Archive | September, 2013

WIPs Conversation: Jen Knox on Her Work in Progress

Jen KnoxJen Knox grew up in Columbus, Ohio. She works as a creative writing professor and associate editor in San Antonio, Texas. Jen’s writing was chosen for Wigleaf’s Top 50 (Very) Short Fictions in 2012, and she was a recipient of the Global Short Story Award for a different portion of We Arrive Uninvited. Some of her current, short work can be found in A cappella Zoo, ARDOR, Bound Off, Bluestem, Burrow Press Review, Gargoyle, Istanbul Review, JMWW, Narrative, [PANK], Prick of the Spindle, Short Story America, and The Bombay Literary Magazine. She has published two books, including the Next Generation Indie Book Award winner in Short Fiction, To Begin Again (All Things That Matter Press, 2011). Her new collection, Don’t Tease the Elephants, is forthcoming from Monkey Puzzle Press.

Twitter: @JenKnox2

Jen, this section from We Arrive Uninvited is very compelling and leaves the reader wondering what happens next. While everyone in town considers Amelia “a blessing,” Kay considers her a curse, a reminder of her own bad choices and the cruel fate that befell her. Amelia senses her mother’s contempt for her, but never understands why. Does she seek the answer as the novel unwinds?

Amelia is driven to understand Kay and gain her acceptance, but this desire will prove problematic. Kay seems to transfer all her anger and regret to the part of herself she sees reflected in her child. Throughout much of the novel, Kay is depicted as a sort of villain. But life is never that clear cut, and neither is this story. Perspective shifts with awareness. When Amelia comes to understand her mother—learning everything the reader knows to this point and more—her desire to gain acceptance fades, and the way she views reality somersaults.

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Jen Knox: Excerpt from We Arrive Uninvited, a Novel in Progress


Part Two: 1925

Amelia screamed against the light of the room, the smoke and the chill. As her small hands curled tight and she attempted to fold into herself, away from the world that didn’t seem to want her, two arms reached out. Large breasts pillowed her cheek. She settled into the warmth of her grandmother who whispered softly, “You are loved, child.”

Although Kay was never overly maternal with Gene, her first born, she’d felt an instant connection with him. At the time of his birth, she had been a wife who felt hope for the future. The boy had fiery red hair like his father and the same confidence verging on arrogance. Everything at that time in her life had felt, if not perfect, at least right.

But Amelia was born with a full head of dark brown hair and an eye that was left of center. Everyone had assumed Kay’s pregnancy—which revealed itself mere weeks after her husband died—was a blessing. And she couldn’t set such a thing straight, of course, by admitting an affair with a factory worker, a man who had been in the right bar at the right time, who had taken advantage. The grimy fling was all Kay could see when Amelia came into the world screaming. It was as though the baby arrived eager to reveal her mother’s infidelity.

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WIPs Conversation: LaShonda Katrice Barnett on Her Work in Progress

LaShondaBarnettLaShonda Katrice Barnett’s stories appeared this summer (2013) in the New Orlean’s Review (“Hen’s Teeth”), Gemini Magazine (“533”), and the Chamber Four Literary Magazine (“Ezekiel Saw The Wheel”). Additionally, her short fiction appears in numerous anthologies and journals such as Callaloo and the African American Review. Barnett edited the interview collections I Got Thunder: Black Women Songwriters On Their Craft (2007) and Off the Record: Conversations with African American and Brazilian Women Musicians (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014). She is the author of a story collection (1999). Her debut novel, Jam!, is forthcoming with Grove/Atlantic. She lives and writes full time at home in Manhattan.

Web: Twitter: @LaShondaKatrice

LaShonda, “Road to Wingo” finds Edrow Bodine in the middle of a mid-life crisis of sorts, but one in which he’s pretty much accustomed—a perpetual crisis of a mundane existence. He’s “never felt in power or control like the king of his own castle—more like a serf bound to small town life.” In the timeframe of the story he’s “preoccupied,” oblivious to his wife Mina’s gall bladder problems while daydreaming about Katie, his unattainable object of desire and temporary diversion from his dreary days. Mina, to the contrary, is relatively content with their lot in life, and forges ahead despite the pain of everything. Will Edrow appreciate what he has a little more now that he’s reawakened to reality by story’s end?

I like this question a lot and wish I could be in a room with you posing it to readers because the answer(s), I think is really telling about the respondent. Also, to answer this means to think about Mina: what kind of love does she possess and give to her husband? Mina is not very demanding because she doesn’t need to be, as you pointed out, she’s content—especially with her tomatoes. So she can love freely and easily, which includes a lot of acceptance and tolerance. I think I identify much more with Edrow who certainly appreciates Mina to the extent that he’s taken her for granted (the ultimate show of appreciation), but he wants more. I think that Edrow will continue to want more, my hope is that his definition of more will include Mina because something very beautiful could be borne out of that reciprocity.

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LaShonda Katrice Barnett: “Road to Wingo,” from Please Call Me, Baby, a Story Collection in Progress


Edrow Bodine stared into his oatmeal. From the small red box he shook loose a steady stream of raisins and stirred. He thought oatmeal the perfect metaphor for his life: there were things you could add to make it taste better but in the end you still had oatmeal. Growing up in Paducah, despite his preference for corn flakes or farina, mother always made oatmeal during the cold months. He recalled watching from his bedroom window as mother, having bid good morning to the mares, left the barn with a pail of oats in tow. The sight never failed to inspire dread. To begin with, like every growing boy he awakened with the appetite of a whale—could hardly wait to eat but crimped oats are just squashed a bit to crack the hull—harder to chew and better for a colt’s teeth—which meant mother had to steam them until the hulls opened up. After steaming, she washed them carefully before she cooked them. It took an hour for the bowl of gruel to make it to the table. Edrow and his four brothers often asked why they just couldn’t buy oatmeal at the Piggly Wiggly like everybody else. Papa maintained that his sons were no better than his horses. Evidently, he had been right. Now, since Edrow’s last physical pointed to a 300-plus cholesterol level, oatmeal had become an all-calendar food.

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