Interview with Jessica Knauss

Why don’t you start out by telling us a little bit about yourself…?

I grew up in Northern California and have moved around way too much. I’ve been in school most of my life, and loved working at a library, but I’ve found my true non-writing career now as an editor and publisher. I’m currently starting up Loose Leaves Publishing with some of my most talented colleagues. I’ve been married to the love of my life for three years now. Other lifelong loves include Spain and rhinoceroses.

What’s your idea of a relaxing day..?

A relaxing weekday is one without imminent deadlines and without the need to do extra research or read anything out of obligation. I would write scene after scene, my trusty research by my side, and if that well dried up, I would read something for sheer pleasure. If it’s also a relaxing day for my husband, we’d just talk and eat and tour ancient ruins or something.

What was your family’s reaction when you told them you wanted to be a writer…? Were they supportive or did they think you were crazy…?

I told my family I wanted to be an author when I was five or younger, and I presented it as such a matter of course that I don’t have a clue what their reactions may have been. I took several career detours, so being able to focus on writing now is something my family supports, because it’s obvious it’s what I was always supposed to be doing.

Who is your favorite Author…?

Aimee Bender, Lydia Millet, Karen Russell, Lori Baker, and I have just been blown away by The Map of the Sky by Félix J. Palma. I also treasure authors Seymour Hamilton, Kim Rendfeld, and Moonyeen Blakey. Is that too many? I could name more.

Any particular Film…?

The Princess Bride, no question. I also adore movies in which they get historical details correct, and plots about authors.

How about a TV Show…?

The last time I really looked forward to watching a show was The Gilmore Girls. Rory carrying around all those books, what a beautiful thing!

Have you ever read a book, then later saw the film, and thought “Oh man, they screwed it all up…?”

I’m sure I have! Now, I understand that books and films are two different media and there’s no way to translate the exact reading experience to the screen. I just enjoy the visuals and let it go. Or, wait, maybe not. I really didn’t think the last duel between Harry Potter and Voldemort should have been unwitnessed by anyone else in the film version. That part should have stuck with the book, and had it in the Great Hall in the presence of all wizarddom.

Tell us about your book…?

Rhinoceros Dreams is a collection of three stories I’ve written that feature those beautiful, dignified, endangered creatures, rhinoceroses. I hope the stories can raise awareness of the plight of real rhinos in an amusing and inspiring way.

Tell us a bit about the main Character… Is he/ she based off of any one in particular…? What inspired you to create this character…?

For two of the stories, I needed an intrepid heroine with an all-consuming love for rhinos. I think they’ve come out as individuals, but I was able to model their obsession on my own unbalanced and thoroughly nerdy enthusiasm for Spain and, now, rhinos. Yep, the characters leapt off the page and made me love rhinos in real life.

Where did you did you get the idea for your book…? What inspired you or caused you to say “Ah ha…”

For what I consider the showpiece story of the collection, “Not Extinct Yet,” I heard a writing prompt having to do with what would happen if you could bring any species back from extinction. I thought, “Aha, wouldn’t it be better not to let them go extinct in the first place? That would be a good story!”

What was the most difficult part about writing this book…?

The problem for “Not Extinct Yet” was a serious one: how to save rhinos from extinction. I ended up having to set the story in an alternate universe in which a lot of animals can talk with humans, and a little viral marketing can go a long way. I hope some of the ideas in that story can come true in the real world.

Let’s chat for a minute about your writing process… Do you outline, or are you one of that that just sits and starts writing by the seat of your pants…?

For all the stories in Rhinoceros Dreams, it was all pants. I started with the seed of an idea and let the words take me where the characters wanted to go. I wrote three or four different endings to “Rhinoceros Dreams” because I couldn’t decide exactly what it was trying to say. I hope no one thinks the final ending is too pessimistic, but the main character has to make an either/or decision.

Do you write in the morning, evening, or are you a graveyard writer…?

I’ve tried it all. I’ve having success with a method in which I face the natural light through the window and write for at least an hour before I do anything else in the morning. I can’t manage it every day with all the other projects I have going, but I’ve seen some high word counts over the past three months that make me feel like an actual, real writer.

When you write, what are the biggest challenges you encounter…?

I tend not to use a lot of words, and to follow my own logic when I write, so when I show the story or chapter to someone else, they have to tell me how to unpack it and add a lot more words so normal human beings can get some inkling of what I’m trying to say.

Do you know much about your characters when you start, or do you get to know them as you go along…?

Sometimes my main character won’t reveal his or her most important feature or habit until after I’ve completed a first draft, so that second draft becomes awfully important! I’ve taken to doing character sketches for my historical novel, but I only started that well after finishing the midpoint of the story. It will be a feature of my future writing process.

If you could write in a genre different than the one you are writing in now, what would it be and why…?

I currently write medieval historical fiction and what I’m calling magic realism, and those are the ones I’m most suited to. If I had the stomach for it, I might write erotica or some other ridiculously popular genre so I could be rich. But in all other regards, I know I’m telling the stories only I can tell – just as any other writer tells those stories particular to him or her – and that’s pretty satisfying.

What novel would you recommend that everybody read…?

Don Quijote in the translation that best suits you. It’s crazy good.

If you had the chance to sit down and talk to any writer dead or alive for one hour who would that be and why…?

Alfonso X el Sabio, King of Castile and León in the thirteenth century. I would want to find out once and for all to what extent he really authored the books with his name on them. I couldn’t pass up the chance to reach across the centuries and find out what life was like in the thirteenth century.

What can we expect next from you…?

Before the end of the year, I have a translation of a Spanish novel about the end of the Franco dictatorship and its aftermath in leftist political circles, called No Turning Back, coming out. My novel set in tenth-century Spain, The Seven Noble Knights of Lara, will soon have its own website and I‘ve pledged to complete the first draft before 2012 is over. Wish me luck!

You Can Follow Jessica at…


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Rhinoceros Dreams is available at

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