Wednesday, July 27, 2011

An Evening of Pulp

I had the opportunity last night to make an appearance at the Ringwood Public Library where my fellow writer Frank Schildiner and I made a presentation on our pulp fiction work and fielded questions from the audience. The small audience that showed up was quite interested in the subject and had a lot of questions. It turned out to be an enjoyable evening for all of us. The audience (I hope) learned a lot, we sold a few books, and hopefully we gained some new readers for our work.

Thanks to everyone who came out to listen to what we had to say.

For those who haven't met me in person, I'm the guy on the right in the first picture and Frank is on the left.

Frank Schildiner's work has appeared in SECRET AGENT X, RAVENWOOD: STEPSON OF MYSTERY, and BLACK BAT MYSTERY (in which we both have stories).

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The World Shakes as Giants Fall

It was only a few weeks ago when I had the occasion to write about the death of actor Edward Hardwicke here. I hoped that sort of entry would be a rarity; I would much rather write about something other than death, but I have to go down that road again today, as much as I wish I didn't.

Yesterday was a bad day, a very bad day. Twice I felt like I'd been punched in the stomach as I learned of the deaths of two men who both had an incredible amount of influence on my life and my writing. I'd like to say a few things about them today.

Few art forms have influenced my imagination more than comic books. And in that medium of comics, there are very few artists whose work has meant more to me than the great Gene Colan who died yesterday at the age of 84. He was a professional comics artist for decades, working on such characters as Daredevil, Captain America, Iron Man, Batman, and Doctor Strange but is perhaps best known for the 1970s Marvel horror series TOMB OF DRACULA, possibly the finest horror comic ever produced. Colan was the perfect artist to draw a series starring the king of vampires. He was the absolute master of creating mood and atmosphere and dread and suspense through his use of thick shadows and the way he put the most amazign folds and shading into clothing, curtains, textures of all sorts. His people looked like those of no other artist and he could make the world seem as dark and dramatic and foreboding as any artist ever could.

 But as far as I'm concerned, there's more to Gene Colan's art than that, for it had a personal effect on me. When I was five years old in 1982, I was out with my grandfather one morning. We stopped in a small convenience store for something and I saw, for the first time, one of those big old spinner racks full of comic books. I was mesmerized. Grandpa offered to buy me one and it took an eternity for me to choose. I finally settled on a Batman issue. I read it on the drive home and when I got to the last page of the story, a vampire story drawn by Gene Colan...I was terrified! The story ended on a cliffhanger with poor Batman having been bitten by the vampire and blood oozing from the two little puncture wounds in his throat! That traumatized little five-year old that I was begged Grandpa to take that horrible book away!

It may have upset me then, but that moment was the spark that started the fire in the part of my imagination that thrives on horror, on fear, on suspense and terror. Years later of course, I got more deeply into comics and truly came to appreciate the greatness of Gene Colan's artwork. And finally, in 2008, I had the chance to meet Gene Colan and I was able to tell him the story of that frightened five-year old and thank him for helping  to turn that kid into a writer. When I had told him the story, he looked at me and smiled and said, "When I was five, my father took me to see FRANKENSTEIN with Boris Karloff. Well that movie scared me silly and I had nightmares for weeks...but it woke up my imagination and made me love to draw horror! If my art did for you what that movie did for me, I'm very proud to know that and I wish you all the luck in the world with your writing and all your endeavors." That was a good moment and I'm glad I had the chance to tell him what his work had meant to me. Comics is a small genre now, far smaller than it was decades ago and the passing of Gene Colan won't make any national headlines. But to those who knew his work and got to experience the world of shadows and action and drama that he created with nothing more than a pencil, he was a titan!

That was my morning news yesterday, the death of Gene Colan. When I got home in the evening, the second blow came, just as hard as the first.

