Author Interview: Aeryn Rudel

Seattle-based author Aeryn Rudel’s upcoming debut flash fiction collection, Night Walk, will be published by The Molotov Cocktail this spring. In anticipation of its release, Aeryn discusses his process and influences, how he’s motivated by tracking rejections, and which “writing rules” are the most enjoyable to break. 


Let’s kick things off with an overly broad question. What appeals to you most about horror?

For me, it’s always been the most relatable of genres. Every single person on the planet has experienced fear or the adrenaline kick of a sudden scare. When I write horror and put my characters in mortal peril, and if I manage to actually pull off that sense of dread that really defines the genre, I feel like I’ve written something imminently relatable.

With your own writing, when the muse strikes, what hits you first: a specific image, a character, a scenario, the atmosphere you want to set? And by the same token, do you wait for inspiration or is your approach more focused on sitting down, getting to work, and seeing where a story takes you?

My work is often dialogue-heavy, and often the first thing that comes to me is a conversation. Just two characters talking or even just a single line. For example, the story “Do Me a Favor” starts with an absurd bit of dialogue—“I need you to shoot me in the head.” I don’t know why, but it just popped into my brain, and the story took off from there.

I don’t wait for inspiration; I just start writing. I might have the kernel of an idea (or for longer works an outline), but I find inspiration happens while writing for me, and generally not before. Some of this has to do with the ever-present self-doubt and insecurity all writers deal with. If I sit around and wait to get inspired, to really feel like writing, well, I probably wouldn’t ever write. So I just get to it, and all those negative emotions around the process usually burn away in the first few paragraphs (sometimes pages).

They say “write what you know.” The Seattle area, and the Pacific Northwest at large, tends to make its way into a fair number of your stories. What other aspects of your background and personal life seep into your storytelling?

I was raised in a very religious household. Though I’m now an atheist, my upbringing in Christianity colors a lot of my work. Biblical references, characters, and themes are pretty common, though I often look to subvert the reader’s expectations of these concepts. So, you know, wise-cracking demons who really aren’t all bad, the rapture as a horrific alien-abduction-style event, and Judas trying to keep people from triggering his seven-fold curse are all paths I’ve wandered down.

Night Walk is rife with uncanny and inexplicable phenomena, but the collection also contains many stories that hinge on unique takes on classic ghouls like demons, vampires, zombies, creatures of mad science. Was there a particular classic monster that fascinated and/or terrified you most as a kid?

Oh, it’s vampires, without doubt. I’ve been drawn to befanged bloodsuckers for as long as I can remember. From classics like Dracula to more modern takes like Interview with the Vampire, I’m an absolute sucker (hah!) for a good vampire story. As you’d expect, I write a lot of vampire stories too, and there are definitely some in Night Walk. Of course, with a well-traveled trope like that, you gotta get creative if you hope to publish, so I often put my vampires in pretty unique situations. Check out the story “Second Bite” to see what I mean.

You’ve said that some of the stories in Night Walk were first written and/or published upwards of 10 years ago. To what extent has your thematic focus shifted during that time span? Are there certain types of stories you’re more interested in telling now than you were a decade ago?

I was focused almost exclusively on horror when I started writing seriously. In recent years, I’ve expanded into science fiction, urban fantasy, and even crime, though these forays into other genres often still feature a dark or horrific element. I’d say the other things that’s changed is there’s more humor in my work now, even if the story is quite dark. You’ll see that in stories like “Do Me a Favor,” “Cowtown,” and “Your Donation is Greatly Appreciated.”

Picasso is attributed as saying, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” What’s a conventional “writing rule” that you most enjoy breaking?

Well, from what I read in submission guidelines, you’re not supposed to write stories about vampires, and I do that all the time. But as for the so-called “rules” of writing, I think the one I break the most is starting a story with dialogue. I’ve read many times you shouldn’t do that, but for me, dialogue is what I hear first, it’s what the idea for a story forms around, so, sometimes, it just feels natural to start there. Of course, you have to ground your reader in the setting and the character quickly—which is why this rule exists, I think—but I believe that can be done with dialogue. At least I hope it can.

What appeals most to you about flash fiction, especially in comparison to other forms of storytelling?

It’s the challenge of writing a complete story in under 1,000 words, and, more importantly, what you can learn from it. To write good flash, you have to get concepts, ideas, and characters across to the reader—fully fleshed—in a sentence or two. You have to build a world in a paragraph because you need to build another one in the next paragraph. If you can do that effectively, it’s a skill that translates to longer works. Writing flash has, without question, made me a better short story writer and novelist.

Of course, you write a lot more than just flash. What other projects have you got in the hopper?  

Oh, so many. I’m always working on half a dozen short stories, but my current big project is a pair of novels currently in revision. They’re both supernatural thrillers, and one of them actually started life as a flash piece. I’ll start shopping one of those novels next month, and hopefully, you’ll hear more about it soon after.

With your Rejectomancy blog, you keep and share meticulous statistics of your submissions and their acceptances and rejections. What has been the most beneficial aspect of this statistical recordkeeping to you as a writer?

I’m a bona fide stat nerd, and statistics have always fascinated me and more so, motivated me. I find that delving into my rejections, reducing them to statistics on a spreadsheet, makes them easier to understand and accept. Also, I’ve been able to chart definite progress in my work from those numbers, and that keeps me going day after day, year after year.

Of course, the other aspect of the blog that’s so rewarding is how much being open about my struggles and successes in publishing helps other authors, especially those just starting out. A blog like mine, I hope, normalizes the process of getting rejected and reassures budding writers that, yes, everyone gets rejected, and that’s okay.

When it comes to their impact on your own work, who would make your short list of most influential authors?

Stephen King is probably the most influential writer on my work. I know, what a cliché, right? But it’s the truth, and his work has been inspiring me since I first cracked open It when I was thirteen years old. Elmore Leonard is another writer who I greatly admire, and his use of dialogue and his stripped-down style are a more recent influence on my writing. Anne Rice helped cement my love of vampires, and though I’ll never approach her command of the language, the themes she explores with her vampires resonate with me and sometimes appear in my own work.

Other than novels and short stories, what other artforms and media do you draw from for creative inspiration?

Music, definitely, and I often listen to music when I write. I have pretty eclectic tastes, though, and my playlists jump from the shrieks and growls of Morbid Angel and Bolt Thrower to the soaring anthemic guitars of Journey and Boston, then right over to the angelic singing of Sam Smith and Sarah McLachlan.

Better time of day to write: crack of dawn or dead of night?

Well, crack of dawn implies a pre-coffee state of mind, and that shit ain’t gonna fly, so I’ll go with dead of night.

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