by Aaron Dietz
It started because I was bored. I was in a fine high school in Iowa and during class, I daydreamed stories and started writing them down.
I won ten dollars for writing a second-place piece for one of the high school publications, and it was a nice little story. But I had no idea why. It had just happened.
A couple years later a small zine published two pieces of mine in their first and only issue. I kept writing.
In Denver, I wrote for some more zines and eventually wrote a column called “100 Nights” for Needles for Teeth. I didn’t make it to night 100, but maybe I made it to ten.
In the year 2000 I started collecting some of the stories I wrote into a larger tale, like making a mixed tape, heavily influenced by my friend Joaquin Liebert, who once made me a mixed tape of the original Star Wars trilogy using only songs from a specific genre of music (I think it was classic R&B but I can’t pinpoint music to his level of geekhood).
I started calling my collection of stories a novel. I stitched it together like a series of documents, obviously influenced by books like House of Leaves.
Years went by. I collected rejection letters from publishers. I kept some special ones, including a hand-written note from McSweeney’s. I kept rewriting the novel.
I moved to Seattle, and rewrote the novel again while I worked on completing an undergraduate degree—I was back in college primarily because I could pay the rent with student loan money instead of continuing a futile search for a job.
In school I took as many classes as I could that were taught by Bryan Tomasovich. He gave me more time than I deserved and pointed me toward the beginning of experimental fiction.
On Tomasovich’s recommendation, I submitted my novel to Emergency Press. They handed it back and said, basically, “We don’t like these parts. But what about these superhero parts? We like those.”
I rewrote my novel.
Whereas before I had used the superhero as a tiny symbol throughout, now it was a full-on superhero novel, told through a series of documents. It was funny, to a special kind of person.
Emergency Press accepted the book. It was published as Super on November 10, 2010, with an amazing look to the cover and interior provided by Charlie Potter. Friends gave me more time than I deserved to help promote it.
We put on what I like to think is Seattle’s most spectacular superhero pub crawl. I met Phoenix Jones and other real life super heroes, and went on patrol with them. I hung out with Black Knight, Blue Sparrow, SkyMan, Knight Owl, and so many more. I met fantastic people in plainclothes, too.
In 2011 and 2012, I took a minor break from writing and made short movies with friends. We made films in 24 hours and 48 hours and got relatively unexciting results.
Then we made movies in 8 hours and got excellent results.
This made me think about how I had just spent ten years or more creating a novel that didn’t really make the impact I had hoped it would, despite it being what I would call a satisfying little work.
I turned things around. I decided I’d create books in less than a month. I figured, they may not turn out to be as good as a ten-year project but they were darn well going to have more impact-per-hour-spent on them.
In 2013, I tried to make 12 books. I completed 9. Friends gave me more time than I deserved in helping me, including Charlie Potter again, who produced fabulous covers for 8 of the books.
The impact was small but for the time I spent on them, outstanding. Some books I produced in a weekend. Because of the small investment in time, the impact made sense and felt worth it. I was learning.
I started catching up on being an adult. This involved acting like I owned a home, which was good, because I did own a home (this had happened in the same year in which I produced 9 books). I wrote less and less.
My writing time became precious, but I was armed with the knowledge that I could create and produce satisfactory projects in very little time. And so I do.
I’ve become efficient: I rarely write anything unless I’m 80% sure it’ll be published in some form. Larger projects I get involved with are one-year projects at the maximum. Smaller projects are a couple weekends, maybe four at the most.
I work with the best people. Earlier this year I edited a book with Bud Smith—In Case We Die, an anthology of the strangest things that have happened to people. The intention was to encourage people to talk about the weird stuff that we don’t feel like we can talk about. It wasn’t a lot of work to do the book, and I think it’s helping the cause.
Recently, I helped put together the interior layout on For They Know Not What They Do: The Letters of Peter C. Kilburn. Peter worked as a librarian in Beirut from 1966 to 1986. He was taken hostage and killed.
I’m always telling people that they should write at least one book. It felt good to help Peter with his. It was probably about twelve hours of my time. Twelve hours to help someone posthumously produce their book? That felt great.
And that’s what I want: for the projects I do to feel good and have positive impact, within the very small amount of time I have to give to the art.
And that’s where I’m at as a writer, now, if I’ve even truly become one. Maybe I just like to help people, and writing just happens to be an efficient way to do this. And so here I am.
Aaron Dietz is the author of Super (Emergency Press, 2010), an experimental novel about superheroes that is obviously written by an instructional designer (there’s a test after every chapter). Dietz has created courses on computer programming, engineering, and green design. At parties, he likes to ask strangers, “What’s the weirdest thing that has ever happened to you?”
One of the most interesting journeys I've read so far! And a great line for when you meet new people too. Also, a great line to use as a way to start a writing workshop. Imagine that first meeting, all the writers in a circle, and the icebreaker is “What is the weirdest thing that ever happened to you?” The stories!
Sandra, what a great idea–I had never thought about using it as a prompt. Brilliant!