This past summer, I met a lot of cool people at SCARES THAT CARE in Williamsburg, Va. One of those cool people is none other than the inimitable Aaron Dries. Not only is he one of the best horror authors slinging ink these days, he’s probably the nicest human being I’ve ever met. We had a lot of fun talking shop, drinking beers, and we even shared a magical car ride to the mystical lands of Wawa. He even let me butcher the sales pitch for his novel, The Fallen Boys! It was a great time and I was really happy when Aaron said he’d do this interview for the blog. So, without further ado, meet Aaron Dries!
TIM MEYER: Hey, Aaron Dries! Thanks for stopping by the blog. First off—tell everyone on the Internet a little bit about yourself and what your latest book is about.
AARON DRIES: Thanks for having me, Tim! I’m a writer based in Australia with a background in mental health recovery and communications. So by day, I endeavour to help people help themselves. By night, I use writing to flush my brain of all the trauma I work with. That might explain why my fiction goes so dark, and why when you see me, I tend to be upbeat. I write not just for fun, but to keep my life balanced.
It’s been a big year for releases for me. A lot of my stuff was out of print after Samhain collapsed. The Fallen Boys made its triumphant return through Black T-Shirt Books. House of Sighs was re-released by Crystal Lake Publishing, and also included a brand-new novella/sequel titled, The Sound of His Bones Breaking. I’m extremely proud of it. It’s deeply personal, and was written in a very turbulent time in my life. A purge of sorts.
My most recent work came out in December, the re-release of And the Night Growled Back, an e-book only novella from Cemetery Dance. It’s about a group of backpackers in Iceland who flee a carnival after a violent altercation, seeking refuge in a remote cabin at the base of a volcano. Only they’re not alone out there. Something has their scent. Maybe they shouldn’t have run, after all…
TM: So, I’ve recently read The Fallen Boys. Absolutely fantastic. Was any of the story influenced by real-life events? It felt very sincere. Tell us a little about the inspiration behind the story.
AD: The Fallen Boys is an angry book. I remember watching some program on TV. 60 Minutes, maybe. A story about online bullying. Sensationalised though it may have been, the segment made my blood boil. I was bullied as a kid, and just found myself so thankful for my resiliency (not that it seemed that way at the time). That was the spark. That theme. I had to write it. This merged with something that had been in my head for years. In high school, I interviewed a priest in our council who had, in the past, performed exorcisms. I remember him saying that the majority of cases he’s called out to are related to mental health breakdowns. He told me about a man who thought he was possessed, and was waking every morning with dead chickens in his bedroom. The man broke down and confessed that he’d actually been doing it himself, consciously. And he did this to attract the eye of the god he felt had abandoned him. BOOM. The two ideas came together. A deluded online predator bullies children into suicide, all to attract the attention of God. Thus, The Fallen Boys was born.
TM: Of the main characters in The Fallen Boys (Noah, Marshall, Napier), which one did you put the most of “you” into?
AD: Good question! I certainly think there’s an element of me in them all, but there’s a lot of me in Noah and Marshall. The sense of feeling like an outsider is certainly something I injected into Noah, and also the desperate need for validation as a child, the corrosiveness of self-doubt. Marshall’s job is one I used to have, a videographer/filmmaker for creative corporate/private events. Like Marshall, I’m a huge horror fan, and consider it as an affirmative shield. And finally, Marshall’s obsessive need to go down the rabbit hole is something I relate to. The need to know not just what happened, but why. Like Marshall, I acknowledge this can be damaging.
TM: Okay, I’ve met you. We’ve hung out. You’re genuinely one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Very inspiring to be around. You have that “life of the party” personality. So, given all of that, why do you write such dark shit?
AD: I alluded to it above, but I do write to flush my brain of the stuff I see on a day to day basis in the mental health and homelessness sector. Building boundaries around this kind of work is important, and a creative outlet is encouraged. That said, I’ve been writing all my life. I’ve always been attracted to dark fiction. Conversely, people say I’m a nice, bright guy. That makes me happy to hear. I guess I try to be an “of the moment” kind of guy. Someone who just feels things genuinely. I write and work hard, and in turn, I play hard too.
