Colorado Springs author DeAnna Knippling does it all. She writes for both kids and adults, has published traditionally and self-published, and does freelance as editor, formatter, writer and ghostwriter. Many of her books feature everything from aliens to zombies, with intriguing titles that include: Choose Your Doom! Zombie Apocalypse, (co-written with Dante Savelli); Alien Blue; Secret Magic in Small Places; Chance Damnation; The Business That Must Be Conducted in the Dark;A Zombie Tale; A Fly in Amber; Monsoon; Lanes of the Living Dead; Devil Mountain; The Edge of the World; Hand of Glory; Abominable; Death by Chocolate; Creators of Small Worlds; Blind Spot; The Cliff House; Family Gods; Haunted Empire; Lady of the Floods; The Person Who Puts Down the Keys; The Procrustean Mirror; Threads of Life; Threads of Guilt; The Vengeance Quilt; and The Woods Behind Grandmother’s House. She has published books that draw on her expertise in the writing and publishing industries, such as How to Fail & Keep on Writing; Ebooks 101: Beginning Formatting, and titles that keep you guessing as to the content within, such as Miracle Texas; Things You Don’t Want But Have to Take; Basement Noir; The Debt; Mother and Child; Threads of Life and Paid. Today, DeAnna has agreed to share her expertise and experiences in this exclusive interview with the Southern Colorado Literature Examiner. It is obvious that DeAnna has fun at what she does, and after all, that’s what it is all about.
How did you get your start in writing? How did it happen for you?
I originally wanted to be Crystal Gayle, but I got sick of growing my hair out when I was ten. Writing was my second choice of career.
More seriously, I liked making up stuff when cousins would come out to our farm for the summer. We’d make something up, and off we’d go on adventures all over the farm, storming the hay bale castles, stealing steak knives, building hideouts. I wrote whatever they told me to write at school; I eventually started writing poetry. My desire to write didn’t really solidify until a teacher of mine in ninth or tenth grade, Mrs. Sanderson, decided that I was a writer and I would be going with her to writing camp on the other side of the state. I wrote a short story and submitted it; it got me into the camp, which was good enough to get me out of school, which was fine by me…
I got to the camp (Prairie Winds) and decided to be as anti-shy as I could possibly be. I subsequently got into what was probably my first argument with a professional writer, who wanted to know why I had suggested a particular character for a story our group was co-writing. It was random, right up to the point where he tried to change the character…but it was too late; I refused to change her. Arguing about writing made me discover that I had passion for it; at least, I knew that what he suggested was stupider than what I’d originally made up. Things snowballed from there: I had found my niche.
Which of your books are your favorites and why?
My kids’ books are my favorites. I feel like, with adult stuff, I have things to experiment with – but with the kids’ books, I have something to say. “Here is this thing you have to deal with, as a kid, but because you are a kid, you’re not allowed to talk about it, ask questions about it, or even look like you might be thinking about it…so I’ll write a story about it for you, and hide the truths in it, so you can either think about them or not.” I have a story about a super-clean mom who gets possessed by her vacuum cleaner and decides to get rid of her kid, because her kid is a mess generator. I have another one about two kids who start a paranormal detective agency because one of the kids’ fathers has anger issues. I have another one about a girl who wants to be a thief, who gets caught doing something wrong, then gets bullied into doing something worse. And so on.
With my adult books, my favorite one that’s out is Chance Damnation. I don’t know that anyone will ever really like that book but me, though. It’s like Buffy the Vampire Slayer for 1960 South Dakota, if Buffy were three farmers instead of a teenaged girl. It deals with the problems with racism that I grew up around at the time, too–so the people who are likely to like the book are also likely to be offended that I called them out on the way that Native Americans are treated.
I have a culinary mystery farce that I’m getting ready to put out in November, YOUR SOUFFLE MUST DIE, that cracks me up every time I try to edit it; a zombie book about the real Alice from the Alice books that I keep crying over; a romantic comedy with a male main character that’s structured after A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream that I love. But those aren’t out yet.
What is your favorite children’s book?
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland!
I could talk about that book all day. I see the Alice books as a geeky teacher’s instruction manuals for a little upper-class girl who didn’t particularly want to fit into her own society, because it was stupid. She wasn’t wrong, but she still had to learn how to live there…
Honestly, why not? In the end, the prize of writing goes to the person who stays motivated to keep writing over the years, so they can hone their craft. If you can make money off it–even better. And if you can learn more about how books are written, edited, and formatted; how covers are designed and built; how to position your book in a market; how to promote yourself; how to communicate with people about your work; how to deal with criticism–even better still.
Have you ever tried to get a traditional publisher?
Yep. I have one book with a small press (Choose Your Doom: Zombie Apocalypse with Doom Press), I almost always have 2-3 books out on submission with big publishers, and I’m always submitting short stories to professional and semi-professional markets. I’m here to tell stories, not get in a war about whether “indie” or “traditional” publishing is best.
