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?


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 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."


  1. Wonderful interview! Love those covers, AJ!! Nefarious, eh? :P Congrats on your releases!!

  2. If I ever get to do another blog Q&A I'm modelling my responses on AJ's :)


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