Jen Knox’s ‘s new collection of stories, After the Gazebo, was recently published by Rain Mountain Press. We asked her about the new book as well as what inspired her to write it. Here’s what she said:
Tell us about After the Gazebo.
After the Gazebo is a short story collection set in the Midwest, largely in Benton, which is a fictional city probably closest resembling Toledo, Ohio in my mind. Some of the characters wander into other stories here and there, but this is a collection of separate and distinct tales. There are a few experimental (for me) pieces in this collection. The namesake story, for instance, which was originally published in Ardor, plays with time and the concept of fate. I remember writing it in an uncharacteristic fashion—in an emotional purging of sorts. My dog had been very sick and would soon be diagnosed with congestive heart failure. I remember waiting for the official diagnosis on my day off; my dog was barely able to move and completely unmotivated eat. Later that day, I took him on a very slow-moving walk and let him loose in a field behind our apartment complex. It was a quiet day, and I remember watching him perk up for a short time, eager to smell each blade of grass and stick his nose up to appreciate each breeze. There was this spark of life in him that I hadn’t seen in days. He wasn’t fast moving, but he was fully engaged. He eventually wore himself down, and I had to carry him home from the field (he was still a good 45lbs at this time). When we returned, as he curled up for a long nap, I knew two things: I knew my dog was going to die, and I knew I needed to write out the pain. I wrote the entire draft of “After the Gazebo” in an hour or two, and when I was done I felt exhausted, purged. The story is not about a dog that’s soon to leave this world, but rather about the mystery and suddenness of loss, our unwillingness to accept it when it arrives. It is also about the potency that is possible in mere moments when we get the opportunity to feel fully alive.
What inspired you to write the book?
The stories came together over the last 3 years or so. I didn’t set out to write them as a collection, it wasn’t a contracted work, but I knew I was getting close to a collection a year or more ago. I put all my favorite stories in a single document, and they came together—awkwardly at first, then as I sacrificed and added, they began to work better, fit closer.
What were your biggest challenges when writing the book?
Time has been my biggest challenge most of my adult life. I worked a full-time job as a research analyst, worked a part-time job as an educator, and worked on freelance projects intermittently throughout the writing of this book. I have never in my life had the luxury of sitting at the computer for a block of time every day, uninterrupted (does anyone, really?), but I write in the in-between space of life, and stories somehow materialize. I often wonder what I could do with actual time. That said, I will write regardless. It’s something I’m compelled to do.
Who are you reading now? Which authors and novels have been an inspiration to you, and why?
I am finally reading Tinkers by Paul Harding, and I just started Loss Angeles by Mathieu Cailler. I recommend both. Other writers who have inspired me along the way include Joan Didion, Margaret Atwood, Roxane Gay, Salman Rushdie, Alice Munro, Mary Gaitskill, Hunter S. Thompson, Stephanie Dickinson, and Kyle Minor. There are so many more. I admire writers whose works are unmistakably theirs—whose voices, fictional or no, have strength and grit and find true distinction.
What advice can you provide to aspiring authors?
Read a lot, write a lot. Stop worrying about how to write and when to write and how others write. Just write. Do the thing.