Sunday, April 5, 2015

A long weekend

I took a long weekend to relax a bit, to write and recharge. I feel fortified. Sometimes it feels as though I need to schedule time to breathe, then when I do have time I forget how to relax. I know I'm not the only writer who feels like this. For those of us, here's a prompt I offer as a writing coach:

1. Set a timer for five minutes and free-write.
2. Set a time for ten minutes and breathe. (Breathe and walk, breathe and meditate, or just stare out the window and breathe.)
3. Set a timer for ten minutes and write as fast s you possibly can. When you're done, hit save and go about your day.

This no-prompt exercise is something of a writing meditation, and it's designed to clear the slate and take a writer completely out of the day-to-day.

In writing news: I have a brand new piece up at The Saturday Evening Post. News on After the Gazebo is forthcoming. Big news. Huge. :)


Where to breathe in a pickup measure

Enjoy your week, and remember to breathe!

xo Jen      

Sunday, March 15, 2015

New Rattle story

New Work! I have a new piece up at Per Contra. It's synergistic to be writing a Rattle story the day another one is published. I hope you enjoy it!  "Scratching the Silver" is a prequel to "West on N Road" (published in Superstition Review). It is about the time Rattle tried to reach out to his daughter, a time she may or may not remember later. It's here

Friday, March 13, 2015

Despite the unexpected

The San Antonio Lit Fest happened. What a whirlwind! I can honestly say that not one the lovely readers in the image below didn't impress and inspire me. We came, we read, we connected. It was beautiful. 

That said, it is not easy to put together a reading for 13 people. I had been so nervous about organizing everything that I didn't really prepare fully my own reading, and I didn't sleep. I double-checked everything, bought a Thank You card for the library manager who had reserved the space. For all the double-checking, however, and all the assurances that everything was in place, we showed up to find the library manager gone and those remaining unaware of our event. The lights were off in the area due to energy savings for Spring Break, and two of the readers were lost. Timing was tight, and we ran out of time for the last few readers.  

That real-life, blooper-like glimpse behind the scenes aside, the reading was a success. Steve Adams, who has a background in theater, saved our lighting situation and even upped it a notch, giving us artistic halos. The readings themselves were so incredibly diverse and poignant. The people behind the writers were a blast to hang out with after our reading. Just look at that crew... totally worth every last minute of preparation. I'm ready for the next iteration. I'm old hand now.

Photo (c) Octavio Quintanilla

Today's writing prompt:

Using my sneak peek as a model, write a story in which a character has big plans for something that doesn't go as expected. Throw a series of obstacles in the character's way. Stretch your mind to imagine every single thing that could go wrong in this scenario. And if you're feeling generous, maybe make it all work out in the end.

Enjoy your week!

xo Jen

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Ask away

People have never seemed to have any reservation about asking me for favors. Usually, I'm more than happy to help out and make the time. Meanwhile, I hate asking for favors myself. I'm a horribly busy person, and those I have to ask favors from are busy too, but I have swallowed my desire to say I don't want to be a bother him/her (lame desire), and have asked anyway because, quite frankly, I currently need help getting things done right now. This is a temporary situation, and it has taught me a lot.

One way I've been putting myself out there is in regards to After the Gazebo. When a book is about to come out, a writer needs to stand tall and own her work, put it out there and collect feedback, work with her publisher (mine, Rain Mountain Press, makes this part easy), and tell the world about the art she is going to share.  

We almost have a cover for After the Gazebo. The unveiling is forthcoming. The winners from my website will be announced. I am collecting encouraging blurbs (one of many things I've been asking for lately). In fact, here are a few to whet the appetite a bit:

“Jen Knox writes the healthy fiction equivalent of the detox smoothie you’d get if you poured half a cup of Mary Gaitskill, two tablespoons of Mary Robison, a teaspoonful of Raymond Carver, and some chilly Laura van den Berg, into a Tom Waits blender and hit puree. Here are twenty-four darkly fun stories populated by everyman and everywoman genetically predisposed to ‘tough luck but hopeful genes,’ and primed for fight or flight. And yet she has the uncanny ability to make you root for even her most unredeemed characters in all of their stressed out glory. All of them inhabitants of our lonely damaged universe, searching for connection in the daily grind of everyday losses.
—Richard Peabody, editor Gargoyle Magazine

