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Interview with Living with Jackie Chan author Jo Knowles + Giveaway (US/Canada)
Living with Jackie Chan
About the Book
About the Author
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.
An Interview with Jo Knowles
What compelled you to follow up JUMPING OFF SWINGS with Josh’s story?
I kept getting letters from readers asking me if Josh was going to be OK. The more I was asked, the more I began to have this unsettled feeling, like I hadn't gone far enough with Josh's journey. Pretty soon, the wondering what might happen began to form into a story. I could see Josh arriving at his uncle's place, scared and ashamed and still wanting to escape, and I thought, I can't leave him like that! So, I began to write what happened next.
Josh has such a solid voice. His confusion, self-loathing, and desperation to move on really come through. This is a very impressive feat seeing as how biologically you could never be in Josh’s shoes. How did you create and develop Josh as a character, and how did you find ways to relate to his experiences?
The way I get close to characters is by putting myself in their shoes. I try to see the world through their eyes, and imagine how they would navigate the waters. I think to be a writer you must have great empathy, and be able to let go of your biases and assumptions and try to understand why people may have done something, rather than judge them for it. One of my favorite things about writing fiction is exploring what might have led a person to go down a rocky road, and then help him or her find the way back to a better one.
Arguably, Josh would not have been able to make it through this difficult time in his life without Uncle Larry’s emotional support. Did anyone serve as the inspiration for Uncle Larry, and do you have your own version of Uncle Larry in your own life?
The spark for Uncle Larry came when I went to see my husband and son test for their first belts in karate. One of their instructors was so full of positive energy and enthusiasm. He simply bounced. When I first pictured Larry, that's who I had in mind. But of course as I began to write the story, Larry became, well, Larry. I don't know anyone like him but I sure wish I did. I think we could all use someone like Larry in our lives.
Why did you choose karate as the vehicle to deliver life lessons to Josh?
Whenever I go see my husband and son test for belts, the students always recite, "What is a True Karate Man?" The words resonate so strongly with me, and I thought they would for Josh, too.
Do you have any past experiences practicing karate yourself?
No, but my husband and son recently earned their black belts together, and now teach karate at our local rec center twice a week.
Did you have any admiration of Jackie Chan before you wrote this book, or did your interaction with the kung fu master come about because of the book?
I've always thought Jackie Chan is such a cool guy, and a great role model. When he did the re-make of The Karate Kid, I was just toying with the idea of writing the book and I thought how perfect he would be for someone like Larry to idolize. It all came together at the same time. The more I learned about him—his personality, his many talents, and his kind heart--the more I knew he was the perfect person Larry would idolize.
Will we ever get to read what happens between Stella and Josh?! If not, how do you see their relationship developing?
I've learned to never say never (I never thought I'd write a companion novel to Jumping Off Swings!), but I feel as though this time, I left Josh at a place where we can all feel fairly confident that he's going to be fine, with or without Stella. It's funny, but once I get to that place with my characters, I really do let go. So, does he end up in a serious relationship with Stella? I don't know. I think I'll let readers imagine what happens next for themselves, and whatever that is, it's theirs to be true.