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Author Profile: JE Knowles on her book Arusha

Arusha by JE Knowles

Author J. E. Knowles grew up in East Tennessee, began her writing career in Canada and now lives in London, England. Her first novel, Arusha, is the story of a gay marriage—between one man and one woman.

From the book cover: Edith Rignaldi clearly understands that she and husband Joe remain together for the sake of their children. It is why they married in the first place. But she never foresaw the lifeless emotional landscape they both now occupy after eighteen years together.

Teachers in a small, God-fearing Tennessee town, they cannot insulate themselves entirely from the cultural encroachment of the late ’80s: the inexorable march of the feminist and gay rights movements, the spread of the AIDS epidemic. When the faithful, steadfast Joe is finally overwhelmed by his desire for men, the lives of all four Rignaldis explode.

CW: When did you first know you wanted to be an author?

JEK: Probably as soon as I knew what an author was. I remember being nine years old and finding out that there was already an author in the Guinness Book of World Records younger than nine. I was very disappointed!

CW: Tell us about your book. How did you get the idea for your book?

JEK: Arusha is the story of a family—a woman, her husband and their children—and of the parents’ love. First, their love for each other, which brought the family together, and later their love for themselves and others and how that pulls the family apart. I’ve had the characters in mind since I was about fourteen but I didn’t know what their story was. I’d been living with the characters so long that the story just seemed to grow out of them.

CW: What research was involved in your book’s development?

JEK: The climax takes place in Arusha, Tanzania and I visited Tanzania before I knew that I would eventually write this book. It was the trip of a lifetime. East Africa, with its wild animals and incredible landscapes, has such a place in Westerners’ imagination. At the same time, journeying to someplace so far away brought home for me how different are the life experiences of people in various parts of the world. None of this really felt like “research”—the book developed out of where I’d been and what I’d thought about.

CW: What is your writing process? Do you have any formal training in writing?

JEK: I was already publishing articles and a few poems and stories when I went to the Humber School for Writers. That was my only formal training in writing, but what I really learned there was how to self-edit, how to make my work professional enough to be published. I met some wonderful fellow writers with whom I still exchange work. My writing process is the same as it was in elementary school: I get paper and a pencil and scribble down whatever comes to mind.

CW: How long did it take you to write the book and find an agent and publisher?

JEK: It took me about two years to write the manuscript, then another two years to find a publisher—about four years in total.

CW: What’s the most surprising thing you discovered in writing this book?

JEK: That the story wasn’t going to be principally about the daughter, Dana, but about the mother, Edith. I’ve never been a mother or married a man, so writing Edith’s (and even more, her husband’s) story took all of my imagination.

CW: Do you have any stories of rejection or inspiration to share with writers climbing up the mountain?

I have a story of rejection and inspiration, and it is the same: I received more than 100 “No”s to this novel before I got to one “Yes.” Many rejections were from agents or editors, just form letters saying don’t send the manuscript at all. Some requested part of the novel to read, but ultimately said no. A few read the whole novel, then decided it wasn’t for them. But I only needed one yes!

CW: What was the hardest part of the publishing process? What did you most enjoy?

JEK: It took about as long to place Arusha with a publisher as it did to write the novel and that was very discouraging. I found it hard to see so many books that, to me, were published with less time and care, while I was still struggling to sell a book in which I truly believed.

What I most enjoyed was holding the published book in my hands, seeing people buy it and ask for my signature. The book launch was the party of my life at that time—nine years in Toronto came together there.

CW: What advice would you give unpublished writers?

JEK: Write. This isn’t original advice, but it’s more important than ever now, when anyone can e-publish to a certain extent. Publishing is a separate business from writing, and if you start by focusing on getting published, you’ll never give the writing the time and energy it truly needs. Write an excellent, excellent story. Then you’ll have the faith in your writing that you’ll need to persevere through all the rejections and the business side of things.

CW: Have changes in the book industry forced you to change how you published or marketed your work?

JEK: Not really “forced.” More and more people are reading e-books, so I’m glad that my book was simultaneously published in that format, for readers who choose to purchase it that way. Certainly, the Internet has made it easier to find out exactly what publishers want in terms of a query or submission (just visit the publisher’s Web site), and if they’ll accept a letter or submission by e-mail, that saves time and money as well. I don’t think there are any shortcuts, however. The fact that I can instantly post or “blog” about what I’m writing doesn’t mean readers want to read something thrown together slapdash. I try to write minimal marketing copy, because the more time I spend on that, the less time I have to perfect the writing itself.

CW: What’s your next book project and what can you tell us about it?

JEK: I’ve just finished my second novel, with the working title of The Trees in the Field. It’s about a United States Senator from Tennessee, a Republican woman, whose ambition is to be president…until she runs into inconvenient obstacles from her past and future and begins to question what patriotism really means.