 The perfect pitch, the flawless diction, and the aura of calm are all grace notes with which Jen Knox cloaks the troubled waters of the human heart. A Knox tale begins in a recognizable place, but in every one of these brilliant stories, she confounds the reader’s expectations and ends them in eerily beautiful, untrod territory. The stories in After the Gazebo seduce yet refuse what is coarse; they disdain the slipknot of the obscene, and still they electrify. Exquisite and edgy, they quietly shock. The reader bestows a rock solid trust in this narrator’s voice and is willing to linger with the energy drinks and flat-screen TVs, the 12 Steps, the cubicles and performance reviews, the bus rides and DMV’s eye tests. This author does not hide behind the exotic but with great skill and generosity braves the commonplace. These stories go fathoms deep—all the way to the shivery core, where the familiar heightens into the sublime, and then into the dazzling. The perceptible world has been sorely neglected in fiction, perhaps waiting for a writer with the craft and courage to take it on. Jen Knox is that writer. After the Gazebo is that book.
Stephanie Dickinson, author of Love Highway

Amazing blurbs from amazing writers, right? And there are more. I'm floored. I recently wrote a piece on fostering literary citizenship, as inspired by my trip to Otterbein University, and it appears in Fiction SoutheastIn it I mention the feedback loop that develops when a writer reads and a reader writes. I mention giving but also knowing when to nurture your own work. The balancing act can be tricky, but it is so incredibly gratifying when such kind words are offered by writers whose works I have long admired (check out The Richard Peabody Reader and Love Highway). 


Since I haven't posted in a while, I wanted to close by sharing one of the prompts I give my one-on-one writing students because I find it great for those who have trouble finishing stories:

Write a dynamite opening sentence. Write a dynamite closing sentence. Let them sit a few days, maybe a week, then when you have 20-30 minutes to write (after these two lines have cooled off and been churned around in your thoughts), fill in the blanks. 

Have a wonderful weekend. Love what and who you have to love. Do the work. Be proud of it. Ask for help. Stand tall. (I love this woman's hair.)

xo Jen


Sunday, February 8, 2015

Microcosm

I don't talk much about the larger world here. I don't talk about world news or even local news. Instead, I talk about me and/or writing. This is a micro blog, and I'm guessing it is more interesting some days than others. I'll keep it short today and relate this whole micro/macro thing to a suggested writing prompt.

  • I almost did a handstand at yoga class today (I have a block around this, so it's kind of a big deal). 
  • I recently wrote a story about a snowstorm. The story, which is up at Atticus Review, can be read online here: A Perpetual State of Awe. 
  • I saw Varekai this week, which was great. 
  • I decided to go to a improv class soon ("Let's do more cultural things," Chris said. Hope he won't regret it when he's pulled up on stage.)
  • Because I'm in San Antonio, I can't too much complain about the weather, but the dog park was overcrowded due to the sunshine. *Sigh.*  
  • I planned to write this blog this morning, but I kept getting distracted. It's almost bedtime.
  • I've had a tough Sunday filled with bad news.  

To sum up the "tough," let's just say three people I love are in a lot of pain, physical or otherwise. This is tough. I personally feel good but am struggling with a project that means a lot to me. This is about as vague as a stock horoscope in a free weekend newspaper, isn't it? Well good. Why dwell? Problems pass. Things change. Besides, I have a prompt to offer you, a prompt based on how A Perpetual State of Awe evolved:

Write about a natural disaster (flood, blizzard, drought, earthquake), and show your characters struggling to work something out in conversation in the midst of this macro (external, greater) problem.     

I don't think this one needs timed.

I'm off to start a new week. I wish you a lovely one, a week filled with joy or at least contentment. I wish you good weather and good food and at least a few full nights of sleep. xo Jen

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Connectivity

Accidents happen, and they can be revelatory. I am heading home after four days of non-stop delight and insanity. I arrived in Columbus on Thursday evening and was greeted by a dear friend, playwright Jen Roberts, and a visionary Otterbein professor, Terry Hermsen, who put
together a festival on literary citizenship in which we were commissioned to speak on community and writing.

That first night we enjoyed a welcoming dinner. We spoke with students who said they were driven to write and create in order to understand, if a little better, the whys of life. I was so energized that I awoke the next morning at 3AM and tried to meditate in the exercise room. Some oatmeal and bananas later, I was sharing a panel with Jen, Ladan Osman, and Becca J.R. Lachman.

We spoke about the joys and challenges of being writers in the world. We spoke about balancing art and other work, family life, and the motivations that drive it. We then asked the students what they thought. I read two short pieces of fiction and our students presented their ideas. These were high school students from six different colleges, a few of whom identified themselves as writers. Most of whom, it seemed, did not. Nonetheless, they engaged and applied the concepts of literary citizenship to their own lives. 

Friday night I read again, after a dinner at a Thai restaurant during which I learned of a few students’ works and we engaged regarding those writers at the table who no longer read fiction and their reasoning. It was an odd conversation to have before a 20-minute fiction reading, but it seemed almost a challenge. I read a funny piece, something about two “Animal Control” agents who believed themselves as valuable to the city as any cop or firefighter.

