Alumna’s fiction writing endeavors take flight

Among authors of young adult fiction, Geanna Culbertson must be one of only a few to have become a superhero in her real life. An alumna of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, Culbertson has successfully mounted two careers: one as the author of the Crisanta Knight series and another working full-time for a digital marketing firm.

“That’s my full-time work — my 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., as it were,” Culbertson said. “But [being a writer] is what I moonlight as. And I can say that with accuracy, since I do it when the moon is out.

Every weekday, Culbertson wakes up at 3 a.m. to write before going to work. Despite being only two years out of college, Culbertson has published two novels, the beginnings of an eight-book series.

Culbertson has been captivated by storytelling from a young age. She wrote her first story when she was six years old. As she grew up and entered college, she found less time to devote to creative writing. However, Culbertson said she sees the time she spent on academic writing as an important part of her maturation as an author.

“Everything that you do in terms of writing contributes to your greater craft,” Culbertson said. “So, whether I was writing a history of Alexander the Great for a history class or a political science paper, it all builds your strength and your skill.”

Now, without any coursework making demands on her free time, Culbertson’s love for writing continues to drive her.

“That moment when I wake up at 3 a.m. every day and it’s black — it’s simultaneously the worst but also the best part of every one of my days,” Culbertson said. “The nights before, I’m dreading I have to get up again, but also I’m excited, because I love writing so much, and this series is such a huge part of me that working on it fills me with enough joy to compensate for the tiredness. That’s how you know you have that thing you love the most.”

In addition to her writing schedule, Culbertson has put a great deal of thought into marketing her book.

“I’m constantly knocking on doors, reaching out to press, scheduling any little signing and event I can,” Culbertson said.

For the release of her third book, Culbertson will have the support of her publicist in some of those tasks. That means she can focus more on writing. Culbertson said she already knows what will happen in the rest of the series because she has written parts of the forthcoming books.

“I don’t write in order. I don’t go from point A to point Z,” Culbertson said. “With the entire series, and each book individually, I have a certain amount of plot points worked out … and then I fill in the blanks. So, of all the books which haven’t been written, I have pieces written, and I know the major twists.”

In fact, the seed for the Crisanta Knight series was planted years before Culbertson graduated.

“When I was [at USC], going into my sophomore year, I had this really great idea for concept: the school that’s in my book series, which is called Lady Agnue’s School for Princesses and Other Female Protagonists,” Culbertson said. “I just had that idea, and it was an interesting concept. Around that time, I took a class with Aimee Bender. We were doing so much fairy tale research that it started to grow and I realized the ideas just couldn’t stay in anymore.”

Bender is a novelist and distinguished creative writing professor. Culbertson visited campus on Tuesday to speak in Bender’s class, Classic and Contemporary Fairy Tales — the same class Culbertson took as a student.

Culbertson remains as exuberant about the Crisanta Knight world as the day she first had the idea for Lady Agnue’s School. Culbertson said she thinks recent young adult fiction has lost the whimsical character of the classics, and she wants to reclaim it.

Culbertson’s career is eclectic and her hours are far from typical, but her relentless energy has no mystical origin. She spoke about her artistic goals with clarity and authority, crediting her love of writing for how quickly her career has taken off.

“I don’t drink caffeinated coffee — it’s one of my superpowers, I guess,” Culbertson said. “So maybe someday when I’m like 35 and I need that second wind and I drink coffee, I’ll just be unstoppable!”

The upcoming installment of the Crisanta Knight series will arrive in bookstores this fall.