AARON SMITH -Author
AP – First of all, thanks for dropping by All Pulp HQ, Aaron and agreeing to sit in the hot seat for us. Let’s get cracking with some personal information. Who exactly is Aaron Smith, where do you reside and what’s your day job?
AS –Well, I’m 33 years old, so I seem to be one of the younger writers in the recent pulp revival. I live in Ringwood, New Jersey which is a nice mountainous town away from the noise of the cities that I lived in for most of the earlier part of my life, a great place to get the peace and quiet that I like. For my day job, I run a produce department for a large supermarket chain. I’ve been with the company for 17 years now and it’s not a bad job, although my goal would be to write full-time or, failing that, to make enough writing that I could just supplement my income with a part-time job. Actually, even if I was making a ton of money writing, I’d probably still have some kind of day job, just to keep myself from becoming a total hermit! After all, everybody needs some kind of interaction with other human beings to keep the inspiration coming. I also have to mention my absolutely wonderful wife who somehow…and I wonder if this qualifies as a superpower…manages to put up with all my eccentricities, my curmudgeonly moods, my mad rants about things that annoy me, and all my crazy mood swings that go from high-as-a-kite to the deepest bowels of crankiness. Really, she’s marvelous and I don’t know what I’d do without her. She’s also been incredibly supportive and motivating over the two years or so that I’ve really seriously been doing pulp writing work.
AP – Where in all that background did you first get the idea you wanted to be a writer? And was the transition from dream to reality an easy or difficult one for you?
AS –Becoming a writer was, in my case, a long process that evolved slowly over the entire first thirty years of my life. I suppose I always had a writer inside of me but it took a long time for that egg to really hatch and for me to really start doing what I do now. It started, I guess, with the things that really jumpstarted my imagination as a kid. My earliest memories of things really shaking up my mind include Star Wars which was probably the thing that did it for a lot of people of my generation. George Lucas created the great epic of our generation, I suppose. It’s too bad he dropped the ball with the prequels. Then there was my grandmother, who used to tell me bedtime stories about Jack the Ripper! Somehow, I didn’t grow up to be a serial killer, but I did become a writer. Some people might say that’s equally scary, but I think I turned out okay. I always made up stories as a kid, but they were mostly in my head and not on paper, but I was writing internally from an early age. Imagination was vital to my sanity in grammar school. I was a skinny little kid and considered a nerd. I didn’t have much self-confidence and sometimes the only thing that got me through those long days of being picked on and laughed at was pretending I was somebody else and that the school was part of an adventure, like James Bond infiltrating a base full of Spectre agents or Captain Kirk in disguise on a hostile alien world. Imagination was a defense mechanism for me and maybe that’s where the writer came from! But for some reason it took me forever to really decide to just write. Somehow I managed to try almost every other creative endeavor first. I wanted to be a comic book artist at one time and I could actually draw really well for a while there, but I just don’t have the discipline it takes to draw for hours on end, day after day. Writing comes easier to me because it’s so internal and mental. I can “write” all day and put ideas together, but I only have to sit and actually type for a short portion of the time that the creative process is actually taking place. When I was a little older, I got into music and played guitar for a few years, but I eventually realized that I liked being a guitar player more than I liked playing the guitar, if that makes any sense. In other words, I liked the feeling of being the character more than the act of playing. When I realized that, I decided to try acting. I studied it for awhile and did theatre for several years, did some Shakespeare and some other stuff, worked with some great people who are still good friends of mine now and even had a part in a movie that, unfortunately, was never released (but I got together with my wife during the filming of that movie so, in that sense, I was better paid than any Oscar winner ever was!). The acting was fun, but it’s impossible to pursue that type of work and have a regular life. When you have to work a full-time job, you can’t just drop things on the spur of the moment and go chasing after audition opportunities. So I stopped acting eventually. After that, I just kind of lived for the remainder of my twenties. I wrote a little but never anything too serious, never tried to publish anything. Then, two years ago, I was floating around on the internet and I saw this little ad on some site about some editor looking for pulp writers and I inquired and suddenly I was writing every day and things were actually getting published! Was the transition an easy one? Yes, once I got started it was, but it was a long road that I travelled to get there. But had the road been shorter I might not have had all the experiences that inspire my work now, so I guess it worked out perfectly.
