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Taking It To The Grave 2 (Interview With A Thrill Master)

No, no–don’t get up … a woman getting tossed in a cell with you is hardly the same as her joining you at the dinner table. Jesus, you can barely stand. Sit back down before you fall. *swipes under her bloody nose with forefinger* No sense cracking your fool head open before they bring your last meal, Boudreau. Yeah … I know who you are. You understand why you’re not chained up, right? *gestures at the iron rings bolted to the wall* Why they left you loose? And why they threw me in here? They know you, friend. They think you’re one of those white knight types. Hope they’re wrong, for your sake. See, they figure if they knocked me around a bit, you’d get riled-up, and when they came back, you’d put yourself in front of me like some macho dickhead. They’re counting on it. Don’t let them fool you, Boudreau—ain’t nothing you can do for me. Standing between me and them is only going to cost you a few teeth.

Yeah, you’re right: I was one of them. Funny, most people don’t peg me for an assassin. But then, you’re a writer: guess you see things most people don’t. I’ve been slated for removal. *defeated chuckle*  It was only a matter of time. Your left arm looks like it hurts, lemme give you something for it. Just a pain killer. No? Suit yourself.  *dry-swallows four pills* More for me. Gonna wish you had a few of these in an hour or so.

What were you thinking? I mean, you’re no dummy, you must have known you’d piss ’em off with your thinly-veiled antagonists. And between you and me, they do not appreciate the word “frankenseeds”. No sense of humour about it. That might have been the last nail in your coffin. How’d you know about the seed bank plan? Lucky guess? Doesn’t matter, now. They’re gonna bury you, Boudreau, I watched them dig the hole. You’re a goner whether you answer their questions or not, so if I were you, I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction. Better yet, give me the answers. I know what they’re dying to ask you.

A heads up? When it happens, they’ll take me away first, for two reasons: first, they hope you’ll get in their way, give ‘em an excuse to do more damage to that arm. Second, you get to hear me scream. They think this’ll make you more talkative, when they get around to coming for you. *turns her head* Hear that? The low hum. They’re warming up the chair. Guess they’re going all out for me. I should be flattered. Won’t do them any good. They broke with me, they get nothing. *raises her voice* HEAR THAT, PERCY? YOU GET NOTHING! Ten years I gave him, and this is how it ends? Nothing more than a primer for an author take-down? Fuck Percy and fuck Slade too, sideways and ass backwards. If there is a hell, they’ll have to face me there someday.

Hey, Boudreau? We’ve got a little time left. Talk to me a bit? I keep thinking about Slade’s AK47. Do you know that thing can fire 700 rounds a minute? Only holds 30 but still–he could turn my guts to a gooey paste in under 4 seconds. Not that I’ll get off that easy. *choked-back sob* Nah, I’m OK. Superfine like sugar. No worries. Tell me about this book of yours that’s got the whole organization pissed off. And then … well, would you promise me something? Before they put the bag on your head, tell the bastards:

                      AJ took your secrets to the grave...

AJ: I understand you used to sing in a band. How does your love of music influence your writing, do you think?
AB: In my opinion, performing in a band and crafting a good story are both activities designed to entertain the general populace. If one has talent for any given vocation, I feel you owe it to yourself to give it a go. You know…try it on for size, and see how it looks and feels. Although I had wanted to perform as a singer for many years, it was never meant to be more than a hobby. Writing has proven just the opposite; I never aspired to become a writer. However, once I began, I realized how much passion I had for it, and will certainly pursue it as a second career.
AJ: Your protagonist is an ex-navy seal. Have you yourself served in the military? How did Mocado present himself to you, during character creation?
AB: Murhkin Mocado is the main character in the story, and I created him even before having a loose concept of what “In Memory of Greed” would be about. My desire was to write a character who was very tough physically, but vulnerable, and a bit naive emotionally, due to childhood experiences. Navy SEALs must undergo a series of training programs so rigorous that a large number wash out well before graduation. I thought it would be an interesting, and powerful paradox, to create an incredibly rugged character from a physical standpoint, yet one who carrys heavy emotional baggage. I believe this dichotomy helps cement a bond between Mocado and the reader. If I’ve done my job, people will respect this character for his achievements, and compassionately root him on, as the reader is privy to where his difficulties have stemmed from. I have never served in the military. Instead, I attended college and earned a professional degree in architecture. However, I’ve always had the utmost respect for those who serve our country, and I’m proud to have my MC represent the men and women who protect this nation.

AJ: Were there many scenes or ideas you had for this group of characters that didn’t make it into this story?

