Monday, June 29, 2015

A Third Five-Star Review of Unpredictable Worlds: Funny, Touching, Thought-Provoking, Anger-Inducing, and Faith-Affirming

Ask and you shall receive?

I placed Unpredictable Worlds on NetGalley for a significant fee. (Get it free for review there!) As you can see, I've got quite a few thumbs-up on the cover there, but it really started to pay off just after I point-blank asked for a review by someone I wasn't already acquainted with.

I received a great review at The Fish Place! She says, "This collection is by turns funny, touching, thought provoking, anger inducing, and faith affirming. It’s great." 

Wow! The real gobsmacker is that this reader, who has an honest review policy, also seems to get what I'm trying to do with these stories. She pays me the ultimate compliment when she singles out the rhino stories as her favorites and says I'm "the literary PR person for the species."

I'm so flattered all I can think to do is make it more true. I've been daunted lately about my rhino novel project. I hope this encouragement will help me blow past the mental block. The rhinos are certainly worth it!


Monday, June 22, 2015

A Unique Collaboration: Kristin Gleeson on The Imp of Eye

The Imp of Eye, released on June 25, was written by two amazing, talented author friends of mine. Any collaboration is special in the solitary business of writing, but today Kristin Gleeson explains how this collaboration is really a unique tribute.

TheImp of Eye didn’t begin its life as a collaboration. It started out as an idea my dear friend Moonyeen Blakey, a fellow author who’d published award-winning The Assassin’s Wife with Fireship Press in 2012. She had the idea after researching a previous novel on Jacquetta Woodville, King Edward IV’s mother-in-law. She had encountered a Marjory Jourdemayne, The Witch of Eye, who along with the Duchess of Gloucester and others, was accused of witchcraft. A perfect idea for a novel, she told me.

Moonyeen Blakey
The idea grew and became a novel from the viewpoint of a young lad, Barnabas, who worked in Marjory Jourdemayne’s household. We discussed Barnabas several times and how such a viewpoint would catch attention, and his age. I made suggestions. Gradually Barnabas emerged, a little older and full of mischief: 

Mistress Jourdemayne fetches me such a cuff round the head, I almost bites me tongue in two.
‘You little imp. Don’t try to cheat me again, Barnabas,’ she says, kicking the sticks I’ve collected for the fire. ‘I know what the fishmonger asks for broiled carp.’
‘It was only a groat’s worth of salt herring,’ I says. I sits, muttering by the hearth, nursing a bruised knee from the stumble I’ve taken against the hearth fender.

Over the next few years the novel began to take shape and changed direction occasionally. Moon shared her progress and ideas with me and I gave my enthusiastic feedback. Unfortunately, Moon fell ill with a second bout of cancer. She’d beaten cancer almost 20 years before and this time we thought it would be no different, but we were wrong. In March 2014, Moon died passed away.

Before she died, she asked me to take over her writings, including the many drafts of her novel about Barnabas, one of which was entitled The Imp of Eye. She told me to do what I thought best with it, because she trusted me and my writing quality. She knew I would honour her spirit and try to get the story out to the public.

Kristin Gleeson
I took the novel on and read through it. Moon’s amazingly creative mind never ceased to create characters and storylines that were lively and the novel was full of them. Some of them, though, deserved a book on their own and took the focus off the main element and characters of the story: The witchcraft accusations, Barnabas, and the Duchess of Gloucester.

I narrowed down the storylines to those two main characters, which I felt also improved the tension and pace of the story. With those two characters I was able to increase the attention and scenes for the Duchess of Gloucester to show the splendour and intrigue at court as well as develop the relationship between the Duchess and her husband.

Barnabas’s age always troubled me, because he seemed too young at ten to handle all the challenges that were thrown at him. I also wanted to hint at a growing attention to women. This seemed important to me because I was really starting to adore Barnabas and felt he could go on beyond this book. So I made him thirteen years old at the beginning and fourteen at the end of it.

I also introduced and changed a few characters to support the increasing number of plot twists better and also give Barnabas a future in other books. For instance a jolly large blackamoor that was shades of Ali Baba’s genie became an elegant scholar from the heart of African Timbuktu. Barnabas’s friend Amice became Alys, the Duchess’ servant.

Expanded scenes in the palace meant more research for the sake of accuracy, something I take seriously as a historian. I had Moon’s research books and my own, added to my prior knowledge which helped me in painting vivid scenes. One book I had a lot of fun with was a text on medieval feasts. I knew meals could be elaborate, but I was amazed at the extent of dishes and entertainments that were provided. I couldn’t resist to used it as a plot twist in the novel.

