Interview with Jessica Knauss, author of Kindle Scout selected “Awash in Talent”

(NOTE: this post is a compilation of an interview conducted during the Kindle Scout 2nd Anniversary Facebook Event. It’s been reformatted and lightly edited for clarity!)

Jessica Knauss was no stranger to publishing when her contemporary paranormal fantasy “Awash in Talent” was selected for publication by Kindle Scout. A lifelong traveler, former librarian, and translator, she has also published short stories, translations, and an epic historical novel set in medieval Spain.

I’m delighted to have this opportunity to find out more about what makes “Awash in Talent” unique from her previous work, how her real life influences her writing, and what she’s working on next!

On to the INTERVIEW!

(Because our initials are so similar –JS and JK–I decided to go with formatting our conversation for attribution. Jessica’s responses are Italicized. My questions, and follow-up comments are bold. )

Jasmine Silvera: In what ways did this book surprise you?

Jessica Knauss: Hi! Glad to be here! Everything about AWASH IN TALENT has been a surprise. The fact that it exists is perhaps the biggest shocker. It’s divided into three parts, and I added to the first story gradually, over several years, as a break from the historical accuracy required for my epic tale of family and betrayal, SEVEN NOBLE KNIGHTS. When I finished my historical novel, I picked up AWASH IN TALENT and was surprised by the way the zany ideas just kept coming. The best surprise was when it passed through the Kindle Scout process and Kindle Press picked it up!

I have to say I love that format of the interconnected novellas! It gives a really interesting view of the world from perspectives of different people in it!

 Glad you liked the format! It kind of fell together.

I’m impressed by the enormous range of your work: In what ways is Awash in Talent similar (or different) to other books you’ve written?

Aside from the sequels I’m planning to write, none of my writing has much in common with the rest of it. Why write about the same thing over and over again when there’s so much else to explore? AWASH IN TALENT bears some similarity to my other contemporary fiction because of its fast pace, whimsy, and logical extremes. In this novel, I’ve got the lens opened up wide on my quirky view of the world.

Oooh, sequels?! That brings me to my next question: Will you continue to write in this world, if not, what’s your next project?

I’m currently working on an unrelated fantasy story, also set in Providence, Rhode Island, and which also seems to be burgeoning out of control. And along with my ideas for a SEVEN NOBLE KNIGHTS sequel, I’m also developing the further adventures of Emily, Beth, and Patricia from AWASH IN TALENT.

Providence features heavily in AWASH IN TALENT. Is that something that comes from your background?

I did my PhD in Providence, so I was there for five years, and loved the city so much! It’s the place I go back to whenever I have an idea for a contemporary story.

The vividness of the setting is one of AWASH IN TALENT’s major strengths. I love fully realized physical settings. You can almost see the leaves on the trees!

I’m excited to see where the characters from AIT end up…Who was your favorite character to write?

While writing from Emily’s point of view, the world seems strange and new. Mostly she surprised me with her observations and crazy actions, but if I had to imagine what she would do in a given situation, I imagined what I would do and took that to the opposite logical extreme. It’s so much fun to live through her a life I could never live for real. I loved her brand of cuckoo!

It took me a while to realize what an unreliable narrator she was going to be, although when I looked back i realized the signs were there all along. Was that a challenge to write?

Yes. My writers group kept asking me to clarify why Emily was doing something, and I had to just keep saying, “Wait for it! It’s coming!”

Speaking of challenging characters, was Emily the most challenging character to write, or did another character earn that title?

Patricia, Emily’s therapist, was probably the most challenging in the end. Patricia is psychic—she reads people’s minds whether she wants to or not—and it was challenging to show the reader what that would be like, and also to get the reader to sympathize with her. She’s under tremendous stress and makes some poor decisions, but I still wanted the readers to like her, at least a little.

I’m right in the middle of Patricia’s section, and I admit, it’s a bit heartbreaking.

Oh, I hope that’s a good sign…

I mean, I feel for her, but also for the people around her. And I’m a bit worried about her husband at this point. I want things to turn out ok for her, but it’s a nailbiter. But, no spoilers  Next question: What was your favorite scene to write?

Kelly’s first day at the Pyrokinesis Management Academy introduces the important characters puts all her insecurities on display in what was a really emotional scene to write. She’s called out for not following rules she wasn’t aware of! The embarrassment! The unfairness!

Ugh, flashback to high school!

Are you a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’? Something in between?

For my historical fiction, I plotted, heavily. Charts and graphs and story guides. I couldn’t let myself write something that wouldn’t honor real history. But AWASH IN TALENT’s characters were so strong, they directed the story and basically wrote their own version of history to go with it. It wasn’t so much my writing by the seat of my pants as it was following strong direction from surprising characters.

Sounds like you had clear direction for where the stories were going. So, what was the original inspiring moment for this book (if there was one!)?

I remember it like it was yesterday, reading a National Geographic article about the hominin fossils in the Middle Awash of Ethiopia and imagining a sassy college student learning about paleoanthropology there—and her bizarre family, who she doesn’t necessarily want to be there with her. The first line of the novel, confusing and shocking as it is, came out fully formed, and then I had a very bossy character on my hands.

I thought it was interesting that the story started in the “cradle of humanity” as you explore a set of characters who may or may not be a next iteration of human evolution. Am I reading that right?

I love that interpretation.

How did you come to write about this topic?

The magical powers some people wield in this world came about because they seemed like the thing that would annoy Emily the most! Her sister’s extraordinary Talent makes Emily envious and like she’s been left out. There’s nothing she can do to seem more impressive than her sister. That evolved into a look at the way we treat difference in society.

I thought you handled the “price and privilege” of powers interestingly. For some characters it’s clear to see how their powers provide an advantage, for others, it really makes life difficult. Patricia has quite a bit of both, actually!

To depart from the book a little: What’s your favorite movie and why?

THE PRINCESS BRIDE. It never gets old! It has a little of everything, something for everyone, and gave my writing a lot of its whimsy. It probably also directed me to study medieval Spain (whose literature I ended up getting a PhD in), because—Inigo Montoya. Need I say more?

I walked down the aisle to the theme from that movie, lol. Love Princess Bride!

So cool! I should’ve done that.

Mr. Silvera does an amazing Mandy Patinkin as Inigo impression. It’s pretty much how I knew he was The One.

Now I’m really jealous!

And our final question of the day! Do you draw from your life when you write?

 I love to work in images based on things my friends and family have said. For example, Emily’s and Beth’s conversation about zombie babies came from something my dear late husband was musing about offhandedly one day. And yes, at least one character in AWASH IN TALENT has some basis in a person I know—Lakshmi is based loosely on my best friend. I admitted it to her and I’m pretty sure she’s okay with the portrayal. Thanks so much for a great interview!

Just a reminder, now through April 3rd, Awash in Talent and all Scout selected titles are just 99¢ on Amazon!

Awash in Talent on sale now at Amazon!
Gorgeous cover, Jessica!