Author Interview: Aeryn Rudel
Exploring tabletop RPGs, novellas, writing challenges, social media, and taking on rejection, Aeryn tells all.
Aeryn Rudel hails from Tacoma, Washington and is the author of the Acts of War novels published by Privateer Press. His short fiction has appeared in The Arcanist, On Spec, and Pseudopod, among others. He occasionally offers dubious advice on writing and rejection at rejectomancy.com or on Twitter @Aeryn_Rudel. Last month he published his baseball horror novella, Effectively Wild, now available at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.
You've worked extensively in the tabletop gaming industry. What have you learned about the storytelling craft from writing tabletop RPGs?
Quite a lot, actually. In writing RPG adventures, you come to understand how important a three-act structure is to a narrative and, more importantly, what beats need to happen in each act to move the story along. RPG adventures are essentially story outlines, where the players and the dungeon master fill in the story details. Both these things port right over into writing narrative fiction. Now, I’m an outliner and a plotter, so these elements may be more useful to me than other writers, but I definitely honed my plotting proclivities writing TTRPGs.
We notice you recently published a novella, Effectively Wild. What challenges are unique to novellas compared to short stories and novels? Do you feel you’ve overcome those challenges?
The key word with a novella is restraint. It is damn easy to careen off script and end up with a novel. I approach novellas in much the same way I approach flash fiction. There needs to be certain restrict-restrictions applied to the story to make it fit satisfyingly into that fixed space. Paramount among these is limiting secondary characters, limiting location changes, and, most importantly, starting the story as close to the central conflict as possible. If I stick to these things, I can usually hit that target word count of between 25,000 and 35,000.
How has the experience of publishing your baseball horror Novella been?
Wonderful. I had some real fears that the baseball part of the story was going to be a hurdle some readers just couldn’t overcome. I took great pains to introduce baseball concepts in a way that was not overwhelming and that would allow even someone with no baseball knowledge to follow along through context. Reviews of the novella thus far indicate I succeeded at this, as a number of baseball novices have remarked how much the enjoyed the take despite knowing nothing abut the game.
Grinning Skull Press has been great to work with, and I was ecstatic with the final version. The cover alone had me swooning.
Have your SFWA and HWA memberships helped you in your career? Would you recommend associations such as these for fledgling writers?
A tricky question. I do not take advantage of my memberships the way I should. There are some great resources available from both organizations that can help you promote your book, oodles of informative articles on just about any kind of writing question you might have, and, of course, the opportunity to vote in the big awards like the Hugos, the Nebulas, and the Bram Stoker award. So, if you want to take advantage of all that (like I should be doing), then, yes, I recommend both organizations for fledgling writers.
Have you found your social media presence to be a boon for your writing career?
Not only a boon but a necessity. Cultivating a strong social media presence is almost a must for authors these days, and it helps you connect with readers, other writers, and even agents and publishers. It can be a pain to keep up a constant flow of content that isn’t just “buy my book,” but I think it’s worth it.
Of course, there is a pervading sentiment that you cannot get an agent or a book deal without a sizeable social media following. I don’t think this is true, and I know of two authors who got both with only a few thousand followers. I think agents and publishers certainly look at a prospective author’s social media following, but I still believe it’s the strength of the manuscript that gets you the deal.
Do you typically look for inspiration for your stories from within or from external events?
Inspiration comes from all over the place. That said, a lot of my stories tend to mix the mundane with the weird. I love taking a bog-standard job and giving it a supernatural twist. So, for example, I ordered Door Dash one day, and it suddenly hit me. What if a service like that existed for vampires? The story “Bites” was my answer to that question.
I was talking to an interior designer a few months ago, and an idea popped into my head of an interior designer/medium whose job was to work with people who lived in haunted houses and help them decide on décor that worked both for the living and the dead. I’m writing that one now, and having a lot of fun with it.
What is your attachment to your characters? Do you see them as your babies, tools, toys, or somewhere in-between?
Kind of all over the place, really. There are certainly characters that are closer to me personally. In fact, a character in my WIP has suffered trauma similar to my own. She is, of course, someone I identify with on a very deep level. Others, like the quipping demon in the same WIP, fall more into the toy category, but he still needs to have a complete arc and help the main character achieve hers.
I would not say I’m precious with my characters, and if I need something tragic or even lethal needs to happen to them, I don’t shy away from it.
What led you to take on the philosophy of “rejectomancy,” and how does reflection on rejections play into your writing process?
Well, it’s a good philosophy to help you maintain your sanity in the wild, wooly word of short story submissions. Normalizing rejections—because it is normal—is something every writer has to do to carry on. If you don’t develop that thick skin for all the no’s and not for us’s, you won’t last long. I also found that the concept of rejectomancy fostered a sense of community among other writers, a support group of sorts. It always helps to know that other writers, even successful ones, are going through the same trials and tribulations you are.
The concept informs my writing process in one very important way. Keep trying. My philosophy is that selling a story or a novel is about putting the right story in front of the right editor at the right time. So you keep firing away until you hit the trifecta.
From your Twitter, we see you’re a metalhead and horror buff. Any overlap between these interests and your writing, either in terms of content or playing a role in your process?
Well, since I write a fair amount of horror, watching horror movies and reading horror novels certainly inspires me. To see how other writers go about the process of creating dread and terror in their work is always beneficial, and you can’t help but pick up a few tricks here and there.
I often listen to death metal when I’m writing but not for what you might think. The dark, aggressive content of the music has less influence on my work than the slight droning quality of extreme metal, which I find soothing, and which puts me into a good headspace to write.
You were also a managing and acquisitions editor at Privateer Press. Did your work there change the way you looked at your own writing?
Oh, absolutely. I had a chance to read so many manuscripts from so many authors, from those just starting out to those that were established and successful. When I read a manuscript that just worked, I’d pay careful attention to why it worked, and file that away for my own writing.
Additionally, providing developmental edits on a manuscript is a process that can teach you so much about writing. When you point out areas that are not working in someone else’s piece, you often stop and think, “Hey, I do that too, and I just articulated how to fix it.” That’s solid gold when it comes to refining your own work.
What was your inspiration for your flash fiction piece "Fertilizer" and will there by chance be a follow-up?
Like most of my flash, “Fertilizer” came to be because of a bi-weekly flash fiction contest I’ve been doing for almost a decade. A group of fellow writers and I get together and someone posts a prompt, usually a photo or illustration. Then you have one hour to bang out a story. After that, everyone votes on the stories, and the winner gets to choose the prompt next time. I have found it an absolute gold mine for flash fiction, and the vast majority of my published works started life in one-hour mad dashes.
“Fertilizer” came out of a prompt, an illustration, that featured a dryad with a tree growing out of her head. Since I tend to lean dark and dystopian, I immediately thought of human beings as a viable food source for certain crops when other resources had run dry.
The world in which “Fertilizer” lives certainly has possibilities. I mean, if this is a world where they force convicted felons to serve as living hosts for fruit trees, what the hell else might they be getting up to? I’d kinda like to find out.