"Always Try to Level Up": An Interview with Danielle Zeissig.

I'm so excited to share this interview with Danielle Zeissig, who is a great member of the online writing community and a really passionate person! I was delighted to learn more about her steampunk project, her thoughts on why YA fantasy is great, and her advice for writers trying to get through the drafting stage.


First things first, tell us a little bit about yourself!

Well my name is Danielle Zeissig, I’m 45 and I’ve just moved to Oregon after living most of my

life in Texas. I’m married with two children who are grown and in their 20s. And until last year I

was a teacher for about 20 years and I’m still trying to figure out how to be jobless at the

moment without feeling guilty. I’m an avid reader and after having to purge my book collection

for our move I’m slowly building it back up again.

What has your writing journey looked like?

Oh...a very bumpy roller coaster like road plagued with self doubt. Stolen moments of furious

typing and brainstorms in the middle of teaching that I had to jot down on any piece of paper

available...sticky notes were my favorite.

I had dabbled with writing in high school but it was Harry Potter that really made me consider

writing as a lifelong dream. I started out writing picture book stories since that was what I was

reading to my own babies. Then I had an idea for a middle grade novel about a boy who builds

a machine that can ride a tornado so he can escape an abusive uncle and find his missing

father. I wrote a couple of drafts and it was the first novel I finished. Then I worked on a couple

of other story ideas before I came up with the steampunk idea that I’ve been working on and

has been evolving for years.

What were some books that were formative to you, growing up?

I loved mysteries actually..Nancy Drew and Trixie Beldon were series my mom shared with me

from her own childhood. Little House on the Prairie was another favorite. I graduated to Stephen

King and Dean R. Koontz pretty early on, thanks to my mom.

If you could have a conversation with any living author, who would it be?

Maggie Steifvater!!! She’s such an amazing writer and she’s cool and funny and so talented. I

have such an author crush on her. I’m re-reading the Raven Cycle series and taking her writing

seminar. She’s such an intelligent and interesting person and writer, and I would love to just

shoot the breeze with her over iced coffees and a beautiful view of the mountains an/or ocean.

Can you pitch us what you’re currently working on?

I’ll let my MC Evelyn Ebbington pitch it herself:

My father is missing. My fiancé is at the bottom of the Pacific.

And the artifact my father sent to me before he went missing has finally arrived only to be stolen

from me by the very sky pirates who may be responsible for my darkest pain.

The guilt of my past mistakes already lies heavy within me like brick upon bone. And now I’ve

failed my father again.

Rest assured. With the Midnight Phantom of the Golden City leading me and the roguish

smuggler-ahem-antiques dealer lending me his airship I will find the sky pirates that stole it and

take back the one clue that will help me find my father.

But it’s just an old relic, right? Dug up from the sands of time. Nothing of true importance. It’s old

brass and gears and strange symbols carved into its surface. It’s actually rather ugly. So why is every sky pirate that flies across the skies and seas of the Pacific after it? Where did it

come from? What is it’s significance? What secrets lie within it?

What is appealing to you about YA fantasy? Why do you think people should read this genre?

It’s youth conquering the world.I think that adulting is hard and boring and it hardens you sometimes. But there’s that time right on the cusp, right before you step into it where anything is possible. The air young adults breathe is full of dreams and adventure and mystery and romance. Possibility. So if you want to escape I think YA is the perfect genre to read.

What draws you to steampunk? How did you decide you wanted to combine steampunk and


I don’t remember where I first saw steampunk or realized it was a genre. I had an idea

about a Sherlock and Holmes type of duo solving crime in San Francisco except they were

young women, one of whom was a young socialite and one who was a vigilant justice warrior

from Chinatown dubbed the Midnight Phantom. From there it evolved into a steampunk

adventure with the two young women still the main characters. And of course the perfect

enemies are broguish sky pirates. Who doesn’t love pirates-in the skies or sailing the seas.

Do you have any tips for writing steampunk?

Research and have fun with it. Pinterest is a great source. Reading examples from the

genre-Gail Carriager writes a fun steampunk series. And realize that you do have to do some

world building. I made the mistake of thinking the steampunk genre itself has the world built for

you but to make it deeper and more alive you need to make it your own.

What are some of the challenges you find when writing steampunk? How have you overcome


Visualizing things that don’t exist. Inventing things that I need for the story including a language

for the magic. I’ve been lucky to find art and images that help...Pinterest anyone? Sometimes

they’re just the jumping off point and I let my imagination do the rest. ALSO-Fantasy Name

Generator- awesome website to help with world building.

What are your goals for the future, writing wise?

To keep writing and creating. I don’t know if this book is the one. Steampunk is actually not a

very popular genre and is hard to get published traditionally. I would probably pitch it as fantasy

adventure rather than steampunk.

I have another idea I’m eager to work on (well I work on periodically) that I think is more

marketable and has a better chance of being traditionally published. That is my goal. I may decide to go the self publishing route but it will be only if I just can’t get traditionally published.

Any advice for writers who are currently working on drafts?

Story structure does matter, even for pantsers. If you plan well-and remember there is fun and

discovery in planning-you will have less drafts to go through. If you want to pants-not plan and

just discovery write you’ll probably have a lot more drafts you’ll have to write through. Neither

way of getting there is right or wrong. But story structure is always right.

Also, don’t just use your first ideas. Always ask yourself: can this level up in any way? Is this the

worst/best that could happen? Is this the angriest/saddest etc that my character could be. Is this

the angriest/saddest etc my character could make others? (I actually added a major and

important conflict to my story doing this)

Always, if possible, try to level up.


Follow Danielle on Instagram: @danielle.z.writing.books

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