Saturday, June 18, 2011

Interview with Jessica Knauss

Meet Jessica Knauss: Author -extraordinaire!  Not only does she write, she has recently started a bilingual Publishing House! Talk about someone with tons of ambition!  Two of her books have been published so far and, somehow, I know this is just the beginning for her.

Sharon: Tell me a bit about yourself, where you grew up, what else you do besides writing and publishing.

JessicaI grew up in a truly unique place, one of the small towns on the coast of Northern California. Before I attained my life dream of editing fiction for a publishing house (at Fireship Press) and my ultimate super-duper impossible never-gonna-happen life dream of starting my own publishing company (Açedrex Publishing, your best bilingual books!), I worked as a librarian and, as part of my PhD requirements, a Spanish teacher. I loved being a librarian because for me, physical books have a life of their own, but eventually, the academy's call was too loud. Mostly I've been a student because school always offered new intellectual stimulation and I had so much success as a student that I never could duplicate as a teacher. I have a BA in English Creative Writing and Spanish, an MFA in literary translation, an MA in Medieval Studies, and an MA and PhD in Hispanic Studies (Medieval Spanish Literature). After I finished my PhD, I've had some odd jobs, but it was really three years and two moves before I got that previously mentioned dream position at Fireship. When that happened, I became all about going after my goals, so, whether it's well advised or not, I'm starting Açedrex Publishing as well. I look forward to publishing the best fiction in English and Spanish. I hope to have every title in both languages eventually. And, of course, I'm also keeping up with my writing.

Sharon: Wow, when I called you ambitious, I wasn't exaggerating!  Tell me about your book/series and its intended audience.

JessicaSail To Italy and Sail From Italy are the silliest book you may ever read! They're the zany adventures of the Princess of Italy and her friends, directed at young adults simply because I wrote them when I was thirteen and fourteen years old. Seriously, if you're looking for a clean, breezy summer read, this is the one. 
Tree/House is considered strange by some, but it's guaranteed to make you think. It's the history of one uninspired woman's awakening though her conversations with a vagrant who prefers to sleep in trees. There's an unforgettably creepy bad guy, a mystery, intrigue, foreign travel, college romance, Shakespeare, and last but not least, a wet pink kitchen sponge in a briefcase. 
My work in progress, The Seven Noble Knights of Lara, is based on a medieval Spanish epic that has only survived in a history chronicle. It's a bloody revenge epic with references to the events of 974-circa 986 AD, but it probably never really happened. I'm making it into an absorbing human drama with characters my beta readers have fallen in love with. It's a lot of fun because the Spanish medieval epics have  strong women characters and it's easy for me to imagine what their lives were like, and their motivations.

Sharon: Your WIP sounds so intriguing!  How does real life affect your fiction?

Jessica: The Sailing Italy series, I can honestly say, has no basis in reality. Tree/House, however, contains a lot of subtle psychological themes that come from perceived events in my own life. Basically, Franklin, the bad guy, is a conglomeration of all the people who'd made me feel held back or repressed up to the point when I wrote it. Also, growing up in a small town, I had a deep sense of isolation that definitely comes out in the book. None of this seepage was intentional. The Seven Noble Knights of Lara didn't happen to me in this lifetime, but I was attracted to the plot and characters because of my love for medieval Spain, and the atmosphere and language of that book are heavily influenced by the time I've spent in Spain.

Sharon: So on top of all that ambition, you've also been a world traveler! (I'm a bit jealous!)  What is your favorite book?

JessicaMy favorite book is William Goldman's The Princess Bride. I've loved and cherished many more books, but because of its love of humor, use of language, and imaginary medieval setting, The Princess Bride will accompany me forever. I think it's the reason I got a degree in medieval studies, and one of the reasons I wanted so badly to study Spanish. 

Sharon: I loved The Princess Bride movie, but never read the book. Do you have a favorite word? How do you use language to differentiate your characters and/or settings?

