Jun 25, 2013

Bright Lights #14 - AJ Aalto - Death Rejoices


Back in the days of the woolly Mammoths, when tribes of humans wandered the land, one small group of people (or monkey-people like in the movies) surveyed the unending forests and snow fields of the North and said, "This will do nicely, eh?"

These people are called Canadians.

A common misconception about Canadians is that they all love hockey, but I'm here to...wait, what?

Oh.

Never mind. They do all like hockey. 

Anyway, what is not so well known is that they write stories. Authors come from Canada too! Yes! If you recently perused a copy of The English Patient, Anne of Green Gables or The Life of Pi, you were looking at Canadian stuff.

All joking aside, today I have another fantastic Canadian author visiting my blog. AJ Aalto comes armed with an acerbic wit and side order of snark. I asked her to stop by and talk about the adventures of her psychic detective, Marnie Baranuik. 





AJ Aalto

Q - Hi AJ, tell me a little about your new book.

Death Rejoices is the second installment in the Marnie Baranuik Files, in which our bumbling psychic detective faces Paladins Gone Wild, a plague of zombies, and vain attempts to improve her character through people skills, positivity training, and defensive tactics classes. You might imagine how well that goes over.

Q - You write horror stories but you pepper them with your wicked sense of humor. Is this a writer's choice or just how your voice shows up in the story?

It's my knee-jerk reaction to face serious issues with snark and slapstick. I can't imagine many characters of mine being cool or successful under pressure.

Q - What draws you to horror stories, why not write a romantic comedy or some funny erotica? lol.

Who says I don't? *wicked smile* I'll never tell. No, seriously, I doubt I'd do well in the romance genre. I'm about as romantic as a poke in the eye with a limp dick. Erotica, perhaps...although I'm sure it would also end up fairly ridiculous. "Fred, I said 'linger' not 'finger!'"

Q - The path to publication is usually drawn out and difficult. What were the biggest hurdles for you?

In the beginning, I reeeeaaaallly thought I needed that pat on the head from the big New York publishers to feel like a "real writer." I didn't chase that very long, as I'm pretty lazy and avoidant by nature. J.A. Konrath pointed out on his blog that the readers were the new gatekeepers, and it was ultimately their approval that the writer should seek, and that you no longer needed a big publisher to get through to your audience. Having that pointed out to me made all the difference in the world. I self-published Touched in 2010, which drew the attention of some lovely folks at my publisher Booktrope, who scooped me up soon after.

Q - How much involvement did you have in the cover design?

My cover artist, Greg Simanson, must have the patience of a saint, because I tend to stick my nose into his work when I should probably just let him do what he's clearly very good at. He really doesn't need my hovering, and my input is usually irrelevant when you get right down to it. I love what he's created and he deserves a likeness of himself in bronze for putting up with me.




Q - You've recently done some book signings, do you enjoy those events? How do you like the marketing side of writing?

I am terrible at marketing, let's just get that out of the way. I don't have any sales experience or social media savvy, so I have to try very hard to focus on that side of this business, and I rely on my publisher's marketing folks to guide me. The signings start off uncomfortable for me, as I'm a cellar-dweller who doesn't see other human beings often. Luckily, my readers tend to be my kind of people: a little off-kilter and kooky. That puts me at ease fairly quickly.

Q - Which book was harder to write...the first or the second? 

The second was a nightmare. There's a little doubtful voice in the back of my head that asked "what if you only had one book in you?" and "what if you can't finish another" or "why so wordy, lady?" I had to learn to ignore that voice.

Q - How do you make the time to write? Do you set a schedule or grab the moments when they come?

I have a set schedule that I try to stick to, because I find the habit helpful. Up at 4 AM, write as long as I have silence and caffeine. 

Q - What kind of story interests you? Do you read the same stories you like to write? 

If a book doesn't have sex, murder, sex, monsters, or sex, I can't drum up much interest in it. I read a lot of horror and True Crime. 

Q - Where do your ideas stories and characters come from generally?

Very infrequently, I'll read something in the newspaper that simply must go into a book. Most of the time, the characters in my head just grab me by the ear and tell me who they are or what should come next.

