Thursday, September 12, 2013
Interview: Michael Aronovitz
I recently reviewed Alice Walks, a great contemporary ghost story. Michael Aronovitz was kind enough to answer a few questions for readers.
How did you get started in writing horror fiction? What first attracted you to horror/the weird?
I started writing horror fiction because of Stephen King. I was never a big reader, but he interested me. At first, I thought it was just the gripping shock value that kept me engaged. As I grew older, I reasoned that it was King's "familiar" voice and ability to develop character, but now I realize it was always a bit more. The horror genre provides the writer the opportunity to take characters and put them in moral dilemmas they would not face in real life. The supernatural element also opens the door to temporal issues that more standard realistic fiction can not. Therefore, in the the end, I suppose the horror genre becomes a vehicle for character development, which drives a good read. Moreover, I like scary shit. It is fun. I don't see horror as a "genre," but more a necessary element that moves plot action. It is a spice. Remember trying to listen to classic rock on CDs? It sounded empty, no salt or something, and we all went to the antique specialty shop and bought turntables for our old vinyl. A story without a horror element is a classic rock CD. I prefer the I-pod, played on volume 10. The downside occurs when the artist in question depends on the spice for story. One can not eat a bowl of salt.
Alice Walks serves as an excellent example of a ghost story. It not only sets a creepy mood, but the ghost in the story is much more complex and active than the Gothic ghosts of old. What were your inspirations for this story, and how did you go about approaching the ghost story in this manner?
"Alice Walks" was not conceived with the idea that I was going to upgrade the traditional ghost story, nor revive it. Though I do have a masters in literature, I am no historical expert and I would not feel qualified for such a venture (I am a modernist, thesis work in Hemingway). I don't outline my fiction, because often the story changes a bit as it progresses and I want to leave room. On the other side of that coin, I rarely just "go" with no idea in mind. I usually begin with a horrific yet beautiful image and build a story around it so that visual can take place somewhere in the timeline with meaning. Before starting I also usually have a point A to B and maybe C, but little more, maybe the ending. I have only been able to come up with something without any prior planning twice. The first was "The Echo," featured in my collection "The Voices in Our Heads," Horrified Press, February, 2014, and again one Saturday last winter during break when I wrote a piece of flash fiction titled "The Matriarch" in one sitting. (Still up on Bosley Gravel's Cavalcade of Terror site for free). I am currently 30,000 words in on the Matriarch novel, but back to "Alice," I initially wanted to do some sort of play on the "Bloody Mary" legend. All I knew about it was that one said her name three times while looking in the mirror and she would show up in the background. The image that formed in my head was a graveyard in the winter time at night, a girl-figure of maybe 14 of greenish tint floating between the headstones in her burial dress. Then some boys who awakened her throw rocks in a loose religious allusion, causing symbolic blood to flow from her. Once I figured out a fictional scenario to make that occur, I had the premise for "Alice Walks."
You are, or were, a teacher and some of your works that I have read (Alice Walks, How Bria Died) both heavily involve schools and teachers. How has working in education affected your fiction?
The field of education provides a wonderful influence for my writing. First, from a standpoint of being behind the scenes, I read student fiction and composition constantly. This keeps me in tune to what people are thinking and the avenues they use to develop argumentation. This is important, because a paper is simply an exercise in manipulating one's own logical fallacies into what should be read as a "truth," while exposing the flaws in the invisible opponent's platform. Fiction requires its writer to prove a reality in a similar manner, just delivered through a different voice. Also, there is just an endless character bank to draw on in the classroom. To top it off, anything classroom oriented provides a familiarity we all share, while also yielding fictive boundaries built for suspense. We all know from our fiction classes that time limitation mixed with a "crucible" of sorts (a literal or metaphorical trap) causes an almost automatic sense of the dramatic. Well, a classroom is a requirement that is a strange enclosed space where the players are meant to sit still when they really don't want to most of the time. There's even a bell, as in a boxing ring, letting them know when the drama begins and ends. What could be more perfect?
What scares you?
Ha. I can tell you what does not scare me. Ghosts, monsters, haunted houses, and graveyards. Horror books and horror movies do not scare me either. The things that scare me are far more personal. Mediocrity. Apathy (from others...meaning I write and no one listens). Making mistakes that leave stains.
What are your personal favorite horror/weird fiction novels/stories? How about films?
This is an easy one. Favorite books: The Stand, Christine, Hannibal, Night Shift, Misery, parts of Dreamcatcher. Favorite films: Silence of the Lambs, Seven, Halloween 1. Favorite TV Show: Trilogy of Terror (just the Karen Black segment).
With one collection out (Seven Deadly Pleasures, Hippocampus Press) and one novel (Alice Walks, Centipede Press) you have already built a reputation. What can readers expect from you in the future?
This is going to be a big year for me. I have "Alice Walks" available through Centipede Press currently, and my old collection "Seven Deadly Pleasures" through Hippocampus. In February of 2014, my dark collection "The Voices in Our Heads" will be released by Horrified Press in the UK, and Hippocampus is shooting for as early as April, 2014 to publish my dark apocalyptic novel "The Witch of the Wood." My hard hitting "true crime" leading to the supernatural piece "The Matriarch" will be completed most probably by Christmas.