Friday, October 12, 2007

What's Fresh with Jo Knowles's Lessons from a Dead Girl

An unflinching story of a troubled friendship — and one girl’s struggle to come to terms with secrets and shame and find her own power to heal.

Leah Greene is dead. For Laine, knowing what really happened and the awful feeling that she is, in some way, responsible set her on a journey of painful self-discovery. Yes, she wished for this. She hated Leah that much. Hated her for all the times in the closet, when Leah made her do those things. They were just practicing, Leah said. But why did Leah choose her? Was she special, or just easy to control? And why didn’t Laine make it stop sooner? In the aftermath of the tragedy, Laine is left to explore the devastating lessons Leah taught her, find some meaning in them, and decide whether she can forgive Leah and, ultimately, herself.

Hello Jo, thank you for stopping by to chat! Could you please tell us a little about your writing background and how you made your first sale?

Jo: I have a master's degree in children's literature and fell in love with writing for children when I took a writing course in graduate school. For my master's thesis, I wrote my first YA novel. Sadly, this novel now resides in a drawer, never to be opened again. After I graduated, I moved, got a full time job as a technical writer, and worked on my fiction whenever I had time. In 2002, I won an SCBWI grant in the YA category for a new novel I was working on. During that time, Barry Goldblatt was building his client list, read about the grant and contacted me. I sent him my work and he signed me up. I definitely count this as one of the best things that ever could have happened to me on my path to publication. Barry believes in building a family of clients, and he gets us all together for annual retreats. We share information, encouragement and lots of laughs. I can't imagine not having that community. Anyway, all this time I was still working full time, and then I had a baby, and I was trying to squeeze in fiction writing whenever I could. Then in 2005 I submitted the first 10 pages of another YA novel, Lessons From A Dead Girl, to the PEN New England Discovery contest and won. Candlewick had agreed to look at the winning entry, so my work was submitted there and after a bit of revising, my editor (Joan Powers) made an offer!

Great story, Jo! Readers and writers often like to get a behind the scenes peek of an author's writing routine. It would be great if you could please share your typical writing day schedule.

Jo: How I work largely depends on how much freelance work I have piled up. Usually I reserve my fiction writing for the evening, after my son goes to bed. I have two close writer friends who meet me online every night. We use Skype to check in with one another and share our goals for the night, then check in every 15-30 minutes or so to share our progress and cheer each other on. I've really come to depend on them to write with me. Writing is such a solitary endeavor. It's wonderful to find people to write alongside you. I think that's one reason why so many writers find their way to cafes to write now. Well, that and the food of course. I also have a wonderful, supportive community on LiveJournal where I blog about the writing life, motherhood, and trying to survive in Vermont, where the closest cafe I could write in is... hmmm... too far.

Please tell us about your novel Lessons from a Dead Girl (Candlewick Press, October 2007) and what we can expect from your characters.

Jo: It's a YA novel for ages 14 and up. The book is about a complex and abusive friendship between two girls, Laine and Leah. At the opening of the book, Leah has been killed in an accident, leaving Laine to make sense of their complicated past. By revisiting childhood memories, Laine makes many discoveries about their relationship and why Leah treated her the way that she did, but ultimately she still must decide whether she can forgive Leah--and herself.

I really enjoyed Lessons from a Dead Girl, Jo. What's up next? Do you have another project in the works? If so, please tell us about it.

Jo: I recently sold my second YA novel to Candlewick Press. The title is Jumping Off Swings and it's about four teens (two girls and two boys) and how each of them is affected when one discovers she's pregnant.

Looking forward to your next one! Thank you again for sharing with us. I wish the best with your writing career. Would you like to close with a writing tip?

Jo: Keep writing! A lot of writers I meet finish one book and stop there, focusing all their time and effort into selling that book. But this process is so incredibly slow. It can take 6 months or longer for an editor or agent to consider your work. The best thing to do is to keep going. Start a new project, read as much as possible, and try new things that will help you grow as a writer. I also suggest finding a supportive writing community, such as an online group, or a face-to-face writing group.

Jo Knowles lives in Vermont with her husband and son. She is a freelance writer, writing instructor at The Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons College, and a volunteer writing mentor at a Vermont women's prison. Her first novel, Lessons From A Dead Girl (Candlewick Press), will debut on October 9, 2007. Visit her on the Web at or read her blog at

(Read the YA Fresh review for Lessons from a Dead Girl here.)

4 fresh comments:

TinaFerraro said...

Kelly, I remember you mentioning this here before, and being intrigued by it. I'm so glad it's on the shelves now...I'll definitely check it out.

Kelly Parra said...

Great, Tina!

Sara Hantz said...

I definitely want to read this book, it sounds awesome!!

Kelly Parra said...

You'll enjoy it, Sara!