Many thanks go out to my guest blogger this week Aaron Smith. His work has appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines. He has written stories in the mystery, war, western, horror and science fiction genres.
His latest works include:
“Now you’ve written a horror book? But you wrote mysteries…and that jungle story…and a western. Why can’t you stick to one thing?”
I’ve been asked questions like that many times. Some people seem surprised that I can’t just stick to writing one type of story. Maybe this comes from the fact that so many well-known writers are considered to fit mostly into one category. Stephen King, for example, is usually referred to as a horror writer, even if his work does sometimes border on other genres. So some people seem to assume that a writer should find his niche and stay inside it.
Why would I want to do that? Working in different genres is too much fun! I enjoy reading books of different genres, watching movies from different categories, being in different moods on different days, so it’s natural that I would want to write about different things. And also, my mind tends to go where the work is, and I’m happy to be the type of writer who can adjust to various genres. This way, if a publisher wants a mystery, or a horror story, or a piece of science fiction, or whatever, I’m pretty sure I can deliver.
Of course, that doesn’t mean every genre comes easily to me or that I enjoy each one equally.
The Sherlock Holmes stories I wrote came quite quickly to me because I was so familiar with the characters of Holmes and Watson that writing in Doyle’s world was like revisiting an old friend. After Holmes, mysteries in general come to me pretty easily, at least as far as coming up with a basic concept goes. Ironing out the details isn’t always so simple.
Horror comes pretty fast too, as fantasy also does because those genres allow a writer to create a world in which almost anything is possible (as long as he consistently sticks to his own rules once he’s established them!). Science fiction is a bit more difficult since it has to focus more, at least to some degree, on how things work rather than just the fact that they do work.
And then there are certain genres that I deal best with under pressure. A couple years ago, I was asked to write a western story for inclusion in The Masked Rider Volume 1, from Airship 27 Productions. I agreed to do the story, but wondered if I had done the right thing since westerns have never been a favorite genre of mine and I wasn’t sure if I could come up with something good enough. But it happened! The fact that I was obligated to do that story forced the mental wheels to turn and I came up with an idea and finished the story and, to my surprise, that story, “The Long Trail of Vengeance,” got one of the best reviews I’ve ever had. Considering how well that turned out, I’ve tried, a few times, to write another western, but I can’t seem to get it to work! Apparently, that’s one genre where pressure is needed to provide inspiration.
But my point is that I love jumping from genre to genre and I don’t think I could ever stick to just one type of story any more than I’d want to eat the same thing for dinner night after night after night.
Thinking about that, I realize that jumping from genre to genre requires me to vary my approach and writing habits from project to project. This has been a busy year for me as I’ve had six stories published so far in 2013, including a novel and a novella with two more novels to come before the year is over. So now that I’m on the subject, I’m thinking about how each of those four pieces was different from the others as far as the experience of writing them went.
Earlier this year, Quatermain: The New Adventures was released. This book contained two novellas, one of which I wrote, about the 19th century jungle adventurer who first appeared in H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines.
Allan Quatermain is the second most famous character I’ve had the privilege to be asked to write about, after Sherlock Holmes. When handling characters made famous by previous writers, I try to keep two words in mind at all times: respect and essence. The truth is, when a reader buys a book in which modern writers continue the exploits of a character who’s been entertaining audiences since before those current writers were born, in most cases they’re not looking for an Aaron Smith (or whoever the new writer is) story, but a Holmes or Quatermain story. In these instances, the character is the primary attraction, and the author is not. Readers don’t want my version of Quatermain. They want something as close as possible to the original. These are fans of H. Rider Haggard and I have to respect them and Haggard himself. That’s where essence comes into the equation. I must identify the qualities that made Allan Quatermain an effective character in the first place and stick to them! Quatermain is a small, wiry, muscular man with a prickly beard and a sun-beaten face. He’s not a young man. He was fifty-five in King Solomon’s Mines. That’s the Quatermain I wrote about. He’s a skilled hunter, an expert marksman, and can be a forceful but fatherly figure to the younger characters around him. That’s how I see Haggard’s character and I tried to keep him that way. I can’t write like Haggard or like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. To try to mimic their styles too closely would be dishonest, as that’s just not who I am. But it’s my responsibility to maintain the essence of their work.
