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.
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.
Q) What inspired you to write this story? I’d always figured that being a vampire (or, a revenant, as they prefer to be called in “Touched,”) would have some serious down sides: bullied by the reign of the sun, forever sentenced to night, threatened by priests and vampire hunters, denied the warmth of love and human companionship and all the pleasures of life. I thought that surely, there could be other fun things causing a vampire regular conflict, too. Maybe physical challenges, like a weakness to certain black magic spells, and hungry preternatural critters. That lead me to wonder: what if vampires had guardians, a mortal companion, someone who would defend him during the day when he was most vulnerable? And in return, what powers could he grant this DaySitter? Some of his own powers, perhaps? What powers would be the most fun to share? In my opinion, all the classic vamps with their mind control abilities were most exciting, so that lead me to wonder if a vampire could pass on certain psychic abilities to the one he trusted most, the one he shared his home and time with. And how might one become a DaySitter? Perhaps it would be common practice for the former DaySitter to suggest, in their will, a replacement, so that when they passed away, the vampire would have someone to turn to next? A “revenant” could conceivably pass through a family tree from one generation to the next, trusting his immortal well-being to that bloodline.
“Touched” began as an experiment in goofiness, frankly, because my brain is a mischievous beast and it naturally piped up: but what if THIS DaySitter sucked at everything she did? What if she had a lot of power and absolutely no social skills? What if she had to help solve crimes with her powers, and was just plain awful at it? What if she KNEW it, too, and tried to avoid further embarrassment by trying to retire? And what if her revenant was a dignified British gentleman who was constantly horrified by her behaviour? *grin* Marnie Baranuik, my main character, was born soon after: a sass-mouthed bumbling forensic psychic with an unfortunate addiction to hot jerks and an overly-fussy vampire life partner, working for the FBI’s Preternatural Crimes Unit against her better judgment. She’s been a blast to write.
Q) How long did it take you to write? The first draft of “Touched” took about six months, which is fast for me. Editing took a year and a half, but a lot of that was me fretting about voice and character development. I do a lot of pacing and ranting and banging my head on the keyboard in between actual typing, which takes up a significant part of my day. *chuckle*
Q) What is your favorite thing about writing? There is a magic moment that I have no name for. A character will swim to the surface of my consciousness and tap me on the inside of my skull and announce, “No, moron, that’s NOT what I would do.” Or “Hey, asshat, why can’t I dive off that roof and clobber the monster?” Or, even more exciting, I will relinquish finger-control to the hovering shade of a character, and they’ll take over typing for me. I’ll watch the action as though I’m a spectator, or marvel at the things these characters are doing without my permission or foreknowledge, like I’m watching a movie at the theater. When they’re done, I feel their smugness like a weight between my eyebrows. That’s probably why my frown lines are getting deeper. I need to character-proof my forehead somehow.
Q) What is your least favorite thing about writing? Self-doubt. There’s not a single negative thing a reviewer could say about my work that I haven’t already thought about myself and my books. There was a point in my current work-in-progress that I wanted to print out a copy of the manuscript, build a big fire in my back yard, and toss it in. Of course, that would be merely symbolic, since the files are always in the computer, but it might be satisfying to have a full-blown artistic meltdown/temper tantrum. I doubt my neighbours would be all that surprised.
Q) If you could be any famous person for one day, who would you be and why?No! No no no. I wouldn’t want to be any famous person, ever. The very thought makes me want to vomit up my scrambled eggs. I am terribly shy; brave behind my keyboard, sure, but in person I am a listener. I watch others, I do not like to be watched. I prefer the focus to be elsewhere. I suppose if I HAD to pick someone, I would say J.D. Salinger, because he was a recluse, and brilliant. Also: he digs initials for his name, and everybody knows that’s cool beans.
Q) What is the oldest thing in your fridge and how old is it? I have a wedge of Stilton in my fridge that might be older than my children. I’m afraid to touch it. If I shift something close to it, it growls. I might just be imagining that last bit, but I’m not taking any chances. I’d rather my tombstone didn’t read: “Here Lies A. J. “Writerghoulie” Aalto, murdered by killer hunk of cheese. OH WOE! She had so much promise. (No she didn’t, but she made us add that. Especially the “woe” bit. We’d never have said “woe.”)” Hmm. I’m going to need a big-ass tombstone to fit all that on there…
Q) What can readers expect from you in the future?
I just wrapped up the second book in the Marnie Baranuik Files, entitled “Death Rejoices,” which also takes place in Colorado. I am currently researching/outlining the third book, tentatively entitled “Last Impressions,” in which Marnie comes home to Canada for a case. In “Last Impressions” I introduce the Canadian team, who will be a recurring group in the series with possible crossovers. Since this current book is taking place in my own home town, I get to put on my rubber boots, trek all over the place, stalk, and trespass. I’m kidding, of course! I don’t own rubber boots; I do all my stalking in heels.
Giveaway is an ebook copy of Touched at each site.