AB: I actually rewrote a major percentage of “In Memory of Greed” twice, the third version being the one I published. I started writing the book without having developed an outline first. The storyline wandered far afield from where I really wanted it to go. As a result, many scenes were culled, and replaced with writing that worked. I learned the hard way—writing without an outline is not a method that works for me.
AJ: Do these characters still speak to you, with intentions of returning for more adventures? Is there one character who is speaking louder than the rest?
AB: The protagonist, Murhkin Mocado, and the secondary protagonist, Joelle Barstow are not quite ready to call it quits. Both will show up in my second novel, which is also a political mystery/thriller. This story will certainly keep Mocado and Barstow busy. My antagonists will likely bury both characters up to their eyeballs in treachery. 
AJ: I’m really glad to hear that. What was the biggest hurdle you’ve faced in bringing “In Memory Of Greed” to where it is today?
AB: As a first-time, indie-published author, the challenge lies in promoting the work without over-doing it. There’s a fine line between making people aware that you have a quality product to offer, and spamming them to death. I try to give of myself, in terms of helping fellow indie authors promote their work, instead of tooting my own horn, non-stop. I feel that this creates fellowship and camaraderie among writers. Not only that, but it gives me a fantastic reason to read new books. As I often hear it said in this profession: “A rising tide lifts all boats.” I’m happy, and proud, to contribute to this philosophy.
AJ: What worries you most: the bioethics (or the lack thereof) of modern agro-science, the murky relationship between big business and government policy-makers, or the sheer size and sway of some of these “king of the jungle” corporations?  
AB: All three topics are worrisome, for the simple reason that the revolving door policy between big business and government allows these firms to basically write their own rules then dictate who enforces them; which leads me to the question, who is watching the watchmen? Unfortunately, when those at the top are in bed with one another, the average man on the street ends up becoming a unsuspecting, human guinea pig.
AJ: You’ve mentioned before that you’ve got your second book outlined and ready to go. When you do sit down to write it, what will your work/writing schedule look like? Do you set aside time, or grab it when you can?
AB: When I am actively working on a WIP, I get up around 4:30 AM and write until about 9 AM. I then head out to work at my day job. Upon arriving home, I do the family thing for a while then try to get a couple more hours of writing in, before going to bed. I also try to take as much time off as possibe, in order to devote large blocks of time to writing.
AJ: Stuart Roth’s temper interests me–talk to me about him. From what part of your own psyche did you draw, to write that character’s dark, passionate outbursts, or did you have to look outside yourself to find him?
AB: Stuart Roth is an amalgamation of the bosses I had while in my twenties, before starting my own business. Most seemed to get off on their position, lording over employees with a heavy hand. I remember taking issue with how these men treated their staff, acting as if they were vastly better and smarter than the rest of us. When it came time to write “In Memory of Greed,” payback arrived in the form of crafting a character who was obviously his own worst enemy, losing the respect of all individuals with whom he had contact. I wanted to make him funny in a profoundly sad sort of way. I believe I’ve accomplished this with Roth.


