At first glance, Aaron Gudmunson comes across as a laid-back guy in an old baseball cap and worn-out blue jeans. The stay-at-home dad of Emma, 7, and Mia, 4, lives a pretty normal life, but the world of his imagination is anything but – Gudmunson is a full-time horror author.
Gudmunson wrote his first horror story, “The Beast Person,” when he was 8. He grew up reading Stephen King novels, and credits his parents for his love of scary stories.
“They always left paperbacks lying around. So, at a young age, I would pick them up and thumb through them,” he said. “Ever since then, I just kept going.”
Gudmunson explained he does not write only horror stories. He classifies his writing as fiction, in such genres as speculative, dark, science fiction, fantasy, and horror.
“I write things that happen to everyday people,” he said. “I like quiet horror, not the shock value kind of stories. I try to make them spooky; the spookier, the better.”
“Emma Tremendous,” released March 24, is for young adults. His recently-published collection of short stories and essays, “From the Dusklands,” and his horror novel, “Snow Globe,” are available for purchase online from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. He has sold a number of short stories to magazines and anthologies.
Gudmunson is writing a sequel to “Emma Tremendous,” and claims that he always has at least three works in progress.
Gudmunson talked to MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton about his new book and juggling writing with raising his daughters.
MidWeek: Where are you from?
Aaron Gudmunson: I was born in Belize. My parents were in the Peace Corps. ...After Belize, we moved to DeKalb. After that, when I was in second or third grade, we moved to Somonauk. I finished high school there, then I moved back to DeKalb. Now I live in Sycamore with my family.
When I was about 15, they brought my brother and me back (to Belize) to see what it looked like. I was only there a couple of years when I was younger, so I don’t remember it. It was an amazing trip. We visited a Mayan ruin, and we climbed it all the way to the top. You could almost feel the history there, and it almost felt like you were being watched. It wasn’t a bad feeling, just a feeling of a presence. You could see over the ocean, and there was a rainbow and a storm rolling in at the same time. It was probably the most spiritual feeling I’ve ever had.
MW: How does the experience you felt in Belize fit into what you write?
AG: It’s definitely worked its way into some of my stories. From time to time, I mention a presence that some of the characters feel. …It’s something that you can’t see, but you’re aware of, and it’s aware of you. I’m sure that it’s an influence from what I felt when I was at the Mayan ruins.
MW: Why did you choose horror?
AG: I think that it’s because you live in the real world, and when you’re faced with something horrific, you can take a step out of it, take a step back. When I read a horror story, it’s not about the horror. It’s about sympathy and feeling sympathetic towards the characters – and being glad that it’s not you. A lot of people ask why I write horror. I write it because I like to try to take a step back from the real world and present that world with something horrific that’s not always a straight monster, whoever the antagonist is. It’s usually a symbol for something bigger. …One of my stories, “Sneakers,” is about a homeless man. It’s not scary in a supernatural way, but in the fact that it happens in real life and that people are trying to survive every day.
MW: Do you tell your daughters scary stories at bedtime?
AG: I do on occasion tell them scary stories, but they don’t like it too much. My older daughter is actually dabbling in writing now. She entered a story she wrote into her school’s Young Author contest, and it moved on to the next round. She’s into writing, and I support her. Fostering literacy is important to me. A love of reading opens your imagination. Not just to the stories you’re reading, but to potentially anything. Your imagination is your limit; the further the better.
MW: How do you differentiate between the real world and the worlds in your books?
AG: You try to make it as realistic as possible. Obviously, the speculative elements in the story would not happen in real life, but you try to make it as real as possible. You have to have rules for the world that you create. As long as you adhere to the rules, you can have anything happen in your story, anything that you can imagine.
MW: Do you believe in the supernatural: werewolves, vampires, zombies, etc.? Do you think that this world has them?
AG: Absolutely. I am open to the idea. I don’t believe that vampires stalk the night or go around drinking blood. I don’t think that there are actual werewolves. But I’m open to the possibility. Things like ghosts and people that practice witchcraft, I absolutely believe that happens. But as far as the over-the-top movie monsters, no.
MW: Are you influenced by movie monsters?
AG: Definitely. I watch TV and read books. I loved the Harry Potter series. I loved the idea of these students being in a school, I loved the school scenario. “Emma Tremendous” takes place in an old school. …I take different things from what I read or see.
MW: Tell me more about “Emma Tremendous.”
AG: I started writing “Emma Tremendous” when my oldest daughter, Emma, was born. The book is named after her. The publisher recommends it for ages 10 and up. It has some scary parts in it, some thematic elements and scary scenes. It’s more of an adventure novel than horror. With “Emma Tremendous,” I tried to write a book with a strong female character that doesn’t always need to be reliant on a male to save her. …Since my mom was a writer, and also a feminist, I consider myself a feminist as well. I don’t always have this archetypical male hero. I try to have female characters in the forefront and have larger roles than most horror stories do.
MW: “Emma Tremendous” is written under your pseudonym, A. D. Goodman, correct?
AG: Yes. For my young adult books, I differentiate between my works for adults and works for kids. My editor suggested that I use a different name so that parents wouldn’t accidentally buy the wrong book for their kids.
MW: What book has inspired you the most? What do you go back to time and time again to reread?
AG: There are a couple that come to mind, but the one that inspired me the most is “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” I’ve read it countless times and I’ve worn through countless copies. The story never gets old; it’s fantastic. If I had to choose one book, it would be that.
MW: Tell me about the book trailers on your website.
AG: It’s a good promotional device. It gets a buzz going. It’s something I make myself on my computer. I find some images that are duty and royalty free, the same with music. I used to be in a band, so sometimes, I use my old band’s music.
MW: Have you thought about using other forms of art, such as graphic novels?
AG: Graphic novels are definitely something I would be open to do, and once I could find somebody that could draw, I would write the words. Graphic novels are more accessible to readers and a lot of fun.
MW: Do you have any advice for writers in general?
AG: Be patient. The wait time for getting your work done, in a publishable form, then submitting them, and waiting to hear back from the publisher, that can be a tremendous amount of time. You have to have a thick skin because you are going to be rejected often. Just hang in there, keep at it, and don’t give up. …If a publisher rejects what I’ve written, I always go back, revise and edit. I try to make it a better story.
MW: If you weren’t writing, what would you image yourself doing?
AG: It doesn’t matter, because writing’s always been what I’ve wanted to do. Anything else would just be a job for me. If I couldn’t write, I honestly don’t know. I could be anything from an operator to a sales clerk. I would always be writing at some point, though, maybe in my free time. There are perks to being a writer, too: you get to explore your imagination every day, there is no dress code you have to follow, you can take breaks whenever you want. I’ve been able to stay at home, raise the kids, and write full-time. It’s really been a blessing. …I just want to write. If I win awards, that’s wonderful. If people get pleasure from reading my books, that’s really all I care about.