Liz – This month we chat with author Aaron J. French. Thanks for joining us, Aaron! Why don’t you start with telling us about your part of the world?
Aaron – I am currently pursuing a PhD in The Study of Religion from the University of California, Davis. It’s typical beautiful California weather here; Davis is a college town, full of very intelligent people, for the most part it’s quiet and studious, so it’s a great place to live to get lots of work done.
Liz – That sounds like an inspiring environment. How long have you been writing for?
Aaron – I used to write in elementary school, actually. Short ghost stories and pseudo-Weird Tales kind of stuff. I took a break out of middle school, then started up again writing full time in my twenties, so I guess I would say I have been writing seriously for 10 years now.
Liz – What do you enjoy most about writing?
Aaron – There’s a variety of reasons. When I first started writing fiction, most of the time it was an attempt to express certain ideas or personal experiences, frequently depressing or related to traumas I’d experienced or watched others experience—and, of course, to try and imitate all the writers I loved to read. As time has gone on, more and more I like writing as a form of communicating my inner world with the outer world—or, to put it plainly, as a way of expressing my ideas with people in a way that hopefully reaches them and has an effect.
Liz – Tell us about the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism?
Aaron – Technically, it’s a group of scholars interested in studying esotericism who have grouped together to help promote each other’s work because esotericism is still a somewhat marginalized field. The term covers a broad array of ideas and practices, including things like mysticism, the occult, alchemy, the kabbalah, hermetic and neo-Platonic philosophy, stuff like that. I am a member of ESSWE as well as the American arm, the ASE, and have presented papers at both conferences now. It’s an amazing group of scholars doing extremely smart and revolutionizing work.
Liz – It’s certainly a fascinating field. What inspired you to study Esotericism?
Aaron – I guess studying philosophy and literature. Well, first it must have been all the weird fiction I read my whole life, full of esotericism, only I didn’t know it was called that then. Later, when I started reading stuff like Goethe’s Faust, Hermann Hesse, Charles Williams, the modernist poet H.D., I realized there were certain ideas underlying a lot of this work which I soon discovered was related to esotericism.
Liz – You’re pursuing a PhD in the study of Religion at the University of California. What are your plans once you’ve completed it?
Aaron – My plans are to work as a professor in a religious studies department somewhere, while still doing my fiction and writing on the side. I like the academic work and the fiction work equally. Which means I typically have a lot on my plate!
Liz – Yes, I imagine that would keep you very busy! How do you juggle studying with your writing?
Aaron – Honestly, I don’t know. I mean, when I was training as a writer in my twenties, I wrote 1000 words a day like it says in King’s On Writing religiously, but when I went back to school, started editing more, and getting more fiction out there, at this point I just work all day and take breaks here and there along the way. I usually keep a file open on my laptop with all my upcoming projects and their deadlines and move down the list, checking things off and adding in new ones. That usually helps keep me on track. Listening to music also helps.
Liz – I’m also a big fan of the working projects list, I’d be lost without it…and of course, the same goes with music! Where does your love of the dark aspect of life, and of the occult come from?
Aaron – Like I mentioned, I think it actually comes from some of the stuff I was reading, starting with Weird Tales. Lovecraft, Machen, and Robert E. Howard—stuff like that all has occult influences throughout, but later I sort of graduated to more sophisticated “literature,” which also has lots of occult themes in it. I think that kind of stuff is more prevalent than we realize, or else I just have a nose for it. I eventually started reading actual occultists, magicians, heterodox theologies, and everything that comes with that. I really eat that stuff up, still do, and it convinced me that there is more going on in the world than we suppose and more than conventional science can account for. Now I try to use my writing to explore these hidden aspects of people and reality. But let’s see… why do I like that darker stuff? I think that goes back to all the dark things I experienced growing up. I had an okay upbringing, sort of, but still it wasn’t Leave It to Beaver. A lot of bad stuff happened too. Horror was how I made sense of what the hell was happening.
Liz – Have you any first-hand experiences with the occult?
Aaron – Hmmm, should I answer this? As a religious studies scholar, no. But, as some crazy-ass horror writer named Aaron J. French, yes. Nothing too weird or crazy, I don’t go running off into the hills to kill goats and chickens or sacrifice babies and have orgies… lol, well really the occult is not about that at all. The way I see it, pure occultism is a kind of religious system almost, a philosophical worldview and cosmology that allows for a bridge between science and spirituality; also, if you view reality in that way, it opens the door for interesting things to happen in your life. So in that sense, yes I have had some interesting experiences. Dreams are the best way to begin talking about something like this, because everyone dreams at night (most everyone), and when people share those dreams with others, should we believe they are not just making something up? Maybe they are having visions and don’t realize it? I love thinking about stuff like that.
Liz – I could discuss it for days…but in other news, you also work as Editor for JournalStone Publishing, as well as Editor in Chief for Dark Discoveries magazine. What do you enjoy most about your editing work?