Peter Falk. Of everything I've written, more of it has been in the genre of mystery than any other. Peter Falk's Columbo started that love of mystery for me. Before I had read Doyle's Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot and before I had heard of Sam Spade or Phillip Marlowe or Nero Wolfe or any of a dozen other cinema or literary detectives, there was that rumple-coated, cigar chomping little pest that followed his suspects (wrong word though; he didn't suspect, he knew they'd done it!) around like a mosquito as he put the pieces together. Columbo was one of the those characters that always seemed to be in my memories even before I was really old enough to understand what he was doing. It's no exaggeration to say that Lieutenant Columbo is probably my favorite character is all of televsion. But, Peter Falk was more than just Columbo. It was only in recent years that I began to take an interest in his other work and when I did I came to realize just how brilliant an actor he truly was. THE IN-LAWS and MURDER BY DEATH are my favorite Falk movies and he's incredible in both, with comedic timing that's as good as anyone's ever was. His most famous character had a tremendous influnce on my interests, and his other roles have made me laugh as hard as a human being possibly can. The world of TV and movies would be a lesser one if it had never included an actor like Peter Falk. Oh...just one more thing: go serpentine! Serpentine!

Gene Colan, Peter Falk, thanks to both of you for the fun and the inspiration.


Friday, May 27, 2011

Back to Baker Street

I'm absolutely thrilled to announce the release of the latest book to include some of my work, Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective Volume 3, from Airship 27 Productions!

Holmes Volume 3 contains five brand new mysteries written in the style of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original Holmes tales. This volume contains two of my stories, "The Adventure of the Mummy's Rib" and "The Adventure of the Injured Inspector." In the book you'll also find stories by my friends and fellow writers I.A. Watson, Andrew Salmon, and Joshua Reynolds. The book features a great cover by Brian McCulloch and interior illustrations by the ever-excellent Rob Davis. The book is edited by Ron Fortier and is already available at the Airship 27 PDF store where you can purchase it for your Kindle or other e-reading device.

It will be available in traditional book form at the Airship 27 online store any minute now.

And for those of you who prefer to buy books through Amazon or Barnes and, the book will hit those sites in the very near future as all the Airship 27 books do.

I'm thrilled to once again have had the chance to contribute to a Sherlock Holmes anthology. There's nothing quite like revisiting the London of that time and following Holmes and Watson around as they go chasing after the elusive answers to some perplexing riddle or twisted crime. This is my third visit to the world of Holmes, and I sincerely want to thank Ron Fortier and Rob Davis, who keep letting me go back to Baker Street.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Passing of an Inspiration

I just read that actor Edward Hardwicke has died at the age of 78.

Anyone who knows me knows that one of my favorite fictional worlds is that of Sherlock Holmes, the character written about by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the greatest detective in all of fiction. I've been a fan of Holmes since I was 8 years old. I've read all of Doyle's Holmes stories, many of them more than once. I've read dozens of Holmes stories written by later writers. I've seen most of the film and television adaptations of the Holmes mysteries. And I've added (how successfully depends on the opinion of the readers) my own work to the world of Sherlock Holmes by contributing several stories to Airship 27's Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective books. I have also written a novel set in Holmes' world but not featuring Holmes at all, except in mention. That book, Season of Madness, focuses on the other character that is vitally important to the Holmes canon, Dr. John Watson, perhaps the greatest partner and narrator in popular literature. Watson is absolutely essential to the style of Doyle’s stories, for Watson represents us, the readers, those who follow Holmes on his adventures and watch in wonder as he solves the great mysteries with which he is faced. In writing Season of Madness and my other Holmes-related stories, I worked very hard to portray Watson as Doyle did, as a very brave, loyal and intelligent companion to the Great Detective. I hope I succeeded. Watson has often been portrayed in a very wrong way. In many of the film versions of the Holmes myth, Watson is shown as a less than intelligent sidekick, a hindrance to Holmes getting the job done, and even as a bumbling fool. This is absolutely wrong. Men like Sherlock Holmes, geniuses with unique talents, do not associate with bumbling fools. Watson was a highly intelligent but normal human being, the lens through which we got to watch the deeds of Sherlock Holmes. Watson was a brave soldier, a medical doctor, a biographer of his friend, and an indispensible aide to the Great Detective. He was anything but a bumbling fool.
Before I read any of Doyle's original stories and before I saw any of the other film versions, I first "met" Holmes and Watson via the mid-1980s British TV series. There, Holmes was brilliantly portrayed by Jeremy Brett. Edward Hardwicke was the second man to play Watson with Brett's Holmes (David Burke portrayed him in the first season) but it was the Hardwicke version that I saw first. I was introduced to Watson by one of the finest actors to ever play him, in a version that truly did justice to Doyle' creation. Years later, when I wrote the first of my Holmes stories, "The Massachusetts Affair," and shortly thereafter wrote Season of Madness, which is, as far as I've been able to find out, the first novel written starring Watson without Holmes, it was Edward Hardwicke who I saw in my mind as I wrote. It was Edward Hardwicke's voice that I heard in my head as I wrote Watson's dialogue (and, in fact, all the narration in the Holmes tales).
As someone who has obviously been greatly influenced by Hardwicke's work as Watson and has had the great privilege to be allowed to write about Doyle's creations, I felt I had to say something today after hearing of Edward Hardwicke's passing. He was, after all, the man who performed what I consider to be the best version of one of my favorite characters in all of fiction.
Goodbye, Doctor Watson, and thank you.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Necessary Darkness

