Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Guest Author, Aaron Lawler

Meet Aaron Lawler, an author of sci-fi/fantasy young adult fiction.

Aaron J. Lawler has taught for fifteen years and has published peer-reviewed studies in humanities, technology, game theory and education. His mother taught him to tell stories, his father taught him to think independently, his wife pushed him to try. Aaron is a classically trained painter and holds advanced degrees in the humanities, education, and technology. He is in love with his wife, his two kids, and his two dogs; and always will be.


1. What made you want to become a writer?

It is simple really - storytelling. It is an age old art that extends back to our most prehistoric ancestors and is how we became who we are today. I love stories. I love to read anything and everything. Neil Gaiman once said in an interview (and I am paraphrasing here) that “as a writer it is important to read good works, bad works, and everything in between” (or something to that affect). I think this is true. We are hardwired to tell stories. It is how we learn about the world, about one another, about everything.

My mother told me stories and read me stories when I was very young. She helped me write down the stories I would create – crazy worlds where spacemen kept pet chinchillas, or a group of boys (very similar to the kids in Sandlot) navigated an underground world after the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, and dragons had birthday parties (both actual stories I wrote as a child!). My father taught me to challenge everything. Every idea that every grown-up or peer said, I was taught to critically analyze. And he taught me to learn about everything – science, history, culture, people, politics, economics.

So together it made sense – stories and knowledge. I am a college professor now and was a teacher for over a decade. I use storytelling as my delivery method, so for me, writing is like teaching, I just share ideas with an audience.

2. What are your biggest literary influences? Favorite authors and why?

So when I originally started this list I thought I would break it up into sections: contemporary fiction, literary fiction and nonfiction. And then it just became a list of my favorite books in each of these categories. I decided I was going to narrow it down to best answer the question (“biggest” instead of “all of your” literary influences). My favorite contemporary works are Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, which is just so lush and whimsical and philosophical; and Michael Crichton’s Prey which not only moves at the pace of an action movie but changed my entire perception of reality in terms of holism, emergence, and interconnectedness. My favorite literary works include Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote, and TH White’s The Once and Future King. My list goes on from there, but these four books have such texture, such opulent and sumptuous pages, they create a space for magical realism to inhabit. I love magical realism as a foundation, and think that all speculative fiction would be enriched by its principles: the mundane being supernatural and the miraculous being natural.

3. What are you reading at the moment? Would you recommend it to readers of this blog? Why?

So at any given time I am reading a number of things; I am a sponge and love to draw in as much as I can whenever I can.

I am actually re-reading my own novel, The Marvelous Paracosm of Fitz Faraday and the Shapers of the Id, not because I am so egotistical that I love reading the words from my own pen, but I am plotting a sequel and do not want to make the mistake George Lucas made when writing his prequels: he forgot to watch his own movies (and there are number of plot holes and conflicts because of it!).

I just finished Fred Hoyle’s Black Cloud which is an excruciating novel. I came across Black Cloud when reading through Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials: Great Aliens from Science Fiction Literature, which is a ravenously illustrated collection by Wayne Douglas Barlowe (that sadly has gone out of print) showcasing the best aliens in science fiction (he also completed one for fantasy races/species!). Barlowe’s work is always a great resource for up-and-coming writers; he offers dazzling visuals for creating new worlds. Sir Fred Hoyle was an English astronomer credited for the theory of stellar nucleosynthesis, and his novel Black Cloud reads more like a technical piece, with pages upon pages of unbearable detail concerning theories and processes, and yet will gloss over the deaths of millions of people in less than a phrase. With all of that said, Black Cloud has moments of genius and filled with some of the most beautiful descriptions of what it means to be human.

I am also an avid graphic novel fan and am currently reading Saga written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples. Opulent color both in imagery and tone, an amazing journey that somehow blends surrealism, the Jungle Book, Tolkein and Star Wars, and a serious commentary on life and humanity while remaining wonderfully quirky!

My audiobook (I always run one of these when driving or taking the train) is a re-read of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, a beautiful classic that never tires! I read the print version years ago, and there is something refreshing hearing the spawning, sprawling, spackled words that Gaiman conjures. I have been a fan of his, since reading the Sandman series – an epic in its own right – and of course lovely little morsels of mythical fun like Coraline and The Graveyard Book.

3. Tell us something about how you write? i.e. are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you have any weird or necessary writing habits or rituals?

I am a classically trained painter, and one point in my life thought I would become a professional illustrator. Trying my hand at the trade, I found myself stifled. With endless parallel and extradimensional planetary worlds orbiting about in my imagination, I always thought the vehicle to sharing these would be through illustration. But I found that I much prefer the written word when it comes to world-building and character crafting. Painting slows my process down too much. My mind wants to invent, sprout up new places and sights and sounds with ludicrous speed. And the brush, the canvas, the whole process limits me too much.

I have found that I prefer to paint watercolor landscapes and mixed media portraits as a form of relaxation – something that actually lets my mind quiet down. Whereas writing is the opposite. Writing for me is painterly process but at superspeed. I can craft entire gardens, or ocean floors, or mystical forests with rich and lurid detail in mere moments and then continue my Aslan-like painting process by filling the world with the sons and daughters of my visualization.

