Aaron C. Cross reached out to me recently. While fantasy and science-fiction are my general coverage, my love of thrillers, Metal Gear Solid, and nanomachine memes brought his work to my attention. Silly, completely inane, these are the kind of stories I wrote/write when I need to make fun of myself. Cross’s novels are fast paced, goofy, completely absurd with a wink and a nod, and “Did that just happen? Yes, yes it did.” If Nicholas Eames recently sent up DND adventurer bands with Kings of the Wyld, then Cross is well entrenched in the tradition of Archer, Sealab 2021, and The Naked Gun mocking the thriller genre’s more ridiculous plots and elements. BAWK!
AB: Hello, Aaron. Thank you for agreeing to this interview today. I know you’re often on assignment and this will be strictly “off the record”. It’s good to finally meet you.
For those who do not know you, could you tell us a little about yourself? How did you become half-man, half-robot? I myself am part of a cosmic seagull hive mind, but the Flock has no issues with human conspiracies, either. Tell me…who…are…you?
ACC: I am complicated. Doctoral (Communication)student and teacher by day, author by night, full-time beer and scotch snob by all the times. I fight through snow and polar bears daily, living up north, and I still find time to play video games and waste away too much of my life on YouTube. I also occasionally go to the gym, but that’s as rare as a snowflake in summer.
AB: The best qualities to have in life. Starting off, your novels tend to be standalone, but each is within the spy thriller or political thriller genre. What drew you to these genres, instead of the gritty noir or police procedural?
ACC: Those genres just provide so much room for interpretation. You can take a spy and make him or her whatever you want – competent or not, brilliant or not, funny or not. And politics are inherently funny because there is just so much insanity bouncing around there in real life. It’s not too difficult to build in conspiracies, let’s say that.
AB: What were the influences on your novels? I’ve noticed Archer, South Park, and the legendary Mel Brooks. I was immediately reminded of The Naked Gun with the screwball description, and inane presentation of an informant silencing themselves, along with other outlandish elements in your stories. It’s very tongue-in-cheek and self-aware, which I like in comedic fiction. Did you ever consider doing a regular thriller?
ACC: As far as influences go, Archer, South Park, and Mel Brooks are there for sure. Terry Pratchett is another one, especially in how books in his universe connect both directly and indirectly with other books. Another influence, which I know sounds somewhat douchey, is jazz music. Especially with Robocopter, the idea of having a basic plot with the ability to ‘solo’ or go off on tangents, really spoke to me. That kind of heart behind it helps add in to the crazy, which in turn made it a lot more fun to write. Essentially, I don’t allow myself to say ‘no’ to anything that I come up with as long as I can reasonably find a way to make it work.
In terms of doing a regular thriller, I absolutely have! I actually have one that I was writing back in 2010-11 that is…okay. I may come back to it at some point, since I do love the basic plot. I just have to make sure that it’s up to snuff, quality-wise.
AB: The wing it approach often brings out some of the best laughs and “Oh God, what am I doing writing this” moments in a story. Fascinating. Your novels seem to mock the more ridiculous plots, and in particular, vastly overreaching, needlessly complex conspiracies of the thriller genre. Which I love! Are there any other plot types you might tackle in the future?
ACC: I really enjoy taking the cliché, tropey basic plots and making them ridiculous. Robocopter is the ‘putting the team together for one last job’, Untitled Spy Story is ‘heroes burned by their superiors and have to clear their names’, and Ruben’s Cube Alaska follows that ‘hero is in the wilderness and gets approached by names from his past’ plotline. They’re all so done and overdone and over-overdone that they can both resonate with people who are at all aware of how action/thriller tropes work and can mock them affectionately. I unironically love movies like Rambo and The Expendables because they just GO and don’t stop. Too much isn’t enough, so to speak. Big, pulpy stories are wonderful.
As far as other plot types, no spoilers, but I do have the outlines for a ‘heist gone wrong’ story and a ‘wrongfully accused hero escapes prison’ story.