When people learn that I write, they often ask who my favorite writers are and who has influenced me. The answers to that question change often and can depend on what sort of writers we're talking about. For a blend of science fiction and fantasy I'd probably mention Roger Zelazny while more science-based SF brings Asimov to mind. Fleming gets credit when it comes to espionage material and Doyle was the detective master of the 19th century and Chandler's work, which came a little later, certainly makes the list. Then there are all the comics creators that made an impression on me, guys like Stan Lee and all his co-conspirators like Kirby and Ditko and the mighty Buscema. But when I think about influences, one thing comes to mind: the fact that most of those writers are people whose work I encountered before I began writing myself. They had an important role in shaping my imagination when I was a kid and was more able to get lost in fantasy worlds than adults can. While I still enjoy reading many authors' works now, there's a difference when a writer reads and there is a certain sort of analysis that goes through the mind, mostly subconsciously, but which makes it harder to get completely pulled into the story and lose the awareness that one is reading the work of a person. There are not too many writers whose work has made a big impression on me in recent years. But I thought I'd write about one very big exception in today's blog.

Several years ago, I finally got around to reading the works of an author who I'd been aware of for years but had never sampled. Yes, I knew of his vast influence and I knew the basics of what he had written about, so I thought I knew what to expect and I was quite prepared to not be impressed. I was wrong. For the first time in many years, I found myself truly sucked into a very effectively constructed world of stories that has had a massive impact on my own work and is, as far as I'm concerned, unique among fiction writers whose work I've read. The man I'm talking about has inspired many imitators and influenced many writers for many decades, but I don't think anybody else can really do what he did the way he did it. That man's name was Howard Phillips Lovecraft, and he's now way up there on my list of favorite writers. I'm going to attempt to explain why.

Some of the creative people who have managed to impress me the most over the years have done something that very few writers or directors can do successfully, they've created entire universes in which a reader or viewer can get so completely absorbed in as to feel like they have entered, for the duration of a book or movie, a different world. George Lucas did it with Star Wars, as anybody who was a kid in the 80s can testify, and Tolkein certainly did it too. Those two built dreams, worlds where things were wonderful. Yes, the Star Wars universe and Tolkein's Middle Earth held bad things too, but they were optimistic places, places where good succeeded eventually through bravery, perseverence, hard work and grand struggles. Dreams are great things, but they are only one side of the experience of being human and so are only one side of the possible contents of the imagination. Somebody has to craft the other side, the side we don't usually want to face but eventually must, the nightmare side. That's where Lovecraft comes into the equation. Lovecraft's work is the counterpoint to the heroic epics of both mythology and modern heroic fiction and in that respect, he was the best.