My wife once compared my writing process to the Robin Williams’ movie “What Dreams May Come.” In the movie, the visuals are liquid paintings that shift and grow from scene to scene, always lavishly textured, and in a perpetual motion. This is how I write, filling the page with the symbols – in this case words – which represent full, technicolor splashes of life. Painting does not allow me to communicate this way, it is so arduous and would require hundreds of canvases to create the world I want to bring to life.

It is a double-edged sword in some ways. Because I want to create a specific visual in the mind of others – I want to seed them with my thought in the pristine, perfect way I have shaped it. But writing forces me to let go of this. I find myself relaxed at the release of control, at first it was painstaking to simply be – to simply flow. But now, I visualize the image, craft the words with poetry and rhythm instead of color and brush, and that is how I manifest my ideas.

The Marvelous Paracosm of Fitz Faraday and the Shapers of the Id actually pays homage to this process. Although my first novel, this not my first writing (I have even published nonfiction articles with the International Journal of Art and Art History and the Erudite Journal of Educational Research). Yet this novel is so personal because Fitz creates his world the same way I created the world for Fitz and even Fitz himself. There is a meta-element to this novel in that it in many ways explains how I created the “paracosm” – a word here, meaning parallel world sideways from our own.

4. Do you think people have misconceptions about the speculative fiction? Why do you think it is a worthwhile genre?

I am passionate about speculative fiction and think somehow it has been relegated to pop culture tripe. So few are able to break the stigma and create a truer persona of what speculative fiction means. We can probably name all of the greats in a sentence of two: Tolkein, Lewis, Rowling, Orwell, Bradbury, Wells, etc. There are so many more beautiful writers whose work are just lovely, just wonderful to read. They are known in the inner circles of speculative fiction, but outside are considered no less worthy than the grocery store romance novel.


I think it is hard for our society as a whole to respect the whimsical. It becomes somehow kitsch to be imaginative – the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Michael Moorcock, Jack Vance, and Robert E. Howard are often treated as garden gnomes when compared to Tolkein’s or Lewis’ marble sculptures. And even then, there is a stigma attached to the greats.

But I will say this, the millennials and generation Y are changing this – they respect speculative fiction. They have made it cool to read graphic novels like Saga, play fantasy games like Skyrim, and love movies from Harry Potter to Star Trek. And I love them for it! We are a creative crisis as we continue to push our culture towards the meaningful fields such as economics, technology, and business. We have lost the way to having fun, as we regiment enjoyment and defame just a need to have a good time. And we have somehow separated pleasure from learning.

I think those who read, view or play in the speculative fiction genres also like to learn. They like to invest in new ideas and innovative premises. They explore the “What ifs?”, play the mental games of strategy and prediction, and they consider multiple views. When we promote speculative fiction we are promoting those problem solving skills, those levels of engagement, that thirst for discovery, that exploration of the internal and external worlds. (Jamie's note: You've put my thoughts into words here in ways that I have struggled to do.)

5. Of all the characters you have created, which is your favorite and why?

Fitz Faraday from my debut novel, The Marvelous Paracosm of Fitz Faraday and the Shapers of the Id, is by far the most challenging and most enjoying to write. I have created characters and storylines since I was a small child, and each holds a special place, but Fitz is by far the most fun to “talk to.” This may sound a bit strange, but I talk to my characters.

Donatello (not the TMNT!) is rumored to have yelled at his statue, Lo Zuccone ("Pumpkinhead") and said, "I know you are alive, get down from that pedestal!" Perhaps an urban legend, but the truth is when you create something from nothing it can take on a life of its own. There are times I will finish writing and am not sure where the surge of creative energy came from. So when I get stuck or write myself into a corner, I shout at my characters, "What do you want?" "Where are we going next?" "How did we get here?" Then, having that dialogue is useful - it gives me something to work with. It is far less existential or schizophrenic than it sounds and probably more like a improv sessions based on Calvin and Hobbes.

Fitz is so interesting to me because he does not serve some adolescent cliché or nostalgia. I often find that in novels, particularly speculative fiction novels, adult writers create adolescents for disingenuous reasons. What I mean here, is that adults see adolescents as two-dimensional personifications of a talent, a trait, or an emotion. These characters are typified by being sporty, or artsy, or social. Or they are characterized as being full of angst and rebellion.

Fitz has no special gifts. He has no talents or interests. He is really just an average, everyday adolescent. He is not defined by his angst or his gifts. Sometimes he is full of angst and sometimes he is whimsical. Sometimes he is brooding and has good reason to be so, and other times he is a romantic. He is not defined by some manipulated ideas by a narrator with a purpose, but is rather defined by his circumstance and events. When he begins to discover a phenomenal ability, he is still him. He is still just trying to be a good friend, do the right thing, and win the girl. Aren’t these the things that we all worry about, no matter what our circumstances may be? So that is why I like Fitz, because even though he stumbles into this godly power, he handles it the way I think we would all handle it – we would look for help from our closest friends, and we would second guess what we should and shouldn’t do!

