Monday, April 20, 2015

Great Writers of New England: Emily Dickinson

Aside (and this is a huge aside) from nearly 2000 revolutionary, hair-raising poems, Emily Dickinson was the author of the finest query letter ever:

Mr Higginson, Are you too deeply occupied
to say if my verse is alive?
Mr. Higginson had put out a call to "young writers" to submit their materials. Emily was 30 years old at the time, which is youngish, but let's face it, Mr. Higginson probably intended the announcement for young male writers. He did read what she sent, and did think her poems were alive, perhaps too much so. Out of concern for their nonconformity with the poems of the day, he discouraged publication. Emily's sister, Lavinia, was surprised at the copious amounts of poetry in the house where they both lived after Emily had passed away. Luckily, she found editors who believed in them, and they weren't lost to future generations.

Lavinia's grave site gets nearly as many signs of respect as Emily's, in recognition of her contribution to literature in English by publishing her sister's poetry.

The tour at the beautiful home (at the top of the post) where Emily was born and died emphasized her passionate, gregarious nature. Her hair remained bright red until her death, as if reflecting the emotion we see in her writing. Her family was important in Amherst and Emily was well educated and had many friends. But the fact remains that as her life went on, she became more and more reclusive. Emily died at 55, and high blood pressure seems to have been the culprit. High blood pressure and reclusiveness suggest that she suffered a lot of anxiety.

On the other hand, when you enter her bedroom, you can see why she wouldn't have wanted to leave. It was on the second floor in the corner visible in the photo above, and she had great views:

She could see her brother's house next door... 
...the building where her father worked in town...
...and this church's steeple. 
Most of the house is set up with replicas because the original furniture and dress are kept in other museums, but in the bedroom, there was the original stove and bed, and something nowhere else could boast: the original floor. It was covered the way it must have been when Emily lived there, with woven rush mats, but the guide described for us that before the mats were placed, you could see the scuff marks where she would actually have walked! This helped them place the furniture pieces in the exact positions they would have occupied during Emily's lifetime.

This is a replica of the desk where she often worked. It was placed near the corner windows so she wouldn't miss seeing anything while composing. I was impressed with the small size of the table. What does a determined writer need beyond writing implements? Not much at all!

I say "determined" because she kept writing in spite of what appears to be a deeply held belief that her writing was of no interest beyond Emily's circle of friends. In other matters, she doesn't seem to have been someone so easily kept down. So why didn't she try harder to be published? (Ten poems appeared anonymously during her lifetime.) It must be partly due to her respect for Mr. Higginson's opinion. The two corresponded throughout Emily's life. He visited Amherst a couple of times and spoke at her funeral. And so, in spite of numerous accomplishments, Mr. Higginson is mostly remembered as the man who told Emily Dickinson not to publish.

Lack of publishing deadlines freed Emily up to keep perfecting her poems for years. She was very particular about word choice, which is admirable, but has made the editing of her work nightmarish.


Much more information about Emily Dickinson's surprisingly complex life and the inspiring place she lived and worked is available at the museum's site.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Cover Reveal: New Amazing Book of Stories Ready for Bargain Pre-Order

It's almost here. Unpredictable Worlds releases May 15!

If you've ever despaired that my published and prize-winning fiction is all over the web, in no single place, and that I have many more stories to amaze you with, but they haven't been picked up yet, despair no more! Unpredictable Worlds has it all, and more!

The synopsis:

A teacher controls her students with an edible microchip. A reporter turns into a rhinoceros. A couple's efforts to eat local go frighteningly awry. If you're looking to be surprised, puzzled, or just plain entertained, pick up this omnibus. There's something for everyone! 

More than twenty years in the making, Unpredictable Worlds contains all of Jessica Knauss’s published and prize-winning short fiction as of March 2015 and a few of her best stories never before seen in print or ebook. Zany plots and outrageous characters will stretch your belief and tug at your heart. 

WARNING: These stories contain exaggeration, elision, and disregard for “the real world.” Some even exhibit a tone of blatant optimism. However, they respect human speech patterns, admire good grammar, and hold proper punctuation in the highest regard. 

Enjoy!

The cover features details from a French painting that dominates one of the galleries at the Worcester Art Museum. I find the turbulence and the barely visible hand reaching out of the water disturbing. I hope it captures the vaguely unsettling nature of many of the stories in Unpredictable Worlds.

