Tag Archives: short fiction

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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Sep 17

Women’s Fiction Writer Audrey RL Wyatt Stops by to Visit with Mike Angley

MA: Audrey RL Wyatt is right brained to a fault, so she tells me! Before attacking prose, she exhibited photography in juried shows and worked in theatre; acting, teaching and creating children’s theater curricula. So it was surprising that her writing career began in the non-fiction realms of politics, environment and law.

Finally succumbing to her creative nature, Audrey now writes fiction. Her debut novel, Poles Apart, is a story of family inspired by Audrey’s childhood among Holocaust survivors in Cleveland. Whether it was their silence or the horrific stories they told, their presence left an indelible mark. It has been honored with five awards. Her essays and short fiction, often featuring strong-willed, quirky women, have been published in various forums, both print and online.

Always one to foster aspiring artists, Audrey founded Southeast Valley Fiction Writers near Phoenix, Arizona, and Bay State Writers in Southeast Massachusetts. She gives a good deal of time to area schools and also teaches Memoir Writing to seniors. She is a partner in LitSisters Publishing, a boutique house publishing women writers, as well as a founding member of LitSisters, a networking and support community for writers.

Audrey loves to travel and has enjoyed living all over the country, from the Rockies to Boston Harbor. She currently makes her home in the Valley of the Sun with her incredible husband, their two terrific teenage daughters, and their beagle-basset mix, the Artful Dodger.

(Smiling) So, tell me more about this right brain and how you ended up in the fiction realm.

AW: I’m as right brained as they come. I started in the theatre at the advanced age of six and by the time I finished high school I’d tried every art that didn’t require fine motor dexterity. I wrote a lot, mostly nauseatingly syrupy poetry, and I acted. My mother called me “Audrey Heartburn.” I spent a lot of time on photography after that, having my work exhibited in juried shows. I worked my way through college teaching children’s theatre and creating children’s theatre curricula.

I got my education – college and grad school – and after some time spent at Legal Aid and County Children’s and Family Services I decided to stay home with my kids and write.

MA: You’ve mentioned poetry, and of course I know you’ve written a novel, but is there anything else?

AW: I also write short stories and essays. I think the story finds the writer and dictates what form it will take. But I love the novel form most of all. You have the time to stretch out and relax, letting the story unfold like a beautiful flower.

For me, writing is an exercise of will. On one hand, I will the story to come. On the other, the story will haunt me until I give it voice.

MA: Well said! Tell us about your first novel.

AW: I am a women’s fiction writer. I feel passionately about the stories that resonate with women. Women wear so many hats that nothing is ever simple. I find that intriguing. Poles Apart, my debut novel, is a story of family, of secrets, and of the damage that secrets can do, even over generations. Here’s the book blurb:

CHAIM SCHLESSEL lost his family to the Holocaust more than sixty years ago. He vowed to embrace life and protect his own wife and children from his painful memories and harrowing experiences. Finding solace in his family, his painting and the healing effects of his wife’s cooking, he has kept his nightmares at bay. But when a new neighbor unwittingly triggers the terrors of his past, Chaim is faced with the horrors that increasingly haunt his soul and threaten his sanity.

DAVID SCHLESSEL, grown, married and successful, is plagued by the always taboo subject of his father’s suffering at the hands of the Nazis. As a second generation survivor, he struggles with his father’s unwillingness to discuss the past and his own inability to communicate with those he loves. With his marriage falling apart and his relationship with his own children deteriorating, David, after numerous false starts, ultimately vows to conquer his inner turmoil.

UNITED BY A HISTORY they cannot discuss, yet starkly alone in their private struggles, father and son confront their demons as well as one another in a stand-off that will change them both forever.

All my short stories and essays can be found on my website: www.audreyrlwyatt.com.

MA: The storyline sounds complex. I take it there is more than one hero?

AW: Mine is a parallel plot novel, so the father and son protagonists – Chaim and David – are based on an amalgam of people I knew growing up in Cleveland in the 1960s and 1970s. This is also true of the supporting characters in the novel. I find that once a character is created (and I do a very detailed character chart on each of my characters) they develop a mind of their own and take their story where they see it going.

MA: How about an antagonist?

AW: There is a nemesis in the story. But the bigger nemeses are in the character’s minds and hearts. Their struggles are both internal and external. This is an area where art imitates life. I think people struggle more with internal demons than the external forces that set upon them.

MA: You came to know Holocaust survivors early in your life, and their stories and experiences inspired Poles Apart. Please elaborate.

AW: Well, Chaim is a Holocaust survivor and I grew up around a lot of Holocaust survivors. I heard horrific stories when I was far too young to understand them/put them into context. In fact, it’s interesting how differently we interpret information at different times in our lives. I found the holocaust stories more horrific as an adult than when I initially heard them as a child. As a child it was information without context. But as an adult I had so much more experience and understanding to apply to the information.

MA: Are you working on any new projects?

AW: I’ve just started a new novel called Women’s Work. It’s about four women, life-long friends, who recreate their graduation road trip on its twentieth anniversary. Their lives are now complicated, their baggage much heavier. They have secrets – demons they need to exorcise.

I also have another project in the works called Happy Trails. I originally wrote it as a sitcom treatment and have plans to novelize it.

MA: It sounds like you write standalone novels, and nothing that necessarily lends itself to a sequel. Am I right?

AW: I tell a story until I’m done with it. It all happens in one novel. I don’t really envision any of my books garnering a sequel. As for migrating characters, I won’t completely discount it. But, having lived in a number of places, I set my stories all over the country so the characters are unlikely to meet.

MA: I don’t always ask this question, but why do you write?

AW: I was listening to NPR the other day and they were talking about why writers write. Talk about the coolest topic ever. Though I didn’t listen to the entire show (my work is a demanding taskmaster) I didn’t hear anyone talk about how social media effects the answer to that question. I think everyone wants to be heard above the din. That’s one reason why twitter and facebook are so popular. It’s a way for people to make a mark on the world. For me, writing is how I make my mark. It’s how I am heard above the din.

Along time ago I said, probably flippantly, that if I could affect another person – if my writing could speak to them in some way that benefited them – then I would consider myself a success. Well, like most writers I scan the reviews from time to time. On the Barnes & Noble site there is one lone review. In it, the reader said that he read the book and liked it but that he’d recently had a personal problem that caused him to return to the book. He read it a second time and found help for himself from the characters and story. In other words, something that I wrote helped him. It took my breath away. I spoke to someone through my story, through the characters I created. And that person benefitted. All I could think was that this is what success feels like. It still brings tears to my eyes. The point is that what we as writers do matters and success doesn’t have to be about the NYT best sellers list. Though that wouldn’t hurt.

MA: I second those sentiments. Thanks, Audrey. My readers can learn more about Audrey RL Wyatt and her stories at: http://audreyrlwyatt.com/
Read More

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