Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Crazy Cat Lady - or - Messing with kids and calling it Education...

Am I the only one who noticed this?

Sept. 1    Jen Knox on FB - I've got four new motherless kittens to give away. Anyone in San Antonio want a kitten? They are adorable.
Sept. 4     I've still got those six kittens....
Sept. 10   Yay! Found a home for one of the kittens. Seven to go.
Sept. 17   Gave away three of the adorable kittens to a great family. Anyone want one? Still have six left.
Sept. 20   Eight precious kittens looking for a good home in SA. Know anyone?

So...what? Jen is a wonderful person, is fabulous with animals. But, her husband is a math genius. I know someone in their house can count. What up then, with the wandering numbers... then I figured it all out.

Page five of the San Antonio Express News:
Neighbors are beginning to worry. Someone seems to be collecting kittens....

I've read Jen. Have you? Musical Chairs. Here's a link to my review.
Jen is a skillful writer. You believe what she tells you in those pages. I've known of her a bit more than a year and I swear to God, when I read her book I was sobbing, "I hope she's going to be alright...."
Hyper-real is an apropos description when discussing that book. You believe that you will read she died.

In other words, Jen could adopt out those kittens to the very same folks she 'borrowed' them from—and she probably is.
Let's go back to her book, Musical Chairs. It's not her only book. So if you've been craving another Jen Knox tome...there is another one, just released. To Begin Again. I wrote an entire feature on the point of Jen's renewed beginnings. She has several.

Then I remembered the cats.
Have you looked at the cover art for her first book? There are three cats on that montage. I swear. Evidence of a feline fixation, I tell ya.
(like that cover? So do I.) Oh, here's a link to her author page on FB.

Now that you know of two books...she has a lot more for you to discover. Jen is prolific. She has articles, poems, flashfiction and short stories published. They can be found in magazines, ezines, anthologies, textbooks. ? Oh, yeah. She's an educator. Jen's exquisite multiple beginnings have culminated in something akin to Nirvana. She writes, she gets published, she teaches writing. I crave such things, and she often says that she only stumbled into it all.

This is just one

The Chinese claim that cats are lucky. You do the math. Jen gets to see her words in print, and then gets to claim the awards those words have brought her.
Prolific, and Presented.

I have often argued that, given enough of a writer's words, we will know them utterly. Even if they write zombies, or Jen's personal pet-peeve, vampires. A writer is unable to keep themselves out of their writing; IMHO. Jen goes me one better. She has placed herself so completely in her own writing that you cannot find anything fictional about it. Even the poetry. Poetry, to some, is emotion expressed in alphabet.

Well, that's Jen. Even her story about a lingering love; re-sparked memories of a woman, given breath again by nothing more than dry entries in a notebook diary. Jen calls that a sad poem. I call it a sublime glimpse into Jen's mind. She reads her inner diary every day. She searches for the most meaningful lines, embraces them and then lives them again.

The cats? Don't you wish your own lazy hound had remained a puppy forever? Jen has found the secret to having kittens forever: borrow them, then give them away and borrow another.

She still has nine, still looking for good homes.

I wouldn't worry in the least about her influence on those college kids. They are in the company of a very sound mind.

Do your students call you Professor?
Yes, even though I tell them to call me Jen. Some students call me ma’am, which seems overly formal and makes me think those particular students can’t remember my name.

Describe one of your courses, and tell us why you chose that subject.
I teach creative writing. I make my student write something creative based on a prompt. Then, I tell them to do better (I’m a little more specific than this), even if they’re already great. When they begin writing better, getting more concrete and intense, telling more potent stories, I tell them to do even better. When they’ve done even better, I tell them to quit making me look bad. It’s a great gig.

Are you a Texan yet?
I don’t have the bumper sticker yet, no, but I do buy Texas-shaped cheese, and I like the smoky BBQ smell that’s everywhere.

“The em dash is what makes a 200 word sentence possible.” If that is an original thought of your own, I love you.
Thanks. I love the em dash. Some would think I love it to a fault. For the record, I’ve never written a 200 word sentence, nor will I, but I can’t imagine one existing without the em dash.

Name one literary classic you believe to be overrated.
I have to give kudos to any piece of writing that can stand the test of time. If a book bores me, it just means I’m not ready for it yet, or that it’s not what I’m into right now. I like to keep an open mind because what I read now is far different than what I read ten years ago. I’m sure this will be the same ten years from now.

I’ve heard that you’ve tossed story ideas aside, because they didn’t come alive for you. That implies you write a lot. Do you get to write as much as you like?
Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of time to write. I have two jobs and quite a few other regular obligations. I can’t say I’ve ever tossed a story too far away, though I do leave them be when they’re not working. I don’t think everything everyone writes is good. And this is especially true for me. Sometimes ideas don’t take, and when this happens, I’ve learned to save my story and leave it be. Quality, liveliness, vigor: these should come before completion always, always, always. Wanting to finish everything just for a sense of completion often wastes everyone’s time (readers and the writer’s). I hope to get more time to write one day, but if not, I’ll keep writing in the meantime, the in-between time, and I can only hope I’ll stay humble enough to toss things to the sideline when they don’t work.

I read your poem Relapse. No one reading this needs to be told directly why it’s one of the most unique poems I’ve ever read. They should go find it themselves. What struck me was the support network you gave to Kathy; there are quite a few people reaching out to her. Did you know, it is almost exactly the number of concerned loved ones who supported you most in Musical Chairs? Relatives, friends, even a disconnected acquaintance offering assistance—they are all there.
Cool observation. Life is such a tapestry, but it takes a keen eye to see the patterns.