AP –What was your first published work? Describe the feeling of seeing your work in print for the first time.
AS –My first published story was “The Massachusetts Affair” in SHERLOCK HOLMES CONSULTING DETECTIVE Volume One from Airship 27 Productions. It’s been almost 2 years and I still get a feeling of amazement thinking about the fact that my career as a writer began with the chance to write a Holmes story! What a great privilege to be able to work with the most famous character in all of detective literature! Seeing that story in print, on real pages, wrapped in that great cover by Mark Maddox was one of the greatest thrills of my life. And after the book came out, it only got better when several people told me that I had succeeded in capturing the essence of the world that Conan Doyle had created. I can’t really say that it was difficult though, and I can’t give myself the credit, because Doyle gave us such a great set of toys to play with. When you have characters as real and alive as Holmes and Watson and their supporting cast, they do tend to write themselves once you get your mind to Baker Street and the right mood is there.
AP –How did you become affiliated with Airship 27 Productions? What was the first work you did for them?
AS –That little ad I came across on the internet, the ad I mentioned before, was what led me to Airship 27. I wrote to Ron Fortier about his need for pulp writers and he replied asking me to send him a short sample of my prose writing. I sent him this short piece I had concocted about Adolph Hitler interviewing a vampire for a job in the SS. Ron liked it and asked me to work for Airship 27. It was only after the first few emails went back and forth that I realized that I was communicating with the guy who had written the great Green Hornet comics that I’d read nearly twenty years before! That just blew me away that a writer whose work I’d loved so much thought my stuff was good enough to publish! And Ron has been just incredible ever since. He brought me into the world of pulp writing and he’s a great editor and a great friend and the Obi-Wan Kenobi of my writing career. The first work he gave me to do for Airship 27 was a Black Bat story. I started on that but before I finished it Ron wrote me back and asked if I’d be willing to put the Bat on hold to do a Holmes story first and I jumped at the chance. I’ve had stuff coming out from Airship 27 pretty steadily ever since and it’s been a pleasure to have my stories published alongside work by great writers like my friends Andrew Salmon and Van Allen Plexico and Tommy Hancock and so many others and to see my stories illustrated by artists like Rob Davis and Pedro Cruz.
AP –Were you always a pulp fan? If not, how did you ultimately become one?
AS –I guess I could say that I met and was inspired by all of pulp’s cousins before meeting pure pulp. I’ve always been heavily into serialized adventure fiction, but not necessarily the actual pulp magazine characters. For most of my life I’ve been a fan of comics, especially the classics of the superhero genre, stuff by Stan Lee and all his collaborators like Buscema and Kirby and Gene Colan and Steve Ditko and also the DC side of things done by people like Gardner Fox and Dennis O’Neill and the great Joe Kubert who just doesn’t stop producing incredible work even now in his eighties! Every title that guy worked on in the 80s and 90s turned to gold I was reading Sherlock Holmes when I was 7 or 8 and I got into Ian Fleming’s Bond books not long after that. Then of course there’s the two great science fiction franchises of Star Trek and Star Wars and the classic science fiction authors who sort of sprang out of the pulps, guys like Asimov and Bradbury and Roger Zelazny. And there’s Bram Stoker who certainly solidified the whole vampire genre and probably influenced almost every horror writer who came after him. So I was into all these fictional worlds that have a pulp essence to them, but my interest in the actual pulps only came along after I started to write some of the classic pulp characters.
AP-What is it about pulp that you enjoy that can’t be found in other genres?
AS – Pulp strikes fast and hits hard and is all about telling the story with as much impact as possible. Pulp is, I think, perfect for me because I’m a pure storyteller. I don’t try to do anything except tell my stories. In other words, I don’t consciously try to create a style or be too artistic or fancy with how I do things. Sure, there are moments when I look back at something I’ve written and realize that I’ve done something or connected words in a certain way that surprises me, but all that happens subconsciously. I have a story to tell and I try to tell it as well as I can but I also work very quickly and hammer it out before the initial impact and whatever it was that appealed to me about the story is lost. That’s what makes pulp unique. It has an urgency to it that, I suspect, came from the old time pulp writers needing to bang this stuff out in a fast and furious manner in order to put food on the table! I recently read a novel which was very good and so I went online to see what else the author had written and there was nothing because she had apparently taken 10 years to write the book I’d just read! That would be like torture to me, to spend a decade on one story! I have way too many ideas to be stuck on one thing for so long. By the time I’m halfway through one story, I have the next one formulating in my head already. I like to fire all my bullets rapidly and reload right away and find another target to shoot at. Pulp is pure creative instinct and that may be one of the reasons why certain writers who came out of the pulps were so unique; they didn’t worry about stylistic choices as much as they just shot from the hip and their real, natural styles and ideas came out because of that. I mean, look at guys like Robert E. Howard and HP Lovecraft! Those guys weren’t intentionally planning out those incredible worlds that they managed to put on paper. Their universes are too real for that. That stuff came straight from their guts and that’s why it’s so effective and so influential even today. The best pulp writers dragged the lakes of their souls and put what they found out there for the world to see. Pulp doesn’t compromise.
AP - Give us a list of the classic pulp heroes you’ve written and which was/is your favorite?
AS – I’ve written the Black Bat, three stories, though only one has been published so far. I’ve done a couple stories with Dan Fowler, G-Man. I have two short stories out there about the Three Mosquitoes, who were World War I fighter pilots. I did a Wild Bill Hickok story for the Masked Rider anthology. I’ve also done a few other classic pulp hero stories with others, but those books aren’t out yet, so I’ll leave them for a future interview. Out of the ones I’ve just listed, I guess I’d have to say that Dan Fowler beats out the Black Bat by just a slight margin as my favorite. The reason for that is that because Fowler is an FBI man he sort of falls right on the borders of two great genres. A Fowler story can kind of straddle the line between a detective story and a spy story. Fowler investigates crimes like a Dick Tracy, but the whole United States can be his playground because he’s Federal and not tied to one particular city like a police detective would be. So a Fowler story can put him pretty much anywhere in the USA and be a detective story at the same time. In the two Fowler stories I’ve done so far, he’s been in a whole bunch of different cities, faced some twisted, exotic villains, and I’ve had a lot of fun writing about him. There are cases where I know I have one story to tell about a character and then the well runs dry, and there are those characters who I feel like I could write about over and over and over again. Dan Fowler falls into the second category.
AP – You wrote a short novel starring Sherlock Holmes’s friend, Dr.Watson. Tell us about this book and how it came about.
AS – SEASON OF MADNESS came about because I usually have several books that I’m reading at any given time. I like to alternate books. It had been years since I’d originally read the Sherlock Holmes stories, still not knowing I’d be asked to write one. At the same time, I was reading Stoker’s DRACULA, a book I’d started to read earlier and never quite finished. So I was reading Holmes and Dracula simultaneously and something clicked. I was thinking about the characters of Dr. John Watson from the Holmes stories and Dr. John Seward from Dracula and I realized that there are a lot of similarities between these two men. Both were medical doctors; both had a habit of recording their experiences, Watson in his written records of his adventures with Holmes and Seward in his phonograph journals; and both were “sidekicks” to their brilliant and eccentric mentors, Holmes and Van Helsing. They both lived in London at the same time too, so I decided that they should meet. I wanted to do a crossover between the worlds of Holmes and Dracula without either of those main characters appearing. With Dracula, I decided I wouldn’t use him because he’s dead. Stoker killed him off at the end of his book and who am I to resurrect him? I also wanted to use Watson without Holmes because I have this thing about defending Watson. One thing that’s always bothered me, and this came mostly from the Basil Rathbone /Nigel Bruce movies, is Watson’s reputation (among those who haven’t read Doyle’s original stories) as a bumbling idiot. Watson is NOT a stupid man! Sherlock Holmes would not associate with a moron! John Watson is a very intelligent, very courageous man in the medical field who is a trusted companion to an absolute genius. Watson is us. It is through his eyes that we see Holmes. Doyle used Watson as narrator so that we could see the genius of Holmes in a way that we could understand. There is nothing weak or inferior about Watson and I wanted to show that by placing him in the role of a man who could solve a mystery without Holmes being around and step into the lead role with Seward as the junior partner of this new crime-solving duo. My original idea was to do SEASON OF MADNESS as a graphic novel or maybe a comic book mini-series. I pitched the idea to my friend Pedro Cruz who is an excellent artist from Portugal. He liked it and I began to write a script. Halfway through that, I began my association with Airship 27 Productions and wound up doing my Sherlock Holmes story. The success of the Holmes book made me consider doing SEASON OF MADNESS as a prose novel instead. I pitched the idea to Ron Fortier and he liked it and I sent him some samples of Pedro’s work and he agreed to have Pedro illustrate the novel and also gave Pedro some other illustration work for other Airship books. It worked out great for all of us and SEASON OF MADNESS became a sort of sequel to that first Holmes volume. I’d like to say one more thing about this. Whenever someone asks me about SEASON OF MADNESS, I try to see if they’re familiar with the original sources of both main characters. I’ve been finding that almost everyone has read some Holmes, but there are a lot of people who have never read DRACULA. If anyone who’s reading this hasn’t read Stoker’s book, don’t be fooled into thinking you know the story already because of all the supposed adaptations and pastiches out here. It’s a great horror novel that climbs to far greater heights of creepiness and mood and atmosphere than anything that drew from it. You’re missing a great experience if you haven’t read it.
AP – Who is Hound Dog Harker? Where did he first appear and will we be seeing any more of his adventures in the future?
AS –Hound Dog Harker is my own original pulp character, but I can really only claim about a third of the credit for his existence. Not long after I began writing pulp, I discovered a series of movies from the 1930s starring John Howard as the character Bulldog Drummond. I loved those movies, sort of a cross between James Bond and Will Eisner’s THE SPIRIT. Drummond was created, in a series of novels, by Herman Cyril McNeile. The films came later. I immediately did some searching to see if the character was in the public domain to see if I could use the character in new stories. I learned two things. First, the character is still owned and unavailable. Second, the Drummond of the novels is quite different from the character in the movies and not in a way I’d be interested in working on anyway. So I put that idea down for awhile. Meanwhile, I was working on SEASON OF MADNESS. As I got to the end of that book, I began to realize that it just wasn’t going to be long enough to fill a whole novel. I had told the story I’d set out to tell and I wasn’t going to stuff it with filler just to get to a certain word count. I had to come up with another solution. I decided to make it a two-story book with SEASON OF MADNESS as a short novel, and a short backup story to fill up the remainder of the volume. I started to think about ideas for that second story and I decided it should somehow connect to either Holmes or Dracula. I thought about the various other characters I could use. I didn’t want to use Holmes or Van Helsing because I didn’t want their popularity to overshadow the main story. I thought about Lestrade, but he already had a major part in the Watson/Seward story. Then I thought about the various characters in DRACULA and I remembered the very end of the book where Mina Harker mentions that she and Jonathan, several years after the events with Dracula, have a son who they call Quincy after the one member of their group who died in the final battle with the vampire. That was when I realized I had the perfect idea to fill that book up. Hound Dog Harker is little Quincy all grown up. He’s raised by Jonathan and Mina, growing up with this feeling that his parents are hiding some dark secret about their past, but never really learning about the whole Dracula business. As a young man, he fights in World War I, rising to the rank of Captain and earning his nickname of Hound Dog. By the 1930s, he works for British intelligence as a character that is very much like the Bulldog Drummond that John Howard portrayed in those movies. He’s sort of a pulp-era James Bond with a knack for finding himself assigned to cases that have some sort of connection to strange or seemingly supernatural or super-scientific events. His first adventure, “Attack of the Electric Shark,” appears in SEASON OF MADNESS. There will be a new Hound Dog Harker story out soon, once again as the backup feature in another Airship 27 book, a book with a main story by one of my fellow Airship writers. I do have an idea for a third Harker story too, but I haven’t started to work on it yet.
