Speaking with Aaron Wise, who publishes under the name A.R. Wise, you would not at first associate this warm, generous, thoughtful man with the often dark and gruesome horror novels that he writes. However, it soon becomes apparent that what makes Aaron such a joy to interview is also what makes his books so good. Here is a man who thinks deeply, who shines with humanity and who knows suffering, yet is unbroken. He brings these same qualities into his fiction. His plots are multi-layered and reward careful reading. His characters are flawed, but seek a better existence. His horror, when you peel it back, has a strong foundation in reality. His stories may include monsters, but they are also about facing our mortality, overcoming trauma and surviving a crisis with your humanity intact.
Aaron always wanted to be a writer, but it wasn’t until a bet between friends to write a zombie story – this was around seven years ago, at the height of the zombie craze – that he set out in earnest to write. It was around this time that he got the devastating news that his mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and writing became a form of catharsis to help him deal with this news. The product of this catharsis – his zombie novella, Deadlocked – casts zombies in the role of cancer and imminent death, and shows how the protagonist, David, faces them as he battles to protect his family. This is not in any way to suggest that the zombies are merely a metaphor for cancer. One of the things A.R. Wise manages to do so well is keep a central theme running throughout the book without impinging on the development of the plot or characters, or getting in the way of the enjoyment of the book. These underlying themes enrich his novels, and cause his books to linger with you after you have finished them.
Aaron’s life experiences continue to inform and enrich his writing. He wrote his most recent novel, Shudder Inn, set in the same universe as his Widowsfield trilogy, after the sad death of his mother. The inspiration for the main character, Isabella Rothchild, a lucid dreamer, came about after discussions he had with his sister regarding their desire to dream about their mother after her death. He posed the question – what if a character could give you one last perfect dream day with a lost loved one? This question has transformed how he writes and sees his writing.
A year ago, Aaron tells me, if he’d been asked what he liked best about writing, he would have said that it was being transported, and transporting other people, into new worlds. Now, however, after his experience of writing Shudder Inn, he has a new perspective. He has been introduced to the transformative nature of writing and the power that writing – his writing – has to make connections with other people.
While writing Shudder Inn, Aaron sent a call out to his fans. If you could have a dream of one more perfect day with a lost loved one, who would you want to reconnect with? He was surprised by the responses. His readers shared their most intimate grief over the loss of parents, children, and loved ones who had taken their own lives. Aaron, being the generous guy that he is, wrote dreams for them, as if they had been clients of Isabella Rothchild from Shudder Inn. Dreams of such beauty and sensitivity, some of which are included at the end of Shudder Inn, that it is easy to see what Aaron is talking about when he says he has tapped into something larger than himself with his writing. He is speaking to people, he is connecting with them and he is helping them in their suffering.
When it comes to what he likes least about writing, Aaron does not hesitate in giving his reply. Criticism. Both his own self-critical side and the negative criticism he has received from his readers. He quotes Isaac Asimov “From my observation of writers… they fall into two groups: 1) those who bleed copiously and visibly at any bad review and 2) those who bleed copiously and secretly at any bad review.”
While the internet has made it easier for readers to leave their feedback on a book, it has also given them the anonymity to post hateful reviews of your work. Aaron acknowledges that writers are usually introverts who tend to cut themselves off from the world, and this kind of feedback can send even the hardiest writer running for the hills. He seems to have achieved wisdom when it comes to dealing with negative reviews. He has accepted that what these disgruntled readers have to say is true for them. This is how they responded to his writing, even if it is contrary to how he would like it to be received, or how it is received by others.
His advice for dealing with bad reviews doesn’t stop there. When he gets a particularly vicious review, he picks a favourite book, something that is universally recognised as being well written, such as ‘To kill a mocking bird’ by Harper Lee. Then he reads the negative reviews for that book.
When I asked Aaron about his views on writing in the horror genre and whether he thinks it gives him more freedom to explore his deeper themes, he quotes Terry Brooks “I badly want to do other stuff. Even though publishers and an awful lot of fans say ‘you can’t do that. You have to keep writing in Shannara.’’ Aaron feels at times constrained by the need to keep his books in the horror genre. Some of his fans want him to write only apocalypse stories, while his experience with traditional publishing fell through because they wanted him to write more of the same kind of book that had made him successful. It is easy to understand why Aaron doesn’t want to be pigeon holed. He is already a diverse writer, with his Lincoln Pierce mystery series, and the Dave series of humorous horror novels. With his latest books, he is branching into the realms of dark fantasy. He tells me his upcoming book, Sinners, set in the same universe as The Widowsfield trilogy and Shudder Inn, is really an urban fantasy.
Finally, what advice does Aaron have for writers starting out, especially those interested in pursuing self-publishing? Make sure you have other people to read your work, he says, not only for copyediting, but also to point out the plot holes and major problems in your writing. Pay someone to edit your novel if you don’t have beta readers. Be careful with your grammar, spelling and punctuation. Readers will be forgiving of mistakes, but one or more error on every page is distracting and you will lose your audience. Even though you shouldn’t, you really can judge a book by its cover. Cover is everything for a self-published author, and the cover has got to look good.
Read my review of A.R. Wise’s Shudder Inn here.
Find out more about A.R. Wise here.
His books are widely available on line. Buy them here on Amazon and here through BookBub.
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Great interview, looking forward to reading his books, they sound really good.
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I really like this books (obviously)!