All the time I was writing I felt as though Moon were at my shoulder, debating, discussing and directing. It was a unique experience and in the end I have to say I fell in love with the novel and its characters. The Imp of Eye, Book One in the Renaissance Sojourner Series, was born. I think Moon would approve.


Look out for A Trick of Fate, soon to be a FREE novella ebook prequel on Amazon and other ebook venders. And if you’re up for more free books, sign up for my mailing list on my website and receive A Treasure Beyond Worth, a free novella ebook prequel of Along the Far Shores.



Monday, June 15, 2015

The Raves are Trickling In...

Unpredictable Worlds has been out for a month. It's still a youngling, fresh faced to the world! It has two reviews at Amazon, both of which give me indescribable joy as an author. 

For example, one review summarizes what the stories do:

"They explore the person's deepest interior, their secret wishes that can become worst nightmares or frustrations that lead to a downfall. In all, the world is not quite what the reader expects and through it the reader's own idea of the world and what is possible can be challenged. Fascinating."

I couldn't have described my aims as a writer better myself! 

The other reviewer compares me to some of the finest storytellers of all time and then offers this gem:

"Jessica Knauss finds the deeply disturbing and scary in ordinary situations and everyday life. When she starts, all is as normal as reaching for your morning coffee, but before you're half way through, it's a whole other story—one that should make the hair on the back of your neck stand up."

I just love challenging the reader's expectations. I'm most entertained when I read unpredictable stories, so I aspire to bring that experience to my readers, too. I'm pleased beyond measure that these two readers understand.

I know both of these readers. The first is the author of many wonderful and unusual novels, Kristin Gleeson, and the second is the author of the best fantasy series of the new millennium (The Astreya Trilogy), Seymour Hamilton.

Someday, I do hope to have a review from someone I haven't already established a great relationship with. Let me know if you'd like a review copy! Unpredictable Worlds is available on NetGalley.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Great Writers of New England: Henry David Thoreau


Henry David Thoreau was the first person to write about "nature" in the sense we mean it today. You might say he invented nature. At the time of his writing, civilization had just severed the last ties between nature and humanity. Before this point, nature might not have been considered separate from human experience. By writing about his time on Walden Pond, Thoreau presented nature for the civilized world to appreciate. He made nature preserves and national parks possible.

Thoreau did this momentous work in a cabin near the water. A replica shows that his living arrangement was actually pretty comfortable. It has everything a writer needs. Too much more would be a distraction.

Such a beautiful place to do this kind of work! 

This is the view to Walden Pond from the actual cabin site. It's better to be a little bit away from the water to avoid bugs, which I'm sure there were still plenty of.

Walden Pond is actually so big, a lot of people would consider it a lake. The area closest to the park reception is like a beach and people bring their children with water wings. There are also many places to launch kayaks or just start swimming if that's your thing.

My husband and I preferred to walk around the entire pond and appreciate the beginning of spring, which came late this year. Walden Pond is still an oasis in the middle of civilization. Its beauty can really choke you up! And then the commuter rail goes by at the far end, and the conductor waves to you, and you wave back, and you remember not to take things so seriously.

Monday, June 1, 2015

An Age of Innocence: A Guest Post by Ron Shannon

Today we have more recent history to share. Ron Shannon, author of Gabriel's Wing, has stopped by to tell us how the zeitgeist of the 1960's inspired the amazing but credible story.


          What if Charles Dickens had written about these years? Would he have proclaimed them to be the best and worst of times? Would he have seen the extreme contrasts? Perhaps, but there is one thing I believe to be true, one thing I will proclaim without hesitation. The times were so unlike now, so different in so many ways to any other time, that a student would be forced to wonder if they really existed.

The year was 1969. It was the year we went to the moon and a nation watched and, arguably, felt more united than at any other time in history. It was the year Woodstock happened, quite by accident. What had been planned to be nothing more than three days of music turned into a historical event that would never be duplicated even when we tried. It was the year Nixon went to the White House. It was the year the Rolling Stones took the stage at Altamont and the tragedy that ensued marked the end of an era. It was an age of innocence and hope and at the same time it was an age of shame and misery. It is the backdrop, the setting, I used for my novel, Gabriel’s Wing.

