What is it about the paranormal, in particular vampires, that fascinates you so much?
I’ve always been attracted to the dark souls, and power, and magic, especially the magic of the mind, psychic powers and mind control. Vampires embody all these things, so it’s a natural fit for me. I also love the cadence of the past, the romance of earlier times. To pick and choose my favourite things about other times, and bringing a taste of that forward and blending it with a modern setting, is a real thrill.
Do you have a special formula for creating characters' names? Do you try to match a name with a certain meaning to attributes of the character or do you search for names popular in certain time periods or regions?
Names are something I spend a lot of time on, and I do investigate time periods and regions, yes. I like names that amuse me, names which cause other characters to react somehow. I also like names that hint at culture, background, history, or personality. For example, “Supervisory Special Agent Gary Chapel” is an FBI agent who heads up the Preternatural Crimes Unit. The first name Gary has always sounded, to me, like a man you can trust. A Gary is a serious dude, intellectual. His last name was a happy accident which was later pointed out to me by my sister. She said, “Oh, I get it. Because priests would not like vampires or other monsters, especially demons and stuff, right? And you find holy men in a chapel.” I answered, “Uh, yeah! Sure! That was TOTALLY intentional.” She didn’t buy it.
Do you have a formula for developing characters? Like do you create a character sketch or list of attributes before you start writing or do you just let the character develop as you write?
I let the characters show me who they are by their actions, and rarely plan things beforehand. I find too much planning hinders my ability to imagine things in my head. Appearance, perhaps, yes I can decide ahead of time what they might look like. Not always. I’ve often seen a character differently by the middle of the book and have had to go back and do minor touch-ups.
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? How do you deal with it?
The only way I manage to avoid writer’s block is by writing every single day and keeping my habit very steady. I’m up at 4 A.M. Monday-Friday. I work, then drive home, then write until 2:30 P.M., when I pick up my kids from school. I may edit from 3-5. If I get off this habit for any reason, it becomes a real problem.
Do you have any weird writing quirks or rituals?
I have colognes and perfumes that I use for olfactory cues for certain characters, and if a character smokes, I will buy their brand and keep them around to sniff. I don’t smoke, but I have been known to light one and let it sit in an ashtray beside me. I frequently light candles. I have music playlists for different characters, to help me hear their particular voice. I like the curtains closed, to block out the outside world. I do not answer the phone. I must have tea. I cannot stress that last one enough: I. Must. Have. Tea. *chuckle*
Do you write in different genres?
I am playing around with some SciFi with my editor, a collaboration that is going nowhere fast because Marnie Baranuik of “Touched” and “Death Rejoices” is a fussy character who insists on continuing to play with me. I am also working with Jason D. Ready on a horror anthology, and a dark fantasy steampunk series that we’re calling “Pixiegrind.” I also write erotica (not yet published, or finished) under a pen name which I’m not ready to share yet. Or maybe ever. Ha. We’ll see.
Other than writing, what are some of your interests, hobbies or passions in life
I am fairly obsessed with writing, so my other hobbies tend to be writing-related. I research a lot: police procedure, FBI history, magic, witchcraft, world religions, herbal medicines, other languages, surnames, biochemistry, forensics, murder, body language, human sexuality, odd places on the planet, remote destinations, obsolete British slang, entomology. When I read for pleasure, it’s usually True Crime or mysteries with a forensic anthropology angle, like the works of Kathy Reichs or Patricia Cornwell.
Where is your favorite place to read?
Two years ago, I had a covered, half-wrap front porch built. My street is quiet and tree-lined. During the summer, I can prop my feet up and settle in with lemonade or iced tea and read while the birds play in the trees. It’s wonderful. In the winter, I have “my spot” on the couch where the lamp glows over my shoulder at just the right angle and the fuzzy blanket is nearby in case I need it. That’s my reading heaven.
What can readers expect next from you?
Marnie is returning home to Canada for her next adventure, and exploring a case in my own home town. It will, of course, be fairly goofy.
Would you like to leave readers with a little teaser or excerpt from the book?
“How much do you know about Hood and Dunnachie? How do you know they’re not, you know, like you?” I eyeballed Agent Batten, specifically the part of his shirt that hid the vampire hunter’s kill-notch tattoos. They might be sort of sexy if they didn’t indicate wasted immortals, not that I’d ever admit that aloud.
Batten checked the rear view mirror for Agent Chapel’s level of attention and then said more quietly, “I’m not all bad, am I?”
The tone of his voice hinted at scandalous pleasures, private naked escapades behind closed doors, or in our case, up against them. I fought down the instant responding wave of warmth in my groin that indicated my body was an idiot.
“You’re an oversized ass-hat. You hate my housemate. You won’t respect that I’m retired,” I said. “You push me; I don’t try to improve you.”
“Nothin’ to improve.”
“I don’t ask for anything you’re not able to give.”
“Maybe you should,” he suggested. The intimacy I heard had to be my lurid imagination.
“Your FBI shield didn’t change the fact that at your core, you’re a rule-bending carnage machine. If there weren’t revenants to dust, you’d be making a living killing something else.”