Unpredictable Worlds releases for Kindle on May 15 with a softcover edition to follow. Seem too far in the future? It isn't so far when you consider this: Unpredictable Worlds is already available for preorder for only 99 cents. Once it's out there in the world, the price will go up, so save at least 66% now and have this strangely amazing book delivered to your device on release day.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Great Writers of New England: The Adamses

"Writer" might not be the first category we put John Adams into, with all his other accomplishments. But, as we see especially in the correspondence excerpts that David McCullough's biography brought to the general public, he and his wife, Abigail, wrote complex ideas clearly and with conviction. The whole family loved books and contributed beautiful words along with their important works.

New Englanders from the beginning to the end in spite of their travels, the three most important places John and Abigail lived are all in Quincy, Massachusetts, today.

The "birth home," maintained with the look of the plain boards John Adams's father used to build it, is where John Adams was born and lived for some time. No photos of the interior are permitted, but inside, it's roomier and brighter than it seems like it will be. The light-colored walls and sparse furnishings contribute to a balanced sense of space and allow the visitors' imaginations to soar. Inside, where no photos were allowed, it was easy to picture studying law books or writing correspondence.

A second birth home at the same site is where John Quincy Adams was born.

Farther out, the "Old House at Peace field," which the Adamses purchased after their time abroad while John was an ambassador. Abigail is said to have thought the house was too small and dark after the grand European mansions and had extensive renovations done. Both John and Abigail died here. The Adams family lived here for four generations, until the mid-twentieth century.

This tree was already in the garden when the Adamses moved here, and each generation enjoyed strolling under its shade. Note the support the park service has added for the long limb at right.

Under all the ivy is the Stone Library, which holds a breathtaking array of books from the family's personal collection and writings. Each generation produced its own scholar/writer. Before he was president, John Quincy was a lawyer who defended the slaves in the Amistad case. His wife, Louisa Catherine, was so learned and sophisticated that she was able to masquerade as Napoleon's sister and get her family out of France to safety.

The Stone Library features a weathervane salvaged from a 1666 church.
Charles Francis Adams was ambassador to Great Britain during the Civil War, helping the Union win. Charles Francis Adams Jr. became lieutenant colonel of the Fifth Massachusetts Cavalry, an African American regiment during the Civil War. Following in the footsteps of his grandfather and great-grandfather, he wrote moving letters home. Finally, Brooks Adams was a great historian of his distinguished family. The most intense user of the Stone Library, he played a large role in establishing these homes as historic sites.

All the Adamses valued the written word not per se, but for the way it could make the world, and specifically the United States, a better place. They are some of the most inspiring writers in the history of New England.


Monday, March 30, 2015

Brilliant Flash Fiction Prize Winner!

Photo by Laurie Scavo for Brilliant Flash Fiction 
I came upon an interesting contest in Brilliant Flash Fiction in which writers should create a story in 1000 or fewer words after contemplating this sunny, peaceful photo. The result, "Stairs to the Beach," isn't peaceful or sunny, but it won the prize!

I'm surprised and flattered and thrilled to be so honored.

I'm usually peaceful and sunny, myself, so how did this disturbing set of words come about? First, I asked who would live in such a house? Who would have a use for such an ingenious system to get to the beach below?

As soon as I hit on the name "Josie," this song got stuck in my head.

So Josie is an amazing person, a humanitarian doctor, with a spirit so generous, she adopts ten children and provides them with a fun way to get to the beach they live for. She's away a lot on humanitarian missions, so when she comes home, everyone rejoices. Perhaps it's the way the photo darkens around the edges, or the unusual nature of the tunnel, or perhaps the house reminds me a little of the beach house at the end of Road to Perdition, because then I wondered, what if Josie doesn't come home? What happens to her good intentions then?

The inheritors of her estate (and ten children) aren't interested in charity work or parenting, and so the story took on its life. These characters have a lot in common with Emily from "Unpredictable Factors in Human Obedience" and another Emily, from the forthcoming Awash in Talent, so I have a feeling this beach house may crop up again in my writing.

That's a smooth version of how the writing went. In reality, the connections didn't get made until I sat down to do the labor of writing. Every time I looked at the story, I added one hundred words and deleted twenty-five. And then, I just added details. But there still seemed to be something missing. I showed it to my critique partners, who were magically able to point out the parts that were still vague, and fixed them just in time for the submission deadline.

