Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Jessica Knauss - Guest Author

Jessica Knauss writes historical fiction and contemporary magical realism, or realism with a quirky twist. Her paranormal novel, Awash in Talent, was selected for publication through the Kindle Scout program (which is, no surprise, where I met Jessica).

What do you do that you suspect causes your copyeditor to pull her/his hair out?

I’m a copyeditor, slave to the Chicago Manual of Style, when I’m not writing, so of course my books are perfect. But actually, the copyeditor for Awash in Talent missed the sense of humor—it’s untraditional, for sure—so I think she was pulling her hair out because she couldn’t find the comic relief.

What language error, when you hear or see it, grates on you like the screech of fingernails on a chalkboard?

It’s not so much a screech of annoyance as of laughter when I see anyone use the wrong homophone or near-homophone. English is amazing in that we can spell the same sounds many different ways, and I’ve written about distinguishing homophones a few times on my blog, sometimes as a way to help me remember which is which. The most egregious (and funniest) one I ever saw was “My novel is illegible for a contest.” Of course, the author meant “eligible.”

When you start reading a book do you always finish it? If not, what causes you to permanently put a book down?

I finish most books I start, but I believe the author has a responsibility to tell the story in an engaging way. I won’t finish a book if it’s merely throwing a lot of words on the page. The most notorious example of a book I did not finish is Roberto BolaƱo’s 2666. I got to the last section solely on the hope that it was going somewhere. If someone can honestly tell me that it ended up with a point, I’d pick it up again.

What is the background noise when you write and why is it there?

While writing the middle novella that makes up Awash in Talent, Waterfire, I made a whole playlist. The main character, Kelly, loves all kinds of music and wants to be a composer. I listened to the fiery pieces mentioned in Waterfire: “Girl on Fire,” Manuel de Falla’s “Ritual Fire Dance” from El amor brujo, and “The Prayer of St. Gregory” by Alan Hovhaness. I looped in lots of other works with “fire” or “flame” in the title, and this listening informed Kelly’s eclectic musical sensibilities.

How did you develop the idea for Awash in Talent?

I dreamed about a girl who discovers her magical powers after emergency surgery to remove aluminum (a whole aluminum can in the dream) from her digestive tract. Normally, a fragmentary dream couldn’t carry a whole novel, but when I started writing, the narrator, the magic girl’s envious sister, was so compelling that I kept drawing ideas from the world around me and my happy years in Providence, Rhode Island, to keep fleshing it out. Awash in Talent was like an old-fashioned candle: I kept dipping it into different vats of liquid wax and it picked up the colors to become a multilayered story.

Are you a plotter, pantser or something in between and why?

I’ve completed two novels now: Seven Noble Knights was plotted, with chapter outlines, color coding, and character charts; Awash in Talent was pantsed, with inspiration, scribbles on scraps of paper, and sessions of “freewriting.” I needed a lot more support for Seven Noble Knights because it’s a historical epic and I had to be sure to honor the history and keep all the moving parts sorted out. Pantsing worked for Awash in Talent, but as I work on my third and fourth novels, I’m trying to do more preplanning to avoid wasted effort. I hope to have a reliable system worked out soon…

When you compare your first draft to your final draft, do you net add words or subtract words? In general, what is it that you add or subtract between first and final draft?

In the heat of the moment of writing, I tend to make logical leaps and leave out context readers need in order to understand what’s going on, so I definitely add in later drafts. My critique partners are reliable for telling me what I’ve inadvertently left out—thanks, Low Writers!

Name three not-well-known authors you would recommend and tell us what you like about their writing.

Kim Rendfeld’s historical novels are set in an unusual time and place, but I know she’s done her utmost to make them authentic while telling unforgettable, engaging stories. Another historical novelist who deserves more attention is Kristin Gleeson. Her books are so fast-paced you finish them way too quickly. She always puts a sparing amount of historical detail in, just enough to orient the reader. I admire the finesse of both of these authors. Seymour Hamilton’s novels are wide-ranging, starting with the incomparable Astreya fantasy trilogy, going through The Laughing Princess (fables with dragons), and ending (for now) with The Hippies Who Meant It. He’s the author to read if you want something outside the ordinary that’s indisputably excellent. [Editor’s note: three new authors to me that I need to check out.]

To find more information about Jessica Knauss and her writing, check out her website and blog. She’s also happy to hear from you at Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Here's a little blurb to whet your whistle about Awash in Talent:


So much Talent can kill you.

Welcome to Providence, Rhode Island, home of telekinetics, firestarters, and psychics!
Emily can’t escape her annoyingly Talented telekinetic healer sister without committing a crime.
Kelly must escape her pyrokinesis school and bring Emily’s sister to Boston—her mother’s life depends on it.

Appointments with Emily might drive her psychic therapist insane.

With so much Talent, sometimes it’s all you can do to function in an un-Talented society.