Contractual Obligations and Interview with Author A.M. Hounchell

I was taking a nap when he called. There are two things I am very good at: taking micro naps and fielding calls from excited authors with an idea.

He talked as if he wanted me to read the manuscript right then, in that instant, but my couch begged for more time. I read it after we got off the phone. He had warned me. “It’s…different…” My mind whirled with the 2nd person prose, a rare commodity, as I became catapulted into a castle so strange.

I was in uniform, again. A gawky teenage look of exhaustion from boredom and the scanning of laser guns caused me to dive head first. Then, the devil herself, offering a choice. I wanted to take all of them, A-Z…But I could only have one.

That was me, less than a year ago, on my adult couch, but brought back to a time when I wore a name tag and couldn’t figure how to ring up bananas for pretty college girls.

I told him he would need to hire another editor, as I was already booked up, but the idea was strong and I would publish the book once Letters Never Meant to be Read: Volume II was well underway. Hounchell had also contributed heavily to the Letters Project.

At the same time, A.M. and I were working on a novel together, but this defying idea of his would find its place in our Rusty Wheelhouse.

Contractual Obligations was born from a romantic idea that retail therapy for the employee doesn’t mean more shopping, it means choice. This choose your own future style book, where the protagonist is you, provides the reader with an interesting take on the old Deal with the Devil.

I asked A.M. Hounchell ten questions and he responded with pure absurdist and Contractual Obligatory fashion. And choices, plenty of choices:

 

What caused you to write a book about the age-old concept of a deal with the devil?

A.
 I think part of why I wanted the deal with the devil concept is because it accents how I’ve felt in retail. You are sort of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Need the job for money, but it psychologically kills you. Quit, and you have no money to survive. 
B. 
A deal with the devil is something relatable to most anyone in any culture, so it seemed fitting to mash it with something like retail. 
C. 
Who else would offer a contract to a musical soundtrack in someone’s mind? Kenny G. 
D. 
I think part of the reason is that it takes something that represents true evil, but makes it so the story isn’t about that. I used something large and loud like the Devil to explore many avenues for the story to go. 
2. Did you intend to always have the book structured as choices for the reader to make as they read?
A.
Yes. In fact the book was originally a deal with the Devil with four options. Those four options are still A, B, C, and D. I wanted to see how far I could take the theory of multiple universes and multiple endings, so I just wrote more until it felt natural to write one for each letter of the alphabet. 
B. 
No. To say I have intentions when I write would be to say that I am constantly thinking what to do next. I think it was meant as a split between different outcomes. Almost any of them could mesh with original opening, and I found that very interesting. 
C. 
My initial intent was actually to pass my Creative Writing class at Washburn University. It was the class that indicated that I should write more options. 
D. 
It’s more written this way for the people who like to go backwards in Choose Your Own Adventure Books. It’s more for those people who just want the good ending. I wrote it for those people to go backwards, and find an ending that suits them best. In this way, it’s more of a challenge to find the ending that suits you best rather than multiple choices. 
3. Are these scenarios based on true events while working in retail?
A. 
No. But there is a grain of truth to some of it. It’s true about never knowing who will walk up, and what they’ll be like. To one extreme, they could be anyone, on the other you may have to be anyone to get them to sign up for rewards or credit cards. 
B. 
Of course, I used to make deals with the Devil all the time. We we’re both pretty tight before the lumberjacks came to guard my store.
C. 
The options are built around different takes on things I thought about in the moment. I warped the Devil Went Down to Georgia, the concept of Lumberjacks, and even Hellraiser to fit into the story. I can’t even play the fiddle. 
D. 
Yes and no. I know that book is about temptation and wanting what you want, and fighting against it or for it or being it, but none of the specific things have happened to me. 
4. How did the book change throughout the writing process?
A.
Originally, it was in first person, four pages and included a small paragraph for the stem of the story and only four options, similar to an actual multiple choice question. They were structured based on negative, positive, and whether or not the person at the register was the Devil. 
B. Don’t tell Marc, but part of the way it changed is that I had to come to terms with the issue that I hadn’t written an option W into the book, so I had to Scrabble to put one together. I can’t even remember if it was a statement on the loss of choice or anything. 
C. 
Part of what I found absolutely fascinating about writing this is how much I wanted to make the concepts fluid. Sure, I wanted to joke around and offer problems to my solutions, but I also wanted the story to feel cohesive enough that you may go, “oh yeah, that was mentioned in option G.” 
D. For a little while I thought that I couldn’t write anything after J. It felt like I had explored everything I could say, but then the story shifted when I realized anything could happen. The entire multiverse was at my fingertips. 
5. How is this book different from your other works?
A. 
It’s in second person. 
B. 
Most of my other works don’t have more than ten alternate endings. Some of them have one alternate ending. 
C. 
This book is different in the way that it explores concepts that I never would have otherwise. The options are short enough sometimes that I can explore one idea without it getting stale. Some of my other works lose their sense of adventure in the middle for a moment or two. 
D. 
None of the others have a blue cover. So, there’s that. 
6. What genre do you write in?
A.
I dabble in fantasy, but mostly I stick with comedy.
B. 
Absurdist Time Travel Science Fiction seems to be the go to. 
C. 
Ask anyone, Juvenile Fiction is my A game. 
D. 
Whichever genre the story turns into while I’m writing it. I’m like a well of creativity. I just go get the water. I don’t tell it what to taste like. 
7. 2nd person point of view is rare in literature. Is it difficult for you to write with that voice?
A. 
Not at all. One of my favorite things about storytelling is bards. They sing their story to an audience, so it drags them into the tale. Similar to how an adult might use their kid’s name in place of a main character’s. 
B. 
It’s more like it’s difficult to remember to switch away. There are some parts of other pieces I am writing that are bleeding into second person. 
C. 
No. What I find the most difficult is third person limited. Just write in first person. 
D.
 I did find it hard to retrain myself from saying “you” too much. Sometimes I would have thirteen sentences in a row that started with “You.” 
8. Do you have a favorite choice?
A. 
No, I love all of the choices equally. I wouldn’t have written them all, if I had a favorite. 
B.
The only answer is Special K. Accept no substitute. 
C. 
I’m torn between the ones with a message of any kind and the ones just dialing the weird factor up to 15. Probably Special K. 
D. 
Option W is the one that I find most relatable. 
9. How did the process of writing choices work? Were they in order as you wrote?
A. 
Honestly, the concept of thinking ahead of time makes almost no sense to me. I am a panster through and through. 
B. 
It was more of an ‘oh, there’s been two good options, guess I’ll write a negative one.’ Can’t have too much positivity. 
C. 
They were in order in the sense that it is the alphabet. I know what comes after J. And what comes after J that is my favorite one.
D. 
Order is for penguins and leprechaun ceral. What? 
10. What’s next?
A. 
Well, I’m just going to put one foot in front of the other and take life one step at a time. 
B. 
I’m moving on. Might write more options. Might not. Might pretend to be a walrus. Might become a walrus. Might just say walrus. 
C. 
Going to write my tenth book. I don’t know if it will be about a crazy lady in a warped reality. Or a story that makes no sense about the construct of time. Or even a tale about a half zombie lesbian attempting to come to terms with killing her girlfriend. I don’t know. Most of my books are created by random word generators. 
D. 
Dinner. Dinner is next. I’m hungry. 
Connect with A.M. Hounchell on Twitter: https://twitter.com/inferno4dante
Check out his blog: http://prosefessor.blogspot.com/
Books by A.M. Hounchell:
 *Contains Amazon Affiliate Links

 

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