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The first Vampire month victim for this year is Aaron Smith

Aaron Smith can’t stand to go a day without writing. He’s the author of more than twenty-five published stories in genres including mystery, horror, science fiction, and fantasy. He has written stories featuring well-known characters such as Sherlock Holmes and Allan Quatermain. His novels include Gods and Galaxies, Season of Madness, and, most recently, 100,000 Midnights.DSC00358

Information about his work can be found on his blog or his Amazon page.

1) What is the earliest memory you have of writing? What did you write about?

I seem to have always had this habit of wanting to participate in whatever fictional world I was enjoying at any particular time. When I was a kid, even a very small boy of 5 or 6, and I discovered characters that I liked, I wasn’t satisfied that a book or movie or series of stories was all there was. I had to continue the story, so I started to write my own versions of those characters. I remember being in the second grade and not paying attention to what the teacher was saying and sitting there trying to write an Indiana Jones novel. I made my own comic books, writing Batman or Spider-Man stories and drawing them. I spent hours and hours of my childhood writing fan fiction (although at the time I didn’t know it was called that) about Star Wars and Sherlock Holmes and James Bond. When I was in the Cub Scouts, which would have made me about 8 or 9 at the time, we had to do a skit in front of all the parents and I wrote a Star Trek episode for the project. Of course, I cast myself as Captain Kirk!

2) When did you decide to become a professional writer? Why did you take this step?

Looking back on it now, it seems ridiculous that it took me until about five years ago to decide to really push myself to pursue writing as a career. I started writing for my own satisfaction very early in life, but kept leaning toward other creative endeavours through my teenage years and my twenties. I tried visual art, music, acting, and had fun with all those things but none of them were quite right for me. In my late twenties, I rediscovered comics, which is a medium that I loved as a child. I tried to get work writing them and while I enjoyed it I found that it’s an industry that’s very, very difficult to break into. My getting back to prose writing was an offshoot of that, and the main reason I ended up sticking with writing and taking it more seriously is that I had a wonderful early success that encouraged me. I discovered a company called Airship 27 Productions {http://robmdavis.com/Airship27Hangar/airship27hangar.html} that published new stories (in novels and anthologies) featuring classic characters from old pulp fiction. I sent them a writing sample and they liked it and wanted me to write for them. I had just started my first story for them, about an old pulp vigilante called the Black Bat, when the editor contacted me and asked if I’d want to put the Black Bat on hold and do something for a Sherlock Holmes anthology instead. I was stunned, in the best possible way, and I said yes. Sherlock Holmes is my all-time favourite fictional character and to have a Holmes story as my first published work really was a dream come true. That book came out and had some nice reviews and sold well. After an amazing experience like that, I knew I could never turn back. Writing was what I would do for the rest of my life. That was about five years ago and I’m happy I stuck with it. Of course, it hasn’t all been as easy as that first step. Writing, for anybody, has its ups and downs. I’ve had my share of rejections, every review hasn’t been great, and some books sell better than others. Writing can have you high and happy one minute and drop you into a pit of despair the next, but it’s what I do now and I’m glad I took that step when I did.

3) What would you consider to be your greatest strength as a writer? What about your greatest weakness? How do you overcome this weakness?

I’d have to say that my greatest strength as a writer is my versatility. I love all forms of storytelling and I refuse to stick to just one genre. This has allowed me to try writing about many different things and I’m equally comfortable with most of them. I’ve written Victorian-era mysteries and modern police procedurals, science fiction, fantasy, superheroes, spy stories, World War I aviation stories, a western. And even within a genre, I like to try different styles. For example, my vampire novel 100,000 Midnights, while containing some pretty gruesome scenes, is also, I hope, a fun experience for the reader with some humour and romance in the story to balance all the blood and fear; but I’ve also written some horror that’s made me a little queasy while writing it, some brutally nasty splatterpunk-level stuff. I don’t think there’s any genre I wouldn’t be willing to try writing in if given the opportunity.

As for a weakness in my writing, a very bad habit I used to have (and hopefully have conquered) was being too verbose, going on for too long while explaining the way a character felt, or inserting too much background information all at once. I had a brutally honest editor help me with this and I’ll always be grateful for that. What I had to do to fix this habit was learn to trust my ability to get the point across efficiently, and learn to trust the intelligence of the reader and their ability to get the point without having to be hit over the head with it a dozen times! Once I let go of the insecurity of not fully trusting my skills, I could see the difference by watching the word count drop as I trimmed away excess clutter in a story. It was amazing to see how much fat could be cut away and still leave a good story in place.

4) Tell us about the place where you live. Have you ever derived any inspiration from your home or from anywhere you have visited?

