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Monday, April 17, 2017

Springing Along with a New Publication and Events

I know many of you are finishing up your taxes, that springtime blight. I've done mine for the first time as a widow, and it was about as fun as I expected.

Lest you think the piles of W2s and 1099s swallowed me up, it's time to let you know about the other amazing projects I've been working on.

The first is ready for you now! My historical short story, "The Lake," has come out in the award-winning Dark Gothic Resurrected Magazine. The April issue is chock full of spine-tingling delights. My contribution makes use of Jungian imagery to pay tribute to one of my favorite poems ("The Lake"). The poet, Edgar Allan Poe himself, shows up as a young man in this story to have a transformative effect on an impressionable girl. It doesn't get much more gothic.

I never thought of my self as a horror writer, but more and more, I'm attracted to the psychological aspects of scary stories. If it has something creepy or uncanny, I'm there! There's something for all your horrifying needs in this issue of Dark Gothic Resurrected. It's also available from Amazon.

I'm proud to say the folks at Kindle Press have included Awash in Talent in a big sale: 150 Kindle Books for $1.50. Time to make my zany Rhode Island book the bestseller it should be! This unique piece of art and labor of love won't cost you more than a cup of coffee until April 30.

I'm also busy assembling superauthor outfits for not one, but two events this spring:

April 29: Spring into Art at the Saint Helens Public Library will see me reading briefly from Seven Noble Knights with many other talented authors. I'll also be at a table where you can purchase Seven Noble Knights, Awash in Talent, Unpredictable Worlds, or Tree/House and get them signed right before your eyes! I look forward to talking with you on April 29.

May 3: I return to the place where I first lived with my true love and fulfill a life dream: A reading at the Harvard Book Store with Q&A about Seven Noble Knights! If you're near Cambridge, I encourage you to show up for this free event, which will also feature wonderful memoirist Nadine Kenney. It's sure to be standing room only, so come early! The bookstore has signed copies available for preorder, too!

Photos and videos to follow.


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Interview with Jasmine Silvera, Author of the Kindle Press Fantasy Death's Dancer

In honor of the Kindle Scout Second Anniversary Sale, I'm sitting down with Jasmine Silvera, author of the fantasy Death's Dancer. We found each other when I commented that Awash in Talent is a fantasy, but doesn't follow rules, and our conversation didn't follow many rules, either.

View the action as it unfolded hereWe talked about the ways her novel surprised her, the Easter eggs she's hidden inside Death's Dancer, and whether there's any fun to be had outside of writing. See below for some good chatting between authors. Jasmine returned the favor and interviewed me, and posted a transcript at her blog, too!

About Death's Dancer:

Isela Vogel is dancing on borrowed time: a degenerative hip threatens her successful career bringing the favor of the gods to her patrons. Now, one big job could set her up for life; if it doesn't get her killed. The Necromancer Azrael must harness the power of a god to stop a killer, and that requires a dancer. 

Capricious gods and scheming necromancers are the least of Isela's worries. If she and Azrael fail, it will cost more than her life. If they succeed, she will lose everything she loves. 

And then there's the danger of falling for a Lord of Death.


Jessica Knauss Your novel is so imaginative. Did it surprise you? How?

Jasmine Silvera It was quite a surprise, though I'm a diehard plotter—when I started Death’s Dancer, I thought I was writing a straightforward alternate world fantasy, or even old school Urban Fantasy (à la Charles de Lint and Emma Bull—before it was mostly badass chicks with swords and/or guns and/or magical powers). Prague just has this otherworldly feel that leant itself to that. It was going to be much more of an ensemble book. But Azrael and Isela had such strong voices, and their attraction kept "getting in the way." So at some point, I stopped fighting it and let them do their thing.

Though, to be clear, I love a good badass chick Urban Fantasy! Marjorie Liu's Hunter's Kiss is one of my all time favorites!

Jessica Knauss I love reading about your version of Prague. What's your link with that city?

Jasmine Silvera We lived in Prague for almost two years. Shortly after we got married, Mr. Silvera's job presented the opportunity to relocate. We jumped on it! We have the best souvenir ever: my daughter was born there.

Jessica Knauss When your characters took over, did it generate any material that you had to edit out?

Jasmine Silvera Strangely, no. They really helped me focus! I did have to edit a lot of the details of the scenery and city though. I could go on and on about the cobblestone patterns throughout the city and how they change in different neighborhoods. Prague as so many incredible place details, and buildings and particular bits of history. When the book began to creep toward 100,000 words, I took a hard look at how much of that I absolutely needed to give a sense of place. Anything that didn’t help move the story forward, or define the characters in some way had to go. Sadly.

Jessica Knauss Maybe you can use the material in a travel guide later.

Jasmine Silvera Yes! I have a "streets of the necromancer" tour in the back of my mind. Someday, maybe!

