Author Aaron Smith has made quite a name for himself in the last few years, practicing his craft in various genres for various companies. ALL PULP felt it was high time that Pulp fans caught up with what Aaron, an All Pulp supporter and fan favorite, was doing.
AP: Aaron, share some background on yourself, both personal and writing.
AS: Well I’m thirty-five years old, I live in New Jersey, and I’ve been seriously writing for about five years now. I was recruited into the pulp community by Ron Fortier of Airship 27 Productions, to whom I will always be grateful for giving me a start. Ron got me going writing for Airship’s series of Sherlock Holmes anthologies, which was a dream come true for me, since Holmes is my favorite character in all of fiction. From there, I started writing other pulp characters like the Black Bat and Dan Fowler and some westerns and war stories. I was allowed to create a few of my own original pulp characters too, which was great fun. After a while, I started branching out into other areas of writing and, as of today, I’ve had over twenty short stories and three novels published, so I think I’m doing pretty well so far. For anyone not familiar with my work, they can find information on it at my blog: www.godsandgalaxies.blogspot.com
Regarding personal stuff, I’m married to a great wife who somehow manages to put up with all my eccentricities and creative mood swings and highs and lows and all the other occupational hazards of living with a writer! I’ll never figure out how she does it. For almost twenty years, I’ve been running produce departments for a major supermarket chain. While that doesn’t sound like a very exciting job, it’s really great training for a writer because of the fact that everybody needs to eat, so everybody has to buy food. I’ve been around the rich and the poor, the old and young, the polite and the rude, and all races, ethnicities, backgrounds and professions you can imagine because I work with the public. It gives me so many opportunities to observe those very strange creatures called human beings in their natural habitat!
AP: You published a rather interesting take on vampires this past June, 100,000 Midnights. What makes this work stand out from other vampire novels and how did it come about?
AS: 100,000 Midnights has a slightly convoluted history. It began as a short story of the same title, originally published in Pro Se Productions’ Fantasy and Fear magazine back in October of 2010. A month later, it’s sequel short story was published in the next issue of the same magazine. I intended to do a whole series of stories there. I had eight of them written when I looked at the whole set of files one day and it dawned on me that it might actually work better as a novel.
At about the same time, a new e-publisher called Musa Publishing began looking for submissions to start up its line of books and it looked like a very good opportunity. I sent the novel to Musa once I had combined all the short stories into one book (with the very gracious permission of the stories’ previous publisher) and they accepted it. I made some changes along the road to the novel being released. I did some heavy editing, both alone and with the help of the editors at Musa, and I lowered the protagonist’s age by a decade because his particular eccentricities seemed to stand out more if he was younger than I had originally made him. The book came out in June of this year, as an e-book only; it doesn’t exist in a print edition, although I’d like it to someday, and it’s sold some copies and received some nice reviews, so it’s worked out well.
As for what makes it stand out among vampire novels, I’d have to say that the main thing I tried to put into it was fun. Yes, it’s a horror story and it has its bloody, grim moments, but it has a lighthearted side too. In fact, I tried to hit all kinds of moods rather than sticking to one type of vampire story. It has some humor, some romance, a lot of action. It’s not only a vampire story either. While it focuses on a young man and the vampire woman who pulls him headfirst into a world he never knew existed, I threw a lot of other horror-related concepts in there too. On one hand, I think it works as my love letter to many of the great archetypes of horror fiction, and I hope I managed to put a little of the charm of old horror movies like the Universal and Hammer films into the story. But on the other hand, I tried to mix in the things that make modern vampire stories appeal to audiences. The vampires in the story all differ from one another. Some are good, some are evil, and some fall between the two extremes. There’s violence, a bit of sex, and a lot of different elements included in the novel. Poor Eric, the protagonist, gets in one supernatural mess after another. He’s lucky he’s got a three-hundred-year-old vampire girl by his side for most of the ordeal!
AP: You've also built up a good reputation as a writer of Public Domain characters, particularly the Pulp type. What work have you done recently in this area?
AS: In 2012, I’ve had three stories released by Airship 27 Productions. There’s my Ki-Gor story in Jungle Tales Volume 1, which was great fun to write. I’ve liked jungle adventures ever since my grandfather introduced me to Tarzan when I was little.
There’s my second Black Bat story, in Black Bat Mystery Volume 2. This one was actually written before the story that appeared in Volume 1, which was a choice the editor made and which was fine with me. I also have at least one more Black Bat story coming in the future.
And there’s my second Hound-Dog Harker story. A little background on that: a few years ago, I wrote the Dr. Watson novel, Season of Madness. I needed a short backup story for that book, so I came up with Hound-Dog Harker. He’s the son of Jonathan and Mina Harker of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula. It’s the 1930s and he’s grown up to be an agent of the British government. I try to tie each Harker story to a classic novel. The first one is connected to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and the second one, “Hyde and Seek,” is related to both “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and HG Wells’ “The Invisible Man.”
“Hyde and Seek” appears as the backup story in Dr. Watson’s American Adventure, in which the main story is written by Erwin K. Roberts.
To drop a few hints about my future Public Domain character works, there will be more Sherlock Holmes, and I’ve also got something coming up featuring another famous adventure character that I’m not yet at liberty to name, but it’s a big name!
AP: What appeals to you about writing Public Domain characters? Do they have a place in the hands of modern readers?
AS: To answer your second question first, the fact that Public Domain characters have a place with modern readers is evidenced every time someone buys (and hopefully enjoys) one of our books featuring those characters.
As for what appeals to me about writing such characters, almost everything does. We’re able to bring back into the spotlight characters that might otherwise fall into a bottomless pit of obscurity. The Black Bat, for example, is a wonderful superhero-type character and there’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to find an audience among those readers who enjoy Batman or Daredevil. And using these characters again also brings their original creators back into the public view, which is always a good thing. Many of the pulp writers of the past have been forgotten and if our work in the present makes their names known to new generations, I think that’s good thing.
There’s also another side to using Public Domain characters and it has to do with responsibility and the preservation of certain concepts as they were intended by their original authors. Let’s take Sherlock Holmes as an example. Holmes is among the most famous characters in literature and in the past few years there’s been a tremendous resurgence in his popularity among the general public. That’s good and it’s bad. Holmes is open to many interpretations, but not all fans of the character agree with all those versions. There are three big ones in film and TV now and they all stray to one extent or another from Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories. We have the British series Sherlock which brings Holmes and his cast into the twenty-first century and modern London. At first I was skeptical about such an updating, but after seeing it I was very, very impressed because it maintains the spirit and essence of what made Doyle’s work so thrilling. Benedict Cumberbatch (I love that name!) is a superb Holmes and everybody acts just like they should. Then you have the Robert Downey movies which seem to have added a more action-oriented take to Holmes. And there’s also the new American TV version, Elementary, which I won’t watch. Turning Watson into a woman and taking Holmes out of England turns the whole thing into a version which isn’t really Holmes at all. They’re just borrowing the name! But, because Holmes is available for many different interpretations, thanks to the Public Domain status, there are some writers and publishers out there who are sticking to pure Doyle-style Holmes material and that’s important. Sure, it’s okay to do something new with old characters (within reason), but I’m glad to be among those who work within the format established by Doyle. I’ve made a vow to myself that whenever I actually use Holmes in a story, I will use him, to the best of my ability, as Doyle seems to have intended. I have no interest in modernizing him, pitting him against supernatural forces, or otherwise straying from formula (the Dr. Watson novel was a little different, but it didn’t actually feature Holmes, just mentioned him). So with all the variations of certain Public Domain characters out there, I’m glad some of us see fit to present them as they’ve traditionally been portrayed. If the Public Domain status didn’t exist and Holmes (or others) could be monopolized, we might run the risk of losing the traditional versions to somebody’s ambitious (and maybe unnecessary or even blasphemous) updates. With the way it is now, everybody wins. Everybody can find the Sherlock Holmes that suits their interests.
AP: Being a varied writer, you've also ventured into the Young Adult arena recently. Talk about that a bit.
AS: That was a very happy accident and one of the best moves I’ve made as a writer. Occasionally, I’ll come across an anthology or magazine that’s looking for a specific type of story. I’ll make a mental note of it and let it sit in my mind and see if something pops up that fits. So I was browsing one day and came across a call for paranormal stories that took place at the prom. I didn’t really think I’d have anything for the theme, but it sank into my brain and an idea developed a few hours later. I’d never written anything for the so-called Young Adult audience before, but I went through with it, submitted the story, and was very pleasantly surprised when it was accepted.
