Aaron Polson Talks Writing, Fred and Strange Things
I remember most interviews that I do, some more than others, but usually all of them have their moments—those moments that ten years down the road I will recall. Or maybe when chatting with others someone’s name will come up and I’ll recall something said during an interview and then relay that to those I am talking with. This interview—this particular one—something was said that has really stuck with me, that has made me think a little. At the end of it, I’m sure Herbie will have something to say about it, but for now, I think I would rather just get to the interview.
Please, welcome Aaron Polson to the Donor Center…
AJ: Who is Aaron Polson??
AP: Oh man? Who am I?
Aaron Polson is a dreamer, and his dreams are fouled with too many black and white B-movies as a child. He was the kid who switched channels during Nightmare on Elm Street trailers on TV, only to switch back because his curiosity burned. He spends too many nights lying awake, wondering why the shadows look like grasping hands. His imagination takes his brain hostage and leaves for bizarre adventures. He is, above all, a lover of Gothic horror, weird stories, and magic, and not particularly in that order. He wishes the train for the Twilight Zone would get here. He’s been waiting a long, long time.
AJ: We’re all dreamers in one way or another. Some of us, like Herbie, actually believe they’re real, when really he is only a figment of my overworked and underexposed imagination. Speaking of which… You say your imagination takes your brain hostage. First off, does your imagination have a name? Mine is the aforementioned Herbie (though don’t tell him he’s not real) and he’s somewhat sadistic. Second, tell us about a couple of those bizarre adventures. I’m almost positive you are referencing your writing here.
AP: I call my “subconscious” Fred which isn’t all that original. I lifted Fred from Damon Knight’s book, Creating Short Fiction. (A must-read for short fiction writers.) If you give Fred enough space, he/she/it will take you to some special places. Sometimes a word does it, like “Molt”. Fred hopped down the rabbit hole with that one, leaving me with Molting Season in which a young man constantly sheds his face for a new one. Sometimes the adventure happens seemingly out of nowhere, and two thousand words later I have a graffiti artist and doorways to another dimension in people’s basements. Then, on a few occasions, Fred takes me on an adventure and I don’t know where we’re going. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.
AJ: I really like the concept of Molting Season. Very original. I have a similar story to the open doorways concept that I’ve half worked out. I think, like most writers, our muses never sleep and those little ideas stew and cook overnight. In my case Herbie is not a muse, but somewhat of a bastard who thinks he’s always in control. Do you consider Fred a muse or is he a little darker than that?
AP: Fred isn’t really a muse, more of a collaborator. I give him stories when I feel I’ve hit a “road block” or the dreaded “writer’s block.” I’m the bastard in the relationship. I do have ideas which haunt me, though. Ideas which won’t let go. Sometimes those ideas scare Fred. Me too.
AJ: Hmm… I’ve never tried scaring Herbie. He likes needles and I’m afraid of those pointy things.
I’ve seen your name in several publications—you seem to be all over the place. How long have you been writing and what do you prefer, the short story or the long fiction?
AP: All over the place? I just have adult-onset ADHD. I’m in my fourth year as a “serious” writer. What does that mean? I guess I’ve produced at least 5-10K words of fiction a month for the past four years. Much of that falls to the “cutting room” floor and is never seen again. I dabbled a little before taking it seriously, though, and I’ve always loved literature. I really like writing short stories more than novels, primarily because I feel I can take more risks with short stories. Novels need to be salable. Risks don’t always pan out. I’m also a huge fan of reading short stories; I know that makes me a bit of an oddball. Maybe it’s another product of my ADHD.
AJ: Haha—I mean I see your name all over the place.
It’s interesting that you say you’re in your fourth year as a serious writer. I think most writers dabble for a while before actually trying to pursue it. I’m in only my fifth year of serious writing, so we’re pretty much still babies compared to most.
I think you hit it on the head when you say you can take more risks with short stories. I agree completely. I also prefer reading short stories over novels any day and spend many hours searching for good short fiction.
However, with the risks of short stories there is also a comfort zone within it. Something I have never found in writing a novel. I’ve tried several times, even completed three of them, but have not been able to get completely comfortable with the novel writing.
Let’s change course slightly: You’ve written a novel, right? Do you mind telling me about it?
AP: I actually have two “novels” ready for publication. The first is Loathsome, Dark and Deep from Belfire Press ( www.belfirepress.com ). It’s best described as historical adventure-horror. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad supplied the inspiration. I’m not going to say there are “zombies” per se… but… Loathsome was released in November 2010.
The second, The House Eaters, is due from Virtual Tales ( www.virtualtales.com ) in February 2011. I put the quotes around novels because The House Eaters is rather short, but being a YA (Young Adult) book, appropriately so. Even though it is YA, there are some pretty tense moments. The new kid in town, Nick Gillingham, learns an ancient Native American “eating monster” lives in the derelict house down the street. Good times.