Jessica Knauss Jasmine, I'll sign up for that tour.

Jasmine Silvera If anyone is looking for a book that does an AMAZING job of incorporating the history and sights of Prague in a modern mystery setting, check out City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte. It's a real work of art!

Jessica Knauss What was your favorite scene to write?

Jasmine Silvera That is such a tough question! I love writing ensemble scenes which is kind of a cheat answer because there are two in this book: the dinner scene with Isela and her friends at the Academy, and her Sunday dinner with her family (hmm, funny how they both revolve around food!)
It was a fun challenge to give everyone enough screen time to make them worth being in the scene, and make all of their personalities distinct enough that it doesn’t get too confusing and move the plot forward. I (hopefully) succeeded.

Jessica Knauss I haven't gotten there yet, but I'll bet you succeeded. I also sense that you enjoyed writing about choreography. I practically felt like I had been dancing after reading some of the scenes.

Jasmine Silvera I do, although I'm more drawn to Latin dances—flamenco, salsa, tango—than ballet or modern dance. I actually stumbled into salsa. I wanted to be a tango dancer, but I was told I had too much "hip action" and I should try salsa. I fell in love... And it turns out everybody on my mom's side of the family could Salsa but me. Who knew?!

Jessica Knauss Do you hide any secrets that only a few people will find in your books?

Jasmine Silvera I’m a huge Marvel Cinematic Universe fan, so of course I had to slip in a few easter eggs. My goal was to try to make them unnoticeable if you aren’t aware of them. I don’t want my attempt to to be "clever" to pull the reader out of the story in any way. A lot of them are around character interaction or specific character traits. People who know me will have lightbulb moments. I’ve also tried to seed a few things for future books: one bit between Gregor and Isela is a setup for something that happens later in the series.

Jessica Knauss How do you select the names of your characters? I ask because they're beautiful, unusual, and also seem to point to ancient traditions.

Jasmine Silvera Thank you! I wanted them to be unique but pronounceable. Sometimes characters come fully formed, names and all. Isela was always going to be Isela. She was pretty stubborn about that. And I have no idea where it came from. I just woke up one morning with "Isela. Issy." Azrael on the other hand was a mystery until the middle of the second draft. I wanted something that sounded old but familiar. I was flipping through a book of Angels for an entirely different project and came on the Angel of Death. Azrael is one of the few angels that appears in the theology of Judaism, Christianity and Islam under a similar name. That got my ‘what if’ machine going. Divinity is a fickle thing: it’s a matter of faith and interpretation. What if Azrael wasn’t an angel, but a powerful sorcerer with the ability to control death?

For side characters I tend to look up popular names in the years that character would have been born. I also try to be conscious of a character’s background when naming.

One of my favorite antidotes (also a great argument for why you need beta readers) revolves around naming a character. One of Isela’s friends originally had a very Czech name. At one point pretty late in Dancer’s production, a friend (who is Czech) pointed out that as the character came from a Russian background it was unlikely she would have been given a Czech name. It was a tiny detail that most people wouldn’t have noticed, but I think those details add up to credibility to a story, especially one that veers so heavily into the fantastic.

I probably obsess over it way more than I should.

Jessica Knauss Did you read a lot as a child? Was there one book that you couldn't live without?

Jasmine Silvera My ability to come home from the library with stacks of books (and read them all) was legendary in my family. I still get a little overwhelmed with gratitude when I step into a library (and did you know Prague has some of the most beautiful libraries in the world?!)
But to answer the question: I read Watership Down probably a dozen times. It was terrifying and thrilling and mundane all at once. I’ve never looked at rabbits the same way. Yes I get something new out of it every time. It's also the book I've bought and given away more than any other.

Jessica Knauss That's a complex book that stands up well to multiple readings, even by a brilliant reader. And I hope there will be libraries on your Prague tour.

Jasmine Silvera Here's my personal favorite. 

Jessica Knauss All this creative writing can really take it out of you. How do you relax?

Jasmine Silvera Yeah, blocking dance and fight scenes really takes it out of me. I’ve practiced yoga for over ten years, so I tend to unroll my mat when I’m feeling stressed. I used to be a runner, but I was always getting injured. Walking the Camino de Santiago taught me to enjoy the joy of just taking a steady pace and looking around at the things I pass grounds me. It’s deeply restorative. Now I'm a walker.

Jessica Knauss I commend you for using physical activity to unwind from the brain drain of writing. I hope to walk at least some of the Camino someday. It seems like a great idea, and it's my duty as a medieval Hispanist.

Jasmine Silvera Jessica, with your extensive background in Spanish history you would probably get way more out of it than I did. If you ever do decide to do it, let me know. I'd come along just to learn a few things!

