longtime friend, Henry Fitzhugh Camp, president of Shippers Supply Co. in Louisville. But Bird is careful to explain that Camp has nothing in common with Samuel T. when it comes to behavior. “Samuel T. Lodge’s maroon Jaguar is Henry Camp’s Jaguar,” she says. And “the farm that Samuel T. lives on is Henry Camp’s farm. And the land, and this interesting, laconic kind of outlook, the Southern gentleman, hunting, but cracker-jack at business” — that’s the resemblance. Not the sexual trysts in the wine cellar.

    For the longest time Freeze and Wiseman thought of Bird simply as a personable, funny woman who kept a strict work schedule. “She’d come down with her hair all messed up, and a bathrobe. It was a long time before we realized there was another Jessica,” Freeze says. They finally met her at a book signing in Cincinnati.

    That signing was an eye-opener for Bird as well. 

    “Oh my God. It was the weirdest thing,” she says. In her earliest signings, her husband’s family made up a substantial percentage of the attendees. Six months later, she was drawing 50 or 60 people. Then there were 100 or so. Then 200. Then 400. “I began to get the sense that I had deliberately started this ball rolling with the writing, but that suddenly something else was happening,” Bird says. Then came the Cincinnati Barnes & Noble signing. “I go out to do the talk, and I looked around, and there were 890 people in the Barnes & Noble.” Merchandise had been cleared in the store’s CD section to make room for 200 chairs. It was nowhere near enough. “Everything was packed; everything was standing room only. The entire bookstore was filled with people, and there were people climbing up on shelves to see over the partitions. I mean, it was a fire hazard. I had this very clear thought as I stepped out: We’ve radically misjudged this. This is bigger than all of us.”

    Since then, her signings have been scheduled in ballrooms and routinely attract 800 to 1,000 people. “I can’t remember whether it was my agent, or my editor, or maybe it was my PR guy at the time. He says, ‘It’s author as rock star, you know?’”

    For non-romance readers, this is difficult to understand. Readers of literary fiction tend to dismiss romance writing as beneath them, but the genre is No. 1 or No. 2 in fiction sales, competing only with the thriller/mystery category. This May, Nielsen reported that romance is a billion-dollar market that made up 29 percent of all adult fiction sales. About 16 percent of romance readers are men. Most are women between the ages of 30 and 54, with average incomes of $55,000.

    And fans of J.R. Ward are as devoted as any romance readers out there. “A lot of people don’t realize how deep her fan base goes, and how rabid they are,” Bird’s longtime editor, Kara Welsh, publisher of Ballantine Books, says. “They really love her.”

    When Bird drops a hint about an upcoming book on her Facebook fan page, she sets off magnitude-7 tremors in her fan base. In early September she asked, “Do you believe in reincarnation? Trez will.” (A little background: Trez is a vampire whose lover, Selena, died in The Shadows, the 13th book in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series. This development produced the rarest of outcomes in romance: No HEA, as romance aficionados say — as in, no Happily Ever After. Some readers felt betrayed. One reader commented in an online discussion forum: “I don’t read romance books for realism, I read them for fantasy, the HEA. If I wanted a more realistic book, I would read my cell biology.”) Bird’s Facebook hint prompted more than 800 fans to respond almost instantly:

    “Please don’t play with my emotions when it comes to Trez. He deserves so much!”

    “OMG. I got the chills all up and down my spine just now. YAY.” 

    “What?!?!”

    “I buried that book in my sister’s yard I was so upset at the ending.”

     “OMG YES!!!!! Also I think I actually made a slight shrieking sound when I read this.”

     “You know… if we were to have a drinking game with all the ‘OMGs’ in this thread, I would be drunk in 30 seconds.” 

    “Se tratara del alma de Selena en otro cuerpo? OMG”

    “I’m dying!!! I’m dying!! I can’t wait for their happiness!!”

    “OMG! OMG! I love u so much, so muchhhh!”

    “I’m literally crying right now I’m so happy!!!”

    “Don’t know if I love you or hate you for that little bombshell! Nah, I totally love you!!!”

    In June, Bird asked her Facebook fans what they thought about threesomes. More than 3,000 people replied. Most of the respondents had no problem with the subject matter, 2,300 giving it a thumbs up, 514 a heart, and most weighing in with some variation of, if it’s handled well, why not? Many fans responded with near love letters: “You are an author with amazing imagination, so write whatever your mind tells you to write.” “The books are my life right now.”

     

    Bird didn’t start out to be a writer. After graduating from Smith College and working as a personal trainer for a year, she earned a law degree from Albany Law School and went to work in health administration, ending up as chief-of-staff at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, about a 10-minute walk from the hospital where she was born. She was married in 2001, and in 2003, the couple moved to Louisville, Blakemore’s hometown.