So I found myself working with a great company called Buzz Books and it’s been a fantastic experience. Malena Lott, who runs the show, is one of the most enthusiastic, encouraging publishers I’ve met so far, and Mari Farthing’s attention to detail as an editor brings out the best in my work. So far I’ve had two short stories published with Buzz Books: “A Kiss on the Threshold,” in an anthology called Prom Dates to Die For, and “Spectral Media,” in a collection called Something Wicked, which was released recently, just in time for Halloween.
Jumping into the Young Adult arena with those two anthologies was an interesting experience. When I was a teenager, you never saw a Young Adult section in the bookstore. It wasn’t a term we really used. You had children’s books, adult books, and the classics that sort of intersected age categories. Honestly, when aisles of “Young Adult” material started to appear in the big bookstores a few years ago, I found it a little odd. Did we need that middle category? But now I realize that anything, even if it’s just a category label, that gets people of any age to seek out books is a good thing. And writing for that audience isn’t very different than writing for adults. It’s PG-rated, but that’s not really all that much of a restriction. Readers, no matter how old or young they are, want the same things from stories: interesting characters in dramatic situations that bring wonder and suspense to the experience of reading about them. As long as a story keeps you turning the pages, who cares what aisle of the bookstore it happens to be placed in?
AP: Why a writer? What motivates you to tell stories? What is it about Pulp specifically that draws you in as a creator?
AS: My writing, or at least the constant use of my imagination, began as a defensive thing, a shield. When I was a kid in school, I didn’t really fit in, I felt out of place, and I got picked on. It was uncomfortable. So when I needed strength, I used my imagination to get me through the day. In my mind, I was someone else, maybe Captain Kirk on an alien planet or Peter Parker walking around with the knowledge that I was secretly stronger and braver and nobler than the other kids. Later in life, when I was long past those insecurities, my imagination kept working overtime and eventually I turned it into real writing, as opposed to just mental clutter. Now I tell stories because, rather than hiding behind them, I want to share my ideas and dreams with the people who experience them through the books I write.
Pulp is just pure fun, for the writer as well as the reader. In the wider world of publishing, I see a lot of people worrying about “rules” when they should be devoting their time to actually writing. “You shouldn’t use exclamation points.” “That point of view or type of narration is unacceptable.” “There’s no audience for that type of story.” Now while some of those rules or assumptions might be true in certain sections of the world of literature, no rule or restriction should ever be considered definitive. If it tells the story in the best way the writer can achieve, how can it be wrong? The new pulp community seems to thrive on having fun with our writing. A good pulp story is driven by excitement and adrenaline and not wanting to slam on the brakes. Pulp, just as it was many years ago when writers who later went on to be huge names in other genres started out there, is a great place to learn and to share a sort of home with others who thrive on trying to generate that same sort of excitement with their words and characters.
Pulp is where I learned how to write, where I’ve had the guidance of some great editors and colleagues and friends, and where I gained the confidence to try to go beyond and test the waters in other areas of writing. So now I’m working in other sorts of anthologies and pitching novels to other publishers and exploring various markets for my work, but Pulp began it all for me and welcomed me with open arms. It’s a genre and style that I’ll never get tired of participating in.
AP: You have a work in an altogether different genre coming up soon. Without saying too much, what can you tease our readers with?
AS: I’ve finally written a novel in one of my favorite genres, that of spies and espionage and secret agents! I’ve been a fan of that type of story ever since I saw my first James Bond movie when I was five or six, so I was eventually going to take a shot at writing that kind of book. The novel’s done, it’s been accepted by a publisher (one of the outfits I’ve worked with before in the New Pulp world) and just needs the editing process and all the trimmings before it’s ready to roll. I’m very excited about it. Without giving away more than the basics, it’s about an American intelligence officer who tries to leave government service after suffering a tragedy in his life and going rogue, but gets sucked back into the game and winds up working on missions that are too sensitive for the FBI or CIA or the other usual agencies. Dangerous situations, ruthless villains, beautiful women, and exotic cities are a hell of a lot of fun to write about and this will not be my last visit to that genre.