(September 30, 2014)

Alumna publishes first novel, earns readers' praise

SHREVEPORT, LA — Alumna Jackie Burns Shemwell '96 recently published her first novel, The Devil in Canaan Parish, a southern gothic mystery novel with Francophone influences set in 1957 south Louisiana.

Jackie Burns Shemwell
Jackie Burns Shemwell '96

The Devil in Canaan Parish tells the story of a middle class couple trying to keep up with the Joneses. One night a tropical storm hits their small town, and a stranger, Melee Mouton, arrives in town. The young Cajun girl goes to work as a maid for the couple and quickly becomes a prisoner in the their bitter, covetous household. Soon an evil presence begins to haunt Melee and the couple. The local Sheriff gets involved to try to rid Canaan Parish of the devil that has taken up residence.

"The first time I thought about writing this story was during my freshman American literature class with Dr. Earle Labor," said Shemwell. "We were reading a passage in John Winthrop's journal dated March 1647 in which he tells the story of 'a very sad occasion' about a young woman named Mary Martin whose destitute father sends her away to be a maid for a wealthy family. Some terrible things end up happening to her, and she is condemned to death and hanged. I was taken by this brief passage about the life of a young woman and could not get that story out of my head. I started writing the novel then."

With more than 150 copies sold in three weeks, The Devil in Canaan Parish readers have consumed the story. Shemwell shared that fans are calling it a "page turner" and a "roller-coaster ride."

"There's a huge plot twist at the end, and most of my readers have said they 'can't put it down,'" said Shemwell.

Despite the Francophone influence seen in the novel, Shemwell did not take a French class until coming to Centenary.

"By the time I graduated I was fluent in French and graduated Magna Cum Laude with two Bachelors—one in French and one in English," said Shemwell. "But I remember one time, early in my freshman year that I was just freaking out, thinking how in the heck am I going to learn another language? Dr. Dana Kress and I went outside and sat on a bench, and he talked to me in French for about an hour. He didn't think it was a waste of time, or embarrassing, or awkward at all to sit and help me through my tragic early French- learning phases."

Later, Kress helped Shemwell participate in an exchange program at the University Catholique in Lille, France, during her junior year. The year abroad was life changing and inspiring to Shemwell.

"I think every single American needs to spend some time abroad, preferably in a non-English speaking country," said Shemwell. "I live in Dallas now, and I was heading out of town on a business trip and saw this massive advertisement at Love Field that the entire freshman class at Centenary was going to Paris. I was delighted and so proud to see that!"

The Devil in Canaan Parish is available on Amazon Kindle, Google Play, iBooks, Kobo Books, and Nook. Shemwell's author page, "Tales From the Porch Swing" can be found here.