An Interview with Aaron Duran
Aaron Duran is the driving force behind GeekInTheCity.com, where he produces audio dramas, hosts podcasts, and writes about all thinks geek culture. He also writes comics, and recently published his first young adult novel, Welcome to Grizzlydale. Recently, Duran took a few moments between projects to talk with Cemetery Dance Online.
(Interview conducted by Blu Gilliand)
CEMETERY DANCE ONLINE: You’ve had a long and varied career in pop culture and entertainment. How did you go from hosting a pop culture podcast to writing a young adult novel?
AARON DURAN: As strange as this sounds, I don’t see that big of a difference between the podcast and my first novel (or really any of my creative work). It’s just another form of storytelling, something that I just can’t get enough of. I just love telling stories to people, be it something totally nerdy like the political undertones of the Joker, or the weird adventures of outcast kids in a haunted town. And, apart from making tacos, it’s kinda all I am good at.
Tell us about Welcome to Grizzlydale – what’s it about, and what inspired you to write it?
Welcome to Grizzlydale is the first in what I hope will be a longer series of books called “The Forgotten Tyrs” (can you tell I play a lot of fantasy RPGs?). The idea behind Grizzlydale is loosely based on my hometown. For as much as I complain about where I came from (and who doesn’t), I started to realize that there was this absurdity of where I came from. From there I took my love of horror and fantasy and spun it into this concept of a town that’s stuck in time due to these “tyrs,” strange primal energies that open portals to other dimensions, monsters, freaks, and all manner of weirdness. But I didn’t want to write straight-up adult horror. I knew I wanted to try and recreate those feelings I had as a kid, reading books that were okay for younger readers, but also had that hint of fear and danger. It didn’t take long after that for me to create Eric and Heather, two odd kids that find each other and are drawn into the strange and horrific world of Grizzlydale. All while trying to survive adolescence.
Did you know right away this was going to be geared toward the young adult audience, or is it something you discovered as you were writing the story?
I knew from the beginning I wanted this to be a young adult title. Honestly, the first book walks the line of late middle school readers, to early young adult. Ideally, the titles will mature along with the readers, but the series will definitely stay within the young adult world.
You’ve been writing and publishing a comic, La Brujeria, since 2011, and last year debuted a new comic, Dark Anna and the Pirates of Kadath. How is writing comics different for you than writing prose? Is one more difficult than the other? Do you have a preference between the two?
With comics I always have to keep the artist in mind, which is both wonderful and constricting. Not because I’ve ever worked with a difficult artist, but because I can ramble. A lot. I am painfully in love with my own voice on the page. So, with comics, I really need to be mindful of the fact that it’s a visual medium. Sure, the words are important, but if I don’t write a story with the artist in mind, then the readers are going to lose the book. But on the flip-side, comics can be narratively forgiving for me because comics are so visual. There are times when I can literally rely on the artist to make character or story points. In traditional prose, I am all on my own. So while it’s freeing, creatively, it took me more than a few passes to remember that I no longer had the visual partner. That I was wholly on my own. Once that concept locked into my brain, writing a novel has been a true pleasure.
How does your comics work influence your prose work, and vice-versa?
That’s a tough question, as I’ve never really thought about how (or if) they do. It’s a tricky shift I need to make between comics and prose. With comics, I see everything through a camera lens. As a kid, I consumed movies like there was no tomorrow. And even at a young age, I found myself breaking down characters, arcs, and shots. Once I got into high school and college, I learned the tools to take films apart even more. So that style of viewing really influenced how I write my comics. Everything is visual and moves to a particular beat as demanded by the story. But with prose, I get to slow down a bit.
Shoot, that doesn’t answer your question at all, does it? Honestly, I don’t really know that they do. It’s all writing, but two very different animals. If anything, comics are a much more disciplined form of storytelling for me. I am constrained by panels and page count. And that’s not a bad thing, just a side effect of the medium. Straight prose though, that I can just free form. It just flies from my brain and onto the screen. I can go back and fix it, but it’s a much more pure form of writing for me. Also, with comics, I am always thinking of entertaining the artist and the audience. (Truly, I love nothing more than having the artist tell me how much fun they had reading the script… then tell me I’m nuts for asking for all that action in 3 panels). But with a novel, I kinda write that for myself. If I am amusing myself as I write it, I am pretty sure it will amuse to readers as well.
