A Conversation with Aaron J. Lawler
A teacher for fifteen years, Aaron J. Lawler first thought he would become a professional illustrator. But he is now a published author with the release of The Marvelous Paracosm of Fitz Faraday and the Shapers of the Id on November 3, 2016.
Purchase on Amazon
JRR (Jessica’s Reading Room): Tell us a little about yourself.
I have been a teacher for fifteen years and have published peer-reviewed studies in humanities, technology, game theory and education. My mother taught me to tell stories, my father taught me to think independently, and my wife pushed me to try. I am a classically trained painter and hold advanced degrees in the humanities, education, and technology. I am in love with my wife, my two kids, and my dog; and always will be.
“I am a traveller in both the world and in the library. Writing allows me to design the journey, where I will go, what I will do, and who I will meet. Adventures in Europe, Canada, the States and Mexico opened me to new ideas. Philosophical jaunts changed who I am and the way I think. But writing allows me to wayfind. I can engineer a compass for my own path, following my own direction. The mindscape is an amazing place for a daytrip.”
JRR: You have accomplished a lot and now a published book! Congratulations! Did you always want to become an author?
I am a classically trained painter, and one point in my life thought I would become a professional illustrator. Trying my hand at the trade, I found myself stifled. With endless parallel and extradimensional planetary worlds orbiting about in my imagination, I always thought the vehicle to sharing these would be through illustration. But I found that I much prefer the written word when it comes to world-building and character crafting. Painting slows my process down too much. My mind wants to invent, sprout up new places and sights and sounds with ludicrous speed. And the brush, the canvas, the whole process limits me too much.
I have found that I prefer to paint watercolor landscapes and mixed media portraits as a form of relaxation – something that actually lets my mind quiet down. Whereas writing is the opposite. Writing for me is painterly process but at superspeed. I can craft entire gardens, or ocean floors, or mystical forests with rich and lurid detail in mere moments and then continue my Aslan-like painting process by filling the world with the sons and daughters of my visualization.
JRR: What inspires you to write?
A combination of things really… I was interested in creating a way to explore magical realism and fantasy in a contemporary setting so that it felt real or possible. But I didn’t want the magic to replace the realism, just live beside it, so that I could invest in my characters. I also wanted to create a place that felt like now but wasn’t quite right – I intentionally left out cell phones and the internet to create a timelessness. Lastly, as a teacher I wanted to craft a book that met literacy standards like Common Core but was just a really good story, so this became an homage to Mark Twain.
I always say: Read. Read everything! Read good books, read bad poetry, read news articles, read the back of cereal boxes. Inspiration is not some mystical force, it’s a natural way the mind works. We are hard wired to solve problems; that is how we have survived as long as we have. To solve problems you need information. The more information you have, the more inspiration you have!
JRR: Yes! Everyone should read! What does your writing process consist of?
My wife once compared my writing process to the Robin Williams’ movie “What Dreams May Come.” In the movie, the visuals are liquid paintings that shift and grow from scene to scene, always lavishly textured, and in a perpetual motion. This is how I write, filling the page with the symbols – in this case words – which represent full, technicolor splashes of life. Painting does not allow me to communicate this way, it is so arduous and would require hundreds of canvases to create the world I want to bring to life.
It is a double-edged sword in some ways. Because I want to create a specific visual in the mind of others – I want to seed them with my thought in the pristine, perfect way I have shaped it. But writing forces me to let go of this. I find myself relaxed at the release of control, at first it was painstaking to simply be – to simply flow. But now, I visualize the image, craft the words with poetry and rhythm instead of color and brush, and that is how I manifest my ideas.
The Marvelous Paracosm of Fitz Faraday and the Shapers of the Id actually pays homage to this process. Although my first novel, this not my first writing (I have even published nonfiction articles with the International Journal of Art and Art History and the Erudite Journal of Educational Research). Yet this novel is so personal because Fitz creates his world the same way I created the world for Fitz and even Fitz himself. There is a meta-element to this novel in that it in many ways explains how I created the “paracosm” – a word here, meaning parallel world sideways from our own.
JRR: I like your explanation of your writing process to What Dreams May Come! I have only seen that movie once many years ago. What kind of advice can you give to aspiring authors?
