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?
10. What’s the title of your book?
11. Any web links or social media you want to include?