Building a Mindreader’s World in Jessica Knauss’s Awash in Talent
Awash in Talent is made up of three interrelated novellas. In this alternate version of Providence, Rhode Island, about ten percent of the world population has one of three Talents: telekinesis, firestarting, or psychic powers. Psychic powers are the rarest Talent, between 1.5 and 2 percent of the general population, leaving at least 8 percent to be firestarters and telekinetics. But these figures may result from underreporting, because psychics also have the hardest Talent to detect and control.
Impartial critics have called the third novella of Awash in Talent the most poignant and some of my best writing. It’s narrated by Patricia, a therapist who can read people’s thoughts—whether she wants to or not.
Please enjoy this excerpt, which introduces Patricia and a little bit of the reasoning behind her decision not to register with the government as a psychic. See more about Patricia’s dilemma here.
To my husband:
It comes through the eyes. You have a technical bent of mind, so I think you’d like to know how it works first of all. It’s a sensory experience something like sound, but muted, like the voice in your head. You can tell it’s not passing through vocal cords and over teeth. It only took me until I was five to figure that out. But it’s also a little like watching a movie that flashes and jumps. Psychologically complex people can send me pictures with a muted soundtrack that has nothing to do with what I’m seeing. I married you because you’ve never done that to me. Despite your outward histrionics, you’re a one-note sensory experience.
But I became a therapist so I could act on the information people sent me without registering as a psychic, not so I could describe my experience as a psychic accurately. Let’s call it “thought energy,” to which I and other psychics are sensitive, while most humans are less so.
Because thought energy comes through the eyes, they’ve made special sunglasses “for any psychic who registers,” according to the public service announcements. I don’t know if you’ve noticed them—Soul Stoppers, they’re called. They’re supposed to encourage registry in a population the government can have no real control over—those of us with this, the most reviled of all Talents. They should have spent more time on the design of the glasses, because they draw so much attention to the wearer. Attention is the last thing I want. Those strange slats over the lenses—I think it’s so we’re prevented from looking into people’s eyes while still able to see where we’re going. I can only imagine everyone in the street looks headless. I’d much rather close my eyes and look away if I get an intolerable beam of thought energy, though I’ve sometimes wondered if that makes me look even stranger than the glasses would.
I had a friend in grade school, Danielle. One day in the middle of art class, where we were learning about papier-mâché, she just started screaming. She didn’t stop screaming her wordless terror until they decided to take her to the special school for psychics, where they found out that she was one of them. I didn’t want to be taken away, so I kept my eyes to the floor. Later, Danielle visited our school, obligated by the authorities, who wanted to show children that psychics aren’t dangerous. Any fears I had about her new school were confirmed in the ugly glasses she had to wear and her new demeanor. She was too quiet. You might think it would be a nice contrast from the screaming, but her silence, which went all the way down to her slow-moving, abnormally uncluttered thought energy, terrified me.
Although I never scream, it doesn’t take long for all the thoughts to become too much, too stimulating. I decided to become a therapist because looking into one soul at a time is easier to handle and helps me feel I’m making a difference in people’s lives…
It wasn’t long after I got here that I noticed that in Providence, Friendship is a one-way street. I was comfortable with that, because for me, it really has been. And continues to be.
As I built Patricia’s lonely world, I had to employ all my own powers of empathy to imagine what the characters’ thoughts look like to Patricia as well as how their encroachment into her psychic space affects her. In the first draft, I found myself using the usual language to show what other characters might be thinking, and my beta readers called me out on it. I had to remember that with Patricia, it’s not typical empathy. Imagining concrete images and sounds and what feelings they would conjure in order to make her psychic Talent authentic was often terrifying, which helped make the story dramatic. I almost feel like I need some therapy sessions with Patricia after seeing the world through her eyes.
Patricia’s biggest challenge comes in the form of the narrator of the first novella, Emily. Because she’s attempted to kidnap a married graduate student, the courts have required Emily to undergo psychological evaluations and treatment. Patricia should be the perfect person for the job, but she finds that where everyone else transmits their thoughts too freely, Emily shows Patricia only static. How can she evaluate Emily, much less help her, when she has to treat her using the primitive methods of un-Talented therapists? Patricia has never been confronted with this problem before: How can you help someone who doesn’t want your help?
Jessica Knauss’s Awash in Talent was released by Kindle Press on June 7 to praise from readers who love something different.
This is the second stop in a week-long Awash in Talent blog tour. Don’t miss the crazy character interviews and writing advice at the blogs of A.J. Culey, Andi Adams, J.L. Gribble, and Jennifer Loring!
Born and raised in Northern California, Jessica Knauss has wandered all over the United States, Spain, and England. She has worked as a librarian and a Spanish teacher and earned a PhD in Medieval Spanish Literature before entering the publishing world as an editor. Her acclaimed novella, Tree/House, and short story collection, Unpredictable Worlds, are currently available. Her epic of medieval Spain, Seven Noble Knights, will be published by Bagwyn Books in December 2016. Find her on social media and updates on the sequels to Awash in Talent and Seven Noble Knights and her other writing at her website: jessicaknauss.com. Feel free to sign up for her mailing list for castles, stories, and magic.
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