Borrowing other writer’s characters requires restraint. Some writers are tempted to alter such characters into something they weren’t originally. I refuse to do this. I have too much respect for those who created great fictional characters like Holmes and Quatermain. Those characters border on archetypal status now, more than a hundred years after their initial appearances. Who am I to mess with that?
Last month saw the publication of my spy novel Nobody Dies For Free. I was thrilled to finally see this book out because I’d wanted to write something in that genre for a very long time.
Writing this one was a very different experience from working on Quatermain. In this case, I was writing in a genre I’ve loved for most of my life, but trying to give it my own unique feeling. I have many influences in the spy genre, from James Bond (novels and films) to John Le Carre, Tom Clancy, and the British TV series Spooks, among others. What I wanted to do in this case was identify the essence of what makes all those spy stories work and use it to tell my own tale. This approach allowed a lot more freedom than working with a previously established character and was an interesting exercise in taking the standard ingredients of the genre, swirling them around in the cement mixer of my mind, and seeing what came out. The book’s protagonist, Richard Monroe, shares some qualities with Bond and Jason Bourne, Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson in Taken) and various others, but I hope he stands on his own too as he’s become one of my favorite character to write.
Shortly after the release of the spy novel, I began the final round of edits on Across the Midnight Sea (due out later in August), which is my second vampire novel and the sequel to 100,000 Midnights. This is the project on which I felt the most freedom. I won’t say it was easy, because writing a novel always has its ups and downs, but I was reentering familiar territory. I already knew the major characters and had a previously formed world in which to work. This is the series where I really get to weave different types of story elements into one whole fabric. The first book had its moments of bloody horror, a love story running through it, and some science-fiction and fantasy ingredients too. The second book begins with a mystery and goes to various other places as plot points are revealed.
There’s also a personal element when it comes to my vampire books. Of all my characters, Eric, the protagonist, is the most like me. He’s a lot like I was when I was in my early twenties, at least before he starts to change due to the pressures of being involved in the affairs of vampires. Not that he’s wholly based on me, but he certainly is to a large degree. I’ve had some great reactions from those who have read the first one and I hope they feel the same about Across the Midnight Sea.
And my final big release of 2013 will be Chicago Fell First, which will be out around Halloween and involves zombies. This will be my third project, but first full novel, with a wonderful publisher called Buzz Books. I also consider it my first pure horror novel. While the vampire novels certainly fall into the paranormal category and have some pretty gruesome horror scenes, Chicago Fell First goes further into darkness and tragedy. I enjoyed making that leap, being a bit more ruthless as a writer. Also, unlike the other books I just talked about, this is not meant to be part of a series. I intend to write sequels to Nobody Dies For Free. I’ll keep the vampire series going as long as people want to read it. I’ve already agreed to do another Allan Quatermain story. But Chicago Fell First is a standalone novel. With no need to plan futures for the characters, none of them are really safe. Who lives? Who dies? I’m not revealing that here!
So I’ve had a lot of fun this year bouncing between different genres and types of stories. As I said before, I’ve been advised on several occasions that I should find one thing that works and stick with it. I don’t think so! Unless I wake up tomorrow as a drastically different writer, a drastically different human being, I’ll continue to do exactly what I’ve been doing: jumping genres.
All the books mentioned in this post can, or soon will 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
Most of them can also be found at http://www.barnesandnoble.com/
For further information about my work, visit my blog at http://godsandgalaxies.blogspot.com/ or follow me on Twitter as @AaronSmith316
Sincere thanks to Peggy Chambers for hosting me today!