I met DeAnna Knippling at Pikes Peak Writers Conference, we talked, I fell in love, we talked some more, my love grew, and then she agreed to take a peek at my writing. Well, let me tell you, my love faltered for a moment because she didn’t go goo-goo-ga-ga over my writing. She was honest and loving, brutal and insightful, and I still refer back to that critique. For a writer, that is a sure sign of love because yes, she was honest, but she was nice about it, and constructive and lovely. And little did I realize, I was being critiqued by a true champion of prose. DeAnna is playing the writing game hardcore. No, she’s not playing the game of writing—she’s going Hunger Games on it.
DeAnna is an editor, writer, e-publisher, warrior, queen. For her full bio, click here.
Her newest book, Alien Blue, is just out, and if you like aliens, and if you like beer, and if you like aliens who don’t like beer, this is the book for you.
I talked with DeAnna, and had to keep it to twenty minutes because if I didn’t, I would have moved in with her and her family. I’d live in the woodshed. They’d have to feed me slops like Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web. Here’s a little of what we talked about.
Aaron: Okay, DeAnna, I’m going to come clean. My interviews are part interview, part tell-all personal confessions. I’m coming out, right now, saying that I’ve never read a Terry Pratchett book. In your opinion, which Terry Pratchett book should I start with and why?
DeAnna: Aw, man, what? Okay, let me think. You, you should start with The Wee Free Men. One, because the Nac Mac Feegle have such a great method of stealing the wee beasties of the field (cows), don’t wear underpants, and misquote The Highlander on a regular basis. Two, because your daughter will love Tiffany and the way she uses her little brother as a booby trap. Bam! Right in the teeth. I had a great time sharing that with my daughter; you should try it with yours.
Aaron: Speaking of Terry Pratchett, when we talked, you quoted a passage about how shoeing a horse is like how you approach the writing game. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
DeAnna: The quote goes something like, “If you want to be able to shoe any horse, you have to shoe every horse.” With regards to Death’s horse losing a shoe in, um, Wyrd Sisters, I think. I am just not finding the exact quote, sad to say.
It really impressed me: if you want to be able to overcome any challenge, you have to overcome every challenge. I took that as my mandate as a writer, to throw myself at whatever challenges I come across without going, “Oh, I don’t like that challenge; I think I’ll wait for a better one to come along.”
So now I know that I can write 1000+ words an hour, write without my spell-checker on and have fewer typos, self-publish my work doing all steps from beginning to end, write a short story a week, finish a 90K novel and a 40K nonfiction book in one month, get over 150 rejections a year, etc., etc. Because I’ve been shoeing every horse.
Aaron: I always ask people I interview if there is something I should focus on. A book. An embarrassing moment. A controversial religious topic. You said interviewing an independent author versus a traditional author is different. How so?
DeAnna: A traditional author who is out to promote a book is out to promote a book. An indie author who is out to promote a book is just using the book release as an excuse to get out and network. Sure, we want you to buy our new book! It’s shiny and new, and we’re almost always in love with the shiny new book…until the next shiny new book comes along.
Traditionally-published paper books tend to disappear, unless they’re evergreen or part of a long-running series. You have to plan ahead so all the pieces come together at the exact moment your book is out, or it’s gone without a ripple in the river of new books being released.
Indie books (and pretty much all e-books)…they’re around for a while. There are no shelves for them to disappear off of. So it’s more important to build a network than it is to have a million press releases all come out at once. It’s more important to build relationships than to dominate the current book news.
So with indie writers? You can wander.
Aaron: So, books, books, books. You are so prolific! In your newest novel, Alien Blue, did you draw on your experiences growing up in South Dakota to create that book? Just curious because I hear people in South Dakota don’t drink beer. Is that true?
DeAnna: Alien Blue is set in New Mexico…but yeah, I did draw upon some South Dakota characters for the book, and I better not say who. But mostly they’re from Colorado, when I worked out at the Missile Defense Agency with all those hophead homebrewers. All the bad guys came from Colorado, so I really better not say who they are.
The sad thing about South Dakota and beer is not that they don’t drink beer, but that they’re just now starting to get into the craft beer movement. The Black Hills area has some excellent wineries (I recommend Prairie Berry), but beer? They’re just barely starting to suspect that Coors isn’t the beginning and end of all beers.
Aaron: DeAnna, another personal confession. Your signing for Choose Your Doom: Zombie Apocalypse was the first official book signing I’d ever been to. My daughter loves that book! It’s a choose-your-own adventure book with ZERO happy endings. What was the best part of your Zombie Apocalypse experience? Did you get any brains on your boots?