AJ: I think it’s fair to say that Senator Mocado is a cold, distant man. Whereas Stuart Roth at least has passion, Senator Mocado is the one character in “In Memory Of Greed” to have zero warmth, which makes him a hard, disinterested father. How does this affect his son’s personality? Did you plan this consciously?
AB: It was quite intentional that I wrote Senator Mocado, Murhkin’s father, as a self-absorbed, emotionally unavailable character in the story. I believe it adds a layer of emotional complexity to Murhkin, as his past contributes greatly to the issues he’s forced to overcome on his journey. Many parents keep a tremendous amount of personal information safely hidden from their children, in order to insulate the parent/child relationship from unpleasant surprises. This is taken to extremes with Murhkin and the senator. In the end, Murhkin is forced to face certain realities that cause him pain, but also help to provide closure. By working through these revelations, he can ultimately live a more fulfilling life, his journey providing wisdom and strength.
AJ: You’re a well-travelled man. How did you choose California, Ireland, and Kenya from your extensive list of locales–why did these three places fit your vision of the story so well?
AB: Kenya, in all it’s exotic wonder, burst forth from my mind as a locale that I MUST write about. There is so much about Africa that captured my imagination. It was my first trip abroad; therefore, making it a locale that my characters travelled within my debut novel would not be denied. And Ireland was a perfect fit, as one of my main characters is Irish. Ireland is also quite breathtaking, allowing me to provide the reader with a travel experience they may, or may not have experienced on their own. California seemed right for the U.S. location, not only from a character development standpoint, but also in relation to its geography. Further, I have spent a fair amount of time there. As they say, write what you know. 
AJ: You’re not shy about your love of Hawaii–any interest in setting a future story there?
AB: Though a number of movies, television programs, and novels have been based in the Hawaiian islands, I feel there is enough diversity of culture, scenery, and history to provide a fresh, solid backdrop for a story. I’ve seen a few attempts get a bit cheesy, in terms of including cliche scenarios, so it’s a locale that requires a certain finesse to pull it off. I make a solemn promise to my readers: no hula contests will appear in any of my novels.
AJ: Corporate greed and government corruption feature heavily in this novel. They remind me of certain other massive corporations (which I’ll not mention, lest they aim their dreaded cudgel of death at my forehead) which are, at this point, not even attempting to pretend they’re not a den of super villains. Do you believe anyone can make a difference in the stand against such corporations?
AB: Change on this scale, and magnitude, must come about collectively. If a large enough chorus of voices echoes across the land, those who choose to do wrong may just find themselves under a white-hot spotlight. My intent is to be a conduit for getting the word out. I fully intend to be an integral part of the change I want to see happen. This type of grass-roots effort has worked well in the past, and it can work again.
AJ: There’s a scene that I’ll never forget in “In Memory of Greed” that takes place in a witch doctor’s shop. Without any major spoilers, take me through your research process for that, because this is a colourful and unexpected addition to the plot. How much of this scene is based in realism and how much is pure fiction?
AB: The shop is a real place, located exactly where I described it in the book. I actually purchased a number of tribal masks from the shop when I was in Nairobi. Although I’m relatively certain the real proprietor of the place was not a witch doctor’s son, the vibe I got from having all those tribal masks hanging there “looking” at me was otherworldly. Each was authentic, and hand-carved, belonging to various tribes from all across Africa. The feeling I got while standing inside the place left an lasting impression on me. Therefore, it just had to be the backdrop for a dramatic scene in my novel.
AJ: Yep, that’s friggin’ creepy LOL. Was it a conscious choice on your part to give all your characters, both good and bad, personal sensitivity and depth? I’m thinking now mostly of Patrick Keegan, who, as a well-rounded player with both an edge and a conscience, would actually be my choice for most interesting character. Did you set out to create characters with unexpected sensitivity, or was that a happy accident?
AB: No accident there. I believe that the most saintly individuals in the world have a dark side. Conversely, those who walk the earth with hearts chock full of evil still have a small area where positivity and light remain. My feeling is, the more a writer shows the complexities of each character’s personalities, the more invested it allows the reader to become. I want to make my readers feel as much as possible while immersed in my work. The best way I know to achieve that, is to provide them with characters who are colorful, complex, and flawed in some way; a figurative meat, and potatoes to sink their voracious teeth into. PS: I welcome vegetarians with opened arms too.
AJ: How often do future characters, not yet written, disrupt your work day with their chatter in your head? Do you push them aside or jot them down for later?
AB: I’ve heard many writers speak of this, but my day job usually requires a great deal of concentration, and situational awareness. I don’t generally allow my mind to drift from day job to writer mode. For me, sitting down to write, whether it’s research, character development, or editing, gets my full attention. Likewise with my day job. I enjoy the process of creating good characters far too much to have anything else enter this realm, simultaneously.
AJ: So you’re pretty focused. What 3 adjectives do you hope readers would use to describe your writing style thus far?
AB: Intense, fast-paced, and satisfying.
AJ: As a writer, what do you feel is your weak point, that which needs the most effort to overcome? How do you plan to improve this?
AB: As writers, we all have something new we can learn, on a daily basis. For me, if the rules about writing mechanics were to become more second nature, I feel my work would improve. The more we get right the first time around, the less editing our work requires, to become solid. I actually enjoy reading books about grammar, as they contain the tools we utilize to craft our stories. 