Lovecraft was not "just another horror writer." His work goes beyond that because it dares to go where others won't. Ask people to name a horror writer and they will often come up with the name of Stephen King. I like King well enough and I've read a handful of his books, but he is, for the most part, what you might call an optimistic horror writer. Yes, terrible things happen to his characters, but one of his primary themes is hope. There is usually some safety at the end, some survivors and some chance of normalcy after all the insanity and terror. Most horror stories have boundaries, borders, points where things have gone as far as they can and that's it. Lovecraft had no boundaries. His characters went where they never expected to go and in most cases did not come back, sometimes physically and almost always mentally. King, for example, sends us to strange places but always with a frame of reference of normalcy and with the familiar still intact. You can return to the waking world from a Stephen King nightmare, but Lovecraft won't let you come back. If you go where his characters go, there is no path upon which to return. The familiar and the safe is wiped away forever.

Lovecraft has had his share of critics. People complain about his "excessive" use of strange adjectives, but I like it, for those words, that phrasing, creates the seperation from the familiar and mundane that makes HPL's work what it is. His words are like shadows that slowly build up the darkness and the mystery and the sense of dread around us like a thick forest that we slowly drive into and soon find ourselves surrounded by those menacing trees before we even realize we've begun to get lost. And there have been complaints too that Lovecraft often follows a simliar formula in many of his stories. That may be true, but you know what? It works. We know the protagonist is going to find out the hard way about some incredible secret and we know he's never going to be able to look at the universe in the same way again (if he even survives) and we know how the thing is going to progress and we still can't help being dragged along the path that will drop us into that bottomless abyss. It always starts out slowly and then it just builds and builds and builds and the agitation grows and we're going on that trip of no return whether we want to or not. Lovecraft was relentless, mercilless, uncompromising.

He also dared to do what few writers have dared to do with regard to the mythology that he slowly built up over the course of his career. Sure, we've all heard of Cthulu and the other god-(or demon)-like things (characters?) that populated the depths of the seas and the distant reaches of space and the nightmare segments of our own minds in Lovecraft's work and those things can seem a bit cliched because of their use by so many imitators  over the years since the original author's death, but let's think about his portrayal of gods. As humanity has founded its many religions over the course of many centuries and the myths of humankind have accumulated, one thing has been a constant: man likes to make his gods look and act like him. The Greeks, the Romans, the Sumerians, the Norse, the Egyptians (to some extent) and certainly most modern religions have given human characteristics, personalities, and often faces to their deities. For the purpose of religion, I suppose this makes sense to create a frame of reference and an understandable point of view when pondering the mysteries of the universe and our existence within it. But, if we really think about what a god would be, maybe it's not something so human. Maybe it is, whether "good" or "evil," if those terms can even have any valid meaning when it comes to someting so far beyond mere humanity, something that can't really be explained in human terms at all. Lovecraft understood that. A Lovecraftian god is truly alien. It's not human-faced and semi-familiar, but just barely within the borders of what we can imagine with our very limited senses and minds. Lovecraft's characters, when they realize the existence of his cosmic entities, truly face something far, far beyond anything they ever expected to have to attempt to perceive or interpet. That's powerful stuff.

Having said all that, there's one key element that really, I think, glues all the pieces of the Lovecraftian puzzle together and makes it all the more frightening and intense. When a fictional universe is created, it's often portrayed as seperate from the world in which the reader or viewer lives. Stars Wars took place not only in another galaxy, but also a long, long time ago. Tolkein's world may be our own, but it's very far in the past as was Robert E. Howard's Hyborian Age. Lovecraft provided no comfortable seperation between our world and his. All the cosmic secrets, all the mighty forgotten gods, all the horrors and shadows and things that must not be spoken of are right here, inches away from us as we sit and watch TV or go to work or try to live our simple little mundane lives. Lovecraft's monsters (and "monsters" seems like too mild a word) are right there, maybe even in the room where you're reading this blog, but hidden in the little folds in time or in the spaces between the spaces that we think we can perceive and understand. A Lovecraft story starts with the familiar and when the not so familiar comes jumping out and changes everything, it was right there all along, down the road we've passed but never turned down or on that one dusty library shelf that we've never browsed before we heard the title of a certain obscure book whispered. As alien as Lovecraft's horrors might seem, they are very, very close to us, and that makes them even more disturbing.

If anyone reading this loves fantasy and horror but hasn't read HP Lovecraft, if you think you've heard too much about it or been exposed to too many things he's influneced for the original to still have an impact, ignore that feeling and try it anyway. Turn out all the lights except the one you need to see the book. Eliminate all background noise. Turn off the TV! Be alone with that book and let the master take you on a trip. Just don't expect to ever come back.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

See More Evil, Hear More Evil

I was thinking about technology today and how it's changed during the past few decades. I'm all in favor of new technology as long as it's used responsibly and doesn't cause more headaches than it's worth. As far as modern conveniences go, like cell phones for example, they have their uses, but people also grow to rely maybe a little too much on them too quickly. On one hand, I'm glad I have a cell phone. It helps to be able to communicate when needed, no matter where you happen to be. It's one of those things that has made communication so easy and made the world a little smaller in some ways. But it has its downside too, since it seems that the easier it is to communicate, the more some people do it when they shouldn't or don't have to. It's made movie theatres less enjoyable. I get aggravated  with the background chatter during movies or the awful glare caused by people who just can't resist the urge to text while the film is playing. I kind of feel sad for kids too. I see kids in the store with their mothers and  see the poor children being ignored while Mom is shopping and on the phone at the same time. I see a lot of teenagers and young adults too who never seem to put the phone away. They treat it like it's a sixth finger! Personally, I don't have any need to have a phone within reach every moment of every day. I like the occasional privacy, the times when nobody knows where I am and nobody can find me. When I was a kid and we went on long drives, I fought boredom by looking out the windows and watching the scenery, the cars passing us, the people walking along the streets, the cows on the farmland. I learned by watching and it made me ask questions. It makes me sad now to see kids in the backseats of their parents' SUVs staring at TV screens during the ride, oblivious to all the interesting sights outside the windows. Those kids are missing things. So technology, I think, has its advantages, but also subtracts something from the experience of needing to find things to keep the mind occupied.

All that being  said, I was also thinking about how the ease of communication in the present day has had an effect on writers and made it neccesary to keep certain things in mind when plotting a story that takes place in the current era. The first few mystery stories I wrote were period pieces. Sherlock Holmes takes place right on the dividing line between the 19th and 20th centuries and my pulp stories about Dan Fowler and Hound-Dog Harker and the Black Bat all take place in the 1930s. There are no cell phones, no computers, no easy instant access to people or information. The easiest any detective in fiction of the first half of the 20th century had it when it came to communication was Dick Tracy with his 2-way wrist radio (which became a little TV later on). That was created by Chester Gould as a story element that was ahead of its time and it certainly made Tracy's life easier, but not in any way that made it too easy or became an obstacle to putting the detective in perilous situations. The balance now though may sometimes seem like it's swung too far in the opposite direction.
When I began writing modern mystery stories, one difference I noticed immediately is that instead of finding ways for my characters to get the information they needed, I sometimes had to figure out how to make it HARDER to get it. Does the character have to be isolated, trapped, cut off from calling for backup? Then I have to have his cell phone lost or taken away or destroyed or have the character someplace where there's no service. Does a robbery take place and the cops have to figure out who did it? Then some mention probably has to be made of a building's security cameras and how the crooks managed to either disable or evade those cameras. In a world of cell phones, email, cameras, GPS, and all sorts of other technological advances, the work of a detective may have gotten easier, but those who have to write stories in which the detective is challenged are often challenged too!

I'm making an observation about this difference, but I'm not complaining (well not much anyway) because it's fun to be able to create stories in two diferent eras that are so close together and yet so far apart. People are the same, the clothes we wear are not much different than what we wore 50 or 75 years ago (styles change but function remains the same), we still drive cars that are the same basic shape, and we still experience the same emotions, fears, hopes, joys. It really is a different era though. Those of us who are my age or a little older are lucky to have been able to experience both those eras, before the very-connected world and during the very-connected world. And those of us in that age range who write are lucky too, because we have, in a way, two different worlds in our memories and sets of experiences from which to draw inspiration.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Welcome to my new online home!

My name is Aaron Smith. I'm a writer and this is my brand new blog, Gods and Galaxies! The title of the blog is also the title of my new novel, my first full-length novel, published by Wild Wolf Entertainment. It's a tough book to categorize, even the publisher said so. It's a science-fantasy story with a romantic plotline running through it, some philosophical stuff, a lot of action and violence, and even a little sex. If that sounds interesting, check it out! You can find it on Amazon or at Barnes and Noble's website by following one of these links:

As for my other work, I've had a bunch of stories published by a wonderful company called Airship 27 Productions, which is devoted to bringing back all the fun and excitement that used to be found in the great pulp fiction of the first half of the 20th century. You can find all the Airship 27 books on Amazon too, or by going to their online store:

Working with Airship 27 has given me the opportunity to work with many of the great pulp characters of the past, heroes like The Black Bat, Dan Fowler:G-Man, and the World War I flying aces The Three Mosquitoes. It's also given me a chance to live one of my dreams, getting to write stories about one of the greatest of all fictional characters, Sherlock Holmes! That was an incredible experience and I hope my work on that project managed to capture the spirit of the character and didn't set Sir Arthur Conan Doyle spinning in his grave! You can find my first Holmes story in Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective Volume 1

After that first Sherlock Holmes book (and there are more to come) I was given another great Holmes-related opportunity. I wrote a short novel featuring Holmes's companion, Dr. John Watson. The book is called Season of Madness and as far as I've been able to find out is the first time anyone's written a book to feature Watson without Holmes! In Season of Madness, Watson teams up with another literary doctor of the time, John Seward from Bram Stoker's novel Dracula.

In addition to working on all those classic characters, my editor at Airship 27, Ron Fortier, has encouraged me on several occasions to create some new characters that, I hope, fit in well with the period piece pulps we publish (say that fast ten times! I think I have too many P's in that sentence). There's Hound-Dog Harker, partially inspired by the old character Bulldog Drummond, but he also happens to be the grown-up version of little Quincey Harker, the child of Jonathan and Mina who Bram Stoker mentions at the end of Dracula. As an adult, Harker works for the British government. He's a World War I veteran and 1930s British agent whose adventures usually manage to intersect with the worlds created by some of the great adventure, mystery and science fiction writers of the early 1900s. In a way, I guess you could say that Hound-Dog Harker's world is my tribute to some of my influences, like Bram Stoker (obviously!), Conan Doyle, HG Wells, Jules Verne, and Robert Louis Stevenson. The first Hound-Dog Harker story, "Attack of the Electric Shark" can be found as a bonus story in Season of Madness. And there will be more Harker stories coming very soon.

I've also created The Red Veil, a character in the tradition of the Shadow and the Spider, a ruthless pulp vigilante, but this one happens to be a woman. The Red Veil is Alice Carter, a young woman who takes the law into her own hands after her husband, a police officer, is killed and the real reasons for his death are covered up by some crooked cops. The Red Veil's first appearance was in the Airship 27 book Mystery Men (and Women) Volume 1.     

 Besides writing pulp stories for Airship 27, I also write short pulp stories for the magazines published by Pro Se Productions, a great little company run by editor Tommy Hancock, who seems to somehow have more than the usual allotment of 24 hours in his days, judging by the amount of pots he has on his creative stove at any given time. My stories have been showing up in the magazines Fantasy and Fear, and Masked Gun Mystery. Those can be found through Pro Se's site.

In the first two issues of Masked Gun Mystery, you'll find the first two cases of my modern day homicide cop, Detective Lieutenant Marcel Picard, a former NHL hockey star who now hunts down killers.

In Fantasy and Fear issues 2 and 3, you'll find the first two parts of my vampire series. The first story is called 100,000 Midnights and the second is A Study in Shadow. That 3rd issue also contains another of my short stories, City of Nevermore, which is sort of my tribute to HP Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe.

If anyone reading this decides to check out any of the books or magazines where my stories appear, I'd love to hear what you think about them, so feel free to comment.

I've never had a blog before and I'm looking forward to posting here and putting up information about new projects and talking about whatever happens to be on my mind. I hope anyone reading this enjoys it too.