Q - When you're writing, how much do you feel you have to adhere to certain limitations based on the genre you're writing in?

If there are limitations, I don't know what they are, and I wouldn't adhere to them anyways. I love rules & law in the real world, but I don't like boundaries in writing.

Q - Did you use Beta Readers? If so, could you explain what you're looking for from them? 

I have one chief beta reader, my assistant Heather Goldsmith, and several others. I ask for their overall impressions, thoughts, feelings, questions. My editor, Rafe Brox, does the hardcore nitty-gritty stuff once I've got my beta readers' overviews.

Q - What do you think are your particular strengths as a writer? Dialog, action, description...what are you most comfortable with? 

I've been told my dialog is snappy. Hopefully, that's a good thing. Dialog is my favourite thing to write. 

Q - What compels you to write, drives you to keep going, even on the days you'd rather just throw in the towel? 

I throw in the towel on an hourly basis. Sometimes, I go out in the yard and yell "I QUIT!" just to see what it feels like. Then I'll get an awesomely horrible idea in the shower, and I'm back at my desk. The muse won't let me go.


Q - Have you ever lied to get out of something so that you could write instead? 

Oh yes. A thousand times. I mean, no, never.

Q - What is the reaction to those around you, family and close friends, about your writing?

It used to be "Allison has a cute/creepy hobby." Now that I have a publisher, and more than one book available, and do signings, the people around me take it more seriously. That's partly due to the way I treat it; I set the tone, there. I correct anyone who calls me anything but a writer, now. I expect them to respect that, and they do.

Q - Do you have any current favorite authors/books? 

I'm on a Jonathon Kellerman kick again. I just love him. I'm also devouring Ann Rule.

Q - Have you ever suffered from writer's block? If so, any quick cure advice?

Writing every day helps stave off writer's block. Habit helps the muse. Only when I fall out of the writing habit am I prone to blocks.

Q - How important is it for a writer to also be a reader? 

The two best ways to learn about the craft of writing are doing it, and seeing it done by others. That sounded dirtier than I'd intended. Maybe I should be writing erotica after all.

Q - What's your favorite word? 

Nefarious. I guess that tells you all you need to know about me.

Q - Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what do you listen to? 

I need music, but what I listen to varies greatly day to day.

Q - How do you choose your next story?

I'm not sure that I do. My characters point the way. I often feel like I'm just their record-keeper.

Q - Do you have any advice for newbie writers? Those who are yet to start on their journey? 

Write every day. Habit is incredibly helpful. 

And finally - You're going to be stranded on a desert island (for a wee while) but I'm going to allow you to take 1 book, 1 piece of music, 1 movie, a bowl of your favorite dessert and 1 person you'd like to share the island with for a while (alive, dead, fictional or real...it matters not) What are your choices...and if you want to elaborate...tell me WHY? 

I'd take Needful Things by Stephen King, Mozart's Requiem, Princess Bride, a bowl (?) of cheesecake, and <name redacted> to the island. I can't name the name; too many people would get mad at me ;) 

Thanks for stopping by AJ! 

You can get Touched and Death Rejoices over at Amazon

Catch up on the nefarious acts by the Super-villain on a Leash at AJ Aalto

Or, connect with AJ on Facebook and Twitter. And, in AJ's words, "maybe have your head examined, kookpie."

Jun 17, 2013

Bright Lights #13 - Andrew F. Butters - Losing Vern


My recent participation in the Orange Karen Anthology once again highlighted the changing face of book publishing. It brought together experienced writers with first time writers and imbued everyone with a sense of togetherness. After publication, I expected the various members of #teamOrange to fade back into their own worlds, but the group has remained united, supportive of one another through social media forms and even *gasp* the real world.

So, over the next couple of months, I've lined up a bunch of new interviews with members of #teamOrange.

Andrew F. Butters is Canadian, so he enjoys watching burly skaters fight with sticks. (I believe the locals call it HOCKEY). And, despite being being blessed with some brains, he accidentally set fire to himself with such flair, he got to write about it in a Darwin Awards book. Fortunately, he's still here and he's still writing...