What were some of your earliest influences that drove you to make a career out of pop culture in general, and writing in particular?
I spent a lot of time by myself in my room. Sure, I had friends and goofed off, but I was always most comfortable building Lego sets and creating stories with those sets (and maybe a GI Joe or two). Those were probably some of my earliest stories, the ones I told myself to pass the time. And I’ve always been a heavy reader. There were many nights, from as early as the 1st or 2nd grade, where my mom would have to take the flashlight and book out of my hands at 2 a.m. because I just wouldn’t stop reading.
As for my earliest pop culture influences, that’s easy. Always has been and always will be Star Trek. I was watching Original Series reruns with my mom at a very young age. Those characters and their on-screen lives were my earliest morality barometers and, in time, led me to want to tell stories of my own. To use external situations to explain, or at least look upon, the human condition. What makes us unique, and yet also makes us one unit. In fact, there was a time where I almost went into engineering as a career, but sadly learned I didn’t have a mind for higher math. And, if I was being honest… I wanted to write about Scotty more than actually be Scotty.
Comics have also been there since my earliest days. Most kids had those Golden Books as their first titles. Me? I had Batman and the X-Men. The books might have been a bit over my level at the time, but the visual style of comics helped me process the events on the page, and in my head. And, whenever I got stuck, my mom was a big believer in looking up the word. So, whenever I ask her what something meant, her reply was always “look it up.” That helped. It really did.
What kind of reader is going to respond best to Grizzlydale?
All of them! (Okay, maybe that’s a bit much.) I would hope younger readers find someone or something they can identify with in Grizzlydale. I would love to attract readers that have an eye for old school adventure, but with a hint of darker danger. Younger readers don’t and should be spoken down to, and I don’t think Welcome to Grizzlydale does that. In fact, I had a few early proofreaders ask me if I’d maybe pushed some word choices or internal thought processes a little too far. And I did think about scaling the reader level back a bit. But then I remembered my earliest books, and how many of them would lose me with a word or two. I never minded looking a word up, or reading a line over until it clicked. It helped me grow as a reader and I hope Welcome to Grizzlydale does that. Also, I kinda’ hope it freaks the reader out a little. The horror is never once gratuitous, but I loved stories that made me wonder what was hiding in the shadows or under my bed at night. I think this book does that. At least I hope it does.
How many more books are you planning in the “The Forgotten Tyrs” series? Is this a story that will eventually expand into comics also?
As it stands, I have seven books planned. Will it happen? I think so. So far the first book is doing very well and I’ve been quite humbled at the response. I have many adventures in store for Eric and Heather, both supernatural and all too natural. As for the town of Grizzlydale itself, that’s a whole other story, but also way too spoilery, so I am not even going to hint at what I have planned.
As for comics, I could see the books as a comic, but to be honest, I wouldn’t want to do it personally. If a comic publishing company wanted to make them, fantastic, but I think I would rather act in an advisory role and not write the scripts. I am too close to the source material and the temptation to “fix” a problem (real or perceived) would be too great for me.
What’s next for Aaron Duran?
James and I are getting close to wrapping up this first major arc for La Brujeria. Ethan and I are plotting out the next few issues of Dark Anna and the Pirates of Kadath. And, as of this writing I am knee deep in writing The First City, the second book from “The Forgotten Tyrs” series. I’ve also written a short comic that is a love letter to my favorite Universal Monsters and classic pulp adventure along with the fantastic artist Matthew Clark. I’ve been working on a video series with Portland filmmaker Martin Vavra that’s been a ton of fun and allows me to scratch that alien conspiracy itch that surfaces every once in a while. And finally, I am talking with a publisher about a certain masked hero with a rapier and if I said more, I’d be in trouble. (Yes, I am being that person, sorry.) Beyond all that, I’m in the kitchen making tacos and home brew. Not a bad way to spend a life I suppose.