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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!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Review: Mermaids in Paradise by Lydia Millet

Lydia Millet’s trilogy that began with How the Dead Dream and ended with Magnificence has an astounding authorial voice with a knack for choosing the right words and at the same time, it adapts to her chosen protagonist’s thought patterns. Mermaids in Paradise, ostensibly fluffier, continues to display Millet’s versatility with a narrator who starts out unsympathetic although comical. As the book goes on, Deb, a new bride on a Caribbean honeymoon with her perfect husband, is drawn into the events and sloughs off the defensive sarcasm she’s learned from her best friend, showing some of her depth and becoming easier to sympathize with.

The plot, too, seems distant and standard for some time. The eventual introduction of the mermaids stands out for the magical description of Deb’s experience, but larger society’s reaction to the mermaids is on the zanier end of predictable.

Then the climax hits like a ton of bricks, giving meaning to the entire novel. I adored the way the mermaids were saved from exploitation. Deb rhapsodizes about the progression of humans from Australopithecines to Homo sapiens, figuring that nothing much happened for five million years, but then came speaking, and then writing, and here we are today, with all the destruction that the technology made possible by writing has wrought.

My takeaway, influenced by the amazing whale-filled climax (and the rash of end-of-civilization literature I’ve been exposed to, no doubt), is that people must not assume we can or should control the natural world. We are part of nature, not separate from it.

And then another unforeseen revelation hits like two tons of bricks, giving another meaning to the novel. Deb could possibly arrive at my takeaway even with this last surprise, but, drugged up after some injuries, she just kind of gives it an “oh well,” which returns us to the meaninglessness of the beginning. Devastating, in typical Millet style. I've seen complaints about the ending, and I assume it's this last-page shocker that bothers others. I don't think it could be a Millet novel without the rug being pulled out from under the reader. The phenomenon fascinates me but turns others off.

Make no mistake: Mermaids in Paradise is a complex novel with incredible expertise behind it. All that and mermaids (and whales!), too!

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

Monday, March 2, 2015

Review: A Kiss at Kihali by Ruth Harris

I was amazed to stumble onto a review of A Kiss at Kihali, a romance centered around the rhino poaching crisis in Africa. The author expressed a desire to create awareness of the problem through fun fiction. It's an idea I've been kicking around, myself! So of course I had to read it right away.

The novel begins with a chapter from the the point of view of a baby female rhinoceros. It's adorable and ultimately heart-wrenching. I'm not sure words can convey just how cute and goodnatured baby rhinos are, but since I have a good sense of their qualities, the first chapter really drew me in.

The baby ends up at the Kihali orphanage. The saga of the way she's drawn out of her depression to flourish and play with other animals (elephants and a goat, most notably) parallels the way the wounded humans come together and heal each other through their love of animals and each other. The background of the new vet, Starlite, is interesting for the glimpse it gives of how animal theme parks in America operate and the politics of public expectation versus what wild animals actually do. On the whole, however, I didn't find the human relationships very compelling or deeply developed. I haven't read a lot of romance novels, so perhaps I'm not the target audience.

The best part of the novel is the way the baby rhino helps the humans solve the mystery. She more or less testifies with evidence, and then brings about some of the sentencing. That's a pair of wonderful moments I'm sure I won't forget.

I admire the reason this novel was written and hope it fulfills that purpose. Set in Kenya, it's far from the epicenter of the poaching epidemic. This allows the book an optimistic cast (which I appreciate), but leaves a lot for the reader to extrapolate. Please read this book if you'd like to get started on basic rhino facts in a light, playful way.

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