My Life Playing Musical Chairs: An Interview with Jen Knox

I’m sitting with Jen Knox, author of the indie memoir Musical Chairs, here in my virtual living room today. Hi, Jen.

Hi, Tim.

As you know, I loved Musical Chairs. What does the title allude to?

“Musical Chairs” came from the name of a game, where music plays and kids run around a circle of chairs that is one short of the number of players. When the music stops, someone is left standing, so the goal of the game is to sit in a chair immediately, to be alert and react quickly, to find a place to sit wherever you are. Then the music calls you to your feet again.

In the book, I wanted to retrace my time as a runaway and attempt to recapture my mindset during that time. In a sense, these years reminded me of that game; I felt as though I was always finding a new chair, a new environment or home, and something would inevitably pull me up to run again.

Writing my memoir, digging up the old memories was very emotional for me, but at the same time, I began to understand the people of my past in ways that I hadn’t understood them at the time. Did you have any similar experiences you’d be willing to share?

That is, I think, what makes the genre so powerful. It’s about understanding our past experiences from the distance of time.

There were a few scenes in my book that I would’ve preferred to leave in the past because they were especially painful to recall. It turns out that upon revisiting some of these scenes, specifically a few of the ones that recalled my experiences as a stripper, there was a very tough emotional response that arrived at first. But as I continued to write, the memories that once shamed or embarrassed me seemed to be put into perspective. I realized that I was a kid, and I was able to look at the experience through my eyes now and really see how far I’ve come.

I think you’ve mentioned that some people responded to Musical Chairs by trying to psychoanalyze you.

Given that the book begins and ends with my quest for a diagnosis for a panic disorder, I suppose I invited this. But I wanted to illustrate how the past releases its grip slowly.

Have you also gotten more encouraging responses, I hope?

There is one scene at the end of the book when I’m having a panic attack at the park, remembering a time with a violent man when I was in a safe situation, on a date with a wonderful man, who would later become my husband. That scene has been brought up by a few readers who said they could relate to this feeling of disbelief when good things come their way. Many stories end with the promise of a new life, but sometimes it takes a while for a person to truly reinvent herself, and I wanted to capture that awkwardness as the transition took place.

Can you tell us anything about your next project?

I am writing a novel entitled Absurd Hunger. It is the story of Wallace, a widower, who is paralyzed by grief. When his estranged son turns up on his doorstep a year after his wife’s death, Wallace struggles to hang on to an idealized memory of his past as a mystery is unearthed and a man who was set in his ways has his life is turned upside down.

Thanks so much Jen!

I heartily recommend Musical Chairs (Check out the more detailed review at my eBook Reviews blog.)

You can find more of Jen at her website, www.JenKnox.com, at her blog, or on Twitter @JenKnox2.

-TimK