Lately, though, I find myself saying, “I’m getting favorable feedback that wants changes XYZ, which essentially mean rewriting the book so that I fit better in Publisher A or B’s current list of books; they already have a book like mine. Well, I can either rewrite this book, or I can put it up myself and write another book in the same amount of time.” Or I’m writing something that doesn’t fit an existing genre; should I put it up myself or not write it? It seems self-defeating to only write what I hope and guess a big publisher wants to publish. I’d rather write it and know that I can do something with it even if it doesn’t fit the current mold.
Why zombies? Why not vampires?
Probably a bunch of reasons. I read the Anne Rice vampire books in high school; I loved E.F. Benson’s vampire short stories. I loved Dracula. I watched all of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (although I never really finished Angel). My favorite vampires aren’t the nice ones that you have to empathize with. They’re the ones who are out to get you, who are intelligently working against you around the clock to pull you down. I like From Dusk Till Dawn. Vampire? It’s a trap! But for a long time, it seems like people have been, “Oh, vampires, they’re not so bad, really, they’re…OMG THEY’RE SO HOT!”
It’s not the vampires, it’s the Urban Fantasy Romance thing. I want bad things to happen, and I don’t mean on the level of a life-and-death soap opera. I don’t want hearts to be broken; I want betrayals and murders and crawling back to find your humanity.
Zombies…oh, zombies are like this shiny toy that just gets more fun the dirtier and more broken they are. They’re the toy that you can take apart and put back together all day long, like meat Lincoln Logs. I find zombies inherently funny. Metaphorically speaking, they’re people Freaking Out about something. The environment, scientists, the government, religion–whatever you like. The IRS. Illegal immigrants. Cultists. If you can freak out about it, then you can use zombies as some kind of meat-a-phor for it.
What kind of freelancing do you do? How did you get into it?
I do writing, ghostwriting, editing, and formatting. Basically, if it sounds interesting, I’ll try it out. I want to know how all of it works, and the best way to learn is to have a deadline hanging over your head and a paycheck at stake.
I decided to start getting serious about writing about six or seven years ago, after my daughter got out of diapers. Many things in my life started or resumed after she got out of diapers. It was like getting my brain back. I wish I’d known which diaper had been the last one, so I could have thrown a party.
I started out working for peanuts on Elance and similar sites, just to see whether I could deal with the clients, money, taxes, and whatnot. I’m an introvert, so I have to dip in several toes, an elbow, and maybe throw someone else in the pool before I’ll commit to doing something big. I freelanced part-time until two years ago, then went full-time.
Who are your real life heroes?
Sometimes I don’t find out who my heroes are until I write books about them (in disguise). I can’t possibly list all the people who have lifted me up and kept me afloat when I needed it and who gave me the tools I needed even before I understood what they were, but I’d like to especially point out my Knippling uncles, who taught me orneriness, and my siblings, who taught me loyalty. My husband and daughter save me every day, mostly from being bored, but also from larger things.
What is your favorite time of year?
Spring. I’m starting to like autumn more now, although I still get sick every year during the turn of seasons. Colorado Autumns are so gorgeous. But Spring, no matter how much people complain about it, about the snow, about how it’s not pretty like late May yet, about how nothing’s growing yet, blah blah blah, that’s the time when I bounce off the walls. Sunshine? Bounce! Snow? Bounce bounce! It hits me about Groundhog Day every year. “It’s spring!” “No, it’s not!” “Yes it is!”
My favorite Winnie-the-Pooh character is Tigger, by the way.
In your blog post, “The End of the Artist’s Way”, you talk about your dream job, editing for Amazon. Why is that your dream job?
I grew up in South Dakota; I lived sixty miles from the nearest Waldenbooks, and probably two hundred from the nearest used bookstore (in a college town). If you drove into the two biggest towns in South Dakota, you got…the same selection. Plus, we went to a place called Zandbroz in Sioux Falls which carries regional books, a good selection of Beat poetry, some Bukowski…they carry what they can, but those weren’t the books that I wanted. It wasn’t until I got up to Minneapolis and went to Dream Haven that I thought I died and went to heaven. I was probably twenty.
Now, if you can get to Sioux Falls or Rapid City, you can go to a Barnes and Noble store. If you can get on the Internet (and you can), you can get anything. And now, people see you reading a book, and they go, “What are you reading?” This, from a culture that was hostile to me, growing up and reading books. “Reading a book, huh? What, do you think you’re better than me, Professor?”
Before Barnes and Noble, Borders, and Amazon, the problem was: How can I get books at all? I mean, I read everything in SF/F I could get at the town library and my school libraries, usually more than once. I read a lot of classics, not because I was interested, but because they were all I could get. Even in college (in Vermillion), I spent a lot of time at Goodwill picking through a wire rack of books that had been abandoned by previous students.
Now it’s: How can I figure out which books to read?
I’d have to say that right now, it’s the smaller bookstores that have a grip on that. The ones who specialize, who know their local customers. Not Amazon. I rarely find out what I want to read next on there. I can find anything there, but I can’t find anything there, if that makes sense. I have more luck picking out new books going to used bookstores than I do on Amazon; most of what I pick up comes from recommendations of one kind or another.
And yet…Amazon has all that data. And all those books. And is trying all those new things. It’s the opposite of the culture of scarcity and hostility that I grew up in.
Wouldn’t you want to be part of that experiment?