DeAnna: Heh. That was my first signing, too. I mean, where I signed books! The best part of the experience was going, “Oh, well, I can’t write that; it’s too silly,” then saying Pffft! and writing it anyway. “What is the craziest, most ridiculous, off-the-wall thing that could possibly happen here?” The second-best part was the signings. I love it when kids come up to me and ask me how to be a writer. And I did not give them artsy-fartsy advice, either. It can be done, no matter what guff the adults give you.
Incidentally, I didn’t get any brains on my boots, but I did get some recipes for brains from my mom. I mean, she doesn’t come across as a zombie, but you never know.
Aaron: Yes, folks, I’m telling you, DeAnna is a machine! She has a book coming out on formatting your own e-print books. DeAnna, can you give us a little peek into the magic? How anal do you have to be to format an e-print book? On a scale of 1-10 – 1 being Jack Black in School of Rock and 10 being Rupert Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer?
DeAnna: If you want to edit your own e-books, you have to be Nigel Tufnel from Spinal Tap and turn it up to eleven.
Formatting? You can be sloppy; you can be super anal. I set the E-books 101: Beginning Formatting Guide at about a six, or just enough to get by so you don’t get embarrassed later, when you’re a pro at it. “Eh, I could go back and turn those beginner .doc-based files into XHTML and convert using blah blah blah like I did the rest of my stuff, but really, they’re fiiiiiiiine.”
Who’s a six? Count Rugen from The Princess Bride. “Get some rest. If you haven’t got your health, then you haven’t got anything.” Count Rugen. He was an experimenter. He had fun. Now, if he could just stop being cheap about his cover art weaponry.
Aaron: Awhile back, one of your short stories got an honorable mention. Can you give us the details and describe how it helped you physically, spiritually, psychically?
DeAnna: I got an honorable mention in The Year’s Best Horror, Vol. 3, edited by Ellen Datlow. My name was over by Stephen King’s. I was literally dizzy. The story was, “The Edge of the World” in [the e-zine] Three-Lobed Burning Eye. That was a South Dakota fairies story—they are dark, dark, dark, and this one was no exception.
I was shocked that anyone wanted to buy it. It’s either a story about recovering from abuse by being forced to step into the same role the abuser had (among the fairies; as I said, dark), or a story about being so wrapped up in your own damage that you miss the fact that other people are self-destructing around you. There was just nothing positive about that story. To have TLBE buy it, then get an honorable mention for it? That was just messed up.
But. It made me back up and say, “You can write,” and “You may not be able to trust your instincts on what other people like.” I’m all cocky about it now, although at the time I felt like I was a complete fake.
Aaron: Okay, since in your Choose Your Doom: Zombie Apocalypse book, there are no happy endings, let’s end this interview bleak. This is kinda’ personal, but when we talked, you said some days are harder than others being a writer. What are some of the dark thoughts you have about yourself, the world, and the writing game? How do you combat those thoughts? Me? I never have any doubts and when I walk outside, bluebirds twitter around me and butterfly fairies land on my fingers. But I hear other writers have issues. What are some of yours?
DeAnna: Basically, in order to be a writer, you have to do things that simulate brain damage. For one, you have to write from the creative side of your brain without letting the critical/editor side step in: which is just about like cutting the connection between the lobes of your brain. And then you have to create temporary sub-personalities and run them simultaneously—multiple personality disorder. And if that’s not enough, there’s the disassociation you have to have from external reality—kids, let’s do fun and games with schizophrenia!
Transitioning back and forth from temporary mental illness is going to cause you some issues. Unless you really are crazy.
When I go deep, my conscious brain panics, because the creative half of it is no longer accessible or controllable. When I write, I see, hear, smell, taste, and feel things that don’t actually exist. My thoughts are not my own. My body is not my own. I am not at my desk, typing. I am somewhere else.
The creative side has to be literally, controllably crazy in order to work right, and all the defense mechanisms our species has built against mental illness kick in: I’m crazy, I’m stupid, I’m wasting my time, I’m delusional, none of this will ever work, what was I thinking, etc. My brain tries to save me from itself every time, which is probably a good thing, on the whole, but it’s unpleasant, to say the least.
It’s the job.
Aaron, you’re a nut, and this was fun…but if I ever find you out in my shed eating slops, I am going to lock the cat in with you during squishy food time. You don’t want to be around him when it’s squishy food time…and you’re the squishiest thing around. You know that scene in Kung Fu Hustle where the chick cracks her knuckles? Like that.
DeAnna’s Amazon author page
DeAnna at Barnes and Noble
DeAnna on twitter