Initially, I queried nearly sixty different literary agents and publishers. Only three responded back with favourable offers. That much rejection can be hard to take, but it also taught me so much about myself and the process. In the end, when I chose Black Rose it was because they are a small press firm, and I believe in small press – I believe in the idea that more work should be shared with the world instead of relying solely on the Big Four. I am advocate for small press.
But I would say, that the point of this story is that of sixty different chances, only three turned out. I am told this is actually quite good for an industry saturated in new works. So two things: 1) First, be ready for rejection but realize that every failure makes you better; so seek those failures out! It is good to fail! It means you are trying and learning new ways to succeed. And 2) Second, look at small press as an option. The Big Four publishers include Simon & Schuster (a subsidiary of CBS Corporation), HarperCollins (a subsidiary of NewsCorp), Penguin Random House (a subsidiary of Bertelsmann and Pearson), and Hachette Livre. All, but Hachette Livre, are headquartered in New York, NY and two are subsidiaries of large news media organizations. What this means for us? As readers and consumers our choices are filtered through four megacorporations who dictate what should be part of the body of literature we have access too. I am staunchly against this system, even if literary agents and publishers are not. 99% of all published works are not on the New York Times Best Seller’s List, so we are often only exposed to 1% of works being created. My argument is simply, that is it possible the other 99% might contribute to our culture? Is it possible?
JRR: This is a great answer! Be prepared for lots of rejection. There are so many options out there now, be traditional publishing, indie publishing, and even self-publishing. I believe the stigma of self publishing a book means your book is sub-par is vanishing.
Who was your favorite author as a child and who is your favorite author as an adult?
My favorite books as a child were CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, John Dennis Fitzgerald’s Great Brain series, anything and everything Mark Twain, JM Barie’s Peter Pan, I was in love with anything by Maurice Sendak but particularly Where the Wild Things Are, and I loved the Choose Your Adventure series – I would spend countless hours at the library reading these. I also enjoyed Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders series, and Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes. Later I became a fan of Orwell and Bradbury.
JRR: Tell us about your book The Marvelous Paracosm of Fitz Faraday and the Shapers of the Id.
So here is what is on the book jacket: After witnessing the murder of Professor Oliver Crowley, who has invented a way of bringing thoughts into physical reality, Fitz Faraday and his friends must exonerate the town bully, who is being framed for the murder. Using Professor Crowley’s inventions, Fitz soon learns he can bend the field of Id, a sea of golden dreams and wishes. Fitz finds himself drawn inside a new world he never knew existed. He hopes he will be able to use that world to help his friends and even his enemies. To do so, he must master Crowley’s technique of “Thought becomes light and light becomes physical.”
Hook: Fitz Faraday punched Freud right in the face, and told the world he was his generation’s Tom Sawyer. You see, you cannot tell if this true or not, because Fitz Faraday treats the Id like a Wunderkind prodigy bending spoons. With the quirky fun of the Back to the Future trilogy, Shapers of the Id is a modern day coming of age, inspired by the wit and antics of Mark Twain.
Pitch: The newly orphaned teen, not only struggles with bending reality but also coping with his mother’s passing and living with his grandmother, his cuckoo aunt and his snivelling, little cousin. From childish escapades at the beginning of this bildungsroman, Fitz falls in love with the new girl in town, witnesses his mentor’s murder, defends his bully against false charges, and confronts his mentor’s true murderer. His hero’s journey prepares him for bringing the boon of Id-shaping to the Dreamtime. And that is how Fitz Faraday disproves Freud. The Marvelous Paracosm of Fitz Faraday is a fantasy/sci-fi, coming of age series, modernizing the yarns spun by Mark Twain. Its first instalment, And the Shapers of the Id, is a story complete unto itself and rounds out at about 90,000 words.
JRR: Who is the target audience?
So my novel is a young adult book and targets 6th – 10th graders, but certainly can appeal to a wider audience, specifically anyone with a little imagination and sense of adventure! I wrote the novel for this age group because I wanted to help encourage youth/teens to read. Reading was such a big part of my life when I was younger (and still is today!) and it saddens me that readership is down. I thought if I wrote something fun, unique, and enticing that maybe students might be compelled to try something new.
