Meet Jessica Knauss – Author of Awash in Talent
Please tell us about yourself
I’ve wandered all over the United States, England, and Spain, mostly with my husband. We’re currently settled in the beautiful American Southwest, but don’t know where the wind may take us next.
My highly praised novella, Tree/House, is available in ebook, softcover, and audiobook formats, and my genre-defying short stories have been collected in Unpredictable Worlds. My love of Spain has led to a medieval epic novel, Seven Noble Knights, which will debut December 15 from Bagwyn Books. Contemporary paranormal Awash in Talent is my first novel to be published. It’s available now from Kindle Press.
Find all the latest at my website and blog at jessicaknauss.com
When did you first discover your passion for writing?
I didn’t so much decide to be a writer as I was born one. I was writing, illustrating, and stapling together children’s books before I knew alternative careers existed. When adults asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I was baffled: I was already a writer. They asked if I was going to be a children’s book author, but I knew writing was an apprenticeship and responded that I was going to write at whatever level I was reading at, ending up with novels for adults, of course.
Awash in Talent is being marketed as YA/New Adult, and it was just as challenging as my historical novel, in different ways. Over the years I’ve found that categories of writing aren’t hierarchical. Writing for adults and for young people have different criteria, but neither is a higher level than another.
Which character or characters do you identify with in your book? Why?
Beth is a younger sister and is lavished with praise because of her Talent. That happened to me as a youngster, so I can understand that dynamic and why she becomes self-important, though I studiously avoid that fate.
I sympathize with Kelly, and I think my readers will, too. She’s a firestarter who doesn’t understand her own Talent and feels like an outsider. Oddly, that’s one of the most common feelings in the world.
Though I’m not a psychic like Patricia, I did go from California to New England for college and fell madly in love with the region, the way she does.
Do you dislike any of them?
My most notorious character is Emily, the self-centered, envious sister of multi-Talented Beth and a thoroughly unreliable narrator. While I wouldn’t say I dislike her, I sympathize with her in reverse. I think about how I would react to the situation she’s in, and I either take it to extreme levels or have her do the opposite. My true love is in a wheelchair outside my door and his wife is nowhere to be seen? I might, if feeling gutsy, wave at him from the window. Emily grabs the wheelchair handles and takes off down the street! In that way, she’s my most fun character.
It’s a great challenge to try to have the reader sympathize with someone so extreme.
Do you ever read your stories out loud?
It’s essential to read your stories aloud. At some point in the process, my husband has to listen to every one of my works. He helps me find awkward sentences and inconsistencies, and the process helps me find typos. It’s the best way to fine-tune dialog. If it’s hard to read out loud, then it’s not likely anyone would say it that way.
Do you ever feel self-conscious when writing love scenes? Why or why not? I feel so self-conscious, in fact, that I don’t write them unless they’re totally unavoidable to the plot. I do perversely enjoy writing scenes in which lovemaking is interrupted or frustrated. I have a theory that my love life is so satisfying, I don’t have any drive to write love scenes. I remember enjoying making up love scenes ages ago, when I was with a boyfriend who withheld affection.
What is the story of your first kiss?
This was the withholding boyfriend. We dated for six months before I was able to cajole him into a closed-mouthed lip bump. It’s likely that my teenage years of enforced chastity contribute to Kelly’s shyness and confusion when Brian is so attractive to her. (See excerpt below.)
Excerpt from Waterfire: Awash in Talent, Part II
Kelly, the narrator, lives at a school for firestarters with her friends Jill, Raúl, and Brian. She has a major, and she thinks unrequited, crush on Brian.
Last night, we had another fire drill. Or so I thought. It was earlier than the alarms usually go off, about ten thirty. Jill and I had just gotten under the covers when the blaring started. We’re practiced at this now, so we had our flip-flops, sweatpants, and sweatshirts (it’s definitely fall now) ready to grab by the door. I checked Jill’s pocket for my safety sack and she checked for hers and we were out the door.
Since I got a buddy, fire drills have been kind of fun. I don’t have to fake-smile anymore. I just go with Jill and find our little group and stand around in good company, listening to Raúl’s latest stupid comments. This time, we went down to the designated area on the docks and quickly found Brian and his buddy in the crowd, but there was no hanging around.
“Hi,” I said casually, but both Brian and Raúl were panting, and Brian had this intense look on his face.
“There’s an actual fire,” he said. “It’s going to be a while before we can go back inside. Jill, can you cover for Kelly?”
She grinned like an accomplice. “I got this. And so does Raúl.” I watched her punch Raúl on the shoulder, but still had no clue what was going on until Brian grabbed my wrist and started moving away from the group. My heart was leaping out of my chest—Brian was kidnapping me. The boy I liked was taking me away in the dead of night. Didn’t he like Jill? What was he planning? What did any of this mean?
Pretty soon, we were holding hands and running, and finally the questions cleared out of my head because we were headed in the direction of Waterplace Park and, was that—? Yes, through the buildings, I could see masses of people gathered along the water’s edge, and flickering, shimmering air, and tendrils of smoke. We were going to WaterFire! In sweats and flip-flops over pajamas, but still. I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be.
Before we even arrived at the waterfront, I could hear the snap-crackle of the burning wood. We gazed at the spot at the opening to the harbor where the first pyre juts out of the water. Each pyre rests a good foot or two above the water on a pole, both buoyed and anchored in place by three large black underwater spheres. Both the first pyre and the next one, headed inland at the mouth of the river, were burning low embers.
“Go ahead, Kelly. Refresh the flames,” Brian said, almost like a dare.
I started to protest, but then realized Jill had my safety sack and my patch was off for the night. The feeling of freedom almost knocked the wind out of me. I looked to make sure no one was watching—it was only farther down along the river that the real crowds started. I felt a whirlwind of crackling happiness around me and poof! The first pyre was healthily ablaze again.
What is the best part about being a writer?
There are loads of advantages to being a writer. One is that I’m never bored because there’s always something to work on. Another is that inspiration can come from anywhere. You never know when that incident at the grocery store might come in handy. The most important is probably that you can make up entire worlds and decide what matters and what doesn’t.
What is the worst part about being a writer?
Working all the time without pay. Not a lot of people seem to know this, but it’s a fact.
Please buy books at new-book stores and check them out at libraries. A book is an author’s love, joy, and whole life for months or years. $2.99 or $4.99 is far from a rip-off, especially since you might spend hours enjoying it.
What are you currently working on?
The sequel to my historical epic, Seven Noble Knights, is my priority, but Awash in Talent is going to have a sequel, too, and I sneak in a chapter here and there. I hope they’ll see the light soon!
Where can readers go to learn more about you and your work?