His jaw ground, a single ripple. “I’ve never hurt an innocent person.”
“Depends on your definition of innocent and person, I suppose,” I drew a deep chest full of air then winced as a stitch pulled low in my back. I heard a sharp inhalation from the back seat, like Chapel had suddenly pulled a muscle. A glance in the make-up mirror showed him staring out the window, lips pinched in a rigid line, brow rutted.
I told Batten quietly, “I don’t trust you for a second not to hurt Harry. That’s enough of a reason to dislike you.”
“Didn’t touch a hair on his head,” he assured me, his voice still gruffly intimate in the front seat. “Could have. He gave me plenty of opportunity.”
My breath caught in my throat. I wasn’t remotely convinced by Gary Chapel’s new show of focus on his Blackberry, so I lowered my voice. “You snuck into Harry’s room?”
“Invited,” he replied.
“Big heep hunter accepted an invitation down into an immortal’s private lair? Aren’t you brave.” I shifted to get more comfortable.
There was a heartbeat of quiet, during which I figured he was searching for a non-jerky thing to say. Finally, he offered: “It has a real theatrical flair for decorating.”
I felt my lips tug up reluctantly. “His nod to Poe and Wilde.”
“Hence the two-faced portrait of perfect Harry and rotten Harry above the fake fireplace? The bust of Pallas above the door? The stuffed raven?” When I nodded he mirrored it. “I dig the bumper stickers inside the lid of its coffin, especially: What happens in the casket stays in the casket.”
“You weren’t in there when Harry was resting, though. Right?”
“We took turns every afternoon, watching it.”
“Watching.” My head was starting to throb. Since I couldn’t go back in time and make sure they didn’t do it, I could only make sure it didn’t happen again. “You do know that ‘watching’ isn’t a literal requirement? You can watch him just fine from upstairs. It’s mostly just making sure critters don’t get at him. Or hunters.”
A slow smile began to spread over his lips. I didn’t get the joke. He shook his head with a surprised chuckle.
“Harry said flat-out it was our job to sit in the chair by the casket, like bodyguards. ‘Sentinels’ was his word.”
I was about to scoff but then thought it sounded like classic Harry manipulation; what else had he done to amuse himself in my absence?
“So you sat there,” I said.
“I sat there.”
“For hours. Literally watching him.”
“Figured if I didn’t do a good job, you’d get pissy.”
“Since when do you care what I want?” He didn’t answer. “You weren’t tempted to drive a stake between his ribs?” No reply. “You just sat there.”
“I drank beer and played its video games. Old school Mario.”
I tried to get a mental picture of Batten sitting in Harry’s black leather video game chair, not ten feet from an immortal lying prone and vulnerable in his casket, and Batten just …being there. If body snatchers hadn’t replaced the real Mark with an alien duplicate, I had no other explanation.
“I don’t know what to say,” I told him, meaning it. I wasn’t used to feeling gratitude toward the hunter. I glanced in the make-up mirror. Chapel was still pretending not to listen to us. “Thank you, Mark.”
“You’re welcome, Marnie,” he said easily.
“Now if only we could stop you calling Harry an it.”
“Never gonna happen.”
The Marnie Baranuik Files, Book One
A. J. Aalto
A. J. Aalto
Genre: paranormal fantasy
Publisher: Booktrope Editions
Number of pages: 454
Word Count: 158k
Cover Artist: Greg Simanson
The media has a nickname for Marnie Baranuik, though she’d rather they didn’t; they call her the Great White Shark, a rare dual-talented forensic psychic. Twice-Touched by the Blue Sense--which gives her the ability to feel the emotions of others, and read impressions left behind on objects--Marnie also has a doctorate in preternatural biology and a working knowledge of the dark arts. She is considered without peer in the psychic community.
Then her first big FBI case ended with a bullet in one shoulder and a chip on the other, a queasy heart and a serial killer in the wind, leaving her a public flop and a private wreck. When the FBI’s preternatural crimes unit tracks her down at a remote mountain lodge for her insight on a local case, her quiet retirement is promptly besieged by a stab-happy starlet, a rampaging ghoul, and a vampire-hunting jackass in tight Wranglers. Marnie figures the only real mystery is which one will kill her first.
Too mean to die young, backed up by friends in cold places, and running with a mouth as demure as a cannon’s blast, Marnie Baranuik is about to discover that there’s no such thing as quitting time when you’re Touched.
About the Author:
AJ Aalto is the author of Touched, first in the paranormal mystery series The Marnie Baranuik Files. Aalto is an unrepentant liar and a writer of blathering nonsense offset by factual gore. When not working on her novels, you can find her singing old Monty Python songs in the shower, eavesdropping on perfect strangers, stalking her eye doctor, or failing at one of her many fruitless hobbies. Generally a fan of anyone with a passion for the ridiculous, she has a particular weak spot for smug pseudo-intellectuals and narcissistic jerks; readers will find her work littered with dark, imperfect creatures, flawed monsters and oodles of snark. AJ cannot say no to a Snickers bar, and has been known to swallow her gum.