Sunday, March 15, 2015

2 Jo Knowles, author of READ BETWEEN THE LINES, on making your own path

READ BETWEEN THE LINES is the latest novel by Jo Knowles, and we're delighted to have her with us to share more about it.

Jo, please tell us about your inspiration for writing READ BETWEEN THE LINES.

Many years ago I was driving with my husband and young son when a man was about to crash into us. My husband honked his horn to warn him and instead of being grateful, the guy gave us the finger! My husband couldn't understand why this bothered me so much but I kept talking about it all day and drove him nuts. The whole incident made me start thinking about how much power we give that gesture, whether we are on the giving or receiving end. For some reason, this also got me thinking about the various stereotypes that exist in high school. The jock. The cheerleader. The bully. The dork. Etc. I wanted to expose how each of these stereotypes are kind of ridiculous. People are so complex, for one thing, and I just felt drawn to showing how we all have different sides to ourselves that we reveal to different people. The more I did this, the more complicated the stories became, and the more drawn I was to each character. After many years of working on the stories here and there just for fun between projects, they began to come together in an exciting way. Finally, I dared to share a draft with my editor, who, thankfully, didn’t think I was crazy for writing a book that revolved around the middle finger.

What scene was really hard for you to write and why, and is that the one of which you are most proud? Or is there another scene you particularly love?

The hardest chapter to write was from Dewey's perspective. I really hate his stereotype. People make so many assumptions about the guy behind the counter at the fast food place. I think for many of us, those guys are just a face. And I wanted to explore how deeply wrong that is. But the added challenge was that I also knew this guy was a bit of a bully. So it was doubly hard to find what it was about this guy that made him both complex (not just a face) and somehow lovable.

What book or books would most resonate with readers who love your book--or visa versa?

That's a really hard question! I think people read all kinds of books, not just one type. So I suppose and hope that they would resonate with any reader.

How long did you work on READ BETWEEN THE LINES?

I had the idea eleven years ago, and wrote bits and pieces for fun, between projects, until I finally told some friends about it. They encouraged me to turn it into a real book, so I decided to try it. But it was a long time before I dared to tell my agent or editor about it because I thought they would think I was crazy. I’m so glad I was wrong! They were both very supportive. This is why I always tell writers, don't write to the market. Write what your heart wants you to. If the story is that important to you, chances are it will be to someone else, too.

What did this book teach you about writing or about yourself?

I learned that writing from ten points of view is HARD. Fun, but hard. About myself, I learned that even the hardest project, if you care enough about it, is worth pursuing.

How long or hard was your road to publication? How many books did you write before this one, and how many never got published?

I sold my first book ten years after I graduated with an MA in children's literature from Simmons College in Boston. I never sold the first manuscript I wrote, but I've sold everything that followed. Read Between the Lines is my sixth book.

Was there an AHA! moment along your road to publication where something suddenly sank in and you felt you had the key to writing a novel? What was it?

My friend Jennifer Richard Jacobson gave me the best piece of advice, which is this: When you think you're done, ask yourself: Is it true yet? And that has guided me and given me the push I needed to figure out what the truth is in the first place. Asking the question allows me to go deeper and be brave. It's hard and scary, but in order to write something truly satisfying, you've got to discover the true reason you wanted to tell it in the first place.

What's your writing ritual like? Do you listen to music? Work at home or at a coffee shop or the library, etc?

I work at home, mostly in the quiet. Sometimes I listen to background music or news on NPR, but for the most part I just like listening to the clicking of my keys and my dog snoring next to me.

What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?

Write the stories that matter to you, not what you think the market is looking for. That's like chasing a train that never slows down long enough for you to hop on. Make your own path. It's a lot less stressful and a lot more interesting and rewarding.

What are you working on now?

I'm revising a middle grade novel called From The Complaint Box. It's about a boy in middle school struggling to find his way through friendships, first loves, and a family secret.


Read Between the Lines
by Jo Knowles
Released 3/10/2015

Does anyone ever see us for who we really are? Jo Knowles’s revelatory novel of interlocking stories peers behind the scrim as it follows nine teens and one teacher through a seemingly ordinary day.

Thanks to a bully in gym class, unpopular Nate suffers a broken finger—the middle one, splinted to flip off the world. It won’t be the last time a middle finger is raised on this day. Dreamer Claire envisions herself sitting in an artsy café, filling a journal, but fate has other plans. One cheerleader dates a closeted basketball star; another questions just how, as a "big girl," she fits in. A group of boys scam drivers for beer money without remorse—or so it seems. Over the course of a single day, these voices and others speak loud and clear about the complex dance that is life in a small town. They resonate in a gritty and unflinching portrayal of a day like any other, with ordinary traumas, heartbreak, and revenge. But on any given day, the line where presentation and perception meet is a tenuous one, so hard to discern. Unless, of course, one looks a little closer—and reads between the lines.

Purchase Read Between the Lines at Amazon
Purchase Read Between the Lines at IndieBound
View Read Between the Lines on Goodreads


Jo Knowles is the author of the young adult novels Lessons from a Dead Girl, Jumping Off Swings, Pearl, and See You At Harry's. She has a master's degree in children's literature. Some of her awards include the PEN New England Children's Book Discovery Award, YALSA's Best Fiction for Young Adults, YALSA Quick Picks Top Ten, YALSA's Popular Paperbacks, International Reading Associations Young Adult Choices List, Tayshas List, and Bank Street College's Best Books for Children (Outstanding Merit). Jo lives in Vermont with her husband and son.


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  2. "Write the stories that matter to you, not what you think the market is looking for. That's like chasing a train that never slows down long enough for you to hop on. Make your own path. It's a lot less stressful and a lot more interesting and rewarding." Oh boy... this is perfection. Thank you. I NEEDED to hear this. =)


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