Thursday, September 5, 2013

Buzz Books blog tour: a chat with author Aaron Smith

Today marks the first of a series of posts to be done in collaboration with Buzz Books writers--and I'd like to thank author Aaron Smith for participating.

I worked with Aaron on two teen short stories printed in anthologies in 2012: "A Kiss on the Threshold" in Prom Dates to Remember and "Spectral Media" in Something Wicked. Aaron's voice provided these anthologies with their only male writer and a unique perspective.

In both stories, Aaron's protagonist is almost an anti-hero, the kid you might not expect to save the day, and that's what makes it satisfying. Both stories deal with technology with a critical voice, providing a commentary on the pervasiveness and our reliance on technology--and why we should question our reliance before it becomes a dependence. But even not digging down to that level of meaning, the stories Aaron wrote address real issues that teens deal with, along with a little paranormal twist.

Currently, I'm working with Aaron on a full-length novel for the Buzz SWARM line, planned for release this fall. You can read a little more about the title at the Buzz Books website. The cover was revealed yesterday and I think it's great. The book is a thrill ride and Aaron will be back to discuss it later this year. Chicago is a definite departure from the YA paranormal stories that I've worked on with Aaron in the past, and it's been a fun experience.

I sent Aaron five questions about writing and editing, and he sent back some great answers. So, let's learn a bit more about Aaron Smith.

1. How did you find Buzz Books? And what's the best or worst thing about working remotely?
I discovered Buzz Books in … I guess it was late 2011, since my first Buzz story came out in 2012. I was browsing the Absolute Write forums—which is an excellent resource for writers, by the way—and I came across a notice that Buzz Books was looking for short stories to fill an anthology of Young Adult paranormal stories set at the prom. And I blew it off. I’d never written Young Adult before and I had plenty of other stuff in the works. So I went to take a shower because I think I had to go somewhere that evening. While I was in there, my mind started to wander and before I knew it I had the bones of a story about this kid named Clarence who’s a loner in high school, loves old jazz music, and has no intentions of going to the prom, but changes his mind and finds himself in the middle of some very strange events once he gets there. So I dried myself off and scribbled some notes as fast as I could. I wrote the story over the next few days and sent it in. To my surprise and delight, it was accepted and I went through my first experience, from acceptance through editing and on to publication with Buzz Books. I then did another short story for Buzz, for another Young Adult paranormal anthology called Something Wicked. So that makes my upcoming horror novel, Chicago Fell First, my third project with Buzz Books and each one has been a pleasure and a lot of fun. 

I don’t mind working remotely. In the age of the internet, it’s easy. Emails fly back and forth quickly and I can stay connected with publishers and editors via Facebook or Twitter. In some ways, I prefer it to working close by or meeting people face to face, at least at first. I think back to my first published story, which was in a Sherlock Holmes anthology from Airship 27 Productions. Well, Airship 27 is run by Editor Ron Fortier. Back when I was a kid, Ron wrote some of my favorite comic books. So I certainly knew who he was when I submitted my first story to him. Being a natural introvert and not the most socially-oriented person, I suspect I might have been a bit nervous if I’d had to meet him in person right off the bat. So working from a distance can have its advantages, make things run more smoothly. And it allows the best people for a particular project to work together despite geographical separation. To give an example, I recently worked on a book where I, the author, live in New Jersey, the publisher is in Arkansas, and the editor is an American living in Japan! 

Of course, working remotely has its disadvantages too, especially once you get to know a person by working with them over the period of time it takes to complete a project. To use Ron as an example again, he’s edited something like 17 or 18 of my stories and gone from being a writer whose work I admire to a very good friend, yet we’ve met in person only once, at a convention a few years ago. I think of some of the interactions I’ve had by email or on Facebook with the people I work with in the writing/ publishing business and it would be nice if I could meet more of them in person from time to time and drink coffee and discuss our work or argue about Twinkies while the radio in the Starbucks doesn’t play a certain horrible Bob Seger song.

2. Where did the inspiration for your stories come from? Any of your characters that you most identify with?

The inspiration for the stories I’ve done for Buzz Books came in different ways. The idea for “A Kiss on the Threshold,” in Prom Dates to Die For, just kind of popped into my head in the shower, as I said before. For “Spectral Media,” which was in Something Wicked, I recall more of the process. By this point, I wasn’t a total rookie when it came to writing Young Adult fiction, thanks to what I learned doing the prom story. I just had to come up with another paranormal concept. I wanted it to be different, maybe darker than “Threshold.” So I turned to my observations about social media. Don’t get me wrong. I like technology very much, and, as I said when talking about long-distance work a moment ago, I’m happy to have access to the near-instant communication allowed by things like cell phones, email, and Facebook and Twitter. What bothers me, though, is how addicted many people, particularly the current generation of teens and very young adults, have become to such things. For example, I often see people walking obliviously in front of traffic because they can’t wait until they’re across the street to send that text, or they text while driving, or they panic if they can’t access Facebook for an hour, terrified they might miss finding out what their friends are watching on TV tonight, as if the fate of the world depends on that knowledge. So yes, overreliance on stuff like that disturbs me sometimes. So with that in mind, I took it a step further in “Spectral Media, “ and came up with the premise of what might happen if a Facebook account had a sort of malevolent sentience. How much would it turn its user’s life upside down and inside out? 

