By: Jessica Conwell
The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!” -Jack Kerouac
Johnny– Hey Jessica, first I want to thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me about your book ‘Three Sharp Knives’. Having read your book I understand the name, and what it stands for, do you have any particular story behind the term/brand? where did “3SK” come from?
Jessica– Hey Johnny! Thanks for reading, I’m always happy to answer questions! The title Three Sharp Knives comes from the idea that certain people are considered ‘dangerous’ to society simply for existing, like sharp knives sitting on a counter. The three narrators are all such people, three women who fall just outside the bounds of what the world wants to understand.
Johnny– You are such a charming writer, you have a way when you developed your characters that is so real and strong that I feel invested, “bought in” and very close to them, what do you attribute to that?
Jessica– Thank you. I’ve always been of the view that characters are more important than plot. I’ll read a book with interesting characters and a thin plot well before I will finish a book with a fascinating plot and flat characters. I think the number one thing I try to remember when developing my characters is that people don’t make sense. People are messy. People are illogical. People act in ways contrary to their own values. People screw up. But despite it all, most people in the world are trying to do their best to work toward what they envision “good” to be. Whether that is a moral good, a spiritual good, or just a personal good varies person to person. But I try to start with asking myself, “What does this character define as their ‘good’ and what does it look like when they try to work towards it? How will they screw up along the way?” I think that might be why my characters are relatable. I think most people can understand the feeling of knowing the good, wanting the good, but having no effing idea how to go about achieving the good.
Johnny– This book is written in a different format than most, separated into four sections with no chapters, (which, by the way, works!), is this your style when you are writing? Or is it unique to this book?
Jessica– I tend to work with sections more than chapters. My earlier novel, Cluster, works this way as well. I think I fits my stories structure-wise better than breaking them up into chapters. I want the narrative to flow in a series of long arcs, mainly to create the feeling that everything is connected, nothing separated from anything else. Past mixes with present.
Johnny– What motivated you to write Three Sharp Knives?
Jessica– So, the most simplistic answer to that question is that after I finished Cluster, a friend of mine said, “I think you should write a story about ghost hunters.” Naturally, I took that in the least logical, barely connected direction I could.
The larger answer is that I wanted a story about unconventional people and unconventional love. Obviously, there is a lot of LGBTQ+ representation in 3SK, but even beyond that, I wanted to write a book for people who feel like they don’t really fit anywhere, people who want to love and be loved, but find it difficult to be understood.
Johnny– I want to talk about your characters again, they are so damn believable, and likable, did you have inspirations or muses when you created them, or were they strictly products of your imagination?
Jessica– Way back when I was younger writer, I made the mistake of basing characters entirely on people I knew. This, predictably, blew up in my face when said people read the stories, mainly because I was not yet a strong enough writer to mask what I was doing. So, I now have a strict policy for myself against writing biographical (or autobiographical) characters. However, there are, of course, scraps and snipping’s of people I have known or encountered in my life. I don’t think any author can truly avoid that. And, honesty time, there is a bit of me in each of my narrators.
Johnny– Without giving anything away, what was the hardest part of this book to write?
Jessica– Ha! That’s a difficult one to answer without giving anything away, because the truth is that the most difficult part of the book to write was the ending. In part it was because I couldn’t decide how to execute it. It was a eureka moment on a long walk that finally gave me the ‘nested circle’ structure of the flashbacks in the last section. The other reason it was difficult was—and this will be very difficult to say without spoiling anything—because, well, authors tend to get emotionally invested in their own characters, too. I’ve had people tell me how hard they have taken various unkind things I have done to characters of mine they connected with. My knee-jerk response is, “I know! I’m a monster!”
Johnny– You did it beautifully! Although, I gotta admit, I was a little surprised at the ending, so I’m guessing your going to be that writer that likes to shock your readers?
Jessica– I actually try not to, typically. Otherwise there isn’t much of a surprise since the reader is expecting a surprise, you know? I’m completely of the mindset that surprise endings have to be earned. They need to be a surprise only due to the reader not putting the pieces together ahead of time.
Johnny– My thought is that this book was written through the eyes of three different individuals, which narration was the hardest to write for?
Jessica– Heather, actually, who is also my favorite character. She was hard to write because of how bleak her worldview is at the beginning of her section. In a lot of ways, it mirrored my own thoughts during darker, lower moments of my life, and it wasn’t always enjoyable to access those while I was writing her.
Johnny– Was it therapeutic for you to write her?
Jessica– It actually was. It is good to speak dark feelings aloud sometimes.
Johnny– I did this when I interviewed Rebecca Hefner and it was a lot of fun so I’d like to try it with you if you don’t mind. You get a call from Hollywood, your book is going into production to become a movie, you are chosen to cast it, you can use any artists you want, who do you pick?
Jessica– I’ve been asked about before actually! I think my main demand that would be that all of my trans characters be portrayed by trans actors. Beyond that, if Saoirse Ronan isn’t Heather and Katey Sagal isn’t Mari, I just don’t know that I could sign off on the production.
Johnny– Ha! Katey Sagal would be perfect! Good call for Heather, NOW, who would play Seph and Lia?
