Interviews, Unique Lives

Unique Lives: Danny Knestaut – From Alienation to Entrepreneurship

Unique Lives

writers and characters who reject the mainstream

 

In this Q&A corner, Lia Rees speaks to authors with a difference. They approach the world from an unusual perspective, and create characters who push social boundaries. But what drives these bold spirits? Are they rebels or just misfits? In the fourth of the series, Danny Knestaut – author of Arachnodactyl – discusses his journey from alienation to entrepreneurship.

1. What makes you different?

I have no idea what makes me different. I suspect it has a lot to do with my mother’s cynicism and her desire to teach her children to think for themselves. She never really trusted systems or authority, and so the ability to think critically and to always question everything became some core family values. As an adult, my ability to question things and evaluate their perceived worth against actual worth has led me to exist largely outside of the mainstream.

2. What does “being different” mean to you?

Being different doesn’t mean much to me. It’s not a badge of honor or something I strive for. I am the result of everything that has ever happened to me, and it just so happens that a lot of odd stuff has happened to me over my lifetime. It’s not something I embrace, but rather, something that I live with, like my eye color. It is just what I ended up with.

3. Did you reject the mainstream, or did it reject you?

I think we both came to a mutual understanding.

4. How does your non-mainstream view/lifestyle affect your writing?

My non-mainstream views and lifestyle have both had a tremendous affect on my writing. For starters, as a child, my parents’ inability to consistently model socially appropriate behavior led to me being shunned at school by my peers. As a result, I spent a good bit of my childhood alone, with my nose buried in a book. I developed a love of reading, and a love of fantasy in which I constantly told myself stories. I never really grew out of that. To this day, I still read a good bit, and I am constantly getting lost in my head and telling myself stories.

The biggest impact my views have on my writing though, is my ability to be the outsider looking in. I pride myself on my ability to write well-developed characters, and though part of that is just learning how to do it, but a large part of it is also the ability to step back and examine human behavior through a dispassionate lens. Questioning why people do things is second-nature to me now, and it comes in handy when dealing with the motivations and actions of characters.

As for my lifestyle, it has allowed me to launch a career not only as a writer, but as a publisher. Consumerism has never been something that I participated in, as I’ve never seen a personal value in it, and as a result, my wife and I are able to live an austere existence on very little money while we work hard in pursuit of our dreams. Furthermore, our ability to step outside of mainstream expectations allowed my wife to start a business. After a couple of years, I left my job as a nurse to have more time to write while I helped her produce hand-made knitting project bags. After seeing the success she had with her business, I felt that I could do it on my own as well, and so I decided to launch my own business as an independently published author. Being able to live outside of the expectations of American materialism has allowed me to pursue my dreams on a level I never expected.

5. How does your uniqueness help your writing?

My uniqueness helps my writing by giving me a unique perspective on people, events, and motivations. I can write fiction that stands out because everything is being filtered through a unique lens. Though there is very little that is truly original, I am able to take my unique experiences and filter my fiction through them for stories that stand out and are unlike anything else that one will find in mainstream fiction.

6. What problems does your uniqueness cause to your writing?

Marketing. My uniqueness means I write fiction that is difficult to market because I can’t say, “If you like [blank] you’ll love Arachnodactyl!” I read a fair amount, but I can’t always find the stories that go where I want them to go. So when I sat down to write Arachnodactyl, I wanted to write the book I wanted to read because no one else was writing it for me. And though I’m happy with the book, I now have a book that isn’t like anything else, and that makes it very difficult to market. Who likes books about a young man who falls in love with a blind woman who may or may not be an automaton? Show of hands, please.

7. Do you wish you were more like everyone else?

Nah. I can’t be more like everyone else anymore than a fish can be a bird. A fish is a fish. I might as well make the most of being a fish, because that’s all I’ve got.

8. Are there any other observations you want to make?

I wish to observe the process by which people decide what they like and what they don’t. Trying to predict what will be popular, or how what is popular became popular, or why something else doesn’t take off at all, just maddens me. I’d like to be able to observe that process, watch it happen, see how people slot an experience into their values.