    But Bird had always been writing, ever since she was a child in upstate New York, when summer meant visits to Lake George in the Adirondack Mountains and time with a woman who deserves to be a character in some future J.R. Ward production, her cousin Pyrma Pell. Cousin Pyrma and her husband John HG Pell lived at the Pavilion at Fort Ticonderoga when they weren’t in Manhattan. The family had purchased the fort in 1820, and today it is operated as a museum. In Bird’s vivid memories, Pyrma Pell is about 60, a woman who carries a parasol to protect her paper-white skin from the sun. And she clearly fascinated 12-year-old Bird with her chandelier diamond earrings and collar of diamonds and pearls so big “it formed almost a shawl on her shoulders down to her décolletage,” Bird says. “She was the most fabulous thing I had ever seen in my life.” 

    Bird remembers a perfectly powdered Cousin Pyrma making her way across one of Lake George’s pebbled beaches in a cotton swimsuit with a peplum, a 1970s-style bathing cap covered in plastic petals, and two enormous diamond rings on her bird-like hands, competing with the sun-touched lake for sparkle. Bird has been fascinated with jewelry ever since — so much so that she picked out the diamond for her engagement ring after researching its details and handed it, box unopened, to Blakemore to present to her at the moment he deemed appropriate. Cousin Pyrma’s memory also inspires the Oaks Day Brunch. “I think that entertaining was done right in the 1950s and 1940s and 1920s and 1930s,” Bird says. “I love ladies in hats. I love beautiful clothes. I love that they get their family jewels to come out to the Oaks. I love women with lipstick and perfume and gentlemen who have pocket squares and bowties, and wing tips and boater hats. I guess I like it because it makes me think of Cousin Pyrma. It takes me back to when I was 10 or 12 years old.”

    It was Blakemore, then still Bird’s boyfriend, who helped her move from writing as pastime to writing as career when he read one of her “hobby” books and contacted an old girlfriend who worked for a literary agent. Ballantine published Bird’s first four novels, under her own name, while Bird still worked at the Boston hospital. But none of those books sold well, and about the time the couple moved to Louisville, Ballantine dropped Bird from its list of authors. “So I was no longer Jessica Bird, you know, this person who had a professional identity up north. All of the sudden I was little Neville’s wife down here,” she says. She needed to reinvent herself, to find a new voice as an author. She read Story, by celebrated screenwriting teacher Robert McKee. She began to deconstruct the romance novels she loved, seeing what made those books work. And she readjusted her thinking. “I made an agreement with myself. I was like, I’m going to write whatever this is for myself only. I’m not going to pay any attention to getting this sold. I’m not going to worry about whether anyone was going to like it. I’m not going to worry about what you’re allowed to do or what you’re not allowed to do. I’m just going to write the goddamn book!” 

    And that’s when the hip-hop vampire superheroes of the Black Dagger Brotherhood appeared. Almost immediately, she envisioned plotlines for 10 books. She could see the world they lived in and understand its rules. She wrote three sample chapters and, in 2004, sent her pitch to publishers with no hope anyone would be interested. (You typically need a whole book for your pitch.) To Bird’s surprise, there was a bidding war. It had been only six months since her last publisher dumped her.

    Bird’s timing was prescient, says Welsh, her publisher. “Vampire stuff was just bubbling up, and you could tell from her writing — we could tell — that she was going to do something a little different. The way the characters talk, it felt fresh and younger than other vampire books out at the time. It felt like a genre-buster.” (Bird ultimately ended up back at Ballantine, the company that fired her, when Penguin and Random House merged and her editor at Penguin became publisher at Ballantine, part of what is now Penguin Random House.) 

    Bidding wars generally mean a bigger payday for the author, but that’s a matter of perspective. “At the time, it seemed like more money than I had ever seen in my life,” Bird says. “But it wasn’t much compared to what I’m making now.”

    A sizeable crystal chandelier hangs over a coffee table between us. Fat catalogs cover the table’s surface. There are seven or eight of them, including Magnificent Jewels, issued by the British auction house Christie’s. Another is from Van Cleef and Arpels, another from Bulgari. They could be research for her Bourbon Kings series, in which nearly everyone is filthy rich, most are filthy-minded and brand names act as signifiers. Maybe her Rolls Royce, her Porsche, her Jaguars, Mercedes, BMWs and Pininfarina — all of which she’s owned at one time or another — also served that purpose. Maybe not. Her husband, who drives a Ford, jokes about the wealth her work has brought them. “Yeah, her success bought this house. My business pays for the doormat,” he says. When I checked in mid-September, Amazon ranked J.R. Ward 59th among the top 100 romance authors, no small thing. 

    Today, she juggles three series, writing three books a year — a substantial output at roughly 1,500 pages annually. Her biggest and longest lasting series is The Black Dagger Brotherhood. The first volume, Dark Lover, was published in 2005, and the 14th, The Beast, was released in April. The second book in her newest series, the Black Dagger Legacy, comes out in December. Her six-book Fallen Angels series is paranormal romance pitting devils against angels. It wrapped up last year. And finally, there’s the Bourbon Kings, a fresh direction for Bird/Ward, dealing only with mortals chained to the usual rules of physics, biology and whatever money can buy.