Jessica Knauss Sure thing! Last question: Besides writing and walking, what other things do you enjoy?

Jasmine Silvera I love making photos. In another life I would have definitely been a photographer. I’m pretty devoted to my Instagram account, because it lets my inner shutterbug have an outlet. I started playing the cello in my late twenties, and though I’m not very good (and have very little time to practice these days) it’s one of my favorite nonwriting challenges.

Jessica Knauss Find Jasmine’s lovely photos on Instagram. Thanks for a lively conversation, Jasmine.


Jasmine Silvera Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me, Jessica! It's been a wonderful exchange.

All Kindle Scout–winning titles are on sale for 99 cents now through April 3. Fantasy, YA, romance, mystery, thriller, suspense—Kindle Scout loves them all!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Springtime Renewal with a Free Book and Big Sale

It' been a long winter. Luckily, the Vernal Equinox anthology is here, just in time to celebrate spring. This free anthology takes renewal as its theme. If you've ever wondered whether Emily from Awash in Talent is trapped forever in her bizarre forced-therapy prison, the story I contribute will show you the way she finds renewal. It's the first chapter of Awash in Talent's anticipated sequel, Call It What You Will (which is still being written). This entertaining story and nine others in the fantasy, horror, romance, and literary fiction genres are yours for free!

Author and anthology-maker Lincoln Cole's page gives you a link to Vernal Equinox and showcases all the featured novels in one convenient place.

The release of Vernal Equinox coincides with the Kindle Scout Anniversary Sale. In honor of two years of reader-powered publishing, all Kindle Press titles are only 99 cents each, today through April 3. A panoply of wonderful writing awaits, including Awash in Talent and all the books from Vernal Equinox! Check them all out at Amazon or get the deal conveniently on Awash in Talent's page.

Be sure to check out A Book A Month's appealing and well organized page for the event. Don't mess around with genres you don't care about—find your favorites with an easy click!

Also in celebration of renewal, in April my deep psychology story "The Lake," based on an Edgar Allan Poe poem, will appear in award-winning Dark Gothic Resurrected Magazine.

Lest you think I haven't been busy, I'll let you in on a secret: I've been writing a fantasy story, set in Providence, Rhode Island, and another special place, with all new characters. I'm letting my imagination run wild. My writers group has called it magical, unique, vividly rendered, entertaining, and just great. It's good to have my honest efforts rewarded, and I have high hopes I'll be able to share a complete version of this story with you soon.

And last but not least, check out the popularity ranking of the Seven Noble Knights All Classical interview, also available here.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Radio Stars: Seven Noble Knights and Me

Portland's All Classical station is at the intersection of the river and the light rail. 
Picture it: You're an artist, and someone you're not related to and have never met and you know appreciates the type of art you do in general has seen your art and liked it enough to talk with you about it for thirty minutes at his radio station.

A selfie in the very moments when my authorial fame hits its zenith. 
Exciting? You bet. I know because it happened to me!

Ed Goldberg at Portland's All Classical is an avid reader, and I had the inestimable pleasure of chatting with him (at New York speed) about Seven Noble Knights.

Check it out and download it free at the station's site. It is also on iTunes (the J. K. Knauss March 1 track) also free.

The view from the studio wouldn't be complete without rain clouds. 
As you'll see when you have a listen, we crammed a lot of information into thirty minutes! I hope you enjoy listening as much as I enjoyed making the recording. Doña Sancha, Don Gonzalo, their seven sons, Mudarra, and Doña Lambra await you!

And check out the other Seven Noble Knights events in 2017, including another, shorter audio interview and a couple of book signings!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Book Club Magic with Divas, Sangría, and Medieval Spain

Reading makes you blossom 
The Literary Divas February meeting, which featured discussion of everyone's favorite epic of medieval Spain, Seven Noble Knights, had near perfect attendance and a special appearance by yours truly, the elusive author J. K. Knauss.

Seven Noble Knights, hurrah! 
The group has varied tastes and don't often agree on books, but luckily, everyone found something to like in Seven Noble Knights. I let the readers control the discussion, which ranged delightfully all over. I was tickled to hear comparisons to Game of Thrones and the consensus was that reading Seven Noble Knights is like being inside a movie. We discussed the pleasant challenges of a book with more than thirty characters and how long it takes to write an epic novel. We delved into the psychology of Doña Lambra, Zaida, Don Gonzalo, and Gonzalico, and agreed that Blanca Flor is more mysterious than I intended. Almanzor was a favorite character, and I got to explain that his reputation in history is terrifying, so it was thrilling to portray him in a positive light. My inspiration and years of research paid off when many readers picked up on subtle details.

I'm always surprised when readers want little ol' me to sign their books, but there was a whole lot of signing going on, too.

"The book club needed a book like this," one enthusiastic reader said. "It's well written and we all learned a lot!"