AB: The Mudman Redemption, Down the Chimney, coming soon to a Youtube book trailer near you. Go big or go home, I really do enjoy your attitude toward the genre. You have to love something to mock it affectionately. Moving to a different track, have you ever study the comedic theories of entertainers, seen any stand up? I myself am a huge fan of comedy, and many viewers often don’t realize the process behind how jokes are created, stripped down, and contextualized for audiences when comedians work the circuit. Do you wing your comedic elements or do you plan them out?
ACC: My comedy is 100% on the fly. While I love stand-up comedians and have thought once or twice about giving that a shot, my best moments and all my writing moments come from a split-second thought. If it makes me laugh, it goes in. That’s why, in the books, there can be a dick or puke joke on one page and a ‘have to Google six things’-level joke on the next. There’s one joke in Ruben’s Cube Alaska that took me forty-five minutes to search out and piece together and only like four people will be able to understand it without research. I love doing that.
AB: *Insert inside joke only me and four historians get* I always enjoy the subtle joke myself. With three self-published, comedic thriller novels under your belt, do you plan on visiting any other genres? I feel grimdark could use a dose of affectionate mockery, given its popularity in fantasy. Maybe a cyberpunk novel told from the perspective of a Megacorp janitor who gets caught up in a vast conspiracy ala Total Recall? What would you consider or want to do?
ACC: I would love to do a grimdark one! There’s a ton there to tease and mock and joyfully bleed all over. A cyberpunk novel would be a blast too. I also have a few Westerns outlined/in progress, a legit noir (that may be in the Roboverse), and a pirate story in progress as well. The nice thing about enjoying not being super serious is that you can be entirely flexible in what you write and how you approach it.
AB: The power of the zen joker, welcome to the Brother/Sister/Seagullhood of Inanity, friendo! I’m particular about book art. I really love the Robocopter with its bold black lines, attention to detail with its accurate depiction of robo-warfare, and the majestic bald eagle in another. Jokes aside, did you decide to save money for covers or going with the comedic element, just apply what you could? Actually, I am serious and curious about it.
ACC: Oh, man, the covers. Robocopter was literally a picture I drew in five minutes and that was intentional. It signifies that it’s not a dark, meaningful thriller. A cartoon helicopter is the best it can do. For the others, I publish through CreateSpace so I just found the covers that seemed to connect the most and were free. For USS, the bald eagle because they’re going against the US Secretary of State. For RCA, it’s the snowy wilderness that ties into Lance’s life in Alaska. I’m honestly curious as to what a professional – read: paid – would do with the covers. Maybe down the line, we’ll see.
AB: And I love this. “I just did it, legit, no joke, here’s the joke!” With Ruben’s Cube Alaska vaguely recent release (six months or so but who is counting, right?), what is next for you? Dinosaur gang musical?
ACC: Well, as of right now, the next book would be a sort of ‘ordinary guy gets caught up in conspiracy’ one, but there are always options. I’d love to get one out sooner than later though, but we’ll see how that goes.
AB: Sweet. Where can readers find out more about you?
AB: Before we go, I have to ask: if you had to face a last stand against a death squad of horde of undying demons cyborg ninjas, what would be your weapon and how would you fight to your last breath?
ACC: Well, I’m not a particularly strong man…or well-versed in weaponry. I guess I would try to talk them into using me as a resource rather than as an enemy. I would absolutely sell the human race into subjugation for a position as the Cyborg Ninja Vizier or whatever. I know what humans are weak to, so I would be the perfect agent of humanity’s destruction! You would all bow and weep as the Traitor King would lead the enemy across the globe in an orgy of relentless devastation! Or, you know, maybe a shotgun would work. I’d play it by ear.
AB: The lovable opportunist. Might stab you in the back, might save your butt from cyberization. Aaron, thanks for this declassified interview. Oh, and this interview will self-destruct in ten seconds. Have a nice day!
ACC: My pleasure! And let me just say that I appreciate the fine work that –