The Pub Interviews – Aaron Polson


On Tap: Aaron Polson

Aaron Polson joins us at the bar tonight.  Aaron currently lives in Lawrence, Kansas with his wife, two sons, and a tattooed rabbit.  To pay the bills, Aaron attempts to teach high school students the difference between irony and coincidence.  His stories have featured magic goldfish, monstrous beetles, and a book of lullabies for baby vampires.  Several new stories are forthcoming in Shimmer, Shock Totem, and Space and Time, and other publications.

Drink of choice?

AP: John Brown Ale from Free State Brewery (a local micro brew in Lawrence located in an old monastery).  Kind of dark and not too hoppy.

Juke box selection?

Either Rain Dogs by Tom Waits or Murder Ballads by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, neither of which I’ve ever found on any juke box.

Let’s go ahead and get the big news out of the way: Everyone and their mother has blogged something about your forthcoming novel Loathsome, Dark and Deep. What can you tell me about the book without giving away anything?

It’s a full-fledged mash-up of alternate history, horror, and science fiction (of the steampunk variety).  Our hero and narrator, Henry Barlow, is a bitter, middle-aged Civil War veteran.  His wife is dead and he hates the world.  He works for a lumber company on the coast of Oregon in the mid-late 1870s, and the company sends him on an investigation up the Lewis River after a logging camp “drops off the map”.  The first part of the book is modeled after Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, but it drops down the rabbit hole pretty quickly.  There are ghosts in this book…and darker, hungrier monsters.

I read online somewhere—perhaps on your blog—that you were listening to Robert Rich and B. Lustmord’s album Stalker while writing the book.  Do you make it a habit of having some sort of soundtrack to your writing sessions for a particular project?  More than that, how long was the writing process for Loathsome, Dark and Deep? I can’t imagine listening to that album for an extended period of time without freaking myself out.

I think I wrote about that in the comments to your Apex post on dark music.  But I digress…

I wouldn’t say I have a soundtrack for each book, but I do tend to listen to one album, on repeat, when writing a novel.  It helps me keep the same mood and stay in the same mindset.  I wrote Loathsome over a two and a half month span (the first draft) and yes, I listened to Stalker during every session.  Like I said, darker…hungrier monsters.  It pretty much did freak me out, but it really supplied the “tone” I needed.  Any horror writer who hasn’t given dark ambient music a try really should.  I find it easier to write with than heavy metal.  A lot of horror writers seem to be metal heads.

And how about The House Eaters?  What can you tell me about this soon-to-be-released novel?

The House Eaters was fun to write.  The main character acts like I imagine I did in high school.  He’s new in town, living in a housing development just outside a small town in Kansas.  Believe it or not, developers are always trying to build weird little neighborhoods in the country.  I was inspired to write the book after stumbling upon the ruins of a limestone processing plant near a local quarry.  Believe it or not, at first glance, the plant looked like a ruined Victorian home.  Chills, man.  Chills.  I tossed in a little Native American mythology and some teen romance and The House Eaters was born.  It’s a YA book, but I think it has plenty of crossover appeal.

For two years now, you have graced the internet with 52 Stitches, yet you recently announced that you’ll be closing it down for the foreseeable future.  Can you explain a little bit about that decision?

Lack of resources.  I don’t feel like I have the time to do Stitches justice (two little boys at home: Owen, 7 and Max, 4).  I also wish I could pay more.

The year-end collected stories of 52 Stitches is published by your press, Strange Publications.  Strange Publications was also responsible for the chapbook-sized quarterly publication Sand. What made you decide to start such an endeavor?  Any ideas on whether or not be can expect to see more of Sand or Fifty-Two Stitches?

I wanted to have a place to read the kind of stories I like.  As a writer, I know there simply are not enough venues for good fiction.  I tried to do my part.  I really want to bring Stitches back in the future, but it will depend on the aforementioned resources.

I’m almost tempted to not ask the next question, but it’s the hot-topic as of late.  What is your personal view of the e-reader phenomenon?  Do you think traditional books should be scared of their place in the future?