The group enjoyed an elegant selection of Spanish tapas: Mediterranean salad, paella, tortilla de patatas, bread, Manchego cheese, chorizo, Spanish olives, almonds, and sangría, with olive oil in almost everything and a delicious, colorful fruit tart for dessert.

The evening concluded with an impromptu reading of my prize-winning flash fiction, "Stairs to the Beach." The dark humor was highly appreciated.

You, too, can experience Seven Noble Knights with your book club! Check out suggestions here and contact the author if you'd like to schedule an author appearance or Skype session.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Today at Unusual Historicals: María de Padilla, Royal Mistress

Reenactors portray María de Padilla and King Pedro
in the Royal Palace in Sevilla. 
The theme this month at Unusual Historicals is "Mistresses." For my turn, it could be none but María de Padilla, whose legal status as queen was never confirmed. Nonetheless, she is more famous and beloved than many historical queens. The few facts that have come down about her make for great historical novel fodder! Read all about it at Unusual Historicals today.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Book Clubs, Authorial Fame, and Real Life

Look, Ma! I'm famous! 
As part of my deliberate, full-of-intention book launch for Seven Noble Knights, I arranged an interview with my local newspaper. It came out last week and looks impressive, taking up the entire content of page A3. (If you click the picture, you should be able to enlarge and read the article.)

I unexpectedly got two calls from local well-wishers when they saw the article. All right, I thought, today St. Helens, tomorrow the world! On Friday, I learned that Seven Noble Knights is the official selection of the Literary Divas Book Club for February 2017. I think the choice is a direct result of the article in the paper. I prepared for book clubs with a set of discussion questions in the back of the book, and I'm happy to visit or Skype with a book club with members who enjoy historical fiction—just contact me. I'll make an appearance at the Literary Divas meeting, which will demand an in-person performance of my authorial persona.

The authorial persona is the face an author presents to the world, an integral part of her "brand" in this new age of authorship. My persona is based heavily on the real me, but as it's developed, I've emphasized only the fun, exciting, or humorous parts of me. I figure no one wants to read books from a gloomy Gus. When circumstances have become too frustrating to bear in silence, I've blogged about them from a humorous angle to make them easier to swallow. See my posts about living in a hotel for nine months in 2013 or getting an apartment in Arizona with no furniture in 2011 for examples.

Last July, something happened to me that is not funny at all, ever, and that changed everything about my life down to the finest detail. I'm talking about the death of my beloved husband. I've written about it a couple of times here, but overall, I'm no Helen Macdonald (author of H is for Hawk) and no one wants to read about my grief, especially before I've had time to frame it with a tangible piece of wisdom.

It hasn't been easy to gauge how much of the truth to reveal during Seven Noble Knights' book release. Sometimes I mention my husband deliberately, and sometimes I gloss over his existence. Both options feel wrong. I hate to mention that death has already parted us, but we had an insanely happy marriage that deserves celebration. If I try to gloss over my grief, there's always the risk that people will ask a question whose answer cannot be fudged, and I will go too deeply into territory I don't want to visit publicly. During the book launch, these have usually been questions about my writing process and my future writing plans. My husband's love was woven throughout my life, even my writing process, and now that he's gone, I'm faced with existential questions about whether to move forward that must be answered before I can answer how.

I completed both of my novels before my husband became ill, and I dedicated both of them to him. When the page proofs of Seven Noble Knights came back with my paragraph about him in the present tense, it was intensely painful to have to remind the publisher that my husband can only be referred to in the past tense now. It doubly hurt that I had never shown the dedication to him, so he never got to see it. I had been saving it as a surprise.

My mother found a typo in the published edition, and I don't know whether it's been corrected. In the second-to-last chapter, I refer to a character as a "young window." It should be "widow." I think the typo was a Freudian slip, because I didn't want to be a widow when I first wrote the passage any more than I do now, to the extent that I didn't even want to type the word.

But these are not the anecdotes that sell a medieval epic, are they?

In the newspaper interview, I approached this issue subtly. Notice that I don't go into why I've returned home to my mother, and I only mention that because of the local connection. In any other context, it would be a nonissue. I refer to my husband simply as "late." Such a small word doesn't describe the wonders of our marriage or the yawning black abyss that is my grief—because no one wants to know about that. It provides only the bare fact. In order to maintain the positivity of my authorial persona, that small word may be as far as I can go.

The part about the idea for the sequel is true. Recently, I've recuperated hope for life, and I hope that I will actually do some writing on that project soon.

I've discussed where to draw the line with a couple of psychology professionals, and their conclusion was to "Do what makes you comfortable." Not easy, since I haven't felt comfortable about anything for more than six months! If you have brilliant ideas about how much of my own sad story to tell as part of my authorial persona, I'd love to hear them.