Jessica: My favorite word is the apt one for the situation. As we all know Mark Twain said, "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug." 
I made heavy use of Shakespeare when I wrote for Franklin, the Shakespeare professor in Tree/House, and that contrasted nicely with Emma's waffling, uninspired speech as opposed to the poetry she's capable of when she decides what she really wants.
In my work in progress, I like to throw in an antique word every couple of chapters just to remind the reader that this didn't happen last week. The nobles speak much more and with more confidence than the serving class. And I can hardly wait to get to the chapters that take place in Andalucía, where I expect everyone will speak poetically, trying to reflect the refined Arabian influence in social circles. It will contrast a lot with my northern Spaniard's direct, prosaic language. 

Sharon: What inspires you? Is there a specific inspiration for your most recent project?

JessicaInspiration frequently comes to me in dreams, and I have a secret project I'm working on that was inspired by a near-waking dream I had last year. But since we're considering The Seven Noble Knights of Lara my most recent project, I would say that the inspiration for it came from deep within me. I had to read the epic for my PhD program, and it was like reading something I had written a long time ago and needed to revisit. The first thing I did after my PhD was mark that November for NaNoWriMo. Life got in the way and I didn't finish it then, but I'm happy to be working on it full force again.

Sharon: Oh, a secret project!  I can't wait to hear about it! Tell me about your work area, and how much time you spend devoted to your fiction writing per day. Do you have any methods that might seem unusual or inspiring to other authors?

JessicaMy husband and I are living in an unfurnished one-bedroom apartment, so when he's not at work, I don't feel like I can write because it takes such absorption, he would feel like I wasn't there at all. He has a weird schedule, basically a swing shift most days, so I work on the publishing company and my blog during the afternoon, and if there's not something more time-sensitive, I can work for one or two hours on the folded-out futon with the laptop (no internet access!) and wind things up as my sweet love comes in the door. I used to have an entire study for writing in, with a heavy wooden pull-out desk and my files, books, and loads of inspirational objects around me, but this bare bones approach seems to work surprisingly well. 
Because I take inspiration in dreams or a half-awake state, when the conscious mind can't interfere, I keep a notebook by the bed. I've gotten a few great scenes worked out that way.

Sharon: When and why did you start writing? Do you think there are any characteristics from your first efforts that have survived to this day?

Jessica: As an overflowing file box in storage in Pennsylvania can attest, I began writing and illustrating age-appropriate books in first or second grade. I knew with an otherworldly firmness that I was a writer. I also learned quickly that it was going to take some time for the people around me to figure out how serious I was. Already in my first writing efforts, the reader can see that I record life from a particular point of view, and I'm sure that persists today.

Sharon: Do you feel that your family and friends are supportive? What kind of feedback are you getting? Do you have a definable fan base?

Jessica: I think I've made it as far as I have on this novel because I have a writing group that meets once a month like clockwork, so I always want to have finished a chapter for them to read. I'm so grateful for them! Their criticism always gives me some fascinating issue to think about so that I can't sleep at all that night. I get reader feedback in reviews, and I'm tremendously grateful for that as well. I think it doesn't do much good to write if no one tells you how they've reacted to your work. Also, Tree/House was a book club selection in St. Helens, Oregon (it's great for book clubs!), and the ladies sent me questions, and I put up a page on my blog based on the questions and my answers. That was huge fun. My mother and my husband read all my stuff, but don't have literary criticism training, so that's about where it stays, but I appreciate their support so much. My brother (the amazing Will Knauss of , who writes under a pen name I won't reveal here) surprised me last year by saying he'd read Tree/House. He was so impressed that he actually told me to keep writing, which is high praise indeed from someone I admire very much but isn't exactly effusive verbally. We're a very quiet family, but still waters run deep -- at least I know they do on my end.

Sharon: Thank you so much, Jessica!  I am sure you are a great inspiration to all of your fans! I've enjoyed getting to know you better through this interview, and I look forward to reading your books!

Jessica: Thank you for having me on your blog, Sharon.

Follow Jessica on FaceBook: 

Jessica's Blog:

Paperback coming soon!

And if you're interested in checking out her newest endeavor, here is the link to Jessica's Publishing Company: 


  1. Great interview, Sharon. I enjoyed getting to know more about Jessica and her work, all of which sounds like pretty interesting reading. And you're right, she must be the most ambitious person we know.

  2. Thanks, "anon" (I know who you are)


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