I don’t know that books need to be scared, although I do foresee more POD.  Bookstores need to grow and adapt, which they are in little increments.  Name a bookstore which only sells books, and I’ll point to tomorrow’s empty building.  Of course used bookstores seem to be doing okay.  As for e-readers…anything that can put words in the hands of readers (people) is a good thing.  I say that as a writer and a teacher.

Your short story collection The Bottom Feeders is available strictly for e-reader formats, is that correct?  When and how did you decide to self publish such a collection?  By reading your blog, interviews and other random bits pertaining to all things Polson around the internet, I get the impression that you truly are one of those writers that means it when they say “It’s not all about making money; it’s about getting people to read your stories.”  I sort of get the sense that this is the case with The Bottom Feeders, seeing as how you have such a great collection available for $1.00. Is that the case or is there more to it?

Yes Barry.  The Bottom Feeders is currently e-only.  I’ve thought about changing that, but…haven’t. Yet.

Most of the stories have been published previously, so it was a “no-brainer” to self-pub.  I had been afraid to self-publish anything, but really don’t want to be left behind.  I catch the vibe that self-publishing isn’t quite the stigma it once was, especially for genre folk.  I like money as much as the next guy, but what is more important, really, is that people want to read my work.  When I first released The Bottom Feeders (in April 2010), I wanted to offer it for free on Kindle.  I’ve backed away from that perspective a little.  It’s a weird bit of psychology, but people often value something more when they pay for it—even a token amount.  99 cents seems cheap enough.

If the only customers to buy any of my books were acquisition librarians, I’d be thrilled.  I know a number of people who don’t buy books…but read an amazing amount.

You make a living as a high school English teacher and often blog and/or tweet about the trials and tribulations of it.  In your opinion, how does the future of reading, writing and literacy in general look for the next generation?  Is there an interest in writing or have shortened attention spans won the day?

My students are always hungry for something good to read, unfortunately, the commercial houses seem to be feeding them the same pasty oatmeal.  They’re dissatisfied.  I don’t know that mainstream literature is pushing enough boundaries to win their attention from video games, Facebook, movies, and everything else.  Good storytelling and writing will always have a place.

Listen to me, publishers, writers, book people:  young readers want to be challenged.  They want good, mind-bending fiction.  Please give it to them!

What else do you have in the works these days?

I’m working on another novel, sort of a flashback to the good ol’ days wherein the narrator talks about a sleeping evil woken by an oil pipeline company.  In a Hungry Town has been fun to write (so far), and I’m trying to be a little experimental in the narrative without losing the main thread.  Next year, I’m participating in Write 1/Sub 1, following in Ray Bradbury’s footsteps by writing (and subbing) a short story a week.  Ulp.

I’ll keep up on my progress at the blog:

Thanks for the chat, Aaron.  Don’t sweat the tab.  I have it on good authority that this round was on Cate Gardener.



  1. *Frowns* Hey, why do I have to pick up the tab? I just came in to look at the talent. 😉

    Great interview, guys.

    I need to check out all the songs on ‘Murder Ballads’. I only know ‘Where the wild roses grow’ and it’s one of my favourite songs.

  2. Yes, you must. If you can get over a few “choice” lines in “Stagger Lee”, I think you’ll enjoy it immensely. I highly recommend “The Curse of Milhaven”

  3. I do tend to listen to one album, on repeat, when writing a novel
    For all my soundtrack making, I do this a lot too. That whole sustaining the mood thing is often key, and this does it like nothing else. Right on!

    If the only customers to buy any of my books were acquisition librarians, I’d be thrilled.
    That’s another good point. My whole family are big library-goers. We buy a lot of books, but all of us use the library as a jumping-off point for testing new waters, doing research, and just generally relaxing.

    I don’t know that mainstream literature is pushing enough boundaries to win their attention from video games, Facebook, movies, and everything else.
    And again! I think of this lots of times with my little cousins, the youngest of whom are now in high school. Some of them read like crazy (so long as it’s got something absurd or dark in it–which is okay by me!) and some of them just don’t seem to care. Boundaries really are key.

    Count on a teacher!

    Nice interview, both of you. Very fun 😀

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