JRR: Hopefully you will reach that with the younger readers out there! And I like that the main protagonist is a boy. I could be wrong, but it seems like so many books come from a female perspective. Where did you get the idea for The Marvelous Paracosm of Fitz Faraday and the Shapers of Id?
I have been toying with this idea of bending reality and the dreamworld for quite some time. Originally the story was much different. It began with a boy who could transform into his superego – a story I think I will someday revisit for sure. But over time I removed a lot of the overly complicated and redundant parts and brought it down to a simple idea – a boy, his world, and how he copes. I have always been fascinated by science, religion and philosophy and so these ideas come together in the story. Psychology blends with the fantastic and philosophy borders physics, where I get to toy with the very nature of reality. It was so much fun to write, that I cannot help but want to make more!
JRR: I know the book just came out a few months ago, but are you thinking of future novels to write now?
The Marvelous Paracosm of Fitz Faraday and the Shapers of Id was written with series potential in mind (Even the title was structured that way so that it would always be The Marvelous Paracosm of Fitz Faraday and the…). So my plan is to put Fitz in new challenges and new landscapes, refining his abilities to turn thoughts into reality. But I also want to chart the progress of his internal growth as well as his supernatural growth. The debut novel was as much a discussion of morality and truth as it was “what would it be like to have superpowers?” Both are fun to write about, but for vastly different reasons.
I also plan to incorporate a more diverse pantheon. The first novel offered a perspective of small town America which was populated by predominantly white, working class or middle class people. I would like to broaden the scope and add characters who bring different perspectives to Fitz’s world. For instance I am working on a character that has background in Eastern philosophy, who will bring some ancient ideas into what Fitz is doing. The groundwork for this was laid out with Josey’s parents (they are academics) but I think I can dig this even further with a character that has a far more personal connection. She is also a female character, adding another powerful woman to the cast (Josey is of course a pretty substantial character already!).
JRR: That’s great that you are thinking of future novels with Fitz! Now, If you could have dinner with three people, living or dead, who would they be and why?
Hands down, Phillip Pullman. I love his worlds, his characters, and his plots. He just creates this rich tapestry where you become completely immersed. And I would simply ask him, “How? How did you create this world for His Dark Materials?” Pullman’s work is so complex that it reads almost like philosophy, and he intentionally challenges traditional ways of thinking.
I would also love to speak with Neil Gaiman. His works have been a huge influence on my own writing style and patterns. Specifically the way he treats dialogue and unfolds action. And I would ask him, “Is there a point where you find you are going too dark and you bring it back to the light? How do you know when? And why?” Gaiman is so prolific! He is always working and always creating. I love that energy and I just want to be around someone who has that kind of passion.
Lastly, I would really want to speak with Stan Lee, famed Marvel creator. My original interest in becoming a writer is largely because of comic books. And I originally saw myself as an illustrator, but realized that I was far more connected to the story rather than the visual. I think I might ask Stan Lee about this – what is the difference between the visual and the story? And when he writes, does he think in pictures or dialogue? Stan Lee is a treasure trove of wit and knowledge. I met him once, but it was at a photo op so you were not supposed to talk to him. He did tell me “Good job!” when I followed the rules, and it was a pretty neat day. He didn’t say “Excelsior!” but I was happy just the same!
JRR: Is there anything else you would like to tell us?
I am currently working on some vignettes – shorts set in Fitz Faraday’s world. They will star different characters, but will serve as the bridge between the first novel and the sequel. My hope is to have the first one of these vignettes wrapped up in March.
Also, as a big thank you to my supporters I recently launched the Fitz Faraday Fanart Fray (4FContest): a chance for you to create an original piece of art—drawn, painted, digital, or in any other two-dimensional format—that depicts two or more characters in a scene from the story! #MPoFF #4FContest. Submit your original artwork inspired by the book “The Marvelous Paracosm of Fitz Faraday and the Shapers of the Id” for a chance to have your artwork showcased in the special edition of the novel! Here is your chance to become a published illustrator (looks great in your portfolio!)! More information can be found here.
**Thank you for your time Aaron!