Shells Chats with author A.J. French

When did you want to start writing?

I started writing when I was in elementary school. A friend and I used to get together and write horror stories, each with a different set of topics, and then we’d illustrate these and compile them into a ’zine, and then pass them around school. This might actually have been my first small press experience. Later, around age seven, I wrote a story that was published in the local newspaper. But sometime after that I entered into the abyss of adolescence and stopped writing altogether. I didn’t start up again until I was in my early twenties—almost eight years ago.

After the short break, what made you wish to come back to writing?

I was drawn back to writing by the incessant gnattering voices in my head, as well as this idolatrous fascination with the imagination. My love of speculative fiction goes back to my teenage years, when I used to escape from societal pressures into horror and fantasy novels. I always wanted to make a career of it, and so that’s what I’m presently attempting.

How has your writing changed through the years?

My first stories were egregious clones of the writers I admired, then later, during a more literary phase of reading, I began incorporating the influence of “real writers”—Kafka, Updike, Dostoevsky, Nabokov, Eco. But my writing changes with the arc of my consciousness, and at this point I’m influenced by everything from philosophy to Robert Anton Wilson. I’ve noticed, however, that my most effective stories are those that could be termed “metaphysical horror.” Two big influences in this respect are Thomas Ligotti and Arthur Machen.

A lot of authors say that their emotions go into a story, is that true for you?

Yes, very true. In fact I deliberately inject my stories with as much emotional impact as possible. Additionally, these emotional stories are how I deal with the pressures of daily existence. In other words, the more people I kill within my narratives, the less I kill in real life. (That last part’s a joke, obviously.)

You have written several short stories, what made you want to dive into publishing these short stories and if you had to pick one, which is your favorite?

Dreams of making it as writer prompted me to dive into publishing, and if I had to choose a favorite it would have to be, at least at the moment, “Golden Doors to a Golden Age,” appearing in the new anthology “2013: The Aftermath,” from Pill Hill Press. This story demonstrates some of those metaphysical techniques quite nicely.

Where can we find some of these stories?

You can find a lot of these stories in various anthologies put out by Pill Hill Press and Static Movement. Also, Written Backwards has a story of mine in “Pellucid Lunacy.” And also “M is for Monster,” compiled by John Prescott. I also have a story appearing in the upcoming issue of Black Ink Horror.

How do you normally handle marketing your work?

Well, once I feel a piece is ready, I usually do the typical thing of submitting down the rungs until it gets accepted. Although sometimes I write for a specific theme of an anthology. And I also like to contribute to other writers/publishers with whom I have built a professional relationship. These connections, I believe, are a great way of getting your name out there. The days of the reclusive and shadowy writer are quite gone, I’m afraid. As with everything else, it’s all about social networking now.

You are editing for Static Movement publishing, how did that come about and how do you feel editing is different than penning a story?

After reading “The Last Ten Years in the Life of Hero Kai” by Geoff Ryman, I became intrigued by the idea of monkpunk—a variant of speculative fiction very similar to steampunk, only with monks, temples, and monasteries, instead of Victorian sensibilities and flying machines. I proposed the idea of an anthology to various publishers, some of which took an interest but knew too little about the subject to justify a book. Finally Chris Bartholomew from Static Movement contacted me and offered to run the theme with me filling in as editor. I was totally excited and jumped on the opportunity at once. As to the differences between editing and composition, I’ve realized you can learn a lot from one by doing the other. I’m big on rewrites, and so by giving a particular author a set of weak points I perceive in their story, and then seeing how they remedy these points, I get to learn a lot more about the writing process. So far the Monk Punk anthology is shaping up quite nicely and will be featuring stories by such talented authors as Adrian Chamberlin, Geoff Nelder, and Willie Meikle.

What advice would you give to new writers wanting to get their work published?

The most important thing is perseverance. You’ve got to stick with it and write everyday and try new things and never give up. It’s also important to know the magazines you’re submitting to and to network with other writers. Read the small presses and climb the ladder. Eventually you’ll reach the top.

Where can people find out more about you?

You can find out more about me on my Facebook page (under Aaron J. French) and get regular updates on my stories as they are published through various publications. You can also check my Amazon author page, and Pill Hill Press and Static Movement are good places to check, as well.

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