Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the recent release of your horror novel, Subcutanean! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the book’s premise, and what inspired you to tell this story?
Aaron Reed: Subcutanean is about two friends with a complex relationship, Orion and Niko, who find a secret basement underneath their house. As they explore it, they start to realize it's much bigger than it should be. Something down there is multiplying everything: architecture, possibilities, obsessions, people. They discover links to parallel realities and alternate possibilities, and soon find themselves drawn into a dangerous.
The twist is that the book's text is written in such a way that there are multiple ways each scene can play out. Each time a copy of the book is ordered, a new version is generated. No two copies are ever quite the same. Like the characters, you're left wondering what other possibilities might exist, and what other ways the story could go. This emerged from my background as a games writer, thinking about working the aesthetics of variable text into a traditional novel format. Gamers are used to discussing alternate possibilities with each other-- what happened in your own unique play-through-- and I thought it would be interesting to craft an experience like that for readers that wasn't a game, but which played with some of those aesthetics of alternate possibilities.
BD: What can you share with us about your creative process in crafting this horror story, especially given that it changes with each printing?
AR: Writing each scene was a very interesting challenge, because I didn't want one version to be the "best" or "canoncial" version-- I wanted any possible way the story could be told to be equally viable and interesting. I knew the overall shape of the story, and the changes don't ever branch it off in totally different directions, except for at the very ending. So, for each scene, it was a matter of thinking through the different ways of getting through it and how those might color your impressions of the characters and the rest of the book.
For instance, there are three possible introduction scenes you can get for the two main characters, that all relate the same event but with different things emphasized and focused on. They'll strike different readers differently, but I think one of them is more sympathetic to a certain character while another one is less so, and a third focuses on a different dynamic between the two. It was a lot of work to get to a version of all three of those scenes that I felt was equally strong, and was happy with any of them being your entry point into the world and the characters. You're going to take those ideas and impressions from that scene and relate everything that comes after to them. Even if none of the rest of the text were different, you're reading subtly different stories based on which one of those introductions you got.
There's a great quote from the filmmaker Andrew Tarkovsky: "A book read by a thousand different people is a thousand different books." That's more literally true with Subcutanean, but really the book's technical tricks are just a way of prying those different interpretations and reactions that exist for all books a little further apart-- appropriate for a book about parallel realities and differing perceptions of truth!
BD: This project was successfully funded through Indiegogo. What can you tell us about your decision to use crowdfunding, as well as the benefits that it provides for indie creators?
AR: Crowdfunding is such a great way to build a community of folks who are on your side as a creator. This is my third crowdfunded project, and while it's a big burden of responsibility not to let your backers down, it's also incredibly energizing and motivating to have this built-in fan base who are excited about what you're doing and as eager as you to get to the finish line.
More practically, it's really nice to have some funds up front that you can budget with-- you know you can spend a certain amount of money on marketing or cover art or whatever without going into the red-- and that makes a huge difference to stress levels compared to just trusting up front that you'll do well enough to break even.
BD: At Fanbase Press this year, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that Orion and Niko’s story will connect with and impact readers, and why do you feel that this story was important for you to bring to life?
AR: Subcutanean is a very personal story for me-- it's a delayed coming-of-age story at heart, about an awkwardly shy young man finishing college without haven broken into the dating pool or figuring out some fundamental things about himself. I personally was a very late bloomer, and I've always had a hard time with certain kinds of YA stories, especially whose protagonists have big, life-changing revelations and wrap up all their self-development before their senior year of high school. That wasn't my experience at all, and I wanted to write a book about a character in that same position.
BD: Do you foresee expanding the novel into subsequent books or even into other entertainment mediums, if given the opportunity?
AR: The story itself stands alone pretty well, so I don't foresee any sequels. An adaptation would be fascinating, though, especially if the adapters tried in some way to preserve the shifting alternate versions! I think you'd have to do something very different to make it work in a different medium, and I'd love to see someone try.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
AR: In addition to books and digital games, I've also been working on some tabletop roleplaying games, especially the ones that are rules-light and story-heavy. I'm really interested in how these games can give a group of players the tools to improvise a compelling story together without necessarily having any writing or improv training. I might have some new things coming out in that space later this year; sign up for my project news mailing list if you're interested in that kind of thing.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Subcutanean and your other work?
AR: You can visit subcutanean.textories.com to find out more about the project and how to get your own unique copy. There are some links to design blog posts on there if you're curious about the technical details of how I pulled it off. You can also follow two bots on Twitter that are tweeting out different versions of the novel: @subcutanean2160 and @subcutanean6621.