Using a first edition, signed copy of The Complete Works of Shakespeare (heh), I lured Aaron Gudmunson into isolation and slammed the door behind him. He agreed to answer a few questions in exchange for a map of the catacombs.
Why writing? What drew you to it? Why do you continue?
Love of reading begat my love of writing. Growing up, my parents read constantly. Novels, newspapers, magazines — everything and anything. They extended their love of literature to me by reading to me every night before bed. It wasn’t long before I was telling them that if someone else could write those books, I could too. My first story, circa age 5, was called “The Beast-Person” and involved a humanoid creature who terrorized any hapless traveler who mistakenly entered its cave.
If you were freezing to death and the only thing left to burn were the books in your library, what 5 books would you burn last? (And yes, everything else burnable has been burnt.)
I simultaneously love and hate this question. Love, because I get to discuss some of my favorite books. Hate, because the thought of burning books is utterly shudder-worthy. The five books I would burn last, in no particular order, are: The Complete Works of Shakespeare, Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, The Complete Stories of Edgar Allen Poe, and my signed copy of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (obviously, since it’s a tale about the evils of book-burning!).
What’s the most challenging thing you’ve done (in life or in writing (your choice))?
Being the parent of two young children is far and away the most challenging thing I’ve yet attempted — much more so than pounding out a clunky 100,000 word novel. However, parenthood is also the most rewarding thing I’ve ever been a part of. I learn something new every day. My kids make me a better, more complete person.
What’s one word or phrase that drives you nuts? Why?
The phrase “it is what it is” raises my hackles because of its implicit defeatist and complacent attitude. Someone who says that is verbally throwing in the towel. I prefer to say “it isn’t what it is” — and then go do something about it.
Do you have a favorite character you’ve created? If so, who is it and why?
Terrible Teddy inhabits a special red plush chamber of my heart. In a rare non-horror story called “Sneakers” (appearing in Empirical Magazine’s August 2012 issue), an inner-city homeless man searches for a way to protect his feet so that he may continue his day-to-day survival. Just when he is ready to give up, he discovers a pair of Chuck Taylor All-Stars dangling by their laces from a streetlight at the mouth of his alley. His desperate bid to retrieve them is stemmed when he discovers something unexpected inside them. Teddy, to me, personifies hunger and survival, hope and regret. He is the most human character I’ve attempted to create and probably the most sympathetic.
Creepiest place you’ve ever been? Has it appeared in your fiction? Why or Why not?
When I was 15, my family traveled to Belize so that I could experience the place where I was born (they volunteered for the Peace Corps for several years in Central America). One of the places we visited was the Mayan ruins of Xunantunich. We climbed to the top and to the west an enormous black curtain of clouds came rolling over the rainforest, dancing with lightning. I realized we weren’t alone in that ancient place. I’m not very sensitive to spiritual beings, but the presence of “others” were all around us. They were as obvious to me as I surely was to them. Xunantunich is often mentioned in my work, but I’ve never set a story there — that’s something I’d have to work up to, I think.
What’s the best rejection you’ve ever received?
I recently wrote back-to-back blog posts about the worst rejection I’d received, which, coincidentally, was followed by the best I’d received. The editor who wrote it spent several paragraphs explaining how he enjoyed and appreciated the story and even listed a few of his favorite points, but that in the end it came down to space constraints. I was almost happy to receive it — it’s what I call the anti-form rejection letter and it came from an editor who took the time to explain why it couldn’t be used in that particular project. It made my week.
How did you get that scar?
You’ll have to be more specific. Each of my scars is from different places and different faces, from hard wins and tough losses. A body without scars is one without experience, whether that experience is good or bad. They are the atlas of any life, etched not on paper but on skin, and reading them is can be like trying to decipher the hieroglyphs of a lost civilization.
What song would precede your entrance into a room if we all had personal soundtracks?
This answer is bound to change often as I’m a music freak. All styles, all genres. If it moves me, I listen. Today my answer is The Kills’ “Future Starts Slow.” I absolutely love two-person bands. That takes tremendous talent. If a duo can rock as much as the Kills, they’re automatically top-notch in my book.
Promote yourself and/or your writing.
Several of my short stories have recently found print or are about to. I mentioned “Sneakers” appearing in August’s Empirical Magazine. Also coming soon is a bit of flash-fiction entitled “Rest for the Wicked: A Tale of Swift Justice” which will appear in the A Quick Bite of Flesh anthology from Hazardous Press and “Boneyard Watchdogs” is forthcoming in Beneath the Pretty Lies (Wicked East Press). Finally, FictionBrigade will be publishing a fantasy flash piece entitled “The Vine” and “Frankenstein Lived” will be a part of an upcoming Halloween anthology released by Rainstorm Press. Whew, I think that’s it for now!
Any final thoughts before you run screaming for your life?
As a lifelong reader and writer, I’ve discovered people are so fond of genre fiction because it transports them to a place outside the boundaries of what they perceive as reality and lets them really become enmeshed in someone else’s experience. We intrinsically hope there is something more to life besides mundane everyday ho-hum. Reading speculative fiction allows, even momentarily, the hope that perhaps what we’re reading can be possible. It’s exciting. I don’t want to just read other people’s lives; I want to write them. And until I’m stopped, that’s exactly what I mean to do.
Well, Mr. Gudmunson, thank you for your informative answers. Here’s that map. Good luck and watch for the dark corners. The resident shadows agree…”It isn’t what it is.”