Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.
Today, Aigner Loren Wilson (she/her) is a SFWA, HWA, and Codex writer who writes poetry, nonfiction, games, alongside her fiction. She is an editor for Strange Horizons and the horror podcast NIGHTLIGHT. Aigner writes for Tor Nightfire, Discover Pods, Tordotcom, and other publications. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Lightspeed Magazine, WIRED, FIYAH, The Writer, and many more. Her work has been called evocative, noteworthy, and imaginative and has earned her an honorable mention for the 2019 Otherwise Fellowship Award. Currently, her queer dark SciFi near-future thriller is doing the query rounds in search of an agent. She has also served as guest editor for Apparition Literary’s Contamination issue and Fireside Magazine’s 2022 winter issues. To purchase her books, games, courses, or to talk with her about writing or editing services check out the Haus of Three Crows‘ website..
Thanks so much, Aigner, for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
Aigner Loren Wilson: Literary speculative fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. So I’ll give you all the exciting and imaginative stories, but with heavy themes and using literary techniques and other skills to really pull the reader in and make them see the story as more than fluff or entertainment.
JSC: Are there underrepresented groups or ideas featured in your book? If so, discuss them.
ALW: Every story features an underrepresented group or idea. I think the one thing to note is that all of my stories feature people of color in the main roles and all of them are queer. There’s asexual representation, disability, transgender, poly, and other queer identities. During the editing stage, I realized, actually, that there weren’t a lot, if any, straight able-bodied white characters. All characters and stories are diverse.
JSC: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
ALW: Dump your writing friends and trust yourself and your path, you’re going to get everything and more that you wish for. Keep up the good work.
JSC: What was the hardest part of writing Plagued Company?
ALW: Deciding on what stories I wanted to include and how long I wanted it to be. I have almost 100 stories unpublished that I’ve written and could choose from. In the end, I was able to find a few that worked well together around a central theme of disastrous or plagued groups. Sometimes it’s abusive families, unhealthy friendships, or even the memories or thoughts we carry with us. I also wanted the collection to be something a reader could go through in a day but that would stay with them for long after finishing the book.
JSC: Who did your cover, and what was the design process like?
ALW: I did my cover designs. I used the same process as most designers I know and have followed. I studied which books in my genre were doing well and what they looked like. Then I blended that with what I wanted and made a few different designs and settled on the final one that readers see today.
JSC: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
ALW: Before realizing that being a writer was a career, I wanted to be a scientist to answer all the questions in the world that no one cared to ask. I guess I do that now as a writer.
JSC: Were you a voracious reader as a child?
ALW: OH GOD YES. I was that kid who would read everything. It felt like a lot of the time as a kid there wasn’t enough for me to read, so I found myself constantly in the library going through books and trying to consume story as fast as I could.
JSC: What was the first book that made you cry?
ALW: Joyce Carol Oates Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang. It was the first book I read in one night and when I was done, I was so, I don’t know, broken and aching for a connection like the girls had in the story but also in a lot of pain of how such intense emotions can go awry.
JSC: What are some day jobs that you have held? If any of them impacted your writing, share an example.
ALW: I worked in retail before becoming a full-time writer and was a bookseller for many years. That helped me understand a lot of things about publishing and reader habits. It also allowed me to read A LOT. Back when I worked as a bookseller, I had the opportunity to meet lots of different professional writers as they came through doing events and signings.
Whenever I had the chance, I’d always ask for advice. All of them said the same thing, which I followed and has proven to help me out immensely. The advice was to pick a genre or niche and go all in, making a name for yourself so that readers, writers, and editors within that genre knew who I was.
JSC: What are you working on now?
ALW: I am at the tail end of my rapid release summer where I’ve just released 2 games. One of which is a science fiction puzzle game for people who love solving moral dilemmas and exploring space. The other is a horror game that deals with death and dying and is great for fans of Black Mirror and Channel Zero. Besides Plagued Company, I released a horror poetry collection as well.
But the biggest release are my 3 creative writing masterclasses that help writers understand how to make a living being a writer. There are classes focused in selling your fiction where I help writers understand how to pitch, write, and sell like a professional, using my experience selling over 100 stories and working as an editor with more than 5 different professional publications.
I’m also a writer with Tordotcom, Tor Nightfire, The Writer, and a mess of other places with at least one new article dropping every month. So, I’m always working on a lot!
And now for Aigner’s latest book: Plagued Company and Other Stories:
Hopeful, strange, and, at times, funny, the speculative stories in Plagued Company & Other Stories cover themes of home and the pain it can sometimes bring and the dire situations our desires can get us into. Readers can find queer relationships and queer people throughout the entire collection—both good and bad and some that exist in the in-between. Inside this debut short story collection, there’s a science fiction short story that deals with the ways of love and self in the future; a fantasy about a woman who must return home to take over her family’s magical hair salon; a fairy tale about a person who slowly turns into stone before their abusive and unsupportive family; and a fantasy about a child of the road finding home in an unlikely place. There is also a fantasy novelette included about a sentient body of armor and the occupant who resides within them.
Featuring a wide range of themes and genres, Plagued Company & Other Stories takes readers through the sprawled and knotted woods where the uncanny meets the real.
Master of Ceremony
I couldn’t feel the wind against my bronze and iron but knew it was blowing because of the sound it made through my divots and fragmented parts. I was lost. My sword and shield lay beside me, gripped in my gauntlets. It wasn’t much, but it would be enough in the right hands. Around me, the crops all bent with the weight of death and disease on their stocks.
‘Wake up. You need to rise.’