Andrew F. Butters

Q - Hi Andrew, your short story "Losing Vern" was recently published in the Orange Karen Anthology, tell me a little about your story and where the idea came from.

The story is actually based on true events that occurred in March of 2009. I originally wrote portions of the story in the months following the tragedy but threw them out as part of a therapeutic exercise. In the years since, friends and family have been telling their versions of the story at family events and other gatherings. This story is my way of fondly remembering Vern and raising a glass in his memory.


Filled with awesome stories!

Q - Everyone involved in the Orange Karen Anthology donated their time, stories, cover art or editorial skills for free, how did you get involved?

Karen was a Twitter friend of mine but we weren’t that close until NaNoWriMo in 2012. She was hand writing her pages faster than I could type mine and it was truly amazing. As I started interacting more with her and her writer friends on Facebook I heard about the Orange Karen Anthology. Vern’s favourite colour was orange; in fact he wore that colour more than all the others combined, so it seemed like the perfect time to write it all down again. Vern would have been really happy knowing that this story was going to help out such a wonderful person.

Q - How did it feel seeing your short story published in the Anthology? Was this your first published work?


It was my first published work, if you don't count a 500 word anecdote that was included in the third installment of the Darwin Awards book, and I consider it to be a pretty big deal. I did a blog post (http://potatochipmath.blogspot.ca/2013/04/teamorange.html) about what that meant to me. As I wrote then: it's hard to put into words what it feels like to be part of something like this.

Q - What are you currently working on?


I'm working on my first novel. It's the first in a trilogy and centers around two main characters: a computer security expert with an astonishing medical secret and a tortured past who has been in hiding for thirty years, and a data analysis genius tasked with tracking him down and delivering him to a government agency with seemingly infinite resources and questionable motives. Book one, Nowhere to Hide is a cat and mouse game between the two main characters played out in between an unknown city in the U.S. and Dallas, Texas. Book two, No Known Cure, is of a drama centered on the morality of sacrificing one individual for the betterment of humanity. Book three, No End in Sight, is the conclusion and will be heavily character driven. I want to name the third book No Sleep Till Brooklyn but I'm not sure a) the title fits; or b) how the surviving members of the Beastie Boys will feel about it. The first draft of book one was supposed to be finished months ago but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I expect something ready for the fall of this year.

Q - Will you self-publish or pursue a traditional route...agent...publisher...?


Once I have completed a second and third draft, had some beta readers take a look, and had it professionally edited I will get an agent and attempt publishing under the traditional model.

Q - What kind of story interests you?
Do you read the same stories you like to write?

My first novel is much like the stories I enjoy: conspiracy/suspense. Think Dan Brown meets Steve Berry crossed with Robert Ludlum. I also take my humour and satire quite seriously and am a huge fan of guys like Rick Mercer, Dave Barry, Chuck Klosterman, and Kevin Smith and I try to work a little quirky humour into everything I write.

Q - Did you have a bolt of lightning urge to write or is it something you've always just done?


It's evolved over time, and as my daytime career has shifted me more and more away from the realm of creativity I have started to lean more on the arts in an effort to keep my mind balanced. I sing as part of a small band, I take photographs of objects that look like letters of the alphabet, I blog, and I write.

Q - How do you make the time to write? Do you like to set a schedule or grab the moments as they come?


The only time I have to write are parts of my weekend and a small sliver of time between 8:30 pm and 10:30 pm on weeknights, so I tend to just grab the moments when they come. That being said, I do set a schedule and then I completely ignore it. Self-imposed deadlines are the best. I love the whooshing sound they make as they go flying by. I should be writing right now, but I'm doing this. I get more stuff done tomorrow than any other day of the week!

Q - Do you have a favorite place to write?


If I could choose, I would be in a cabin by a lake with no TV, very few people around, a lot of coffee in the morning, and lot of scotch after supper. As it is, I like any place that's quiet where I can just sit and stare at my computer until the words start flowing.

Q - Where do your ideas for stories and characters come from generally?


