21 July 2014

Interview with writer Aaron Simon

Today I'm happy to welcome my friend and fellow writer Aaron Simon on the blog. (Don't let the grumpy face fool you; he's actually a very kind person. But we won't let on that we know that...)

I met Aaron through a former roommate when he first moved to Portland nearly a year ago. Aaron was a recent transplant from Nashville, but he'd also lived other places, including England, where he earned his Master's in Creative Writing at the University of Kent.

An enlightening anecdote about Aaron: While in his Master's program he wrote, directed and acted in a 20-minute spoof werewolf film. The part of the werewolf was played by a friend's dog (footage of the dog playing, rolling over, panting, etc). The part of the military personnel and innocent victims were played mainly by non-native speakers of English whose dialog was incredibly difficult to follow. And if memory serves, there actually was no protagonist, only extras. I believe this was all intentional.

Which is all to say that Aaron Simon has a sense of humor that is evident in his work. Gotta love that.

And now to the interview!

What do you write? 
I write bodice-rippers set in 13th century France (of course, it wasn't quite France then, but you get my drift), centered around the abbot of Cluny and a local peasant's daughter, Marguerite, who... Nah, just kiddin. I don't have a specific genre - or medium, for that matter - but I tend toward magical realism and short stories. Throwing spirit-possessed dogs into the mundane, conversations with muses, long-dead prophets trying to get through Immigration, that sort of thing.

Thematically, one of my profs called my style "utopian nihilism." Essentially: Camus, but with jokes! There's no point to life, so why not have fun with it - and make the world as good a place - as much as you can?
Where can we read your work?  
You can find it sprinkled throughout the archives of Danse Macabre, most easily. If you're especially crafty, you can find it in long-lost issues of The Phoenix Literary & Arts Magazine, the University of Kent's Creative Writing Society's anthologies, and, if you're really really crafty, you might turn up the incredibly brief run I had at the University of Tennessee's student newspaper. FUN FACT: If you use your column to claim that the university is planning on turning into the Galactic Empire, you will be canned!

Also, I sold a travel guide to the iOS Playboy app a while back, but I have no clue if they ever ran it. 

Oh, duh, you can also find a bunch of stuff on my blog. I've been busy with a lot of stuff recently, though, so it's been semi-dead over there.

You can also find my review work at Bullet Reviews, which is in the process of being dismantled for - I'm told - something even better, so you'd better check that out fast.

Where did you get the inspiration for your most recent story?  
The story I'm currently working on involves a student acupuncturist, a more nebbish, freelancer version of myself, and a shaman who poaches urban chickens from Portland neighborhoods. Portland, you see, is a very unique place. You can walk down a street in Southeast Portland, and - I've done the math on this - you have a 75% chance of seeing at least one circus act every twenty blocks. In addition to being the city where young people go to retire, it's the city where creativity goes to explode. In the good way. I've seen more people practicing more religions and folk beliefs here than I have since I first started really traveling back in 2007. So, given that, and given the fact that my neighbor has an urban chicken that just loves to wake you up at seven in the morning on the weekends (ahem), I figured shamanism isn't such a big leap. And, y'know, you gotta spice it up.

Like many of my other stories, finding a market for this one is going to be a pain in the ass. C'est la vie.

What's your writing process like? How many drafts do you go through and how many people do you get feedback from before you feel a piece is done? 
My writing process is simple: Wake up at 5:30 in the morning, shower, make coffee, and attack my keyboard until I hit 1,000 words. I do that every weekday when I'm not traveling. Or, if I am traveling, and I'm spending more than a few days somewhere and have had the opportunity to find a decent spot, I continue the routine.

I keep that up until I've finished a story, put that story aside for a month or two, and continue working on other stuff. After that month or two, I get that story out of the e-drawer and start editing. I prefer to do my editing on paper, but I currently don't have a printer, so that makes that just a little awkward. I'll go through a few rounds of editing it myself, then send it to a couple of close friends who know how I think and what I'm going for. Then I take their feedback and think about how it works with what the story feels like it should be, and go from there.[1]

Then comes the whole shopping-around process, which is something else altogether.  
[1] Side note: I hate reading 'what the story wants to be,' like the story is some living, breathing entity. It's right up there with that poetic nonsense about Muses (yes, I wrote about a muse, but it's totally different. Trust me.) and ├╝ber-serious people in thick black glasses and turtlenecks talking about how their craft is spiritual or something. I, uh, did not thrive in my MA program. 

What do you do when you feel stuck or uninspired in your writing? 
I drink my coffee, grit my teeth, and keep going. If that fails, I find writing prompts and go from there. Some of my personally-favorite stories (that need reworking, since I wrote them about six years ago) came from this. Writing's your job and your life, and you have to power through. 

If you could a) get rich and famous for writing a totally crap novel OR b) write a masterpiece that you never got famous for, which would you choose and why? 
You shitting me? Get rich and famous for writing a totally crap novel. That way, I could finally fulfill my dream of paying off my student loan debts, retreating to a cottage in Kent, England, and keep writing for myself and never even have to think "Is this marketable" ever again. Sure, I'd have to do book tours or something, but I imagine I could pull off Alan Moore crazy well enough that people would stop asking me questions, but keep buying that crap book.

Tell us a bit about your current writing project. 
I already mentioned the story I'm working on but my project-project is tentatively called The Complete Moron's Guide to Classical Music. Classical is my favorite genre of music. I'm not joking. You don't get a range of thought and emotion anywhere like you do in classical. Compare Mozart with Mahler and tell me there's no difference.   
So, the point of the Guide is to eschew music theory and give more of a history-based lesson, complete with music selections. The trick, of course, is how would it be legal to sell it, since everything I have in it is linked to YouTube videos. I suspect that I'll just put it up somewhere for free, but we'll see.

What other creative projects do you have going on right now and/or coming up in the near future? 
I'm so glad you asked! Aside from writing, editing, and my day job, I'm the co-creator of a super cool game called Cards: The Attackening! It's a card game, as you might be able to glean from the title, and if you're at all familiar with TCGs/CCGs, then you can pick it up with ease. If you don't know what those acronyms mean, but you know what Munchkin is, then my game is better than Munchkin. A drunk dude at a bar told me that, so it has to be true.

If you'd want to contact me after reading this - why, I don't know, but whatever - you can get a hold of me at aaroncsimon[at]gmail.com, or pester me on Twitter, @AaronCSimon.

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