I live in Ringwood, New Jersey, which is a beautiful quiet area with mountains and woods but still close enough to the major highways to not be too out of the way. It’s a perfect place for a writer to live because it’s so peaceful. I’ve lived my whole life in Passaic County, which has amazing variety. I grew up in the city of Paterson, which is very urban with both good sections and bad areas, so I learned what city life is like. Then I lived a few years in the town of Wayne, which is more suburban, then went back to the city and life in a small apartment when I got married, and then finally bought the house I live in now where it’s more a country environment. That’s the great thing about New Jersey: so many different kinds of areas so close together. Any kind of inspiration is only a short drive away. As far as being inspired by other places I’ve visited, sure. I’m close to New York City, but I dislike going there as it’s too crowded and expensive to get in and out of. As far as major U.S. cities go, I really prefer Chicago, which is big but not so congested. I’ve been inspired, in one way or another, by almost any place I’ve visited. There are always things to see and people to observe. The changes are the best thing. When I was growing up or later living in that small apartment, there was rarely a moment when I couldn’t hear people outside or car horns honking. Now it’s quiet here in the mountains and if I look out the back door there’s a good chance I’ll see a deer walking by.

5) Which book, if any, would you consider to be your greatest influence and inspiration?

51hKI8Sq6DL._SS500_I’m going to cheat on this question and name three books because each one means something different to me in a very important way and each has had an influence on my writing. The first would be The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I first found Holmes via the wonderful Jeremy Brett TV adaptations. When my grandfather heard I’d developed an interest in the great detective, he dug out his personal copy of the complete Holmes and gave it to me for Christmas. It’s a beautiful edition printed in 1938 and it’s still the copy I reach for when I want to reread those stories or do some research. Since Holmes is my favourite character of all and I’ve done some published work about him, that book obviously had an impact.

Second would be Roger Zelazny’s Creatures of Light and Darkness. That book just blew me away. I don’t think any other book has been written in quite that style. It really showed me that an author doesn’t necessarily have to follow the rules to successfully tell a great story. It was inspirational in that way, though I could never write anything similar to that since my style is too straightforward and I prefer to just tell the story rather than try literary acrobatics or mind-bending tricks.

And third, since this interview focuses quite a bit on vampires, would have to be the one great vampire classic, Dracula by Bram Stoker. None of the vampire novels since would probably have been written without Stoker’s work and the novel is still chilling today. One thing that annoys me is that there still hasn’t been a completely faithful film adaptation of the book. Don’t get me wrong; I like many of the screen Draculas, including the movies starring Christopher Lee and Bela Lugosi, but they’ve never done a proper version. The closest, I think, was the 1977 BBC version with Louis Jourdan as the count, but even that one made some major changes to the story and its characters. To anyone who hasn’t read the novel, I’d advise them to put aside what they think they know about Dracula, forget the movies, and allow Stoker’s words to carry them deeper and deeper into one of the best nightmares ever put on paper.

6) What drove you to write about Vampires?

It was inevitable that I’d eventually write something about vampires, as they’ve been present in my imagination since I was very young. My grandmother told me bedtime stories about Dracula when I was four or five years old! That may have given me nightmares, but it did give a nice little spark to my imagination too, for which I’ll always be grateful. She also told me about Jack the Ripper at about the same time, gory details and all, though she left out the fact that his victims were prostitutes (it’s that old “violence is all right, but we can’t discuss sex” attitude!).

And after I understood what a vampire is, they seemed to show up all over the place when I was a kid. One of my first comic books was a Batman story, drawn by the incredible Gene Colan, which ended on a cliffhanger with Batman having been bitten by a vampire. Then there was the space vampires episode of the old Buck Rodgers TV show and I have vague memories of vampires being mentioned on an old cartoon called Thundarr the Barbarian. It always thrilled and frightened me to see or hear of vampires in any sort of fiction in those early years.

Later, as I got older, I always sought out vampire fiction. I read Dracula for the first time, tried some Anne Rice but wasn’t crazy about it, read the works of Kim Newman and other vampire writers, and discovered the Marvel Comics series Tomb of Dracula by the aforementioned Gene Colan. Eventually, I wrote two vampire stories for a magazine and those were later re-edited into the first few chapters of 100,000 Midnights.

7) What do you think is the attraction for Vampire fiction? Why is it such a popular topic?

I think vampire fiction works on two different levels. On one hand, vampires are, obviously, scary. They drink blood, violating the body by piercing the flesh with fangs. If you really think about that, it’s quite disturbing, although the trend toward heroic and sexy and nice vampires seems to have made some people forget about that.

On the other hand, I think we all sometimes fantasize about being a monster of some sort. There is a certain appeal to mythological creatures or monsters and we can’t help but dream of what it might be like to possess that power and live in that strange world of shadow and mystery. The vampire, of all the classic horror creatures, is probably the most appealing in that sense. Zombies are rotting and mindless, being a werewolf requires a dramatic change in appearance, Frankenstein’s monster is a collection of sewn-together pieces…but the vampire is still, more or less, humanoid in shape and possesses powers that could be, under the right circumstances, a lot of fun to have! So I think vampires can be either something we fear or something we’d like to be, or maybe both at the same time.

8) In a fight between all the greatest Vampires of fiction, who do you think would come out on top?

Recently, I read the first two books in an excellent new series by Christopher Farnsworth, Blood Oath and The President’s Vampire. These books feature a character named Nathaniel Cade who works as a secret agent for the United States government. The story behind how Farnsworth got the idea for the series is based on a real historical incident and is quite fascinating. President Andrew Johnson, in 1867, commuted the death sentence of a man accused of being a vampire! Farnsworth bases his novels on the idea that maybe the accused really was a vampire and he was put to work for the government. The series takes place in the modern age and Cade’s been working for the US presidents, one after another, for over 100 years, battling supernatural threats. I’d give Cade a good chance in a fight because in addition to having the strength, speed, and toughness of a vampire, he’s driven by an oath to protect his country, which makes him self-sacrificing enough that he’d have an edge over someone like Dracula who would tend to be more driven by the lust for power and self-preservation. Imagine the powers of the vampire, combine with the experience and skills of a warrior who’s been fighting for his country for over a century, and you have a pretty impressive combination.

9) What about in some other contest such as sexiness or dress sense? Who would win that one?

As far as dress sense goes, I’ve always thought it made more sense for a vampire to dress in clothing typical to whatever time period the story takes place in. Even if a vampire is, say, 500 years old, I think he or she, if intelligent, would adapt to changing styles in order to better blend in and survive, so I’m not a big fan of vampires who refuse to change with the times. On the topic of sexiness, some very attractive vampires that come to mind would be Deborah Ann Woll as Jessica on True Blood and Kate Beckinsale in the Underworld films.

10) How well do you think one of your characters would fare against the winner(s) of the above?

Well Siobhan, the main female vampire in 100,000 Midnights is just as sexy as the two characters I mentioned, at least as I see her when I write about her.

As far as a fight goes, Siobhan is tough, but she’s small and not as strong as some bigger, older vampires, so she’d have a hard time fighting Dracula or Nathaniel Cade. If any of my vampires would have a good chance in a fight against them, it would have to be Siobhan’s friend Phillip. He’s bigger, stronger, a little older, and has a serious mean streak when he needs it. He’s also had a very tough179269709 past, which will be revealed in the next book in the series.

11) Tell us the basic premise behind your latest novel.

100,000 Midnights focuses on a young man named Eric. He’s only in his early twenties, but he’s eccentric and fascinated by the past. He’s a loner, a bit of a hermit, working a dull job and not really going anywhere interesting in life. Then he meets Siobhan, a female vampire who looks about 18 but is really almost 300 years old. Siobhan is about to go through a coming of age called the Eldering, at which point a vampire matures and gains enhanced powers. The problem is, when a vampire reaches this point in their afterlife, they tend to be attacked by a strange race of artificial angels, created at some point in the past, designed to seek out and destroy young vampires. But these angels are, so the legend says, forbidden from harming humans. Siobhan finds Eric and asks him to help her survive the Eldering. That’s the beginning of the story and the rest follows the two of them through a month of events during which they face a number of supernatural threats. It’s a story of change, as Eric discovers that there are many things out there in the shadows, dangerous things of which most humans in the modern world know nothing. Eric has to learn, very quickly, to adapt in order to face some pretty horrible events. It’s also a story about two beings from very different worlds encountering each other and trying to figure out how their lives fit together.

Writing 100,000 Midnights was an exercise in putting together a lot of different influences and ideas that have been with me for a long time. Eric was based, at least at first, on my personality, but he grew into someone else the further I went into the story. And there are little tributes in the book too, elements that have similarities to some of the stories I’ve enjoyed reading over the years while still being different because they’re filtered through my particular style of writing. In many ways, the novel is my love letter to things like the Universal horror movies, some of the works of HG Wells, elements of the works of Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley, and even old Archie comics!

And I’m very happy to be able to report that there will be a sequel. The contract is signed, the book is written, and the editing process is about to begin any day now. So the second book in the series is tentatively scheduled for release in late summer of 2013.