Tag Archives: creative writing

Oct 22

Tree/House Author, Jessica Knauss, Visits with Mike Angley

MA: My guest-blogger today is Jessica Knauss. Born and raised in Northern California, Jessica has become something of a wanderer who hopes to settle down soon. She has worked as a librarian and a Spanish teacher. She lives with her husband Stanley, with whom she plans to open a soft-serve ice cream shop in the future. Jessica has participated in many writer’s groups and workshops, including the International Writers’ Program at the University of Iowa. Her nonfiction has appeared in Medieval History Magazine, Hortulus, LL Journal, and an encyclopedia entitled The World and Its Peoples. To date, she has published fiction in Bewildering Stories, Do Not Look at the Sun, (Short) Fiction Collective, Full of Crow Quarterly Fiction, Sillymess, This Mutant Life and Short, Fast, and Deadly. Her poetry can be found at Haggard & Halloo, Apollo’s Lyre and The Shine Journal. Her novella Tree/House, about a woman’s awakening through sleeping in trees, is available at Amazon. Açedrex Publishing will release her poetry chapbook, Dusk Before Dawn, in September. Get updates on her writing at her Facebook page.

You have been very busy with all your writing projects!

JK: I came out of the womb with a pencil in my hand. In grade school, I could hardly be bothered with math, but let all other experiences influence the stories that just kept coming out of me unbidden. I grew up in Northern California, close to the Redwood forests, near the foggy grey beaches, and gained a sense of awe at nature and a strong isolation from civilization that shows up in all my work. I studied a lot of subjects, mainly Spanish, because my love of Spain sprouted spontaneously one day when I was about 11. I’ve been a librarian (love those books!) and a Spanish teacher in the beautiful cities of Boston and Providence. Somewhere along the way I lost sight of creative writing, but have now taken it up again with complete seriousness. The stories and characters were patient. They knew I had to come back to them some day.

MA: Was your decision to write novels a conscious, formulated one, or did something simply inspire you?

JK: The novels chose me instead of the other way around. For me, being a writer consists of taming the wild muse and making a craft out of a formless mass of creativity I’m re-learning to tap into.

MA: So tell us about Tree/House.

JK: My novella, Tree/House, is a timeless coming-of-age story in which a woman, Emma, has made terrible decisions throughout her life, allowing herself to be led around by anyone with more force of will. When the husband who took her on dies suddenly, she slowly turns her drifting into a direction, learning some shocking truths along the way. She could not go through this process without Geraldine, a vagrant who camps on her property, sleeping not in the barn or the stable, but in the wild old trees. Geraldine is in need of some emotional rehabilitation herself, but with her assertive personality, she helps Emma see the alternatives to the passive life she has lived. The novella has a slightly nineteenth-century feel to it, because the characters write letters, build libraries, and trek through the countryside on foot, but at just 28,000 words, it’s a fast, fun read that will leave you time to read it again! It’s perfect for book clubs and discussion groups or just sharing with friends.

I also have a poetry chapbook that recently released, called Dusk Before Dawn. This is a compilation of most of my poetry from over the years, and I’ve put them together in a trajectory that addresses the nature of language, the search for love, the nostalgia of place, the creative process, and, most importantly, personal identity. Some are like stories, and others a very lyrical. They make a nice companion to Tree/House, as they address many of the same issues.

MA: Emma sounds like an intriguing character. How did you go about developing her in the story?

JK: One of the lines from what ended up being the third chapter came to me in a bolt of sheer inspiration. It’s when one of the servants on the estate is telling Emma some unsavory truths she didn’t know about Geraldine: “Do you know she killed the cat, aimed for the stable boy and slept with her boss?” The protagonist at that point was merely a receptacle for this information. Emma’s character grew out of the way she reacted to Geraldine’s extravagant style. The antagonist, Franklin, grew out of that passivity in a natural way, creating the drama organically.

MA: Would you say Emma is a strong character? Is she flawed at all?

JK: I’m afraid Emma is all weakness: confused, not confident, no direction, no definable talent, and worst of all, led easily astray. She represents any woman who finds herself at a crossroads, and I think her indecisiveness and insecurities make her very sympathetic for readers.

MA: Do you have a definable antagonist, or is Emma challenged by many characters because of her weaknesses?

JK: Franklin, who ends up as Emma’s husband (and then brutally murdered in revenge for past misdeeds) is very dangerous because he knows how to manipulate her, all while she believes she is making her own choices. His praise of Emma seems unfounded and bizarre, just like the rest of him. He seems to have sprung out of nothingness to impose an ancient order on her disorganized life. He is a jailer and a neglecter and represents every thing evil and intransigent, at the same time that he opens a new world of literature up to Emma. His gifts are awkward, beautiful only in a certain light, and I hope the reader feels as weird about him as I do.

