“Doctor Rudolfo Knows All” is in Beauty and Wickedness, the first volume in the anthology series Ever After Fairy Tales. In this collection, sixteen authors retell and reimagine some of the most enchanting fairy tales ever told – and make up some brand new fairy tales as well. Within these pages, you’ll find beauty and treachery, magic and courage, innocence and wickedness…and at least some happy endings.
DeAnna Knippling is always tempted to lie on her bios. Her favorite musician is Tom Waits, and her favorite author is Lewis Carroll. Her favorite monster is zombies. Her life goal is to remake her house in the image of the House on the Rock, or at least Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. You should buy her books. She promises that she’ll use the money wisely on bookshelves and secret doors. She lives in Colorado and is the author of the A Fairy’s Tale horror series which starts with By Dawn’s Bloody Light, and other books like The Clockwork Alice, A Murder of Crows: Seventeen Tales of Monsters & the Macabre, and more.
“Doctor Rudolfo Knows All”
On a lark one Black Friday at the local toy store, teenager Connor agrees to earn a little extra cash reading tarot cards, and thus the amazing Doctor Rudolfo is born! But when the good doctor starts getting things a little too right, Connor learns that not everybody likes it when the truth comes out, especially when it involves a bank scam. Can Connor and his little brother Aiden make it back home safely? And maybe keep a little of that extra cash, too?
“Aiden,” I whispered. “Time to get up, bud.”
He didn’t answer me, and I opened the door slowly, pushing something heavy out of the way.
No sign of Aiden—or, should I say, there were about ten thousand too many signs of Aiden. The kid had trashed his room again, and trying to find him in the mess was gonna be an effort.
“Mom’s snoring,” I said, “so we’re going out today.”
He didn’t answer again, but it was a different kind of non-answer. He was considering.
“Where?” came his voice from somewhere under the mess. It could have been from under his bed or above the ceiling. He had this trick of throwing his voice. I’d taught it to him, more fool me.
“Let’s go to Epic.”
To Epic Toys & Games, that was. Which was only two steps down from Willy Wonka’s candy factory in terms of cool places to take a kid on the day after Thanksgiving. They were open early and were doing giveaways and stuff. We’d already missed out on the 6 a.m. doorbusters.
Aiden stepped out from behind the door. For a freakin’ miracle, he was already dressed and ready to go, as long as you didn’t count matching socks or a right-side-out shirt as requirements for leaving the apartment. I made him brush his hair and brush his teeth and eat his cereal while I drank the coffee from the travel mug. I barely had time to finish a third of it before he was seriously ready to go. He did not screw around when the word Epic was being thrown around. He loved that place.
– from “Doctor Rudolfo Knows All” by DeAnna Knippling
Connor thinks he’s an average teenager in most ways, even though he can see ghosts. After he experiences what might be called “second sight,” he still doesn’t seem to think he’s exceptional. He certainly could have been giddy with power instead. Why do you think you made that choice?
I wanted to write about two incredibly talented, unique boys who were in a situation where they couldn’t see how amazing they were. A lot of people are literally like that. They feel like imposters, or like the best things about themselves are kind of a waste of time.
You’ve said you plan to write another Doctor Rudolfo story. What special appeal does Connor/Doctor Rudolfo have for you?
I finished the story; it’s called “Dr. Rudolfo Meets His Match.”
I first came up with the story for the fairy tale retelling anthology Beauty & Wickedness, just something to fit the requirements without being too predictable. But I found that Connor’s attitudes toward life—the good ones and the bad ones—really speak to me. He doesn’t believe in himself. He should. He’s finding his way through the impossible mess that is his life, believing in nothing, just knowing that he can’t give up. I think the world of him.
You explain at the end of the story the fairy tale it’s based on. I’m curious about something else in the story, too. Connor says that his grandmother put something in his and his brother’s eyes when they were babies to give them “sight.” What, if anything, was that based on?
I can’t remember now! It was one of those things where the only conscious thing I remember was, “What would really piss off the mom character here? Aha! Putting something in their eyes!” I still don’t know whether that did anything, or it was just something she did that became a family story.
Connor and Aiden are African American, but you are not. As the story unfolds, Connor is always highly aware of how the adults they interact with could assume the worst about them. That must have been an interesting “inner monologue” to explore. What can you tell us about that process?