AD: It’s funny. Just the other day, a friend of mine mentioned that he’d read House of Sighs and The Sound of His Bones Breaking. He said he was surprised by how obviously autobiographical certain elements of it was. I’d certainly considered the books personal. But autobiographical? To some degree, he’s right. I don’t write true stories, but there’s a lot of me in my stuff. My anger, my curiosity, my anxieties. A sharp eye can pick these out, likely whether you know me or not.
TM: Okay, let’s talk a little shop. Do you outline your stories or just let it fly?
AD: The project decides! Whether I’m plotting hard or pantsing it, I always know, beyond reasonable doubt, what impact I’m looking for. I know how I want a reader to feel at this point at the story. That’s a kind of structure. I always write with readers in mind.
TM: Do you have any writing routines? Coffee or beer? Night or day? Music or complete silence?
AD: My routine is to embrace not having a routine. Writing House of Sighs taught me the benefit of that. That book was written whilst I was backpacking through the US and South-East Asia. I wrote long-hand, on borrowed laptops, on hostel computers, anywhere and everywhere I could. I’m an opportunistic writer, maybe before or after work, but almost always on much lunch break. I love writing with a coffee in hand, wine or beer sometimes of an evening, or if I’m writing at a bar or pub on my own. But I almost always write to music. The stuff I listen to is usually really, really melancholic or depressing—a lot of Aimee Mann, of all people. Or sad, emotive film scores by Jon Brion or Pino Donaggio.
TM: I know an author’s own books are almost like children and it’s impossible to pick one over the other, but gun to your head, which of your works would you call your “favorite” and why? (No cheating, Dries!)
AD: Well, it’d change any given day. Today? Hmm. I think maybe The Fallen Boys. I think it’s plotted very tightly, and I’d challenge anyone to pick what direction it’s going to go in at any point. I also think it rewards its reader the most, those who follow the breadcrumbs into that basement. It shifts perspectives, genres, and pulls the rug out from under your multiple times. I loved writing it. And people are still responding to it really, really well.
TM: I usually do multiple drafts and revisions, sometimes so many that I’m sick of the manuscript once it’s “finished.” What’s your process like? How many drafts/revisions do you crank out on a single novel or short story?
AD: Well, it’s less for short stories and novellas, but with novels, I do multiple drafts and revisions. Over and over and over again. I really enjoy revisions, editing it down, adding emphasis here and there, parring things back, pushing a point. I think revisions are addictive. And I’m busy revising all the way up to publication date, which no doubt drives publishers mad, but it’s worth it in the end. My most recent novel, Lady Guillotine (not yet published), must’ve gone through fifty revisions, and it changed A LOT over the years I took to write it.
TM: Okay, I’m guessing IPA but what’s your favorite type of beer?
AD: The kind that someone else buys for you! Alternative, IPA all the way.
TM: What’s next for Aaron Dries? Anything new coming out soonish?
AD: I’ve got a short story coming out later this year in War on Christmas: An Anthology of Tinseled Mayhem, which is being edited by Sandra Kasturi and released by ChiZine Publications. That story, “Nona Doesn’t Dance Anymore” is a very twisted horror sci-fi piece about visiting an elderly family member in the nurse-less nursing homes of the future. I’m really excited about that!
Other than that, we’ll see what happens with Lady Guillotine. I revealed an excerpt from it at Scares That Care in a dual reading with my good friend, and talented author, Pat Lacey. The reaction to that has given me the confidence to send it out. I’ve also finished two novellas, though who knows if they’ll find a home. Plus, I’m in the initial stages of a new book, working on a screenplay, and at some point… I should probably sleep. Fingers crossed for scary, inspiring nightmares.
TM: Thanks for stopping by, man. Hope to see you at SCARES THAT CARE again next year.
Author, artist, and filmmaker Aaron Dries was born and raised in New South Wales, Australia. His novels include House of Sighs, The Fallen Boys, A Place for Sinners, and Where the Dead Go to Die, which he co-wrote with Mark Allan Gunnells. His short fiction and illustration work has been published world-wide. Feel free to drop him a line at www.aarondries.com. He won’t bite. Much.