Saturday, December 8, 2012

Sticks and Skates, Bullets and Brains

As most of you already know, I entered the world of writing via the genre known as New Pulp. I got my start writing previously established characters like the Black Bat, Sherlock Holmes, and Ki-Gor the Jungle Lord. I've also been lucky enough to work for several editors who have encouraged me to create my own pulp characters. There are three of my characters that have found prominent places in New Pulp publications. There's Quincy "Hound-Dog Harker," who began as a baby mentioned on the last page of Bram Stoker's novel Dracula, and who I now occasionally write in his adult version as an agent of the British Secret Service in the 1930s. There's the Red Veil, my pulp-era female vigilante.

But the character of mine who seems to have caught the most positive attention from New Pulp readers is my modern day detective, Lieutenant Marcel Picard, a professional hockey player turned police investigator. Last week marked the publication of the third Picard story, "Lieutenant Picard and the Holy Grail," which appears in the magazine Pro Se Presents #15. This book is now available on Amazon in a Kindle edition or a print edition. Here are the links, for those interested in buying a copy:

   For Kindle:

In print:

On today's blog, I thought I'd explain how Lt. Picard came into existence.
A few years ago, I was eating dinner in a local Italian restaurant. The tables were pretty close together and I couldn't help overhearing the conversation across from us. A man in his late twenties was with his girlfriend. He was wearing a New York Rangers jersey and discussing his decision to stop playing in an amateur hockey league. It seems there had been an incident in which another player's skate had come dangerously close to slicing his face. He sat there telling his companion that he no loonger felt the risk of injury was worth the fun of the game.
This got me thinking about a similar situation in which such a decision would have more drastic consequences than a man simply giving up a hobby. At that moment, the beginning of Picard occurred.

Marcel Picard was a highly succesful hockey star, a high-scoring forward for the New Jersey Devils. In his case, about a decade into his playing career, an opposing player's skate did strike him, leaving a scar down the right side of his face. Picard retired early and joined the Sheriff's Department in Passaic County New Jersey, deciding to do something with more meaning than playing a game for a living. His decision is based in part on an incident in his childhood in Canada in which he figured out the identity of a local murderer before the police could.

I chose Passaic County as Picard's area of operations for two reasons. First, I grew up in Passaic County and still live there. The cities and towns that appear in the Picard stories: Paterson, Wayne, Butler, Woodland Park, West Milford, etc. are places I've lived in, worked in, or visited over the course of my life. Second, it's a county with a lot of variety. Paterson is a big city, once thriving but now decaying. West Milford is about as rural as it gets in New Jersey. And there are towns of every sort in between.

A few people have asked me why I chose to have Picard be a former New Jersey Devils player since I've actually been  a New York Rangers fan my whole life. The simple answer is that I know too much about the Rangers and I think I'd be too tempted to add too much Ranger-centric trivia to my stories! The Devils are the other local team and I know enough about them to use them if I must but not enough to let my passion for them interfere with the flow of the stories.

So that's how Picard came into being. As for the actual stories, each one started in a different way. The first one, "The Day He Found the Clown," had the weirdest beginning, sparked by a chance moment of coincidence. I was trying to come up with a story for Picard's first case when I picked up the telephone directory, the first edition we got after moving into our then-new house. I opened it to a random page and was amazed to see listed, as if it was a real last and first name, "Giggles, Mister"
When I was a kid in elementary school, every Halloween all the students from the first through third grades would be herded into the auditorium and forced to sit through a performance by an annoying clown called Mister Giggles. I couldn't stand him, although the other kids seemed to like him.
And that set the story into motion. I took my own childhood memories, changed Mister Giggles to Mister Chuckles, and increased my annoyance at the clown to the story's villain's extreme hatred for the clown.
That first Picard story was published in the magazine Masked Gun Mystery #1.

In Masked Gun Mystery #2, the second Picard story appeared, "Clean-up in Aisle Six." This is a murder mystery set in a supermarket, something that was quite easy for me to write because I've spent many years working in that industry. That issue of Masked Gun was also very special to me because the cover (which represented a story by my friend Barry Reese) was drawn by artist Norm Breyfogle, who was illustrating Batman comics when I was growing up! That issue is available on Amazon at

So, as I said in the beginning of today's blog, the newst Picard story is now out and the response to it has been great! Three reviews have appared so far and all three have said some very, very good things about "Lieutenant Picard and the Holy Grail." Here's an excerpt from one of those reveiws:

 "Next up is another modern day mystery featuring ex-NHLer and full-time cop, Marcel Picard in LIEUTENANT PICARD AND THE HOLY GRAIL by Aaron Smith. This is not my first Picard mystery but it is by far the best and my favorite tale in the collection. The Stanley Cup has been stolen and it's up to Picard to get it back. No spoilers here, you'll have to read the tale yourself. The pace is great, the tone cerebral before the action really begins to heat up. The tale reads as if it's much longer and that's a good thing here as it covers a lot of ground in a relatively short space. Picard can play on my team any time. This one is a winner."

The other two reviews were just as good and I'm thrilled by the reaction to this story. There will be more Picard stories in the future. I have a good idea for the next one now and I'm hoping to collect them all in one volume at some point.

One of the great things about writing is how stories can be triggered at the most unexpected moments. If I hadn't gone to that restaurant on that night and sat at that table next to those people, Picard would not have been born and I'd have missed out on a great opportunity. 

To end today's blog, I'd like to thank Tommy Hancock, head editor of Pro Se Productions, for publishing the Picard stories and always encouraging me to work on the next one.

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