Jessica– She’s a bit older than the character, but I think Jamie Clayton from Sense8 would be a great Seph. For Lia, I’ve never been able to lock down who I think would be good for her role. But I’m open to suggestions.
Johnny– I’m curious, because your book centers around this, are you a fan of puzzle rooms?
Jessica– I am a huge fan of puzzle rooms, verging on being evangelical about them. I’ve done enough of them that I have formed strong opinions regarding their quality.
Johnny– What advise do you have for someone that wants to become a writer?
Jessica– Write the stories you think only you will be interested in. That won’t be the case. Write the books you wish you’d had at your lowest moments. Also, immediately stop thinking about writing as some mystical art. Like any craft, it needs to be honed and developed. Practice.
Johnny– What advise do you have for someone that might be struggling with gender identity?
Jessica– Trust yourself. A million voices will tell you that you don’t know yourself, that they know you better than you could. Surround yourself with the people who love and support you, discard the ones who don’t. Never be afraid to seek additional support. Hold in your mind the truth that no matter what, you have intrinsic value and are worthy of love and respect.
Johnny– I hope I’m asking this right, because I am ignorant about transgender people, I’ll be the first to admit that, but, at what age did you drop the gender society given you (because of the anatomy you were born with), to become the woman you are today?
Jessica– That’s a tricky one, because I spent a long time knowing and being in active denial. I was 33 when I finally came out, though.
Johnny– Was your family supportive? are you close with your family?
Jessica– The members of my family I am close with were very supportive, even if they didn’t understand right away. I, of course, had some members who were less so (especially among my then-in-laws) but the people who knew me the best knew that this wasn’t something I had decided based on some whim I was having.
Johnny– As a transgender woman do you feel accepted by society?
Jessica– In certain segments, sure. Otherwise, no, no I don’t. For one thing, the US government itself is currently hostile toward trans people. Aside from that, the background noise of life as a trans person is a cacophony of microaggressions, threats of violence, discrimination, distrust, and prejudice. So, we find our pocket communities. We build our “found families” and we do everything we can to try to change the way things are. But we have a hell of a long way to go.
Johnny– When you say “currently hostile” was it more-so after the 2016 election than before?
Jessica– Absolutely. Before 2016, things weren’t great, but it seemed like progress was being made, if only in an ‘inch at a time’ way. After the election, not only were protections and rights we had been granted under constant attack, it was almost as if a license had been given to not hide your prejudices.
*(I’d like to add a side note here, as a veteran who served in the US Army it breaks my heart and angers me to my core that you have to deal with this sort of hate and hostilities. When I joined, I joined so EVERYONE regardless of race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation could live in this country freely, peacefully, without fear or harassment from bigots and their hate, intolerance, and prejudice.) JS
Johnny– Jessica where do you want to be in 10 years?
Jessica– Watching my daughter start college (if that’s what she wants), going on adventures with my partner, and always, always, always still writing. Even if my audience can still be counted on one hand.
Johnny– You keep writing like you do I’m predicting that you will need a “few” hands to count your audience on. What are you wanting your readers to take away with them after reading 3SK?
Jessica– I hope they leave with more empathy and understanding for people different than they are, as well as more openness to love in all of its bizarre, beautiful forms. I hope I can make some people who have never felt understood seen, even if just a little.
Johnny– Who is your favorite writer?
Jessica– That is tough one, because every time I think I know the answer, my brain yells, “Wait! Wait! But what about…?” A short list would have to include Richard Russo, Carmen Maria Machado, Tillie Walden, and Neil Gaiman.
Johnny– Do you have any projects planned for 2020?
Jessica– Roughly a thousand of them, though I am favoring a project that does have a loose tie-in to 3SK (much as 3SK has some loose connections to my earlier book, Cluster). Unfortunately, it is in the form of bringing back probably the last character 3SK readers wanted to see return, so….
Johnny– So… we might not see Seph and Heather again?
Jessica– You may, but they will be wandering through the background of a scene. I have this long-standing belief that everyone is the background character in someone else’s life. All of my novels have a shared universe, but rarely will I bring a main character from one book into the forefront of another. However, you may see someone who was a minor character in 3SK play a more major role.
Johnny– Do you mind giving a quick elevator pitch for Cluster?
Jessica– A group of misfit friends run a music venue/coffee shope/vintage toy store together while coping with love and loss of many different flavors. Also, there’s a lengthy discussion about ghost sex.
Every once in a while I get the pleasure to come across a book that totally catches me off guard. Three Sharp Knives was one of those books.
Upon opening this book, I was carried away with a narrative that was so mesmerizing, characters so endearing, a plot well-groomed that it belongs on a Hollywood screen, I could not help but fall in LOVE with this book! I think you will too.
Three against the world was a reoccurring theme that ran across my mind time after time while I was reading this. Love, defined on their terms was what I was left with.
I love this book! It has earned the five stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐rating that I’ve given it on Goodreads and Amazon. I’m proud to say that I am a HUGE fan of Jessica Conwell.
If a good story and strong characters is your thing, then Three Sharp Knives is the book for you. I can’t wait to read and review Jessica’s other book Cluster.
Great job on writing a great book Jessica! I’m a fan!!
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