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Monday, April 27, 2015

Great Stuff Coming Soon

My husband and I are back from an arduous research trip to Spain. Well, there was research, but we enjoyed it too much for it to be arduous. Here I am with the first written record of Spanish (as opposed to its forbear, Latin), from about the year 970. Funnily enough, that's the same decade when my novel Seven Noble Knights takes place!

As I recover from jet lag and culture shock and meet a bunch of deadlines, I'll make a more thorough report of some of the wonders we saw.

And please don't forget: Unpredictable Worlds releases for Kindle on May 15 with a softcover edition available the same day. 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 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. 


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.