MA: Is there any of Jessica’s real life story in Emma?

JK: Absolutely. Because of the organic development of the plot, Emma’s predicament reflects the trapped feeling and self-doubts I was going through at the time. The writing and sending of letters comes directly from my experience, and I think it increases the feeling of isolation as she’s trying to make a decision about what to do with her life. I had a terrible experience with a wrinkled wedding dress that I make Emma go through with a little more naiveté, and I had a friend in college who told me that eating French fries gave her the hiccups, so thanks for that tidbit! (I’m not sure she would want me to broadcast her name, but she knows who she is.) Franklin turned out as a Bluebeard type. He has elements from just about anything I felt stifled me in the past, including, of course, old boyfriends! I think all this leakage between life and fiction, unintentional or otherwise, helps give the story psychological realism the reader can really get into.

MA: Now that Tree/House and your book of poetry, Dusk Before Dawn, are out, what’s next on your writing horizon?

JK: I’m striking out into territory that may seem very different by writing a historical novel set in tenth-century Spain and based on an epic revenge poem. It’s full of battles, glittering armor, and exotic locales. It’s not really a departure for me because I have a PhD in Medieval Spanish, and, continuing the feminine theme of my previous work, the story has female characters who know how to manipulate the society in which they live.

I’m always working on weird short stories, and waiting for that bolt of inspiration for my next longer work.

MA: Will Emma come along in future works?

JK: Tree/House readers have said they would love to spend more time with the characters. I have considered writing the further adventures of Geraldine, or even a prequel showing how she really got to be the fascinating woman she is in Tree/House, but nothing concrete is on the writing schedule. Read More

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Jul 28

“Creative Writing Prompts” An Article by Mary Deal

Writing prompts and story ideas can be found in numerous lists on the Internet, but the best ones are found right around you.

How many times have you searched to find topics that might serve to shake a story out of your Muse? A list of words or phrases just might jog your Muse into action. Then, when you find such a list, you are not enthused by its offerings and you continue to search for more.

Story starters that encourage descriptive writing abound around you. Everything you see day-to-day is a writing prompt. If you don’t see life that way, I encourage you to take another look.

Take new interest in the things you take for granted. Let your mind wander from the probable to the improbable. Fantasize about things and events. Give them new life.
Here are a few samples of story ideas taken from everyday life that might help you see what’s around you in your world.

Imagine you’re walking down a road. Normally you see rocks and you side step and walk on.

If you’re a fantasy writer…

What would happen if all those rocks lying dormant for eons suddenly came to life? They pop. They explode. Wow! Would they be friendly? Or would they be alien, just waiting for the right moment to change the universe?

Want to write a mystery?

Suppose one of those ordinary rocks had fresh blood on it?

A romance?

You find an envelope caught under a rock along the road. It’s open and money is sticking out. You want to get the money to its rightful owner so you return it promptly and find yourself looking into the fiery eyes of…

See where I’m going with this? Writing prompts are everywhere.

In my day to day life in Hawaii, just this morning, I saw or heard the following writing prompts out of my window from where I sit composing this bit of descriptive writing at my desk.

~ The man across the street is trimming branches off a tree with a buzz saw. He stops suddenly and tries to see into the window of the house. (Someone from inside that house may have called to him. But as a mystery writer, I can make a real thriller out of that teeny bit of action.)

~ A kid runs down the street, like he’s real scared. Now I hear a siren coming close.

~ A dog limps across my yard. It has a broken leg, or its favoring an injured leg, and hobbling. A moment later, another dog crosses the yard. Looks as though it’s had one leg amputated.

~ A car passes by on the street. The girl looks like she’s gushing all over her guy, the driver. She’s almost in his lap. They look blissfully happy.

~ I hear a strange sound and it doesn’t sound like any of the neighbors using power equipment as they repair their houses and structures. The sound is most curious and I can’t get it out of my mind.

~ I hear a loud bang, like a gunshot. It comes from the next group of homes adjacent to this small neighborhood. I hear another.

~ The woman in the house to the left is standing out in her yard. She never just stands there. She’s always on the go. Her husband comes out. They talk. They hug. She cries. He comforts.

The best writing prompts are right around you. However, if you wish only words or phrases to trigger your Muse, then here are a few samples.

