Congratulations, once again, to my wonderful friend, AJ Aalto, for her win in ~Horror in the Cage~ with her short story, “Dinner for Two (Hundred).” AJ has shared some interesting facts about her travels along the writer’s road. Get comfortable, and enjoy getting to know this fabulous writer.
When and why did you decide to start writing?
I wouldn’t say it was a decision as much as it was a defense mechanism; stories kept piling up in my brain and there’s only so much useable space in mine. I had to get them onto paper, or “paperspace” at least, to de-clutter the grey cells and stay sane … though my shrink bill would indicate this hasn’t yet worked.
What life experiences have best prepared you for being a writer?
Studying Biology at University forced me to be able to condense complex ideas into simple terms, while maintaining all the pertinent details. It also taught me to pursue the “why”—which is invaluable—and to notice, compartmentalize and store minute details for quick retrieval: colour, size, texture, velocity. These skills are extremely useful in writing.
Please tell us about your latest work and what genre it falls into.
My first dark urban fantasy novel will be launching soon, entitled “Touched”. The protagonist, Marnie Baranuik, is a bumbling forensic psychic and ex-preternatural biologist who has no social graces, and who would really prefer to hole up like a hermit, eat cookies and fail at Sudoku puzzles rather than solve ooky paranormal crimes. When a murder victim’s severed head appears in her mailbox, she no longer has a choice in the matter. Enter the FBI’s preternatural crimes unit, and Marnie’s hermit days are over.
What were your inspirations for writing it?
I was taking a break from writing an epic fantasy trilogy which had flaws so big they were melting my face. I decided to have fun with a character who had tons going for her, if only she could by some miracle manage not to cock it up. Because she’s a total spaz character, I get to throw mad crazy stuff at her—demons, psychotic psychics, a horny ex, an overly critical fuss-pot vampire, a ghoul or two—and watch her fumble, face-plant and fail spectacularly with most of it.
Please describe your writing process for our readers.
My days begin at 4 am. By the time there’s sun, I’m at my horribly disorganized desk amongst piles of scrap notes, teetering books and clutter, to begin the frenzied typing with no sense of direction that is my day. I rarely outline. If I do, the outline is largely ignored. I try to keep note cards, but they too get shoved in the desk drawer and forgotten. When a scene/story/book is finished, I’m always surprised. I tend to do between 8-10 thousand words in a sitting. If I’m not going to hit that mark, I take a 10 minute shower with the hot water on full blast, aimed at the base of my skull, to stimulate creative activity. Then I crank the tunes and get back to work. I don’t believe in writer’s block—I believe in putting my muse in a headlock and giving him an atomic wedgie.
To what degree are your fictional characters based in reality?
I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by epic dorks and nerdly creative types. Sadly, quite a lot of the Marnie Baranuik character is a blend of my foul mouth and the actions and random “deep” questions/observations of my wacky sister, Robin Landry. Neither of us are shy about being dorks. We’re both enjoying our mental illnesses. I took Robin and myself, and the bizarre shit we do, and asked, “what if I chucked a broad like us into a broth of magic, monsters and creative maledicta?” When the answer was a dreadful shudder, I knew I was onto something.
Harry Dreppenstedt and Agent Mark Batten are also based on people I’ve known for years, people far more elegant and sexy than myself, whom I admire and lust after. I doubt I could write a book without both of them cropping up in it.
Can you tell us about your upcoming projects?
Book two of the Touched Chronicles, entitled “Death Rejoices”, is nearing completion now, in which Marnie appears New and Improved … “now with people skills”. Also: zombies, baby! I’m excited about the zombies. A third book in the series, tentatively entitled “Dirt Nap” is fully outlined … but as I’ve said: snark–ptooey-splat on outlines. I’m also collaborating on an as-of-yet untitled fantasy epic which will be released in small serial novels, the first few of which are outlined. My co-author is big on outlines, so I’m going to learn to be a good girl. Wow, I almost kept a straight face typing that.
Would you like to experiment with a different genre?
Dark urban fantasy and horror are my comfort zones (not sure what that says about me) but I’d give a murder mystery a whirl. A book must have death, snark and sex for me to enjoy it. If I attempted a mystery, it would likely be a forensic entomology procedural; that would make my science-y half happy as a vulture on viscera. And yes, science-y is so a word.
Describe your ideal surroundings or conditions for writing.
My study is, more often than not, far from ideal. I find clutter distracting but I’m always too mentally busy to clean. A quick shout-out to my wonderfully supportive husband, who recently hired me a maid because, and I quote: “I married a writer, not a house cleaner—obviously.” Heh. Gotta love him.
For my writing to really flow well, I need music of the exact right feel for the scene—or for the character, each one has their own playlist—hot tea, something to nibble on, phone off, curtains closed, kids out, social media off (this is sometimes I problem for me), and candles. I dislike artificial light.
Do you have any writing idiosyncrasies?
I buy the “smell” of each character, and wear it when I’m having trouble connecting to them. I’m a hypersensual person due to bipolar disorder, but this works in my favour when I have to mentally bookmark someone. I use a specific perfume, cologne or scent. For instance, a vampire character of mine wears 4711 cologne, which has been made for over 200 yrs. I bought some, and tip it on my wrist when I need Harry to put the right words in my ear. Fragrances add a dimension to my focus that few other things could.
I also read everything aloud, and have a spectacular beta reader, Heather Goldie, who will read passages out loud for me also. Every Thursday morning I see Heather for instant, live reactions as she reads whatever sludge most recently dribbled out of my head. Her laughter is one of the sweetest rewards in the world.
Briefly share your thoughts on traditional publishing vs. indie.
Personally, I’m really enjoying the freedom of indie publishing. Everything is my call. I say when the project is ready, I say where it’s going and for how much and for how long, how I promote it, what it looks like and ultimately sounds like. If it sinks or floats, that’s all on me. On the other hand, I don’t want the traditional publishing sector to suffer, as I’m a bookseller and a lover of print media. The smell of a new paperback novel can make my eyes roll back in my head, and I’m quite content thumbing through a Sunday NY Times leaving black fingerprints on my tea cup. I have a profound respect for the gatekeepers as guardians of eloquent language. We need to find a happy balance between the two for both to prosper. Traditional publishing is still important, but don’t take your eyes off some of those indie writers; there is gold in this new stream of authors taking the drive and direction of their art into their own hands, and that is very exciting.
What advice can you share with first-time writers?
Write every day. Write. Every. Damn. Day. Make writing an obsession, not a hobby. Make it something you simply cannot get through your day without. If you don’t take yourself and your craft seriously, neither will anyone else.
Bio and Contact Information
Bio: AJ Aalto is an unrepentant liar and a writer of blathering nonsense offset by factual gore. When not working on her horror novels, you can find her singing old Monty Python songs in the shower, eavesdropping on perfect strangers, stalking her eye doctor, or failing at one of her many fruitless hobbies. Generally a fan of anyone with a passion for the ridiculous, she has a particular weak spot for smug, pseudo-intellectual assholes and narcissistic jerks; readers will find her work littered with dark, imperfect creatures and flawed monsters. AJ cannot say no to a Snickers bar, has been known to swallow her gum, and may be standing in front of her bathroom mirror, snort-giggling at exploratory homemade zombie noises, like all horror writers are wont to do. A fan of saprophytic harmony, blatant carnivoracity, skin slippage and the lovely bloat of putrefaction, she can usually be found lurking in underwater caverns, waiting for unsuspecting divers. Rumour has it that AJ Aalto is the secret cause of Rapture of the Deep–but it’s likely she started that rumour herself.
Web Site: http://www.ajaalto.com/