AJ: Two novels? Which one was harder to write?
AP: They both had their challenges. The voice in the YA book was much easier to nail down. (I am a high school English teacher, surrounded by sarcastic, smart-ass teens all day.) The plot in Loathsome, Dark and Deep was more fun (easier) because I knew I wanted to riff on Conrad’s book. I knew where it was headed, sort of. It starts out with a mystery, but as a writer, mystery is enjoyable. You can toy with the reader a little. Not too much, of course. Too much and the reader tunes out. There are too many other books that lose readers because you’ve f**ked with them.
AJ: Since Loathsome, Dark and Deep has already come out, can you tell us how you went about finding a publisher for it?
AP: I knew I wanted to go “small press” with Loathsome while I was writing it. It’s a different kind of book… historical, horrific, thoughtful, and even a little steam-punkish. I’d read Jodi Lee and Louise Bohmer were starting up a small press, Belfire, and sent the submissions packet off when they had an open call. I’m thrilled they liked it.
AJ: What about The House Eaters? Being a Young Adult novel, was it harder to find a publisher for it or was it just the opposite?
AP: I went a few rounds with an agent on The House Eaters. She was very kind, but ultimately passed. I think the window for agents is as narrow as it has ever been. So there I was, no agent, and I felt I had a pretty good book. Part of my writing philosophy is that life is just too short to wait around for the bus. I subbed to Virtual Tales and they snapped the book up within a month. After a few rounds of edits, I feel it’s really strong. I’m proud of it, and it’s a fun read. Spooky, too.
AJ: It always feels good when you absolutely KNOW you have a great story that people will enjoy and then have it snapped up quickly.
Aaron, can you give us links or point us in the direction of these publications?
Loathsome, Dark and Deep is available through Belfire Press, www.belfirepress.com. You can read the first chapter at www.loathsomenovel.com. The House Eaters will be available through Virtual Tales ( www.virtualtales.com ) in February. The first two chapters can be read at thehouseeaters.blogspot.com.
AJ: Where else can we find out more about Aaron Polson?
AP: I run a blog/website at aaronpolson.blogspot.com where I babble about writing and publishing. You can also catch me on Twitter, @aaronpolson and Goodreads. I love to interact, discuss writing, the weather, pretty much anything.
AJ: Before we go can you tell me about Strange Publications?
AP: No problem. Strange Publications started three years ago as a partnership between me and an old college buddy. We started with Sand: a Journal of Strange Tales and learned much about the small press industry, publishing, POD services, etc. Since then, my friend (who went by the pseudonym “Ed Lupak”—a false name dating back to those college days) has bowed out and I’m left all alone at Strange.
I don’t publish much; this year, the catalog was limited to a few chapbooks, Cate Gardner’s short story collection, Strange Men in Pinstripe Suits, and 52 Stitches. As I become more involved in my own writing, I find less time for Strange projects. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so I’d rather do less and do it well. I’m not sure what the future holds for Strange, but it will stick around in one way or another. I’m a creator at heart, and I love doing covers (I’ve done all of them for Strange) and formatting books. It’s a blast… if I only had infinite time.
AJ: I want to touch on something real quick. You mentioned 52 Stitches, which, if I am correct is an anthology of the stories that appeared throughout the year in your weekly publication of the same name. However, again if I am correct, the proceeds for this anthology are going to a very special charity. Could you please tell us about this?
AP: Correct on both counts. Jamie Eyberg was as close to me as any of my internet family. He and his wife, Ann, both passed away as a result of a tragic accident last fall. All of the profits for this year’s edition of 52 Stitches are going to a special fund for their children, Kennedy and Brendan, set up by the family at Iowa Savings Bank in Coon Rapids, Iowa. I’ve also dedicated the book to Jamie, with a special memorial biography in the back. It is available through the usual suspects ( Amazon.com, etc.)
AJ: I read about the accident shortly after it happened and it’s very heartbreaking. The writing world lost a tremendous talent, but more so, the world lost two fine people. It’s wonderful that you would give the profits to this fund, to his two daughters. Hopefully, more folks will do the same.
Aaron Polson, you’re a terrific fellow. I have thoroughly enjoyed chatting with you. Thank you for your time and blood donations. I’m sure Herbie will make sure it gets in the right hands.
AP: It’s been fun, AJ.
(Herbie’s note: Life is too short to wait around for the bus. It’s a simple thought, a simple sentence, but there is a tremendous amount of truth to it. Life is entirely too short to let it pass you by. So, please, go out and live, enjoy and don’t let life pass you by and leave you with regrets when you are older. Love those who love you and endure those who don’t with a graceful smile.)