    Louisville residents reading the book will wander an eerily similar landscape on the streets of Charlemont, the city where the Bourbon Kings takes place. It’s not Louisville, Bird insists. She couldn’t let the actual geography, history and reality of the city limit her. But it’s darn close: There’s the annual Charlemont Derby at Steeplehill Downs, and the bourbon families — none of which, Bird takes pains to point out in the first book’s afterword, are based on any bourbon family you have heard of. There’s the Ohio River, and River Road, and the Falls of the Ohio, Blue Dog Bakery on Franklin Avenue, and little insiders-only references such as Dorn Avenue, and a street called Hilltop, known for its Halloween decorations. And there’s the University of Charlemont men’s basketball team, the Eagles — hey, at least they're birds and wear red. (Bird has U of L basketball season tickets.) Even the blue-clad Tigers from Kentucky University make a brief appearance. But this is a southern-fried sort of Louisville, not the city that can’t decide if it’s Southern or Midwest or just its own weird barrel-aged blend. NBC considered, but ultimately passed on, a television series based on Bird’s novel. 

    And this sort of non-Louisville Louisville brings me back to Bird herself. In our hours together, Bird rarely dropped her guard to be just Jess. She declined to talk about her father’s death a few years ago. She allows no one to see where she writes. She wouldn’t entertain a request to spend time with her and the team who handle the advance book-signing chores, a six-day labor that involves five people unpacking and repacking while Bird signs book after book until her arm falls off. She deploys J.R. Ward to get her through the invasions of privacy she endures. Friends recognize this. Camp, who inspired the Samuel T. Lodge character, sees it. “She’s so deeply in her own mind, she literally lives in her own world. She’s very much more stimulated by what she’s thinking than things outside of her. She actually puts on a persona” when she’s meeting people, he says. But, he says, he prefers Bird, the woman he describes as, “Jess in the ponytail, with all her little foibles and insecurities.” I never met that person. 

    The person I met described her regimented life and obsessive drive with a Spockian “That’s illogical to me” when I asked her about guilty pleasures. Everything is subordinated to her single-mindedness. “I don’t eat in restaurants. I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I don’t do drugs. I’m not going to have an emotional relationship with food. I am not going to have guilty pleasures. I refuse to allow emotions to divert me from accomplishing my goals.”

    We had talked for nearly three hours before she acknowledged she might have taken a day off over the last dozen years or so. Actually, there were three days: two came the year she had 28 root canals in one year. The third came when her daughter was born. And if she ever backs away from this break-neck pace, it will be because she doesn’t want to model a life of non-stop work for her child. “So I think I could see myself slowing down for the first time, and it’s largely because it’s such an extreme lifestyle,” she says.

    If readers of Bourbon Kings can be said to have visited Louisville, I can be said to have met Jessica Bird. But in fact, what we get is the edited version. To do otherwise is simply not logical.

     

     


    Henry Fitzhugh Camp
    , president of Shippers Supply Co. in Louisville, has the same car and the same farm as Bourbon Kings lawyer Samuel T. Lodge, but not the same lifestyle. 

    Samuel T. in The Bourbon Kings: “As the prattling continued, Samuel T. was reminded of why he preferred to sleep with married women. When you had sex with someone who had to worry about a husband? There wasn’t this expectation of a relationship.” Also, this quote: “You, my darling, are like poison ivy to me. Even though I know that it will only make things worse, I can’t help but scratch.”

         
    Mindy Wiseman and Dominique “Nique” Freeze work for Bird three days a week, gardening and helping with entertaining. Wiseman is the model for Bourbon Kings heroine Lizzie King, Freeze for Greta von Schlieber. Their characters work at Easterly, the estate of a treacherous bourbon-making family. 

    Lizzie and Greta in The Bourbon Kings: “Like watching exotic animals at the zoo, Lizzie thought. Standing at the very edge of the tent, she watched the glittering people wind in and out of the tables she and Greta had set up. The talk was loud, the perfume thick, the jewels flashing…It was the kind of fantasy life that so many thought they wanted to live. She knew the truth however. After all these years at Easterly, she was well aware that the rich were not inoculated against tragedy. Their cocoon of luxury just made them think they were.” And this quote from Lizzie: “The woman was having your child. So maybe you didn’t love her, but you were clearly doing something with her.”


    Gary Edlin, Bird’s friend and St. Matthews veterinarian, is the model for Bourbon Kings master distiller Edwin “Mack” MacAllan Jr. Both the distiller and the veterinarian attended Auburn University and are dyslexic. 

    Mack in the The Bourbon Kings: “He wanted to get in his half-ton and ram the grill of that F-150 right into the lobby of William Baldwine’s office at Easterly. Then he wanted to take his hundred-year-old hunting rifle and put some holes in the desks of all those corporate idiots.”

    This originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe, click here. To find us on newsstands, click here. 

    Jenni Laidman's picture

    About Jenni Laidman

    I'm a freelance writer who specializes in science and medicine but is passionate about art. I'm a hell of a cook. I think of white wine as training wheels for people who will graduate to red. I love U of L women's basketball. The best bargain in town is the $3 admission to U of L volleyball. Really exciting stuff.

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