by Katie Sanchez
“The thing is, writing is art. It takes time. When we make our process too transparent, it will lose some of its allure and, possibly, sophistication. Readers are increasingly fickle. Writing needs to coax, romance, invite, and devour. If writers don’t wait long enough to give writing the room it deserves to grow, the writer may never allow a story its full potential.”
– Jen Knox, “See Me”
In her works such as Cycles of Song, Why We Read, and Write it Out, it is evident that San Antonio author Jen Knox has a way with words. She paints scenes for her reader and takes them on a journey. Knox’s language is rich with emotion, description, and voice, which allows her readers to be captivated by her writing. She explores life through her writing and fleshes out whatever she is writing about.
Knox is the Writers in Communities Program Director at Gemini Ink, a writing organization that assists San Antonio’s writers and readers through classes and programs. As the Gemini Ink website states, “Gemini Ink helps people create and share the human story.”
When Knox responded to my request to interview her, she was enthusiastic and kind. Our interview took place via e-mail, and I was able to discover Knox’s journey to becoming a writer, finding inspiration, and more.
Katie Sanchez: Where do you find inspiration?
Jen Knox: I believe inspiration is always available when we pay close enough attention to the world around us, when we ask questions about the things we don’t understand. For me, anyway, these questions are a catalyst. Curiosity is my muse.
KS: When did you discover that you wanted to be a writer?
JLK: I didn’t really think much about creative writing until college. I began to enjoy expressing myself in academic essays and began to dabble with creative nonfiction (memoir and personal essays). Later, after college, I decided fiction would allow me more creative freedom, and I’ve been writing short fiction rather obsessively ever since.
KS: Are any of your characters modeled after anyone?
JK: Most of my characters are an agglomeration of people I both know and imagine. None of my characters are exact replicas of people I’ve met, but certain details, such as mannerisms, may inspire my characters.
KS: What do you recommend to writers on building characters?
JK: There are a few ways to build a character. The first is to create a list of character attributes. This list can begin with the character’s name, gender, occupation, appearance, ambitions, and location. If we stop there, we have a stock character. To make a truly unique and engaging character, we can then extend the list to include specifics, such as the character’s quirks, secrets, distinguishing physical characteristics, greatest strength or weakness, relationship status, general mood, mobility, sense of humor… You can go on and on, and as you do a character who is nuanced and complex will eventually emerge. I’ve also heard of people interviewing their characters to get to know them, which is basically the same technique repackaged.
The other way to build a character is to simply write and allow the person to develop organically. I think this happens more when you have a number of years’ experience behind you – or when your character is in your head, just begging to make it into his or her own story.
KS: After reading some of your work, I noticed that you have a way with words. When you write a new story, do those words easily transfer onto the paper, or do you revise until you obtain your desired effect?
JK: I revise quite a bit. I write quickly and am dyslexic, so I’m prone to typos. Also, I’m always on the lookout for logic errors, which occur when I write a scene thinking the story will go one way, then write a scene toward the end having achieved a different outcome. Every detail changed in fiction has to be weighed against supporting details, or else a story can end up inconsistent and confusing.
KS: What do you do or how do you feel after you send your story to a company or website for publishing?
JK: Most literary journals and similar publications are staffed by writers, which eases any nervousness I have about sending out work. Also, I read the journals I submit to, so I know what they like (or have an idea). Publication was more of a rush and more of a gamble earlier in my career. Now, publishing is second to the process of writing. I used to think it was so crucial that my voice was heard, but now I realize that the crucial part is the puzzle of writing itself—finding the source question behind each piece, and expounding on it in the best possible way. If I can do a story justice, the publication is a natural next step for the work.
KS: Do you think about publishing when you are writing or do you just write?
JK: I just write. Unless I am writing because my work was solicited for publication, I try to avoid thinking about publication at all. Even if I am writing a specific piece because a publisher asked for it, I try not to think about it too much. I believe that writing for publication alone stifles our creativity and our message.
KS: How did you feel when you became the Director at Gemini Ink, and do you feel that some elements of your job (whether it be people, experiences, etc.) seep into your writing?
JK: I was thrilled to begin at Gemini Ink because my position allows me to pay forward my love of writing. I was a kid who often felt marginalized or unheard, and writing gave me an unexpected freedom as an adult. It helped me to better understand myself and the world around me. I want to offer the same freedom and awakening to others, children and adults alike.
As for the second part of the question, yes. I believe all experiences seep into my writing, but the biggest way Gemini Ink influences me is by simply reminding me of my own journey and the reason writing resonated for me in the first place.
KS: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
JK: Read. Also, keep going. It’s a long, beautiful journey.
Born and raised in Ohio, Jen Knox’s fiction has been featured in The Adirondack Review, Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row, Chicago Quarterly Review, Cosmonauts Avenue, Istanbul Review, Narrative, The Saturday Evening Post, Sequestrum, and Superstition Review. She has lived in San Antonio since 2010. Jen currently directs Gemini Ink’s Writers in Communities program, which offers free writing workshops in homeless shelters, after-school centers, libraries, and other community settings. She earned her BA in English from Otterbein University and her MFA from Bennington. Knox is the author of After the Gazebo (NYC, New York: Rain Mountain Press, 2015) and the YA novel, The Lavender House (forthcoming).