Aaron – I love getting to read all this cool stuff and then cobble it together. Slush pile tasks are not so much fun, but putting together a Dark Discoveries magazine issue or an anthology is great fun. Also, all the editing I have done over the past several years really helped my own writing, which I’m thankful for. As a writer, you can learn a lot from editing.
Liz – Which do you find easier to edit – the work of another author, or your own?
Aaron – Definitely the work of another author. I have no idea what to do when it comes to my own stuff. Well that’s not true, I am getting better at that, but it’s extremely difficult. I use to think it was great whenever I had written something, but now more and more I am realizing that most of it is crap and that, oh wait!, actually just need to start all over, the whole thing needs to be rewritten. It is a lot harder for me to clearly arrive at that decision about my own writing, probably because of ego, than it is for me to see that in the writing of others. But that’s all been part of the learning process for me.
Liz – Agreed – I think sometimes with self-editing it can be a case of, ‘You can’t see the forest for the trees’, yet we don’t seem to have that same barrier with the work of others. You edited the anthology The Gods of H.P. Lovecraft which has been hugely successful. What was it like working on this project?
Aaron – That’s probably the most well-known thing I’ve done, and it just came together organically and spontaneously. I am very thankful to Chris Payne and JournalStone for funding that project. I have edited a couple anthologies before that, but with Gods of HPL I had the resources to truly go after the authors I wanted and make the project and the physical book I wanted to make. All of the authors in that book produced fantastic stories, and the artwork is great too. I’m just happy it’s been so well received. It’s their book, really.
Aaron – The Time Eater came out in January from JournalStone. It’s a short novel, but still it’s my first one. It brings together all my interests, from weird fiction, to the occult, to psychology, etc. It follows the story of a depressed guy named Roger Borough who has forgotten part of his past and doesn’t realize it, and part of that past has to do with trauma and the occult. Through the course of the book, Roger must come to terms with his past and face it, as well as do battle with a pseudo-Lovecraftian enemy called the Time Eater, which devours space and time.
Liz – Sounds right up my alley! What inspired you to write it?
Aaron – It’s interesting, I actually wrote that book during a really messed up period in my life, which I managed to get through, and the result was that book. What I went through and discovered about the world at that time is now preserved in that book, so I think it helped me reach a new level in my writing. I set out just wanting to write my first novel. Then all hell broke loose.
Aaron – I think I would like to mention my short-story collection Aberrations of Reality out from Crowded Quarantine Publications. That book showcases these aspects of my work I’ve been talking about, i.e. exploring the mystical and occult through fiction. You can read my Lovecraftian New World Order novella, “The Order,” in Dreaming in Darkness (written pre-Trump, thank you very much). I also would mention my novella about a young girl possessed by a demonic pigman called “The Chapman Stain” in The Chapman Books. All of those are on Amazon.
Liz – Your novella, Festival, is set for release soon, can you tell us about it?
Aaron – That’s right, it’s out end of May from Unnerving. That is a little different. It still touches on the occult and esoteric themes, but from a different angle. I would describe it as The Wickerman meets Psycho meets The Last House on the Left. I think… It’s about a guy and his girlfriend who stop for a Christmas vacation at a place called the Serenity Sanctum and get more than they bargained for because the place is actually home to a New Age neo-pagan all-female cult. That’s sort of The Wickerman part of it. But it gets much weirder. I was hoping to consciously explore the idea that horror fiction can be made to symbolize male repressed resentment toward women. I took this idea further to see what would happen if the repressed horrors took on their own reality for a horror-writing male. It’s really a thought experiment. A lot of the experiences and emotions of the characters in the novella are humiliating, repellent, and vulnerable, but that’s what I wanted to explore. The famous quote comes to mind: “…Nothing of that which is human is alien to me.”
Liz – Now that sounds fascinating! Aside from length, how did you find writing and publishing a novella compared to a novel? Do you prefer one over the other?
Aaron – I rather like the novella form, just because it’s not too long, not too short (this one’s juuuust right). I know other writers have said that too, but it’s true. I have three or four novellas out there now, and just one novel. Even though I really like the novella format, my plan is to get another novel out. Will I ever get to one of those crazy 600-page novels? I don’t know. Sounds like deciding to build a house from the ground up. But I would like to get there…
Liz – We all need goals – though 600 pages is certainly up there! What are your writing plans for the future?
Aaron – A dissertation, for one thing, and I am sure a lot of nonfiction articles related to that, so I imagine that will keep me busy. But I am still going to be editing a lot, and in fact there are a few secret anthologies in the works that are going to blow people’s minds, as well as I’ll be continuing Dark Discoveries magazine. In terms of fiction, I have a few new stories coming out, but I hope to sit down and get to work on a new novel fairly soon here.
Liz – It sounds as though we’ll be hearing a lot more from you in the future! Thank you so much for your time, Aaron – it’s been a pleasure! All the best for the release of ‘Festival’!
Check out Aaron’s work for yourself via the links: