Writing Superheroes: Jessica Knauss

Her Super Author outfit is sure to include polka dots.Read on and find out more…

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According to Wikipedia, ‘a superhero is a type of heroic character possessing extraordinary talents, supernatural phenomena, or superhuman powers and is dedicated to a moral goal or protecting the public.’ Sounds like a writer to me!

Join me as another one of these unsung superheroes invites into their personal ‘batcave’.

If you were to write the origins episode of your writing, what would be the most important scenes? What did your early efforts look like? Are they still around to be used as bribes and blackmail material?

Scene 1: A little girl who hasn’t yet been taught to read nonetheless insists on putting pen to paper, making jagged lines across page after page in an attempt to do this thing she know she must: write!

Scene 2: Illustrated picture books! The words are in pencil, the illustrations in crayon. Many children with curly hair, bewildered adults, and cat after cat parade through the stapled pages.

Scene 3: The Totem. A fourth-grader is the featured author in her school’s publication. A story about secret unicorns performing in rodeos propels the mild-mannered young lady into the literary world.

Artifacts from all three of these scenes survive, musty and mold-pocked. Surely they’re amazing collector’s items, not blackmail material—?


All superheroes have their mild-mannered secret identity. What is yours? I promise we won’t tell.

Jessica Knauss, freelance editor and translator, edits everything from novels to academic treatises to second-grader leveled reading packs in English and Spanish. She also has high hopes and excitement about a part-time volunteer publicity assistant position with Hawthorne Books in Portland, Oregon, this winter. The fact that this quiet hard worker dreams of owning a castle in Spain is the one clue that risks revealing her secret identity as a Super Author historical novelist.


Who are your partners in crime? What are their superpowers?

My partners all have the power of supportiveness—my dear departed husband, my reader friends, my family. Some also have the superpowers of writing and editing. I couldn’t have done any of it without them!


Where do you get your superpowers from?

Inspiration starts in the heavens and funnels down through old legends, odd historical incidents, kings and artists, and music. My persistence comes from how seriously I take the writing life, and that in turn comes from the encouragement of my partners in crime. My stylistic accuracy and copyediting skills come from my love and respect for books and the written word. Although you might imagine an origin story for Super Copyeditor that involves a typo in a printed book causing a rapid radical change in brain chemistry, taking on that alter ego is far from an instant process


Where is your secret lair and what does it look like?

In a tiny room in a tiny house in a tiny village by an enormous river in the fairytale state of Oregon. It has a world map desk my husband found for me at an antique store in Tucson, a couple of computers, a bookshelf, a Lady and the Unicorn tapestry, inspirational photos, and stacks and stacks of books, notebooks, loose leaves, and note scraps. The scraps have proliferated to the point that I have to bring in a folding table if I need a work surface.


What kind of training do you do to keep your superpowers in world-saving form? How do you ensure they are used only for good?

A day when I don’t scribble a journal or story idea… doesn’t exist. Blogging has been excellent training, and my secret identity as an editor teaches me something new about writing every day. But of course there’s nothing like visiting the historical places in my books to give a razor focus to the writing and make sure it’s always used for good.


Granted, you probably don’t get to wear your superhero costume a lot, but if you did, what would it look like?

I plan to break out my full superhero costume this May, when I give a reading and do a book signing at the Harvard Book Store. (See you in Cambridge!) The occasion calls for pulling out all the stops! It’s a secret for now, but my Super Author outfit is sure to include polka dots.


What is your kryptonite? What are the biggest challenges faced in your writing?

I fall into the trap of thinking I “don’t have time” to write because my secret identity occupies much of the same brain space as my Super Author job, and has many more urgent deadlines. My shield against this kryptonite is to plan to wake up and write for an hour, no matter what. That shield doesn’t work every day, but I always enjoy the days it does. If instead of a Super Author, I were more like Popeye, writing would be my spinach.


What was the supervillain that threatened to stop your latest project and how did you vanquish it?

It takes more than a little stick-to-itiveness to write an epic novel set in a time from which so few documents have survived and when you’re moving house at least once a year. But Seven Noble Knights got written, edited, rewritten, and submitted to publishers with the unflagging support of my husband. When he was taken from me last July by everyone’s supervillain, cancer, my resolve flagged. I’m deeply sorry to say I couldn’t vanquish cancer, but my husband’s encouragement lives on. I was able to get Seven Noble Knights released on time in spite of too many setbacks to list here.


What have been the best/most memorable experiences along the way?

In 2015, my husband and I were able to spend a thrilling week and a half in Spain, visiting many of the sites in the Castilian portions of Seven Noble Knights. There are a lot of little nods to the legend the novel is based on in tiny villages and not-so-tiny cathedrals, and it was mind-blowing to see the way the characters I’d taken as my own were recognized and celebrated in real-life modern Spain. Someone cared about my hero, Mudarra, enough to pretend a twelfth-century tomb belonged to him! I never would have dreamed I could stand next to my villainess, Doña Lambra, but that’s exactly what I did when I found a statue of her! It was more than a dream come true to share that with my husband. Just to ice the cake, I received the email that accepted Seven Noble Knights for publication the day we got back from that trip.


If you did this again, what would you do differently and what would you not change?

I sent queries to an insane number of literary agents. Only later did I realize how many problems I still needed to work out in the beginning of Seven Noble Knights. If I could do it over, I would figure out the problems and fix them sooner, at least before querying any agents. Perhaps it could’ve been published before my husband’s passing. I wouldn’t change any of the rest of the process, from showing chapters to my critique group to having Seven Noble Knights accepted by the first publisher I submitted it to after the revisions.


What is the best (writing or otherwise) advice you have ever gotten and why?

Read. A lot. Read bad writing, but even more good writing. You’ll still have to do some of your own bad writing, but the learning curve will be about ten years shorter.


Tell us about your new book and why we need to drop everything and get it now.

Seven Noble Knights is a gripping epic of family, betrayal, and revenge in medieval Spain. Cinematic and grand, it also pulls the reader deeply into the lives of the characters, who will win your affection and disdain. If you love reading the human side of well-researched history or have ever been curious about the amazing cultures of medieval Spain, this is the historical novel you’ve been waiting for—1000 years in the making!


What’s in store for you in the future? Do you have any other big projects on the horizon?

I’m getting back into writing after my loss and Seven Noble Knights release via short stories, many of them set in medieval Spain. My newsletter subscribers get to see them first! I expect to start the Seven Noble Knights sequel soon so readers can find out what happens to the hero and the love stories that may have been cut short in the epic sweep.



Find her on social media and get updates on the sequels to Awash in Talent and Seven Noble Knights and her other writing at her website: JessicaKnauss.com. Feel free to sign up for her mailing list for castles, stories, and magic. 



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1 comment

  1. My condolences to you Jessica and your family. I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like loosing a mate. Loved your interview.

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