At this point the characters are all bits and pieces of me. The secondary characters tend to just evolve out of necessity. If my MC is a bit neurotic then he needs a wife that's very patient, his boss needs to be in conflict with his personality, and so on. Most of my characters are born out of the idea itself. My ideas started to come from real life experiences, but now they just appear when I'm driving to and from work and listening to music. Many of the ideas I have lately have come to me while listening to music.

Q - When you're writing, how much do you feel you have to adhere to certain limitations based on the genre you're writing in?

That's a good question and I've often wondered what other writers think. It definitely depends on the genre. I'm writing crime/suspense so there needs to be certain limitations. People are only willing to suspend disbelief so much before fiction becomes too fictional. I made a rule that everything I write must be technologically or physically possible, and at the very least it hasn't been scientifically dismissed (yet). I studied Physics in university so I have a tendency to lean toward things that are scientifically probable. I still like blatantly making stuff up though. That’s what makes writing fun!

Q - What do you think are your particular strengths as a writer? Dialog, action, description...what are you most comfortable with?


I'm most comfortable in the narrative, but for the Orange Karen story I wrote a lot of dialog. My editor, Jennifer Gracen, worked with me quite a bit on my dialog and I think the end result was formidable. It impressed my Dad, so that's good enough for me (he was an English major and educator for 34 years and reads a ton of novels - and he's my Dad - so if he says it's good, it's good).

Q - What compels you to write, drives you to keep going, even on the days you'd rather just throw in the towel?


As I may have mentioned, I'm a big lazy turd with a ton of other commitments and a problem with insomnia. If I don't want to write, I don't. It's the main reason my novel isn't finished, but I think it's also the main reason I feel remarkably balanced. I always go back to writing though, even if a week goes by with no words. It might just be a few paragraphs, but I always end up putting something down on the page eventually. At this point the only thing driving me is the thought of finishing. Even if no one reads the book but me, I’ll print off the manuscript and put it on my bookshelf and be quite proud of the accomplishment. Then I’ll go write another one.
Seeing my friends finish their books is a big motivator as well. Whether it’s their first novel or their tenth I am really happy for them when they finish.


Q - What is the reaction to those around you, family and close friends, about your writing?

My wife thinks I should write more and she's very good at not being a jerk about hassling me when I’m not. She is quite supportive and I love her for it. In fact, all my friends and family are supportive and actively encourage me to continue writing. "How's your novel going?” and “I look forward to reading it!” are the two things I hear the most. It's a good feeling knowing people close to me have in interest in what I'm writing. It's also terrifying that one day they're going to read it.

Q - What are your thoughts on the uses of Social Media (Facebook, Twitter etc) for writers. Has it helped in your development as an author?


If it wasn’t for Twitter and Facebook I would not be in the place I am now. To be a writer is to be part of a massive brotherhood and Social Media is a big part of this. I think using Social Media tools to interact with people who are experiencing the same challenges as you is paramount to a writer’s growth. Those tools also allow us to reach audiences to which we would have never normally had access. Feedback is a key element of writing, and instant feedback from a variety of sources is invaluable to the process.

Q - Do you have any current favorite authors/books?

Steve Berry tops my list at the moment. I find his books easy to read with action that's not too implausible.

Q - Have you ever suffered from writer's block? If so, any quick cure advice?


Yes, and it sucks. I'm sorry, I should have some more flamboyant literary response to this but that's the best way I can describe it. The only cure I have found is to just write something. Write anything. Just get words on the page. I have no way of ever verifying this but I'm pretty sure most of the Dr. Seuss books were written while he had writer's block. What I usually do is pick a random object in the room, for example, a pen. Then I start writing about it:

The pen sat on the table cold and alone, its tip pointed into the corner as if it were trying to draw my attention to the dust bunnies and cobwebs with the sole intent of mocking me and my inability to get up off my ass and actually clean my house.

Then, I try using my object as a character in the story that I'm writing:

The pen was an old school "Bic" with a blue plastic cap. Pen liked to call the cap his hat, only at the moment it was more like a toothpick, stuck in his mouth and wiggling back and forth as he sat at the computer, fingers hammering away at the keyboard, eyes transfixed on the screen as reams of code flashed like a video game from the 1970's. Only this wasn't a video game; it was the security system for the Federal Reserve.