          Nobody can truly point to any one thing and state it was what made the sixties different than any other decade. Like what made the twenties roar, the social upheaval of the sixties was the result of many things. A race of people stood up and demanded their civil rights. Leading the crusade were such men as Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. Women continued a long fight to be given fair and equal recognition under the law. A war on the other side of the world had been raging on for years. That wasn’t anything new. This war was unpopular and no one quite knew why we were involved. It was on the other side of the world and the ideologies at stake were vague and unrelated to hometown America. But none of that made Vietnam unique. What made Vietnam so different was television. Young people came home from school, turned on the television, and the war was right there in their living rooms. They didn’t have to imagine the horrors of the battlefield; the evening news brought it home live and, if you were lucky, in color.

However, the one thing I think made the sixties so different than any other decade, including the twenties, was the age paradigm. The age of the population was out of balance. Attendance in high school and in college had grown exponentially. The baby boomers of the forties and fifties were becoming young adults. Their voice was heard loud and clear. Their influence on the culture, the music, and the fashion was unmistakable. Television not only gave them access to the war, but it also gave them motivation to dream. Young people wanted a different world than what their parents and grandparents had built before them. They didn’t want to settle for what was expected of them. They had their own ideas, determination, and most importantly their own desires. Many of them didn’t sit and idly discuss the world and its possibilities. They left home and actively sought what they wanted. Unfortunately, the sudden migration of young people, the disillusionment that came with failure, provided predators with an endless reservoir of prey. At least that was a major assumption I made when I sat down to write Gabriel’s Wing.

By 1969 the term “flower child” had expanded to encompass any of the counter-cultures who practiced the principles of peace, free love, and universal understanding. Long hair, colorful clothes, and drug experimentation gained universal acceptance. When I thought of a flower child I didn’t have a preconceived notion of a hippie living on the streets of San Francisco. I thought of any young person with hopes and dreams outside of his or her parents’ influence. That pretty much meant any young person between the age of thirteen and twenty-five.

I once heard a flower child was the east coast answer to the west coast hippie. That notion is incorrect. The terms flower child and flower power had more to do with peaceful antiwar demonstrations than geography, but I liked the concept. Wrong or right, I thought about the young people on the east coast and what destination they would choose to pursue their dreams. Of course, New York had to be my first choice. What if they didn’t make it to New York? Would they end up in New Jersey? Not that I have anything against New Jersey. I live in New Jersey. The northern part of the state is lovely. I have experienced its beauty. I decided it offered a wonderful contrast to the plight I had formulated for the flower children in my novel. They realize the death of their dreams, the shock of disillusionment, and the persuasion of evil.

I have read about young girls falling into desperate circumstances. They do things to survive they would never believe they were capable of doing. What if the victim in this case was not a young woman, but a young man? A nineteen-year-old boy who could pass for thirteen would be an attractive target. What would be the worst thing to happen to him? He suffers the same degradation and fear a young woman would experience. He finds strength in another youth, not a man, but a young woman.

Could this story have a hero? And if it does, wouldn’t it be appropriate for him to be running from the memory of lost dreams? That’s a very good possibility, but what would make it more suitable to the times? Why not a woman? Better yet, a woman with an additional burden. What if she is the daughter of a white father and a black mother? Could she be the hero? Why not?

          In the late sixties more women were entering the work force than ever before. My protagonist, Tillie Thornwhistle, was such a woman. Could a woman in the sixties achieve what Tillie achieved? That question is best left unanswered. What I proposed is that she did and others probably did as well. She is a strong woman in a demanding situation.


In many ways Gabriel’s Wing is a dark tale. It examines what could’ve happened to many of the young adults who left home looking for a new life. However, it’s not completely dark. The story examines components of the sixties that aren’t usually explored. I make assumptions and draw on various what if scenarios. Tillie Thornwhistle does not exist except in my imagination. Her achievements, her job, her place in society are just a bit ahead of her time. Again, I ask, why not?

Ron Shannon's Gabriel's Wing is available at Amazon, as is his The Hedgerows of June.

Find author Ron Shannon on Facebook.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Medieval Cucumbers


The most memorable scene in the medieval epic on which I based Seven Noble Knights involves the antagonist, Doña Lambra, sending her servant to throw a cucumber dipped in blood at the hero, Gonzalo González. While earning my PhD, I read an article about the possible meanings of this act. Its apparent bizarreness and the way it made scholars scratch their heads so many hundreds of years later planted a seed in my mind. That seed flowered into Seven Noble Knights, 130,000 words of offenses, revenge, lust, love, and Spanishness. (More about the length later.)