A heaviness in me shifted, grumbled, and stirred. I forced us to stand. My sabatons were sturdy, but inside me, my occupant writhed like snakes in an iron cage. Sliding my visor open, they vomited loudly onto the cursed earth around us.
“Oh, hell,” they groaned in a high-pitched strained voice.
Like the rest of the world, my occupant was unknown to me, foreign and peculiar. Nonetheless, they were mine to carry.
‘We must find shelter.’
They gazed around us at the diseased crop and storm blowing in from the east, where the sun’s arrival was being blotted out by grey building clouds. “Oh, holy, holy,” they said, collapsing to their knees.
I allowed them this respite.
‘I suggest we make for the tree line. Find shelter in the forest.’ I reasoned with them.
“Who the hell are you?” they asked out loud, looking around them. “God?” Their voice was a low whisper. “Satan?”
‘No, I am—’ I wasn’t quite sure what I was, but I knew that I was alive, sentient. ‘I am here to help.’
“Right?” their voice was unconvinced. “Wait, hold on.” They stood up. “Are you the armor? I must to have drank something fierce last night.”
‘I am what shields, guards, and protects you.’ Rain began to fall, hitting against my cauldrons and rolling down my thick plated cuisses. ‘May we please get out of the rain and to someplace dry? I fear I might rust.’
“Right, right,” their words were still weak, but with my help, we made it out of the diseased corn patch and into the forest.
Once in the safety of the forest, I allowed them to rest against a tree.
‘What is it all that you remember?’ I asked them.
“Nothing. Nothing that makes any sense. Who goes around walking in a talking suit of armor? I do, I suppose.” They mused on absently with their head titled back toward the greenery and grey.
Above us, the tree canopy swayed in the storm wind—branches creaking and snapping around us.
“Are you sure it’s safe in here?”
‘I’m not sure of anything other than that I’d rather not get soaked in the rain or lay out in the open.’
“All right, well, I think we should find a town or a village. Something or someone who could tell us where the hell we are,” they said, standing from the tree. “Now, which direction should we go?”
‘How about away from the field of death and rain?’
“Right, right,” they muttered and walked deeper into the forest.
As the trees grew thicker around us, the storm built up in a rage. Lightning shot through the sky, casting white through the darkness. Thunder shook the ground and caused my occupant to jump every time it rolled.
‘It can’t hurt you.’ I offered.
“Yeah, right. How would you know that?”
‘Basic reasoning. What is in the sky cannot hurt those on the ground.’
“Everything everywhere can hurt you.”
Through the trees, a chapel’s cross was hit by a stray bolt of lightning, illuminating its odd sharp features.
“There’s something just up there,” they said, pressing us faster through the forest. “They’ll probably have food to spare.”
We rounded the hill that the forest grew on and saw that in a valley shrouded and hidden beneath lush bushes and trees, a small village lay nestled. There was indeed a church in the center of town where it seemed everyone was running to.
“Reckon there’s a feast going on? Something to help them weather the storm.”
I could hear my occupant smacking their lips, hungrily, inside of me. ‘I highly doubt that.’
“Well, let’s just go and see, shall we?”
Sliding down the muddy bluff on my gauntlets and greaves, we landed in a pile of cow dung and pig slop.
‘Great,’ we said in unison.
“Guess I’ll have to take you off and get you clean once we get inside,” they said, but I was concerned about the notion of being detached for cleaning. What happens to me when I am no longer occupied? Worse yet, what happens to me when I am no longer connected? We crawled out of the mess, and I began to change. My soiled backplate and spiked pauldrons shifted, allowing the pouring rain to wash off the filth. The rest of me followed suit—pardon my pun—until I was clean again.
“That takes care of that, I suppose,” they said. “Now, let’s go sort me and my hunger out.”
The chapel was larger than it appeared from the top of the bluff. By the time we reached it, everyone was already gathered within its walls. The town was quiet, save the sound of the storm overhead. Pushing gently against the door of the chapel, we slipped inside and were overwhelmed by music. Bells rang, and people shouted joyously, though there wasn’t a smiling face in all of the wooden rows lining the church’s floor.
Before I could stop them, my occupant was calling out from beneath my visor. “Excuse me! Pardon us!”
The music stopped, and everyone turned around to gaze upon the interlopers.
“Hi!” my occupant beamed. “Pardon the intrusion, but we’ve found ourselves lost in the story, so it seems and were wondering if we could take a bit of shelter and food until the storm passes?”
No one answered, but a woman dressed in long thick black robes came from the podium at the front of the room. She approached us with a hard, wary look in her eyes. I considered lifting my sword and shield against her, but she stopped just out of reach.
“Welcome, to the Church of the Holy Light. I am Esme, and this is my flock.” She waved to the people and structure standing around her.
‘I don’t like this.’ I tried telling them, but even I could hear their stomach growling.
“Hello, Esme, I’m … ” The words fell in their mouth. “We’re a couple of lost travelers just looking for some grace to come our way.”
“We?” Esme asked, glancing around us. “All I see is you and your splendid armor.”
‘Keep me out of this.’
“Crazy thing, I think I bumped my head and got myself all turned around because I swear, I’m hearing this bloody thing talk to me.” They slapped my cuirass.
“I see.” Esme smiled and turned around to the congregation. She raised her arms toward them. “It has arrived!”
Hushed voices filled the room before they all bowed to us.
“Hmm,” my occupant said, “maybe we’ll find another ominous chapel in the woods.”
The moment they began to chant, we started backing out of the church.
Esme drew close to us. “You mustn’t go. The prophecy has only begun.”