Buried money and valuables in a box
White powder in the kitchen and you don’t bake
Loving a married person, learning he is divorcing
A child who leaves alien footprints
An ugly knot growing on your body
Learning your spouse is a murderer in hiding
A horrific recurring dream that gets closer and closer
Lightning always striking only your house
The neighbors on your left practice swinging with the neighbors on your right
A rock containing clear facial images that seems to pull you in
A grotesque Halloween mask
A drop of acid rain
Unidentified creature footprints

This list is just a sampling. I could go on and on.

When searching for writing prompts, keep in mind that it is said only twenty types of stories exist. All stories have been written. This is true, but every story contains a different setting, unique characters, and unusual occurrences and endings. That is how we’re able to create new stories all the time.

As you seek mental stimulation through prompts, begin by having an idea in which genre you wish to write. Genre is what you need to decide first. Take for example, this prompt listed above:
~ A car passes by on the street. The girl looks like she’s gushing all over her guy, the driver. She’s almost in his lap. They look blissfully happy.

A romance writer will turn that scene into, perhaps, one of a happy couple of kids. Then life pulls them to opposite ends of the world. They meet again years later, only by chance, depending on the circumstances of the plot, and realize that they still love each other.

A mystery writer could turn writing prompts such as this into a thriller where the girl is gah-gah over the guy, but he’s got other plans. He turns out to be a serial rapist!

A science fiction or fantasy writer would have the guy taking the girl out to a deserted field, she thinks for a bit of petting. Instead, he beams her up to a hovering ship and whatever fate waits.

Know your genre and then, as you read prompts, determine what appeals to the type of story line you wish to create.

Begin to make a list of story starters that you notice. They are innocent gestures and occurrences that you might find in any good novel or short story. Make a list of anything that strikes your Muse.

Allow yourself to dwell on story ideas that may come to mind. Loosen your imagination. Do it now. You will need to free your Muse to write any story. Begin with your writing prompts.
Any story starters that you discover can also be used as occurrences and highlights in the story itself. Story starters need not only start a story. Starters can also fill in the story middles and endings.

I have used many instances from my life and ancient family history as writing prompts. You might wish to read “Grandpappy’s Cows” in the Flash Fiction section on my website to see how my Muse hilariously stretched the truth.

Or you may wish to read what my Muse made of seeing a boy out in the dead of night with a scissors in “Boy at the Crossroad.”

Writing prompts, story starters, or story ideas, wherever you find them, can trigger descriptive writing if you will loosen the reins of your Muse and let your mind wander on things sometimes best left alone. But then, after all, it’s only fiction. Right?

Mary’s stories mentioned above are further analyzed in the Flash Fiction section of her website writeanygnere.com.
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Jun 24

Mike Angley Appears on Two New Writer Blogs…Mary Deal and Sarah Cortez!

I’m honored to have been featured on two new fellow-writers’ blogs within the past couple of weeks. My good friend and regular contributor to the Child Finder Trilogy, Mary Deal, ran a blurb about me on her blog, Write Any Genre (THANK YOU, MARY!). Please visit Mary’s website where you will find all kinds of great articles with advice on writing, much like the wonderful articles she contributes to my blog on a regular basis.

Also, Sarah Cortez, a freelance editor, poet, and author, had me as a guest-blogger on her website, Creative Writing. I really like how the interview came out, and I encourage all to visit Sarah’s website and read the interview as well as the other interviews and articles she has. Great stuff! Read More

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Jun 04

Military-Brat-Turned-Author Marilyn Morris Reports In to the Child Finder Trilogy

MA: Born a Military Brat, Marilyn Morris attended schools overseas, in Seoul Korea (1946-47) and Linz, Austria (1949-1952) and various schools stateside. From this background, she has crafted her autobiographical Once a Brat, relating her travels with her army officer father from her birth in 1938 to his retirement in 1958.

Her first novel, Sabbath’s Room, was published in 2001, followed by Diagnosis: Lupus: The Intimate Journal of a Lupus. More novels quickly followed: The Women of Camp Sobingo; Forces of Nature; Sabbath’s Gift; and Sabbath’s House. Additionally, she has published a collection of humor/human interest articles written for a newspaper over a 10-year period, titled: My Ashes of Dead Lovers Garage Sale.

She has taught creative writing at Tarrant County College, Fort Worth TX and survived numerous book signings and speaking engagements. She is a member of the North Texas Chapter of the Lupus Foundation of America.

When not writing or editing emerging writers’ manuscripts, she enjoys her family and friends worldwide and near her home in Fort Worth TX. True to her Brat heritage, she has a suitcase packed under the bed, ready to travel at a moment’s notice. Read More

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