So imagine my joy when I found this among my PhD papers:

30. Whoever injures someone with an egg, with a butello, or with a cucumere [two kinds of cucumber], or with any other thing that can dirty him should pay ten aurei if the plaintiff can prove it; but if not, he should clear himself with two of four named from his parish and he should be believed. [The Code of Cuenca (twelfth century) translated by James F. Powers]

It hadn't occurred to me to scan medieval legal documents for cucumber scenarios, yet here they were. Cuenca is a city in eastern Spain, a significant distance away from the area of Lara, where the bloody cucumber takes place in the legend. Apparently, cucumbers were threatening enough to merit legal rules on them in the far-flung reaches of medieval Hispanic Christendom.

Aurei were the more valuable coins of the realm, cast in gold and with legislated weights, so ten of them is not an insignificant fine. It would cover the cost of a donkey or a few goats, for sure. Or in this case, the cost of a new wardrobe. The key here seems to be the dirtiness and the difficulty of getting clothes clean in the twelfth century.

The exact same penalty and means of acquittal are prescribed for anyone who creates a slanderous ballad about someone else. Here the soil falls upon the subject's reputation, and that is even harder to clean than a twelfth-century shirt.

The seriousness of the cucumber crime in the lawbooks could make me believe the uproar in Seven Noble Knights is well earned. But let's compare the ten aurei to some other fines for offenses in the same section of The Code of Cuenca.

Anyone who breaks someone's arm or leg should pay 50 aurei, and if the limb comes all the way off, 100. A lost limb is worth ten times a ruined shirt. Acquittal for the limb requires twelve witnesses or trial by combat, a much bigger burden than the two of four witnesses required for cucumber throwing.

Scalping someone's beard will fine you 200 aurei—now we're getting into penalties that could buy five or more horses or a small house. It also costs 200 aurei (and exile) to force a stick into someone else's anus. Loss of beards and violations with foreign objects are exponentially more serious than throwing a cucumber.

In Seven Noble Knights, the cucumber incident results in the life and death situations that propel the story forward. As we see in the lawbooks, it's actually a pretty impotent gesture to merit such a response. Perhaps in the tenth century, when Seven Noble Knights takes place, it was that much harder to get a shirt clean? Or is there more going on here? Perhaps some of the lust and revenge I mentioned earlier?

Seven Noble Knights comes out in 2016 so you can find out!

Happy Memorial Day!

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

Like many of books I've read lately, The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan features the end of civilization. But although it takes place some undefined time after the end of life as we know it now, the characters are concerned with their present and most consider whatever came before to be as useless as legend.

In The Gracekeepers, the sea level has risen over cities and towns and only small islands remain. Some people cling to the land and a sense of heritage, but because there isn't enough to go around, many live permanently on boats. These sailors have to come to land to refuel, meet social obligations, and in the case of North's circus, perform for landlockers to earn food and survive. The landlockers don't much cotton to damplings, as the sailors are known, and the chief tension in The Gracekeepers is certain characters' longing either for land or for sea—we never do seem to be given what we really want, do we?

North loves the sea and would be perfectly content to live out her days there. But the ringmaster wants to marry her off to his son and buy a house on land for her, and what he says goes. Not only does North feel unsteady on land, but she also is going to give birth to a selkie's child. The word is never used in the novel, but the mysterious selkies must have been inspired by the Celtic legends of merpeople.

The other main character, Callanish, is the offspring of a woman and a selkie: her webbed fingers and toes shout it to the world. In order to do her duty as a Gracekeeper, she must wear shoes and gloves at all times. Callanish is not free in any way. Gracekeepers live all alone and perform funerals that involve the starvation of a small bird, a grace, to mark the end of the mourning period.

The writing is so magical and atmospheric that I didn't want The Gracekeepers to end. The strongest parts were the sections from the main characters' points of view, and some of the importance of the other characters is left totally up to the reader to decide. The omission of explicit explanations contributed to the sense of magic. One theme of the novel seems to be waiting, and the reader waits for something to happen, but the drama at the end of The Gracekeepers isn't the strongest part. This is the novel for a reader who wants to be swept into a mysterious land where the reader must decide on the meaning of people, animals, and actions based on only the most subtle of hints.

The Gracekeepers debuts tomorrow!

Novels I've Read in 2015: 
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Along the Far Shores by Kristin Gleeson

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

A Kiss at Kihali by Ruth Harris











Mermaids in Paradise  by Lydia Millet











Raven Brought the Light by Kristin Gleeson











The Price of Blood by Patricia Bracewell











Lucky Us by Amy Bloom