Of course I didn't submit it before I showed it to my husband, who laughed uproariously in all kinds of unexpected places. Or were they unpredictable?

Coming Soon... 

You'll be glad to know that in May 2015, you can get many more wonderful short fictions in my story collection, Unpredictable Worlds. More on that soon.

In the meantime, enjoy "Stairs to the Beach." Thanks! And be sure to check out the other amazing stories at Brilliant Flash Fiction.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Great Writers of New England: Robert Frost

Robert Frost as gourd at the Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular at Roger Williams
Park in Providence, RI, 2014 
Robert Frost's poems are simple. Simple is not easy. The clearest, most apparently simple essay or poem is in reality the product of more blood, sweat, and tears than the garbled philippic of the most erudite academic. His style, so hard to obtain, welcomed many new readers into the world of poetry.

The farmhouse 
The Frost farm is in Derry, New Hampshire, not far off the highway my husband and I took last fall during the trip to celebrate our fifth anniversary. We would never have known it was there but for the sign on the highway. Its unassuming nature is what makes it so great.

The barn/visitor center 
Frost lived and worked on the farm from 1900 to 1911, while he taught at the local school and honed the poetic sense that has given us so many enduring poems. Imagine: a day job, a farm, and the hard work of poetry!

Inside the farmhouse. Let the words pour out! 

The beautifully maintained farmhouse is attached to a barn, where you can learn about Frost's family, his work, his fans, and many curious farm implements.

Whose woods these are I think I know... 

Outside, a deep meadow leads into woods that look much the same as they must have in the first decade of the twentieth century, the way Frost would have seen them. You can take a photocopied trail guide or wander at your leisure.


The Frost farm, as well as welcoming poetic pilgrims from all over, hosts regular readings and events, and even holds a poetry contest. The simple presentation allows unencumbered access to why New England is a great place to be a writer.

A lot of Frost's work is now available online. Learn more about the farm today, too!

All photos in this post taken and © 2014 by Jessica Knauss

Monday, March 16, 2015

No Turning Back Free Promotion

In 2013, I was finally able to release to the public the English translation of a book I've had undying faith in for decades.

No Turning Back is "important" because it's the first description of an underground world of resistance to the fascist regime in Spain in the 1970's. But it's also a thrilling and emotionally satisfying read about one woman's struggle to find her way in a rapidly changing world, influenced by Catholicism, communism, and feminism.

I think there are a lot of readers out there who would enjoy No Turning Back, but they don't know it exists. To that end, I'm running a giveaway. Now through March 22, you can get No Turning Back in Kindle, epub, or pdf (any ebook format you need!) at no cost, simply by going to this link.

All I ask is, if you enjoy it, please post a review and let everyone know!

More about the book:

TOP 5 BESTSELLER, POLITICAL FICTION! The harrowing tale of loyalty and disaffection you won't soon forget!

Barcelona, 1986: The dictatorship is over and life is free and easy. But what if you can’t forget the seventies?

Elisa’s troubled past comes back to her in the form of her ex-husband, Arnau, who needs her help to exonerate a former comrade. Elisa relives her Catholic childhood, her marriage to Arnau, her blind loyalty to the communist cause, her experiments in feminism, and her prison time to create a twentieth-century emotional history of the political Left in Spain. The women who faced so much adversity with Elisa weave their own perspectives and testimonies into hers, making this more than a novel: it’s an important contribution to history that gives a voice to the silenced.

Can Elisa ever leave the path history has carved out for her? Or is there no turning back?

“Followers of contemporary Spanish history … will now have the opportunity to understand some of its complex factors … through Falcón’s unswerving critical appraisal of Spanish politics. … Knauss’s agile and eloquent translation guarantees that the memory of clandestine resistance is no longer consigned to the past or to scholars.”
—from the introduction by Linda Gould Levine, PhD

"I wish US authors felt free to be as fearless as Falcón." —Diane Lefer

"...a moving story of self-discovery. The language/translation is poetic and understated. A worthwhile read." —Martin Hill Ortiz

"...absolutely riveting." —Pamela Lloyd

Read an interview about the translation.

Read a free chapter online.

And get the whole book for FREE here.

Thank you!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Castles at Unusual Historicals

Almodóvar del Río Castle. Photo by Jessica Knauss
Today I have a post at Unusual Historicals about a castle, and king, and a cantiga, by way of announcing my latest historical project, stories based on the Cantigas de Santa Maria. Enjoy!