Then, once I have a few pages of that done I just sub in my characters for my inanimate objects and I have a go at rewriting it. Personification of random household objects can really get your brain out of a funk. 


Q - Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what do you listen to?


I always start out listening to some music that I like (The Watchmen, U2, Airborne Toxic Event, Pink Floyd) but I end up singing along too much. If I want to get anything done I listen to classical. I know nothing about it but can tell you that I prefer Bach to Beethoven and a piano/violin duet absolutely beautiful. If I want to get anything GOOD done I need exactly zero distractions and complete silence or white noise. I'm a big fan of white noise.

Q - How do you choose your next story?


Ugh, this sounds so cliché, but the next story chose me. Okay, that's not entirely true, but it's not like I set out to find the next thing. I am having enough trouble finishing the first thing for heaven's sake. I do, however, have a few ideas in the hopper which I happened across by doing something another writer friend does. She sets out to write down five ideas every day, even if it's just five words scribbled on a piece of scrap paper. I tried this for a while and a couple of them stuck with me and will become books or short stories... someday.

Q - Do you have any advice for newbie writers? Those who are yet to start on their journey?


Just start.

I have often said that tomorrow is always the most productive day of my week. I'm a serial procrastinator and it's too bad because if I had just a little more motivation I think I could be a fairly accomplished writer. So my advice to those who want to get going is to just get going. You'll thank yourself for it later.

Q - If you won $100 million on the lottery tomorrow, would you still write and publish?

It's the only thing I would do. Hell, I don't even need that much. Hand me $400k and I quit my day job and do nothing but take care of my kids before and after school and write between the hours of 9am and 3pm. I might take more naps.


Q - So, Canadian, eh? What's your favorite Canadian word? Something that's specific to you guys.

Oh my there are so many, how could I possibly choose only one? I want to cheat and say that it's every word that properly contains the letter "u" (honour, colour, neighbourhood, favourite) but that wouldn't be fair. It would be a lot easier if I could just give you an entire sentence (I was eating poutine while wearing a toque and I spilled some on my chesterfield so I had to go get a serviette). Since that wouldn't be fair either I've decided to go with something that's not just a simple word; it's an entire system that all but three countries in the world happily use: METRIC.

And finally - You're going to be stranded on a desert island (for a wee while) but I'm going to allow you to take 1 book, 1 piece of music, 1 movie, a bowl of your favorite dessert and 1 person you'd like to share the island with for a while (alive, dead, fictional or real...it matters not) What are your choices...and if you want to elaborate...tell me WHY?


I'm going to interpret "piece of music" to mean 1 album and not 1 song and go with this:

Book: Anthem by Ayn Rand

I was read this book by my camp counsellor when I was 15 and I’ve had a copy of it ever since. I think if I was on a deserted island this would be a good book to have around and provide me with a little perspective.

Music: Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd

It’s not my favourite album of all time, but it probably cracks my top five and for sure my top ten. Is there a better way to spend an evening staring into an infinite abyss of water and stars than with a little Floyd on the iPod? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Movie: Pulp Fiction

I consider this to be the best movie I have ever seen. I’ve read the screenplay about as many times as I’ve seen the movie as well, but haven’t memorized the dialog, though with time on my hands I suspect I would.

Dessert: Peanut M&M’s

My son is allergic to peanuts so I normally can’t have peanut M&M’s. They definitely don’t come into our house, so whenever I go away and he’s not near me I gorge on them.

Person: Richard Feynman

He’s probably the most interesting scientist of all time. This is a fella who worked on the atomic bomb, and cracked safes on the military base for fun while doing it. He won a Nobel Prize for something he thought about while watching a spinning plate being thrown in a cafeteria. He was the one who uncovered the cause of the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion. Feynman is the reason I studied Physics for three and a half years at university.

My thanks to Andrew for making the trip all the way from the Great White North and answering my goofy questions. :)


You can catch up with more of Andrew's shenanigans on his blog:



or #Follow him on Twitter:


And pick up your copy of the Orange Karen Anthology here:


It contains a plethora of stories in all different genres all linked thematically using the color ORANGE!

#teamORANGE