AJ: When you read, do you do so as a writer, with an eye to what writerly tricks other authors might be using to entertain you and draw you in?
AB: I certainly read differently now than I did before starting this journey as a writer. It’s difficult not to view other works with a critical eye, as that’s how we get the most from our own work. I’m delighted to say, there are few books I’ve read, from which I can’t take at least something away to help my own work. Some are things to emulate, some to avoid.
AJ: Do you find yourself mentally editing other people’s books without meaning to?
AB: Yes, I totally do this. Each individual has a slightly different way of saying something. What may look and sound perfectly normal to me, might come across as clunky, or conversely, genius to another. While there are some black and white rules to follow, we, as writers, have many options available to get our ideas across. Our own individual styles are what help draw fans to our work. Some of my favorite authors became such, for the simple reason that I can find no flaws with their prose.
AJ: Where do you do your best thinking, as a writer? Do you have a Thoughtful Spot, like Winnie the Pooh? Is there any magical place in your world where your words seem to come easiest?
AB: I don’t have any one spot that works better than others, but I do have a condition that must be met; relative silence. I can’t have TV, music, or conversations happening around me. Incessant noises, phones, and the like don’t allow my mind to become fully immersed at the task at hand. Give me a quiet spot, and I’m happy.
AJ: Talk to me about the #pubwrite crew on Twitter. That’s one fantastic bunch of people who adore you; have you received your Nicest Guy on Earth statue yet?
AB: I’ve never met a collective group of people that are better, smarter, or funnier than the wonderful friends I have made on Twitter, and particularly through #pubwrite. It’s very much like an online family for me. It’s my one stop where I can find information, camaraderie, laughter, and sharp wit. These people are the most pure source of joy I’ve found along my writing journey. Haha…no statue yet.
AJ: I have NO DOUBT it’s being bronzed as we speak. What is the very best gift someone could give you?
AB: I absolutely love when someone finishes reading “in Memory of Greed,” and their experience with my book parallels the particular goals I set for the work when writing it. Writing is my passion…to have someone take precious time out of their busy lives to give my work a shot is nearly surreal. It never gets old. I couldn’t be more appreciative of my readers and the lovely feedback they so graciously share.
 AJ: Was there a singular “click” moment in writing “In Memory Of Greed” when you could see it all coming together? 
AB: Only when the climax was fully developed, did I feel I had the story clenched. I’ve read a number of books by some very successful authors, where the end left me flat, and completely unsatisfied. I HAD to nail the ending of “In Memory of Greed.” In the mystery/thriller genre, the story must build to a stunning crescendo, or you haven’t done your job, as an author. The moment I came up with the finale, I was able to breathe a sigh of relief.
AJ: Paint me a picture of Al Boudreau the day after you launched “In Memory of Greed”. Business as usual? Nervous? Elated? What was going through your mind?
AB: I remember feeling a tremendous sense of relief. Now, as I look back on that time, I realize just how naive I was. Who knew that writing, revising, and editing was the easy part? Networking, promoting, and the whole process of utilizing social media, while fun, takes a tremendous amount of time and energy. I find that small, daily inputs work well for me, allowing progress while taking time to really enjoy the ride. For me, it’s about the journey more than the destination.
AJ: I think I hear them coming. One last question for you, a fun one. The table is set, the invitation is sent and accepted, you’ve been able to invite one author, living or dead, to dinner to talk writerly talk–whom did you invite and why?
AB: I would be sitting on a barstool in Key West next to Earnest Hemingway, if given the opportunity to chat with a particular writer. His work is so appealing to me that I could pick his brain for hours, taking detailed notes all the while, of course. And we’d certainly be getting some drinking done in the process, ’cause that’s how Ernie and I roll.
*rests her head against the wall with a sigh* I hear boots. It’s OK, I’m ready to go. I’ll say hi to Hemingway for you.  *looks over her shoulder at the hallway* He doesn’t know shit, Percy, let him go. He made it all up, he’s a storyteller. It was a big coincidence, that’s all. *shrugs sadly at the writer* Was worth a shot, right? Be sure to look me up on the other side, Boudreau …
 (author’s note: Neither AJ Aalto nor her dear friend Al Boudreau were injured and/or snuffed in the making of this interview. They did, however, have quite a bit of fun. His marvelous book “In Memory of Greed” can be bought here and you can visit his website here AJ would like to thank Al for his gracious acceptance of my request for an evil author interview and his tolerance of my rampant silliness and flights of mania. Thanks so much, Al. You’re a doll!)
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2 Responses to Taking It To The Grave 2 (Interview With A Thrill Master)

  1. Eden Baylee says:

    Hi AJ,

    Thrilled to see Al here on your blog. He’s a fab author, but he has a great basis for it —he’s a lovely human being first and foremost. I subscribe to his philosophy about promotion too. It is a fine line between pushing your own work and sounding obnoxious. I suppose that’s why people have publicists!

    I believe it is more effective to have others shine a light on your work, and that takes time. It requires genuine interest in knowing the other person, reading their work, and creating a friendship based on mutual respect. I think Al has done this beautifully, and it has no doubt contributed to his success in life and as an author.

    Life isn’t always fair, but it’s wonderful to see someone attain success who actually deserves it. Al is one of those people. Thanks for featuring this man…

  2. Derek Flynn says:

    Very interesting interview. Nice job, both you guys.

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