Define a writer.
A person who calls his/herself a writer.

Why not vampires?
I don’t have the skills to pull off a good vampire tale. Kudos to anyone who can.

I enjoyed your experiments with music and writing. What did you ultimately decide about tunes and your muse?
My muse likes total silence, and she gets moody when it’s not there. She admits to liking rap music, but it makes her want to write raps, and she’s no good at that. I really think my muse needs a therapist.

Where is Absurd Hunger?
It’s in the cloud (or should I say on the cloud?). I think I’ll publish it one day. I just don’t have enough emotional distance from the story yet. To be honest, I might just rewrite the whole thing. We’ll see. This is the freedom of not being under contract: I can always put out only my best work.

Is it the only writing you have attempted, from a man’s perspective?
Here’s one, here’s one (but be warned that it’s sad):   Ha! I knew perfectly well, you would take us back to that one.

Do you keep a journal or diary?
Not currently. But I’m a big advocate of others doing so.

(read this then look at the editor's words at the top again...he thought it felt real.  It was David; it was documentary.)

Have you kept anything from your childhood; anything you can pick up to hold, right now?
A Strawberry Shortcake doll is on my desk, staring at me right now. She’s not an intentional keepsake. It’s actually creepy the way she’s followed me around, and the way she still smells like strawberries. I’m thirty-two years old, which means she has to be about twenty, and still, she smells like strawberries!

Favorite food: Can you prepare it, or must you go out for it?
Caprese salad. I love fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil. It’s such a simple but perfect salad. I suppose I could make it, but I would prefer to a good Greek restaurant.

What are you reading right now?
Ayiti by Roxane Gay. Good stuff.

I really like the video work on your book trailer. Who is KnoxworX? Why do I get the impression you are also an artist?
My father did my trailer. He’s a remarkable visual artist. I’ve often tried to follow in his footsteps, but visual art never quite works for me. It’s funny because that art gene is in every one of my family members.

What is your favorite type of story?
The sort of story that makes me cry or throw things or look in disbelief and reread immediately. I like realistic fiction, the stuff that feels more real than nonfiction, the stuff that screams and whispers at the same time.

Are you a finicky writer, hardly ever satisfied with your words?
I like a few pieces. At some point, I’ve liked every piece that I’ve put out in the world; but as I write more and my own standards get higher, I tend to reevaluate my older work and expect more from future work. But this is all part of the game.

Does your husband edit for you, or will you let him?

No. He’s not much of a reader. He’s a math guy, and I love him for it, or despite it. His equations give me migraines, and I’m pretty sure my literary ramblings do the same for him. I’m thankful for this, actually. It means that no matter how bad a story is, he’ll love me just the same. It also means I can write whatever I want about him and he’ll never bitch because he’ll never read it.

Complete this beginning:
The roses never bloom’d there, even as the season called them.
The author of a self-improvement bestseller stood over the area and declared the roses responsible for not believing in themselves; a religious leader stood there and said the roses were not there because they were not blessed; the roses across the street said that they could grow there because they were superior roses and what was planted there was a weaker type.
None of them saw the bud that appeared there a little late, none of them stuck around to know that the most remarkable roses grew there, off-season, nor that they were picked by a child who loved them, ran home with them, and offered them to his mother who had been having a particularly tough day.

Have you ever played a game of softball?
If so, I’ve blocked the experience from my consciousness.

Your book has just been praised, and you are stunned they had even found you. Who has praised your book?
Ellen Degeneres. Thanks, Ellen! No, no need to make a custom dance to accompany my book review. Well, if you insist.

Have you found contentment?
Yes! I find it quite often, and I’m grateful each and every time.

And with that...she becomes a philosophy professor....
Thank you, heaps and bunches, Jen.

Nearly all my guests have been friends, before I read them and called them into this corner. Jen was an acquaintance. (We know so many authors..don't we all?)
Musical Chairs made her a friend.
My review was raw truth—I read that book in six hours. It just stunned me that every word of it was a moment of this woman's life, and she wanted me to know those moments. Jen shared herself in ways that family sometimes cannot do. She has been praised as brilliant, brave, even demure...because the text is so bold and she merely presents it as something that happened to her, without grandstanding an instant of it. I hope her students read it and understand it for the example that it, and Jen Knox, truly is.

I hope you read it too.


  1. Ha! Joel, this is funny, but I'm not really that bad at math. I have two kittens, you want one? Seriously.

    Thanks for the fun interview! You are the most creative interviewer ever, and I'm honored to be featured here among such great writers.

  2. Another cracking and funny interview. Well done Joel, and ma'am. I like the sound of your book, too.

  3. Jenny, you will love Jen's book. Someone named Jennifer told me about it a while back. So glad she did. ;)

  4. I just loved this interview with Jen. I'm not only a fan of the author (loved "Musical Chairs"), I am a fan of Jen Knox, who is a terrific person, just like the dude interviewing her.

    Jen, I can't wait to read TO BEGIN AGAIN. Your honesty in writing is something very special.

  5. Thank you for reading, Lisette and Jenny! Joel is a riot, and I think this has gone down as the most unique interview in history. (He's a pretty damn good author himself too!)

    Thanks again, Joel.


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