I think the story came out of the process of re-evaluating how I was raised, in light of a lot of racism that we’re seeing today.
Here’s just one example. There used to be this thing called “the paper bag test” where you could get into a party or a club if your skin was lighter than a brown paper bag. Just…what. When I found out about it, I was ill for a couple of days, not because I couldn’t believe that it happened, but that I’d never known. I keep running into stuff like that. I’m ashamed of the things I don’t know, of the effort that it takes to keep people like me blind and comfortable.
Somewhere in my subconscious, I went, “This whole setup is a fairy tale for white people, isn’t it? Like not a real fairy tale, but an illusion of comfort and charm that has been performed for my benefit.” So putting a couple of black characters in the white-world fairy tale, as legit fairy-tale heroes trying to deal with magic and ghosts and second sight, feels a lot more right than it does wrong.
Because I live in the Denver area, I knew both the bank building you mentioned and the toy store (under a different name, of course), and had always been curious about both of them. Was there a reason you included such distinctive places in your story?
I just think they’re cool. I moved up to Denver from Colorado Springs fairly recently, and found out about both places at about the same time. I want to say that I drove past the bank a few days before writing the story, and it was on my mind.
You are a huge fan of Alice in Wonderland and Lewis Carroll, and have written two novels based on Wonderland. Why do you suppose that world has captured you so?
You may not want to know…
It didn’t come on all at once. The more you peel back from Alice in Wonderland (which I’m gonna say here is the world/series name, where Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is the book title), the more cool stuff you find. I obsessed with the movie as a little kid, more so than the book, and named our farm cat Cheshire Cat.
Then I found The Annotated Alice, which is Martin Gardner’s annotated version explaining just how brilliant the jokes are.
Then I read The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson, which is a book about a book that gets given to little girls to turn them into world-wise computer hackers, and I realized that the originals were the Alice in Wonderland books, given to the real-life Alice and other little girls.
Charles Dodgson was always training up girls in how to solve math problems and use advanced logic. Like, stuff that’s beyond me completely.
Then Pride and Prejudice and Zombies came out, and I was jealous. I was just going to rewrite Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with zombies added, but it didn’t make sense, so I backed up a level of reality and wrote the story about how the book gets written, by a zombie. And that required a lot of research, which was completely fascinating.
Then I wrote a sequel to The Queen of Stilled Hearts, called The Knight of Shattered Dreams, covering the events behind Through the Looking-Glass. But I wasn’t a good enough writer to pull off what I wanted, so I put that book on hold. It needs a complete rewrite.
Then I got bored during Nanowrimo season (National Novel Writing Month, in November), and wrote The Clockwork Alice because I got the image of mechanical Wonderlandians in my head and couldn’t get them out again.
I have to finish up the current novel, and then I get to take another stab at Knight.
What story (or stories) are you working on now, and what’s fun about what you’re writing?
I’m working on book 3 in the Company Justice series, Thousandeyes. It’s giving me fits. I keep thinking I know what I’m doing, and the book is like, “You think too much.” It’s a cyberpunk/near future thriller thingy. I just finished the Dr. Rudolfo story—like, I literally put off writing this interview until I knew I had that done, so the questions wouldn’t affect what I wrote. Then I get to work on the rewrite for Knight of Shattered Dreams. I’m nervous about it.
On the client side, I have a cozy and two adventure stories coming up.
The Company Justice series is fun because it’s both cynical and filled with wonder. And weird murders gone amuck. I’m writing a lot of stories lately based on plans that go awry on the bad guys’ side, making everything ten times worse than it should have been. Having a dry, steady detective in the middle of that is fun. He has a self-deprecating sense of humor, which I always enjoy writing. All hell is breaking loose, and he’s like, “Then the fake elephant exploded. Maybe I shouldn’t have done that, but it was fun watching the bad guys try to cope.”
DeAnna Knippling is a writer, a parent, and an overthinker who boldly paranoids where no one has paranoided before. Her superpower is speed reading. She ghostwrites novels for fun and profit. She has an essay in the award-winning Women Destroy Science Fiction! collection. She has had stories published in Penumbra, Three-Lobed Burning Eye, Black Static, and more. Her latest novel, Alice’s Adventures in Underland: The Queen of Stilled Hearts, comes out of her obsession with all things Alice. She writes books for middle-graders as De Kenyon.