Welcome, Aaron. Please introduce yourself and tell us a little about your book.
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.
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 installment, And the Shapers of the Id, is a story complete unto itself and rounds out at about 90,000 words.
This is your first book, so how was the whole process for you?
Overall, Black Rose Writing were very good to work with and remain so as we move into new areas of marketing and selling books. Initially, I queried nearly sixty different literary agents and publishers. Only three responded back with favorable 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. Small presses are publishers with the “desire to help disseminate literature with only a small likely market”. The Big Four book 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?
My writing process in general begins with the fact that 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.
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.
What or who inspires you?
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.
What were your favourite childhood books?
I always have been an avid reader, and 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!
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.
As a writer, what would you choose as your avatar/spirit animal?
I love this question! This immediately reminds of 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 love to ask him, “How? How did you create this world for His Dark Materials?” In any event, choosing one animal is hard for me – like Lyra, I want Pantalaimon to stay changeable forever to match my moods and interests. But if I had to choose, I would say an Owl – specifically a Barn Owl. They fascinate with their mysticism and eerie qualities that somehow make knowledge seem provocative and dangerous.
If you could tell your younger self anything, what would it be?
This game I have played too many times! But I think I would tell myself to keep being curious and keep being daring. There was a point in life where I stopped taking risks and stayed the true and narrow course. Although I have little regrets in life – even my biggest mistakes have helped me become who I am today – there are things I certainly missed out on for such silly reasons as peer pressure, fear of embarrassment or rejection, or just plain trepidation. As a child I was fearless – adventure was my calling! Be it the hikes in the woods, building forts and having wars with the neighborhood kids, or trying any sport/hobby/musical instrument that came in front of me. My adolescence somehow quieted the beasts of curiosity and wonder, but I rekindled those flames in adulthood. And my wife, and now my children, have become terrifying and beautiful adventures all on their own!
How did you come up with the idea, and title, for The Marvelous Paracosm of Fitz Faraday and the Shapers of the Id?
It begins with “paracosm” – a word here, meaning parallel world sideways from our own. 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. This imaginary world is crafted from the field of Id, a re-imagining of Freud and Jung’s terms. That’s where I started. And then things sort of organically evolved from there. I knew I wanted the novel to be educational as well as an experience (the two go hand in hand for me). As a science fiction/fantasy text, the story and themes are accessible to students from 6th – 12th grade, connecting to material that helps cultivate a culture of literacy and a love of reading. It is widely known that students prefer fiction to nonfiction reading, particularly concerning reading for pleasure. It is important to tap into that desire by sharing reading experiences and encouraging students to socialize while reading. It is also known that when students can connect to stories on a personal level, they are more likely to enjoy the task as well as remain motivated to complete the task.
Capturing the imagination of the reader fosters the positive climate surrounding literacy. This is fundamental to achieving the Common Core Standards. Reading is both a pleasurable experience – a choice hobby and activity, and a critical skill for the 21st century – being literate in the modern world. The Marvelous Paracosm of Fitz Faraday and the Shapers of the Id references five domains which specifically asks students to use critical thinking skills, closely and attentively read, comprehend complex works, and support ideas using evidence.
Any plans for future projects you can tell us about?
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!).
I am also 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: http://writeraaronjlawler.strikingly.com/blog/fanart-contest-launched
And just for fun, the best and worst gifts you ever received?
One of the best gifts I ever received were the 1st editions of Peter Pan and One Hundred Years of Solitude from my wife (two of my favorite books). And the complete works by Rudyard Kipling (from my parents). The worst gift I ever received was a drawer full of celery – a prank from my high school students who were mad that I was leaving the high school and transitioning to the college level full time. Harmless and fun, but I am not a fan of celery!
One thing you can’t live without?
My family. Family is everything to me. I cannot describe in adequate words (and I am a writer!) the deep love and need I have for my wife and my children. My extended family too – my parents, my siblings, they are vitally important to my very being.
But to be fair the question was “thing” so if I had to choose an object, that would be my e-reader. I love books and love reading, and without my e-reader, I would be lost. Literally every night I read. I read to my kids. I read to myself. And without my e-reader I would have to ransack my personally library every night to fulfill the need to read. Reading follows air, food & water, love. In that order.
If you won the lottery what would be the first thing on your list?
So many things! First I would do the practical stuff like pay off our house and our student loans. And then I would help fund my wife’s dream – she has always stood by mine no matter the cockamamie scheme! My wife wants to open a shelter for battered women that also includes a school for those women to a college degree or trades training and provide support for the women’s children (daycare, care services, education). Hands down this where the money would go. I am very blessed to have an amazing life – I have a great family, a great home and a wonderful job. I do not need anything more than that. But my wife’s dream, well its bigger than anything I have ever come up with and I wish I could make it a reality!
Thank you so much for the interview! An absolute pleasure!
Thank you, Aaron for answering my questions so thoroughly. And I hope your wife is able to fulfil such a wonderful and beneficial dream.
Aaron J. Lawler has taught for fifteen years and has published peer-reviewed studies in humanities, technology, game theory and education. His mother taught him to tell stories, his father taught him to think independently, his wife pushed him to try. Aaron is a classically trained painter and holds advanced degrees in the humanities, education, and technology. He is in love with his wife, his two kids, and his two dogs; and always will be.