CW: How important do you feel contests and awards are in getting published or getting attention for your book? Do contests curate?

JEK: I like this question, although it’s not an easy one. I looked up curate to get its precise meaning, and it seems to have been back-formed from curator, with its origins meaning to take care of. So, do contests guide readers and tell us what we should be reading? I actually don’t think they do. There are so many awards out there now—anyone can put their favorite books in X or Y category on a Web site, or start a poll and suddenly you’re the Grey City Journal Irish-American of the month (a real, albeit tongue-in-cheek, example).

I’m happy to have been a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award because of the Lambdas’ history and the many writers I admire who have won them. But I admired the writers’ work before they won. At their best, awards confirm quality we already know about.

To read more from J. E. Knowles or join her mailing list for information on new work, please visit jeknowles.com.

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#Contests for Writers

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Funds for Writers has a great list of interesting writing contests.

Screenwriter? Poet? Conjurer of fantasies?

Scroll down and check those deadlines.

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Writing Contest

Glimmer Train is accepting contest submissions.

It’s September, so it’s Fiction Open over at Glimmer Train. The reading fee is $18 US. First prize is $2,000. They’ll take short stories up to 20,000 words. Submitted for your consideration.

I just submitted a short story. It makes me feel good, the same way buying a lottery ticket gives you a tiny secret potential.

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This Week’s Missions Accomplished

Four stories = four submissions to two writing contests:

1. In Migraine Train, a boy with an alcoholic mother and four loser dads goes into therapy to deal with his migraine headaches only to be hit on by his Psycho Therapist.

2. In The Sum of Me, the father of two young boys faces his failures and a massive credit card debt. When his own father offers to pay the bill for him, he finds out the heavy the payback may be unbearable.

3. In The Fortuneteller, a young man takes a first date to a carnival and finds himself in the fortuneteller’s tent. When the old crone tells the truth, she may succeed in saving the woman from a dangerous man but doom herself in the process.

4. Cuthian’s Wake is a dark and comic story about a 30ish Irish fellow in Toronto who weaves gorgeous lies to seduce young women. When his lie’s punchline turns real, he loses his beloved mother, his magic sex story and finally figures out he’s just a boy who looks like a man.

The Sum of Me has already earned an honorable mention with the Writer’s Digest Annual Short Story Contest. I edited it again (REDUCE!) and changed a bit to make it a stronger contender with a different contest. (REUSE!) Migraine Train is actually the first chapter of my novel adapted for a short story contest submission. (RECYCLE!)

Are you submitting your stories? You have to play to get paid. Keep your stuff circulating. Eventually, someone may love it.

Filed under: This Week's Missions, writing contests, ,

Keep submitting (but where, Spock?! Where?!)

At a recent writers conference I saw a sci-fi author extraordinaire speak about what it takes to be successful. One key point he made was to keep your work circulating. I have fallen down on this one. I have sent short stories out once or twice and left it at that. Some of them have won some contest mentions but I really haven’t been keeping up with submissions. My main focus is my writing business and my novel, but it’s time I took Sawyer’s advice and submitted my backlog of short stories. They’ll be a hit with someone somewhere and may help land a book contract in the future.

Today I submitted a piece to Writer’s Digest. I’ve won prizes from them before so it’s a logical place to return.


One question that comes up is: contests or literary journals? Here’s both barrels:

There are definitely some journals I would consider for submission, but very few. Read some to decide what fits your tone and sensibility. Many academic literary journals are a waste of time. Plotless, wishy-washy time. Watch those endings, for instance. They far too often seem to be designed to leave you confused with a vague sense of ennui. I’m a fan of plot over pretense and I don’t want to get lost in a sea of description (e.g. I don’t-can’t-won’t read Annie Dillard.)

And who’s reading all these stuffy lit journals, anyway? Does their readership outnumber the number of whipped cream foot fetishists of the world? Hmmm…(Oh! Oh! And incestuous! Did I mention incestuous? That or by some uncanny freak of the odds, all the very best literature emerged from the editor’s cohort in their MFA class.)

I have spoken.

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Writing Contests

Found some great advice on entering (and winning) writing contests at Freelance Writing: Word Solutions.  If you’ve got a project, contests can be valuable even if you don’t win because they can provide you with motivation to get that short story done and polished.

A couple of weeks ago I went to a blue pencil session at the Ontario Writers Conference and got positive feedback on the first chapter of my book. I turned it into a short story which I’ll submit to Writer’s Digest Short Story Contest. In fact, I better go work on that right now.

I’ve written 2,500 words today. Have you written today?

Filed under: writing contests,


Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

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Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

You can pick this ebook up for free today at this link: http://bit.ly/TheNightMan

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