9. What’s your name?

Danny Knestaut

10. What’s the title of your book?

Arachnodactyl

11. Any web links or social media you want to include?

http://dannyknestaut.com

Series, Unique Lives

Q & A: Jenny Blenk

Unique Lives

writers and characters who reject the mainstream

In this Q&A corner, Lia Rees speaks to authors with a difference. They approach the world from an unusual perspective, and create characters who push social boundaries. But what drives these bold spirits? Are they rebels or just misfits? In the third of the series, Jenny Blenk – a contributor to the Writerpunk Press anthology, Merely This And Nothing More – talks about embracing the dark side.

  • What makes you different?

I have a decidedly dark personality; not mean or bitter, but dark. Black is my favorite color, I collect dead things and feathers, and some of my favorite authors are Poe and Lovecraft. There’s something so interesting about those dark places in the human psyche that fascinate me, instead of making a person want to look away, which is how many of the people around me seem to feel about those areas of interest.

  • When did you first know you were different?

I actually “came out” as Goth to my mom when I was around 15. I printed out articles and everything, I was so afraid she’d think I was demonic or evil or, even worse, going through “a phase.” She didn’t; she’s been really open-minded about it ever since. She may not necessarily like or understand why I am the way I am, but she doesn’t fight it either. I’m really grateful for that.

  • How do you define “normal”?

I don’t think there’s really a *true* normal, so I prefer the term “normative.” It means fitting within certain societal standards for presentation, personality, preferences, etc. Nobody’s truly “normal,” but if you fit into the most popular or common parts of society you’re normative.

  • How does your non-mainstream view/lifestyle affect your writing?

It makes it a lot easier to create interesting characters, since being a little odd is something that comes naturally. That combined with nonlinear thinking can result in some plot twists that are really unique and unexpected – even for the author! Sometimes even I don’t know where the end of a story is headed until everything suddenly falls into place, or I realize something about my characters that I hadn’t known up until that point.

  • What problems does your uniqueness cause to your writing?

Since it’s easier for me to suspend my disbelief than it can be for other people, sometimes my writing gets a little bit too tenuously strung together. It’s hard to adopt that sense of magical realism that authors like Haruki Murakami are so good at producing. Thankfully good editors and writing groups are around to keep you grounded, make sure your creative side doesn’t float off without taking your audience with it.

  • Do you keep aspects of yourself “in the closet”?

For sure! I’m a great big Goth; most of my wardrobe is either black or purple, and my apartment is primarily decorated with plants and animal bones. But when I go to work, not a lot of that shows through. I still have piercings and colored hair, and now and then some gothy jewelry, but other than that there is an expected societal norm that I still have to project if I want to stay employed.

  • Do you wish you were more like everyone else?

Not really; I used to. It’s taken me a long time – years, actually – to be okay and even happy with who I am. And some days it’s still hard. But finally being able to embrace what makes me truly happy is so worth those few hard days.

  • Are there any other observations you want to make?

Once you find “your people,” the ones who are maybe not exactly like you but the same kind of “different,” you know you’re home.

  • What’s your name?

Jenny Blenk

  • What’s the title of your book?

Contributor to “Merely This and Nothing More: Poe Goes Punk” (anthology by Writerpunk Press)

Unique Lives

A Curiously Distorted Lens on Life

Our culture is a paradise of individualism – or so they say. Looking at all the blue hair and niche music, it’s tempting to believe it. But what defines an individual? To twist a quote for a second, all people are different but some are more different than others. And those who yell rebellion can be the most conformist of all.

In my forthcoming interview series, Unique Lives, I cast my eye on authors and characters who truly are unusual. Some were born that way; others were created or self-made. Their bold choices and skewed perspectives create a new lens to look at ourselves. By encountering what we are not, we realise what we are, and extend the repertoire and depth of our humanity.