I was delighted to interview author Jessica Knauss in support of her new novel, Awash in Talent (now available in ebook and hardcopy).
About the Book
So much Talent can kill you.
Welcome to Providence, Rhode Island, home of telekinetics, firestarters, and psychics!
Emily can’t escape her annoyingly Talented telekinetic healer sister without committing a crime.
Kelly must escape her pyrokinesis school and bring Emily’s sister to Boston—her mother’s life depends on it.
Appointments with Emily might drive her psychic therapist insane.
With so much Talent, sometimes it’s all you can do to function in an un-Talented society.
When you first told me about this novel, you referred to it as “zany, hard-to-pin-down” and “Gilmore Girls with a paranormal twist.” As someone who also writes urban fantasy that defies categorization, I’m always interested in other authors’ reasons for doing the same. Why break away from the YA paranormal comfort zone that most readers are familiar with?
I don’t assign genres or categories to my work until it’s done and ready for readers. This can cause some head scratching, believe me! Many years ago, I heard Maya Angelou say that if we can’t find the book we want to read, we have to write it ourselves. I took that advice to heart. If something has been done before, why do it again? As a reader, I’m always searching for something different that will speak to me in a way nothing else has. I’ve set my sights on that elusive uniqueness as a writer.
Awash in Talent is actually three novellas combined. What elements, such as character and plot, connect the three together in one cohesive whole?
Key characters show up to play different roles in each novella. The story begins with Emily’s view on her little sister, Beth. Beth is a boring disappointment to Emily until it is discovered that Beth is one of the most Talented people in the world. She can not only levitate objects with her mind (telekinesis), she can also heal people’s injuries and illness with her touch! It’s then that Beth becomes a threat to Emily’s self-importance and the story really gets going.
The other two Talents in this alternate version of Providence, Rhode Island, are firestarters (pyrokinetics) and people who can see thoughts (psychics). The first novella didn’t feel quite complete—well, really Emily demanded that her story continue! So the second story focuses on a sweet young firestarter who needs Beth’s power to save her mother. Beth’s heroics in that novella propel her into life as a professional healer at Mass General Hospital in Boston, leaving Emily under the close watch of her parents in Providence in the final novella. This third novella is told from the point of view of Emily’s court-ordered therapist, who is a psychic. I hope their sessions are worthy of a classic case study.
You also write medieval historical fiction. Does that ever influence your contemporary fantasy writing, or vice versa?
I wrote my first two novels simultaneously, and as a little joke, I have Emily reading Seven Noble Knights in the first novella. In the end, Awash in Talent was released before Seven Noble Knights, so there’s a problem with chronology there, but not for long. Other effects have been more subtle. For example, I loved writing so many female characters in Awash in Talent, and Seven Noble Knights is pretty masculine, so I’m planning a Seven Noble Knights sequel that focuses on the female characters.
Some adult readers scoff at picking up a novel branded as “YA.” Convince them why they should give Awash in Talent a shot!
I’ve only labeled Awash in Talent YA because of the age of some of the characters. The teen and college years have many juicy themes to explore that remain relevant to us adults today who never got an initiation into adulthood. The important events could happen to anyone at any age. Most importantly, the final novella is narrated from the point of view of Patricia, a 30-year-old psychic therapist who has many adult problems of her own.
Since you’re writing about magical Talents, this question is a given: What Talent would author Jessica Knauss have, and why?
In Awash in Talent, these abilities are mostly a burden. If I had to choose one Talent in the society portrayed in the novel, it would be telekinesis, just because that’s the Talent that’s treated best in society. A telekinetic can easily achieve much more than a psychic or a firestarter. But this sounds eerily like the real world…
Finally, leave us a with a short excerpt that shows why we should read Awash in Talent!
Thank you so much for hosting me. Here’s a scene from the first novella that happens at the archaeological dig where Beth’s healing power has been discovered. Distracted by her love for Carlos, Emily isn’t yet aware that Beth has another Talent, too.
The last day before my family left, Beth and I sat in the dust around the pit where Carlos was gently prodding at a prized hominid femur. The sun was digging into my skin and causing so much sweat to well up, it was as if I’d been in the shower, but much less pleasant. It didn’t matter. All I really wanted were Carlos’s arms around me and his hot breath in my ear.
For some reason, that thought made me look at my sister. Her stare was so icy, I knew I would never need to pay for air conditioning again. She nodded toward Carlos, and I saw that the bone he had been so precisely extracting from the ancient layers of silt and dust had suddenly jumped into his cupped hand. He hadn’t even had time to put down his scalpel, and the whole valley seemed to echo with the clink it made against the ancient bone.
Carlos remained frozen, his jaw sinking lower and lower toward the ground. “What happened?” I cried. The only reply I got was a pile of gauze gliding, ghostlike, toward Carlos as if it knew it was needed for the safe transport and cataloging of the precious bone.
“Beth?” I said.
She looked back at me, too serious, so we stood up and walked toward the communications tent where she had so recently collapsed.
“Are you ready to go home?” I said, parentally, because I couldn’t bear to ask the real question: whether she had anything to do with the objects’ movement. I didn’t know what the telekinesis policy was in Ethiopia, but back in the States, people with that kind of Talent were closely monitored and often forced to live in communes that a lot of civil rights groups compared to concentration camps.
She came back at me with the most distracting question possible. “Why do you hang on him like that? He’s not that special. Plus, he’s married. He talks about his wife all the time, haven’t you noticed?”
Intellectually, I knew that he was not only married but also had a baby. But I felt in my heart that such a relationship could only be a passing fancy compared to the love Carlos and I would share into eternity and beyond.
“No, he doesn’t. I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said. I needed to throw Beth off the scent. “You behave the rest of the day. Don’t touch anything, don’t move anything.”
I huffily led to her back to a flagged area no one else was working on and we spent the rest of her last day in the Middle Awash of Ethiopia in silence, my neck aching with the effort of not looking in Carlos’s direction.
About the Author
Born and raised in Northern California, Jessica Knauss has wandered all over the United States, Spain, and England. She has worked as a librarian and a Spanish teacher and earned a PhD in Medieval Spanish Literature before entering the publishing world as an editor. Her acclaimed novella, Tree/House, and short story collection, Unpredictable Worlds, are currently available. Her epic of medieval Spain, Seven Noble Knights, will be published by Bagwyn Books in December 2016. Find her on social media and updates on the sequels to Awash in Talent and Seven Noble Knights and her other writing at her website. Feel free to sign up for her mailing list for castles, stories, and magic.