Syosset Writer Pens Mystery Tale


Jennifer Wolf Kam wants you to know how Devin Rhodes died and who is responsible, but don’t expect an uninterrupted, straightfoward explanation from the Syosset-Jericho native.

In her first published novel, the young-adult mystery tale Devin Rhodes Is Dead (published on Oct. 14), Kam plunges into nonlinear storytelling, building suspense and then pulling back; raising the dramatic pitch and then dropping it to an unsettling silence. The alternating “before” and “after” chapters rachet up the suspense, building to the dramatic conclusion.devincover-306x488b

The trail to Kam’s own dramatic conclusion as published author started in the Jericho School District where, as a young student, she remembers writing stories on construction paper to read in class during circle time. At Jericho High School, she was editor of the school’s literary magazine Pegasus, in which she showcased her creativity and nurtured her inner writer.

“I always wrote throughout my life, into my college years, but always with the idea that I needed to pursue another career,” said Kam, who worked in human resources for eight years before heading back to college after the birth of her second child. She attended the Vermont College of Fine Arts and finished in three years, earning a master of fine arts in writing for children and young adults. “My family was very supportive. I wrote at night when they were sleeping. It was difficult balancing school and family, but it was fun for me.”

And she was rewarded for her effort. Kam is a three-time finalist for the Katherine Paterson Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing, offered by the journal, Hunger Mountain. She also submitted two novels to the National Association of Elementary School Principals with the prize being a publishing deal with Charlesbridge Publishing. Two of her novels were named top five finalists, with Devin Rhodes Is Dead nabbing the top prize.

Kam describes the book as a supernatural teen mystery, with chapters that alternate betweent he past and the present. The reader begins knowing that the title character Devin Rhodes is indeed dead, and that her best friend Cass thinks it is her fault. Cass is haunted by Devin’s ghost, and gradually reveals the actual events that led to the untimely death.

“I’ve always liked spooky stories and I love to be scared. While I was writing it, I figured if I’m not scared, the reader won’t be either,” she said. “I enjoy writing suspenseful chapters leading up to something — building that spine-tingling feeling.”

Kam said writing in the back-and-forth, past to present manner started as a plotting technique for her. But soon it became an intrical part of book and carried the story to unforeseen places.

“The hardest part of writing for me is plotting; I tend to plod instead,” she said. “Alternating between past and present helped me make sure I didn’t leave any holes and that I had dropped enough clues. It also created and prolonged suspense, and set up cliffhangers at the end of different chapters.”

As for this current chapter in her life, Kam said she is still writing and currently working on something new. She is mining old material and revising some pieces for potential release. On Thursday, Oct. 23, Kam will appear at the Book Revue in Huntington for a reading and book signing event from 7 to 9 p.m.

“I don’t think I ever got to a place in my head where this would happen, but I sure hoped it would,” said Kam about her newfound literary accomplishments. “It’s what I always wanted and I’m grateful and ecstatic.”

Much of the credit for where she is today, she believes, goes to her parents as well as to her schooling.

“I grew up with incredible teachers in Jericho and I think we have fabulous teachers now in Syosset,” said Kam, who served as PTA president for A.P. Willits Elementary School, and currently serves on the board of the Syosset Council of PTAs. “Writing is something you really have to want to do. Some kids love it, some kids are reluctant, but the best way to get them into writing is through reading.”

What began as a hobby that blossomed from a love of reading, shifted into a second career for Kam — a mystery she solved by simply going for it.

“The only sure way not to get published is to not write,” she said.

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Steve Mosco, former editor-in-chief at Anton Media Group, is a columnist for Long Island Weekly's food and sports sections. He fancies himself a tastemaker, food influencer and king of all eaters.

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