AUTHOR INTERVIEW – Aaron Smith
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INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR
What initially got you interested in writing?
I was always interested in writing, or at least in storytelling. I guess I was born with it. During my whole childhood, I was making up stories, either by playing with action figures or running around with a tape measure (because of the cool way they retract when you push the button) and pretending it was my lightsaber or thinking up new episodes of my favorite TV shows or making my own comic books. I think the first attempt at writing an actual prose story that I remember would have been in the second grade when I tried to write an Indiana Jones novel instead of paying attention in Miss Brunt’s class. I didn’t get more than a few pages into that experiment.
I always wanted to pursue some sort of art form, but it took me a long time to settle on writing. I drew, I played guitar and tried to write songs, and I studied acting and did some theater around New Jersey and even had a part in an independent film. But I could never go far into those things and I later came to realize that the problem was that I’ve always worked best when I’m alone or don’t really have to depend on others. And you can’t perform and produce a whole play by yourself and you can’t be an entire band. But when I settled on writing, I found I could, at least until the point where editors and publishers have to enter the process, have complete control over the creation of a story, so I really threw myself into learning how to write.
What genres do you write in?
I can’t seem to stick to one genre. To me, that would be like eating the same thing for dinner night after night after night. I recently counted how many stories I’ve written in each genre and mysteries were first (mostly due to all my Sherlock Holmes stories), with horror coming in second, but I’ve also written science fiction, fantasy, several spy novels, war stories, pulp-style masked vigilante stories, crime fiction, some comic books scripts, and a western. So I like to bounce around from genre to genre.
What drew you to writing these specific genres?
I tend to come up with a story first, a seed of an idea and let it fall into whatever genre it seems meant for. And the ideas that come to me naturally fit into genres I’ve enjoyed reading or otherwise experiencing. There’s a thrill to being scared or grossed out or disturbed and unsettled, so horror appeals to me. I grew up reading Sherlock Holmes and watching Jeremy Brett play him on TV, and watching other great detective characters like Hercule Poirot (portrayed perfectly by David Suchet) and Columbo (if they ever cast someone to replace Peter Falk as that character I swear my head will explode!), so mystery is a genre I was happy to attempt writing and I seem to have done pretty well with it so far.
And I guess I should be honest and admit that there are a few genres I never would have tried if not for the fact that there was work available. For example, I’m not a big fan of westerns. I don’t seek them out. Rather, if a story is good and happens to be a western, I’ll enjoy it. The Searchers is one of my all-time favorite films, but it would also be the only western on the list if I did a Top 20 or so movies ranking. So when I was asked to do a western story once, for an anthology, I hesitated, but the right idea eventually came to me and I did it and the story actually received one of my favorite reviews. But I’ve never sat down and just decided to write a western, and I probably never will.
How did you break into the field?
Right place, right time! I was very fortunate that I had only one little disappointment before my first bit of success, because I think if I’d started with a string of disappointments I might have given up rather quickly.
The first story I ever tried to present to the public was a science fiction time travel story called, “In His Own Image,” which has still never been published at least a decade after I wrote it. And it probably wasn’t very good, but I thought it was. So I submitted it to Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine and promptly got my first rejection letter.
But then, not long after, I stumbled upon an ad on a website about a publisher looking for pulp writers. I responded and started an email correspondence with Ron Fortier. This was in the early days of the New Pulp movement and Airship 27 Productions was just taking flight. I realized, to my delight, that this was the same Ron Fortier who had written some Green Hornet comics I’d read growing up. So Ron asked for a sample of my work and I threw together a couple paragraphs about a vampire having a conversation with Adolph Hitler! And I nervously sent it to Ron, half-expecting him to hate it. But he liked it and asked me if I’d be interested in contributing to a Sherlock Holmes anthology he was assembling. I was blown away! Holmes has been, since I was about 8 years old, my absolute favorite fictional character, so I was thrilled to see my very own Holmes mystery get published. And I just kept going from there, writing more pulp stuff for Airship 27, then for Pro Se Press when it began, and for other publishers and anthologies and magazines, and eventually I started to write novels too.
The timing was perfect and that first Holmes anthology came just when I really needed the success and encouragement to seriously pursue writing.
What do you want readers to take away from reading your works?
Entertainment, mostly, in whatever form fits the genre. I want my horror to scare them, my mysteries to make them say, “Aha!” and my spy novels to thrill them. I want them to be glad they bought the book and happy they invested their time and money in the experience of reading it.
What do you find most rewarding about writing?
There are so many things.
The knowledge that people read my work. The knowledge that they enjoy it, whether that comes from a review posted on Amazon or elsewhere or just from a casual comment on Facebook.
The times readers tell me they care about characters I’ve created. That means a lot, to know that pieces of my imagination have had an emotional impact on other human beings.
And also the times when I’ve written stories that use other writers’ characters and fans of the characters have expressed the opinion that I’ve done it right. Hearing that one of my Holmes stories “would fit right into the canon,” or that my Allan Quatermain story got the character just right or that the Van Helsing story I recently had published would have fit in as a film in Hammer’s Dracula series just makes my day because my intention when using pre-existing characters is always to write with respect for what I think the original creators intended. I try to write (as closely as possible from a place in time and space far from 1890s London) Doyle’s Holmes, not Aaron Smith’s Holmes, and readers seem to appreciate that.
And I find it rewarding to have worked with so many great editors and publishers and illustrators, as well as the authors who I’ve had the privilege of being published alongside of in anthologies or magazines. Many of these fellow creators have also become friends of mine and I’m very grateful for the opportunity to know them.
What do you find most challenging about writing?
The writing is easy, or, at the very least, the writing itself is always fun. It’s some of the things that go with it that are challenging. Sometimes it’s very hard to keep going. Sometimes it feels more like an addiction than a pleasure.
And the money aspect of it can be tough. It can be very upsetting when you stop and realize that you’re utilizing a skill or a craft or a talent (or whatever you want to call it) that most people either don’t possess or don’t know how to go about using, and that tends to impress people, yet you more often than not make very little money doing it. It is so, so hard to promote properly, to build a steady readership. To make more than pocket change writing. I don’t expect to ever get rich writing, but it would be nice if I could make half my income that way, turn my full-time day job into a part-time thing, make some sort of dependable income from writing. That part is discouraging and even depressing sometimes. If I did the math and figured out the money I make from writing in comparison to the time spent writing and editing and contemplating ideas and going over dialogue in my head and all the other stuff that goes with it, I’d probably go as hopelessly insane as any Lovecraft protagonist or, at the very least, punch a hole in the wall.
So, yes, that’s a part of it that’s challenging. Writing involves widely varying moods. One minute you can be high as a kite from the adrenaline of watching the words effortlessly flow onto the screen, and the next you might feel like crying because you can’t help wondering if it’s really worth all that time and energy and frustration.
What advice would you give to people wanting to enter the field?
Three things come to mind immediately.
- Ignore the non-writers! When people find out you write, they try to “help” by giving you ideas, advice, and basically repeating all the gibberish they think they know about the world of writing and publishing, most of which they got by watching movies and TV shows about writers, which, as we know, don’t exactly represent the realities of writing. It’s far better to take what guidance you can from those who actually write and publish.
- Speaking of which, I’ll repeat the best piece of advice I ever got from one of my veteran writer friends. A few years ago, an editor wanted me to make some major cuts and changes to a book I’d written. The plot would remain the same, but the structure would be changed, the style would be altered in certain areas, and the length of the book would be shortened. I was not happy. I had invested a lot of time and emotion in the book and dreaded having to change it. I considered withdrawing it from that publisher. But I decided to ask Ron Fortier for advice, as I had learned to trust his experience, since he’d edited and published many of my stories by that point. He said to me, “Love the story, not the words.” And I went ahead and followed the other editor’s advice and made the changes. The book was vastly improved because of that.
- Don’t leave it for the editors! Editors are excellent at spotting flaws in your work that you’ve missed, catching errors in both grammar and continuity, and suggesting all sorts of improvements to stories. However, that is not an excuse to hand them anything less than the best, most polished, most thoroughly self-edited piece of writing you can possibly create. Don’t let the fact that someone else is going to go over your work make you lazy and sloppy. It’s better to give the editor a great job that they can make even better than a mess they have to fix.
What type of books do you enjoy reading?
Of course I enjoy reading the genres I like to write.
Classic mysteries by Agatha Christie and of course the original Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, and newer mysteries and crime novels such as the never-ending Prey series by John Sandford.
When it comes to horror, my favorite of all time is HP Lovecraft and I enjoy many of the writers who were inspired by him. I recently checked out the work of Thomas Liggotti and was blown away by how good it is.
I love classic science fiction by writers like Ray Bradbury, Roger Zelazny, Isaac Asimov, and so many others who built the foundation (yes, that was an intentional reference!) of modern genre fiction.
I’m currently reading “Blood Meridian” by Cormac McCarthy and it’s one of the most beautifully written, brutal books I’ve ever encountered.
And I can’t forget to mention how much I enjoy the work of many of the authors I’ve gotten to know because of my writing and because we work for the same publishers or in the same genres. I always look forward to the next book or story by Derrick Ferguson, Kevin Rodgers, Ron Fortier, Barry Reese, Frank Schildiner, Andrew Salmon, Ralph Angelo Jr., Christopher Farnsworth, and many others who I’m going to kick myself later for failing to mention.
Is there anything else besides writing you think people would find interesting about you?
Well, I don’t have any Earth-shattering secrets to reveal here. I live a mostly normal, quiet life, which is good, I suppose, as it allows me to notice all the great little things in life that spark ideas and cause stories to start to form in my head. I’m grateful for the non-interestingness of my life! If I was running around in a costume saving the world or something, I’d never have any time to write!
What are the best ways to connect with you, or find out more about your work?
Most of my work can be found on my Amazon page at http://www.amazon.com/Aaron-Smith/e/B0037IL0IS/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1374366653&sr=1-2-ent
I have a blog where I post news about my writing, as well as opinions and reviews, and that can be found at www.godsandgalaxies.blogspot.com
I’m always happy to accept new friends on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001125888963
Or you can follow me on Twitter as @AaronSmith377
Or join my mailing list at http://eepurl.com/bQ66iT