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.

Website: http://www.jenknox.com
Blog: http://jenknox.blogspot.com/
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.

When Amelia’s born, Gene says, “I’ll take really good care of my sister. I know it. We’ll be best friends.” When they part ways later it’s a bit heartbreaking. Is Gene a pivotal character throughout the story? Does his proclamation hold true?

Gene is symbolic of everything Kay is not. He nurtures his younger sister, has total acceptance of her, and acts as a sort of protector. Gene guards Amelia as long as he can, but ultimately she must learn to fight her own battles.

At times here it seems Amelia has an almost supernatural sense about her, not so much in the way she terrifies her mother simply by existing, but by the manner in which she warns Mrs. Jamison to be careful, and gets a “strange, cold feeling” about her. Do such examples continue on throughout her life in how she reacts to others and how they react to her?

These sensations continue, yes, becoming full-blown premonitions by adulthood; these premonitions warn Amelia of dangers and act as touch points for major shifts throughout her adult life. As Amelia becomes more tuned-in to what no one else seems to see, she finds both comfort and terror in her preconceived answers. With time, however, Amelia is introduced to a person who understands her like no one, even Gene, ever did.

Amelia’s life story, of course, is central to the novel. Can you describe the span of the narrative and how Amelia’s story gets told?

This particular excerpt is from section two of the novel. The introductory section is narrated by Amelia’s granddaughter, Emma, some seventy years after the excerpt begins. Emma introduces Amelia’s character, so a reader’s first glimpse of Amelia is that of an elderly woman who is having what everyone but Emma believes to be a schizophrenic break. Emma trusts her grandmother’s stories and is curious about her visions; she believes her grandmother can see what the rest of the world cannot. This is the viewpoint that introduces Amelia’s story.

Although Amelia remains the protagonist, and her story is ultimately what drives everything forward, the reliability of the third-person narration is tricky as her story is far more nuanced than it appears at first glance. As the story unfolds, it is up to Emma (and to reader) to decipher what is true.

At what stage is the novel? Will you soon be seeking a publisher or representation for We Arrive Uninvited?

This is my first novel, and the creation has been quite a journey. We Arrive Uninvited is different from the shorter work I’ve completed. There are elements of my own family’s legends that went into this novel, but I also did a lot of research on filial behavior patterns and schizophrenia. The characters came quickly, but their truths came slowly. I want to thank the good people at Vermont Studio Center for allowing me the necessary quiet time and creative nourishment required to finish the first draft of this novel. I am happy to say that I now have a complete and solid draft that is ready to share. I am currently seeking representation for We Arrive Uninvited.

Are there any other creative projects you’re working on presently?

I recently started my second novel, and I am splashing in the waters of the first draft—a fun place to be. This story follows a teenage girl, a track star, who is looking to define herself senior year. Her father has a reputation, and she has one by proxy. There is a similar generational mystery element to this new story; however, the story itself couldn’t be more different from We Arrive Uninvited. I have always been interested in what behaviors are passed on, despite circumstance, and what that means to a person’s sense of control. In the case of this new WIP, the protagonist is on a journey to find her father, Rattle, who left her pregnant mother before he was aware she was pregnant. He is a part of motorcycle gang, and he doesn’t know she exists: These two things are all Elaine knows about him for sure.

There is more of the magical in this story than in We Arrive Uninvited. The happenings are outrageous, and what Elaine finds on the real-time journey to meet her father is unnerving. I have a long way to go with this work, but I’m having a lot of fun writing it.

Thanks, Jen. Is there anything else you’d like to share or explain to readers?

I will post updates about We Arrive Uninvited and other writing projects on my website. Connect with me here: http://www.jenknox.com

Read Jen Knox’s excerpt from We Arrive Uninvited, her novel in progress.