The reading went well, and the packed house offered up a few laughs – welcomed and, therefore, I was thankful. The next day went largely the same, only we had a taped discussion with current English students at Otterbein, and at the end we came up with proactive solutions to strengthen the Otterbein Literary Community and that of surrounding areas. They came up with so many valuable ideas, and those that stood out included the cooperation with other departments, namely the sciences. 

They spoke of technology and how it can be both distracting and liberating. Some spoke of strategies for creating despite the distraction (only using social media on the library computers, for instance), which kept them on-track in class. That night, Jen’s play was to be performed, and when the character named “Mr. De La Cruz” didn’t show, I stepped in. I was Mr. de la Cruz in the black jacket. It was An Experience and though I’m sure I overreacted, Jen didn’t seem too embarrassed (also, I don’t think she envisioned Mr. de la Cruz with the dangly earrings I borrowed from my mother). Ladan read her powerful work and knocked everyone sideways. We were thanked and celebrated with sugary desserts. Otterbein is a special place, and the English faculty there model what they teach. They are the ultimate in literary citizens. Cue curtain.

Takeaways from the Literary Citizenship Festival at Otterbein College that I had to share:

"Find a way to be big in the world." -Ladan Osman

"Find a chosen family of artists and writers." -Becca JR Lachman

"What motivates me is when people say I can't." -Jen Roberts 

Cue family. We spent three meals with family on Saturday and saw an old friend. Made it through half the Super Bowl before near-passing out and shook our heads at the commercials, laughing together. We ate and ate. We went to see Birdman with my mom on Sunday and ate some more. I miss my family so much, and throughout the trip I felt both as though I never left and as though I didn’t know how to come back. 

Ohio is my home base, and I’m good with that. It’s a cold and rough place at times, and it always reminds me of struggle and love. There is pain here among one of my family members in particular, but nothing is that simple. Pain is always laced with joy just as struggle is laced with a sense of accomplishment that never comes without. As unbalanced as things seem, there is payoff in experience, and there can be balance.

Coming home reminded me that I worked so incredibly hard, living in tiny, concrete block-like apartments, working and drinking too much, trying to figure things out without the safety net I have now, and reading during freezing rides on COTA buses to try to put myself through school. It is not easy for everyone. It was not easy for me. But here I am. My family is filled with fighters, and I am proud to be one.


I think about these things. And I think about less emotional things. Such as the fact that I didn’t have the technological distraction as I made my way through school, and I wonder how that would have changed my experience. I wonder if it may have numbed things or enriched them. In other words, I realized my age on this trip. I realized my vulnerabilities on this trip. I remembered my struggle, and wow am I thankful for where I am. Sometimes I am tempted to deny my past, but Ohio is a reminder. The journey is the art.  


Without Further Ado, a Prompt:
Going home (the one I plan to use this week)

A reunion of friends: Two characters haven't seen each other in 10+ years. One character has changed dramatically (become more successful or squandered gifts), the other is in largely the same place and with largely the same view of the world. As they meet to reconnect, it quickly becomes clear that they can't easily pick up where they left off. Write their conversation over that first meeting after so many years and so many experiences. 

Write for 15 minutes, timed. See what happens. Let me know. 

Have a great week!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Nightmares

I've been having nightmares about hackers and cyber terrorism lately, so I figured I had better post here because what better prompt?

My dream went like this: I woke up in the middle of the light, and my phone was buzzing and lighting up. When I picked it up, a screeching sound came from the tiny speakers and a rough-chinned man with a hoodie on glared at me from the screen. He told me my online persona no longer existed, and that he owned it now. He told me all my accounts were now his, and that it would take years to rebuild everything. He told me he didn't want to be me, only to show me how fleeting it all is. Then my screen went black. I tried to turn on my laptop, and it too was dead. I looked out my back window, and the guy was there, hands in pockets, then I woke up with the feeling that this was happening across the country.

Scary? Mmmhmmm. So this week's prompt:

Write a flash piece about technology terrorism and how a victim of online identity theft would handle the situation. Write for 20 minutes, then stop. Go back and revise later. 

That's it. Go!

My new collection of fiction, AFTER THE GAZEBO, is more experimental than anything I've ever done. As I work with Rain Mountain Press to finalize everything and get ready for the spring release, I wanted to invite you all to vote on the cover. Everyone who votes will be entered to win a free copy when it comes out. See the options on my website. We are leaning toward one of the three, but I figure it will be a fun giveaway.

I probably won't have time to post next weekend due to the literary citizenship festival, but meet me back here in two weeks. That is, if I'm not cyber destroyed. :)

xo Jen