6. Tell us a little about your plans for the future.  Do you have any other books in the works?

The Marvelous Paracosm of Fitz Faraday and the Shapers of Id was written with series potential in mind (Even the title was structured that way so that it would always be The Marvelous Paracosm of Fitz Faraday and the…). So my plan is to put Fitz in new challenges and new landscapes, refining his abilities to turn thoughts into reality. But I also want to chart the progress of his internal growth as well as his supernatural growth. The debut novel was as much a discussion of morality and truth as it was “what would it be like to have superpowers?” Both are fun to write about, but for vastly different reasons.

I also plan to incorporate a more diverse pantheon. The first novel offered a perspective of small town America which was populated by predominantly white, working class or middle class people. I would like to broaden the scope and add characters who bring different perspectives to Fitz’s world. For instance I am working on a character that has background in Eastern philosophy, who will bring some ancient ideas into what Fitz is doing. The groundwork for this was laid out with Josey’s parents (they are academics) but I think I can dig this even further with a character that has a far more personal connection. She is also a female character, adding another powerful woman to the cast (Josey is of course a pretty substantial character already!).

As for the plot, it is going to be a journey – a quest of sorts – but one that is both real and paralleled by the unreal. The trick will be making sense of both, as I plan to pull from my magical realism background and make the everyday parts of life seem magical, whereas the supernatural parts of the novel seem normal.

7. Where can we find you online?:

The Marvelous Paracosm of Fitz Faraday and the Shapers of Id

Fitz Faraday, his best friend Hollis, who comes from the wrong-side-of-the-tracks, and his hoped-to-be-girlfriend Josey, the new girl in town, are taken through harrowing events and thrilling misadventures, as they learn about life, love, death, the inner workings of the psyche, and the flimsiness of reality. After witnessing the murder of Professor Oliver Crowley, who has invented a way of bringing thoughts into physical reality, Fitz and his friends must exonerate the town bully, who is being framed for the murder. Using Professor Crowley's inventions, Fitz soon learns he can bend the field of Id, a sea of golden dreamsands and wishes. Fitz finds himself drawn inside a new world he never knew existed. He hopes he will be able to use use that world to help his friends and even his enemies. But to do so, he must master Crowley’s technique of “Thought becomes light and light becomes physical.”


From Chapter Four:

Fitz Faraday's head goes in and out of fogginess. He drops into his seat, knocking over his books. He nervously scoops them up as the students nearby laugh at him. His face turns hot and fills with a rush of blood. He keeps opening and closing his jaw, popping his ears and ridding the pressure from his eyes.

The lecture goes on, just like it does every day, whether Fitz Faraday is present in class or not. He hears only bits and pieces, and his notes are a scattered collection of one-word phrases and half-heard definitions, which make little sense.

"Electromagnetic energy can manifest as radio waves and light. We now have the ability to transmit data, like radio waves, but using light instead. That light can blink faster than a human eye can see, and with that we transmit even more data and at faster speeds."

Ribbons of color wind its way through the classroom. Fitz follows the streams, his eyes darting from one corner of the room to the other. His mind seems to act as an antenna, absorbing and visualizing so many different frequencies. Narrow lines, repeating pulses, luminous shapes, colors, and waves all float in his retinas.

His teacher asks, "FitzGerald?"

He looks at her blankly.

"Can you explain why light would be a safe alternative to higher frequencies?"

He cannot answer her. His mind is locked on the word "light" and the pulses of electromagnetism. He stares at her, but rather than looking at her, he stares through her. He doesn't really see her form, but rather sees her voice.

Another student blurts out the answer and the teacher moves on.

Next period, he has the same issue. He cannot concentrate. The tardy bell's toll invades his bones, vibrating its way through calcified shrieks and cracking chimes. His hair is all sweaty as if he had just come from gym class, and he can't seem to balance his feet. He clumsily plops into another desk and desperately tries to focus his eyes on the chalkboard.

Some time passes, but Fitz hears his teacher's voice for the first time. "The radio began as wireless telegraphy. By 1902, Marconi sent the first transatlantic message. Transmitters at this time were spark-gap machines."

Just like chemistry class, Fitz scrawls incoherent notes on his page. He lists dates and people but doesn't connect any of the information. Sweat drips in his eyes and his heartbeat thunders so tremendously that his entire field of vision pulses with blurry ripples on each count.
"Fitz...Fitz!" a classmate whispers.

"FitzGerald!" the history teacher shouts.

Fitz comes to for a moment, and full of lost confusion he says, "What?"

"Electric currents can be transmitted through space and behave like heat and light," the history teacher says angrily.

" heat and what?" Fitz mumbles.

"And light! It was a modern technological wonder. Did you even read chapter seven, FitzGerald?" the teacher demands.

"Light?" Fitz mumbles the word, as if it wasn't real, as if he had never heard it before.

The tardy bell again — and again it rattles inside Fitz. The noise makes his vision go black and then explode with blurriness. The sweat runs from his messy hair down his back and under his T-shirt. The tweed jacket is stifling and he flings it off as if it were a straitjacket trying to suffocate him.

If you like what you've read, tell me so in the comments. The book can be purchased below:

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