This month’s Literary Mary Chats interview is with DeAnna Knippling, a talented, knowledgeable, and ballsy writer, speaker, and horror discussion panelist that I met at the Pikes Peak Writing Conference, #PPWC2018.
DeAnna Knippling is a freelance writer, editor, and book designer living in Colorado. She started out as a farm girl in the middle of South Dakota, went to school in Vermillion, SD, then gravitated through Iowa to Colorado, where she lives with her husband and daughter. Some of her fondest childhood memories are of putting together haunted houses in the basement of her grandparents’ house with her cousins, and taking flying leaps off haystacks and silage piles in the middle of winter with her brother. She was in charge of coming up with the “let’s pretend” ideas when they were kids, at least in theory. But then no plan survives contact with the enemy.
She now writes science fiction, fantasy, horror, crime, and mystery for adults under her own name; adventurous and weird fiction for middle-grade (8-12 year old) kids under the pseudonym De Kenyon; and various thriller and suspense fiction for her ghostwriting clients under various and non-disclosable names. Her latest book, Alice’s Adventures in Underland: The Queen of Stilled Hearts, combines two of her favorite topics–zombies and Lewis Carroll. It’s the story of a tame zombie who told a little girl named Alice a story that got them both in more trouble than they could handle. Her short fiction has appeared in Black Static, Penumbra, Crossed Genres, Three-Lobed Burning Eye, and more. Her website and blog are at www.WonderlandPress.com. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.
We crossed paths at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference in April. I was very impressed with the sessions you lead/assisted with and especially your contributions to the Writing Horror panel discussion with Jonathan Maberry and Steve Saffel. After checking out your websites, your many publications, and reading through several blog posts, I was very happy you agreed to answer a handful of questions.
Ghostwriting is kind of a case-by-case basis. Mostly I don’t get credit. I get a flat fee and have to keep my mouth shut about what I write 🙂 I usually have to work from an outline, or at least a loose structure for an outline, or we develop one together. And a lot of the time, I’m writing from a series of indie books, so the world and characters are already developed.
Does this interfere with my own writing time? Yep, but it’s what I do for a living…mostly what people do for a living interferes with their own writing time anyway, and I get to hone my craft. I’ve learned how to write mysteries and adventure novels this way, and I’m working on one of my first romances–all stuff I might not have tried (let alone had the chance to write several books in) if I hadn’t been a ghostwriter.
2. I love the way your mind seems to work…in that it’s always working and no dust is allowed to settle! You must have more hours in the day…how do you possibly design, edit, create, craft, blog, publish, WRITE, ghost write, parent, wife, and vacuum?
How do I do it all? One of the first things I did was train myself to write quickly and (relatively) reliably. I’ve also learned how to hit that 80% mark of “good enough” where I let things go to the reader or client and let them judge the work. I think a lot of writers try to hone their craft by honing one perfect story, rather than a lot of “good enough” stories. For some people that works, but I would have gone insane. I still suffer from perfectionism (nothing, literally nothing I write feels good enough), but I try not to get stuck on it. As for moods, there’s a perfect task that suits every mood. Feeling depressed? I’ll study, because it seems like studying is more effective then. Feeling a little manic? I’ll set the timer and do writing sprints. Feeling anxious? Time for a horror story 🙂
I still need to identify a reliable “mood” for marketing, though. Uggggghhhhh. I’m trying to improve at writing ads, and it’s melting my brain.
I think the secret is to focus on one thing at a time, actually, even if you have to change that focus pretty often to respond to real-world and brain-function events. I didn’t learn all the things at the same time. For example, on the production side, I did blogging first, then newsletters (for a job), then formatting, then shifted over to leveling up covers, then worked on print formatting and covers, then on book descriptions, and now on marketing text and strategies. And that order isn’t a strict order, either. Sometimes I have to double back and work on whatever the weakest link is. Most of 2016-2017 was about literally fixing links in ebooks, for example.
If you stay focused on getting better on one tiny thing at a time, no matter how bad it hurts your brain, it adds up after a while. Trying to do everything right the first time seems to leave me right back where I started, so I ditched that. Whether that was the right thing to do is an entirely different question 🙂 Just in case someone needs to hear it, let me say that I feel like everything I do sucks every day (although I have moments where I’m happy with things before I start tearing it all down again). My spouse and I have a great name for that: “Flaw Goggles.” You can’t take them off, not really, but you can learn to trust that 50% of the flaws you see just come from smears on the lenses.
3. Your fiction focus is sci-fi, fantasy, and horror (with a special affinity for zombies) but in those genres your sub-cats are many. My favorite is “adult weird” as Chance Damnation is described. You also write short stories, historical, adventure, adult crime, and YA (to mention a few). Again, I want to ask, how do you have the time?! But I’ve already asked that, and you’ve answered, so instead, I wonder, do you have a favorite sub-genre? Is there a genre you’d like to tackle but haven’t had the time (!) for? Maybe something fluffy or non-fiction?
I’ve always struggled with, “What kind of writer am I anyway?!?” I finally figured it out: while there are some genres and subgenres I love more than others, what I’m chasing is story with a capital S. So my writing idols are people like Neil Gaiman and Ira Levin, who write stories that are identifiable as uniquely their own, but that you go, “What kind of genre is that anyway? Not sure…but I like it.”
My favorite subgenre right now is horror, of the “The characters don’t know this is horror, but the reader suspects it,” type, like The Truman Show or Pleasantville. Those are a bit lighter than the things I’m working on right now, but it’s the same general idea. Metropolis is another great one. I’m trying to work out a 1920s con job fake utopia story to finish out a collection.
4. Can you tell me more about Wonderland Press?
I needed a legal umbrella for practical purposes – to cover my pen names and be ONE THING I could use to sign up for distributors and pay taxes under. I don’t currently take submissions. Sorry, it’s boring 🙂
5. Lastly, please share a past favorite project and tell me what you’re currently working on. Also, what challenges are you looking forward to in the near future?
- Past favorite ghostwriting project: it’s probably still Choose Your Own Doom: Zombie Apocalypse, which was super fun to plot out.
- Current ghostwriting project: a romance! It’s draining (because it’s out of my usual genres) but also really rewarding, because I get to be FAR snarkier than on anything else I write, which is kind of a surprise but I’m loving it.
- Past me project: Alice’s Adventures in Underland: The Queen of Stilled Hearts. I could finally put all that Alice research into words, which made me feel like I could do this writing thing. I wanted to say something in particular, and I think I actually said it. How often does that happen?
- Current me project: I’m trying to launch a secret pen name, and I’m editing book 2 on that series. Fingers crossed. I’ll announce it later, after I’ve found out what I wanted to know.
- Challenges coming up: I need to write a couple of short stories to fit specific slots in short story collections that I want to put together, and I’m finding it a challenge to come up with The Perfect Idea, or at least The 80% Idea, on demand. But a 1920s con job collection across genres and a haunted house collection should be coming up.
Thank you, DeAnna, for Chatting. Maybe we’ll cross paths again next conference…