AP -Who is Red Veil and where will she be appearing?
AS – The Red Veil is my other brand new pulp character to come out from Airship 27. She’s my first attempt at writing a pulp story with a female hero. She’ll be appearing in a new anthology called MYSTERY MEN. When I learned that Airship 27 would be putting out a book with new original pulp heroes, I of course wanted to be involved. Ron told me that he wanted a new female pulp character, so I came up with Red Veil. Her story is basically a tale of the American Dream coming true and then being snatched away, and how one woman deals with such a thing happening to her. The Red Veil is Alice Carter, a young woman who survived a rough childhood in England, made her way to America, married a handsome young police officer, and then had her heart broken when her husband was killed in the line of duty. Without saying too much, because I want people to actually read the story before they know the story, Alice reacts to this tragedy by taking the law into her own hands. It’s a pretty dark story and she’s a pretty dark character once she really gets going. I created her and I’m not even really sure if she’s sane or not! She’s got a little of the Shadow in her, a pinch of the Spider, and a lot of the terrible wrath that comes when a woman gets really, really pissed off at the world and its injustices.
AP –Besides your pulp work, what else do you have coming from other publishers?
AS – The main thing that I’m waiting to see the release of is my science-fantasy novel GODS AND GALAXIES. It’s been attached to a certain small publisher for quite a while now. There seem to be ongoing delays to its release, but I hope that will all be sorted out sooner rather than later. It starts out as a love story about a man who meets a woman who is quite different than any woman he’s ever encountered before. Eventually, he finds out just what makes her so different. The book eventually turns from that quiet beginning into a full-out, fast-paced, brutal space adventure. Somebody compared it to a modern variation on John Carter of Mars. All I can really say is that it’s among my most personal works so far. There are big parts of me in that main character and there are a few people I know who might recognize themselves in the story too, although the names have been changed to protect both the innocent and the guilty writer! I really hope that whatever the publisher is going through gets resolved soon so that I can see that book available. It will be my first full-length novel and I hope it has enough cross-genre appeal for a lot of different people to give it a shot. That’s the only thing I have definitely coming out that’s not really pulp work, but I always have other stuff in progress. I have a long horror novel that’s not far from completion, but it’s on hold at the moment. I actually dug a little too deep into the pits of my own soul for that one and had to take a break!
AP –Is there anything you would like to plug here? Feel free to give our readers a sneak-peek at what’s coming from Aaron Smith in the year ahead.
AS –I have plenty of new stuff coming out in the next few months. From Airship 27 Productions, there’s the second Hound Dog Harker story, there’s the Red Veil debut in the MYSTERY MEN book, and there’s SHERLOCK HOLMES CONSULTING DETECTIVE Volume 3 in which I have two short stories. Then there’s the line of magazines being published by Pro Se Productions. Tommy Hancock was kind enough to offer me a position as a staff writer for his magazines and he’s done an amazing job of getting pulp stuff coming out on a monthly basis again. I have the first stories of two different series out there already. In MASKED GUN MYSTERY # 1 we have the first of my stories with my character Lieutenant Marcel Picard, a former NHL hockey player who retires from the game to become a homicide detective. I’ve already written the second Picard story and I’m working on a third. Picard was inspired by a conversation I overheard in a restaurant one evening, so ideas can come from anywhere. Also, just last week Pro Se released FANTASY AND FEAR # 2 which includes my “100,000 Midnights,” which is the first in my new series of vampire stories. This is a series that just grabbed me by the throat and wouldn’t let go and it’s going to be a series of eight stories which I eventually hope to see collected into one volume after they’ve run in the magazines. It’s partially inspired by all the vampire material that’s come from Stoker and others and it’s also my own take on vampires and other supernatural lore. So I’m trying to pay homage to what’s come before while still infusing it with my own unique point of view. In addition to those two series, there are also a few standalone stories in the adventure and fantasy genres that I hope to see included in the Pro Se magazines in coming months.
AP - Aaron, this had been a lot of fun. Thanks so much for joining us here at All Pulp.
AS –Thank you for having me and I hope I’ve been an interesting enough subject that some of the people reading this will want to check out my work.