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


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


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!

Observations: Dublin Vacation

Dublin seemed the obvious destination. We would be close to various restaurants and tourist attractions. It would be easy to call a cab or...