When it comes to Chicago Fell First, I can’t even begin to remember where the initial idea came from. It might have had something to do with hearing about placing a wet cell phone in rice to draw out the moisture and prevent further damage. Whether or not this really works, I can’t say from experience, but it plays an important role in the story getting started. How I went from the rice to the book becoming a full-fledged zombie novel, I haven’t the faintest clue anymore. Writing is an odd activity in that sometimes you can remember in a completely vivid way exactly what you were doing when you came up with an idea, while other times that memory gets lost somewhere in all the weeks or months or even years of revising, editing, and waiting for the book’s release.

As far as identifying with some of my characters, I absolutely do! In the two Young adult stories I wrote for Buzz Books, the protagonists, Clarence and Daniel, both have similarities to how I was when I was younger. Clarence is a shy, not very confident high school kid with taste in music that doesn’t match that of his peers at all, while Daniel is a post-high school age loner who knows more than most people his age about some very strange subjects. I often describe myself as having been a very young hermit and that might apply to those two characters as well. In ways, I feel younger now than I did in my early twenties!

Concerning Chicago Fell First, I don’t really identify to a great extent with any one particular character, but there are certain aspects of the book that were somewhat inspired by things I’ve experienced in real life. I’ve visited Chicago several times and it’s one of my favorite cities. There’s a diner in the novel that’s based on a real one. And scraps and bits of other events in there have connections to my life, probably even some that I wasn’t conscious of putting in there, things I’m likely to pick up on when I read the book again at some point long after it’s been published. 

3. Any writing rituals? Coffee or tea? Specific music that you listen to?  

My writing routine has been seriously out of whack for the past few months, although that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You see, by the time Chicago Fell First is released around Halloween, I’ll have had nine stories published this year, including three novels, so the last few months have been taken up mostly by going through the editing processes for those books, and the promotion both before and after each publication, things like interviews, guest blogs, etc. While all that is fun and positive and I’m always happy to have new material out there for people to buy and read, part of me can’t wait for it to all be over so I can write again. 

When I am writing normally, I always keep up a steady pace of producing at least a thousand words a day. I only miss that goal if I’ve just finished a story, in which case I might take one, and only one, day off before moving on to the next thing. If I don’t make that thousand word goal, I feel guilty and can’t really enjoy anything else! Also, I don’t believe in writer’s block. I acknowledge that we all get stuck on a story now and then, but I’ve never been at the point where I’ve not been able to write anything at all. What I do to avoid getting stuck is to always have at least two stories in progress so that if I get stuck in the mud on one I can bounce over to the other and that usually frees up my mind as far as the first one goes too.

Coffee! Coffee is essential. I don’t know if I could think without coffee, let alone write. If I ever have to go to the hospital and they ask my blood type, my answer will be, “Dunkin’ Donuts!” Regarding music while writing, there are three possibilities. I most cases, I either write with no music or have the radio on at low volume just for a background hum that is mostly ignored. In some cases, though, I have used specific music to help move the writing along. Maybe the most dramatic example was when I was writing my first full novel, a science fantasy called Gods and Galaxies. There was a new song out at the time, a single from a band called The Airborne Toxic Event. It was a haunting love/ hate song called “Sometime Around Midnight,” and it became my personal theme song for that book. I must have listened to it about a thousand times while writing that novel because it perfectly captured the feeling in my mind when I thought about the love story that was at the heart of the book.

Lately, I find that I crave Eighties music while writing my new series of spy novels, although I have idea why that is. The music doesn’t particularly connect to the stories, except for a possible subconscious connection on my part because the hero is forty years old, which would mean he did most of his growing up in the Eighties.

So I don’t have a specific rule about writing to music. I just do what feels like it helps. Oddly, the music I write to isn’t usually what I’d listen to for normal enjoyment. Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and the Beatles are my three favorite bands that have ever existed, but I can’t recall ever using them to help me write.

4. Future writing plans?

I intend to write until I die. I have no idea what I’ll be working on in one year or ten years or twenty years, but I hope people still want to read whatever it is. In the immediate future, I hope to continue the two series of novels I have going: the vampire series that began with 100,000 Midnights and has now continued in Across the Midnight Sea, and my new spy series, which features a character named Richard Monroe and just began with the release of the first novel, Nobody Dies For Free. I also want to keep writing the old characters I’ve worked on with publishers like Airship 27 Productions, especially Sherlock Holmes, who happens to be my all-time favorite fictional character. If Chicago Fell First gets a good reception, I want to do more gruesome horror. Maybe someday I’ll also find a publisher willing to release my first vampire novel, which is unrelated to my current undead series and is a lot darker and maybe even potentially controversial.  

Of course, tomorrow I could wake up with a new idea and go in a completely different direction. One thing is for certain though. I want to work as much as possible with the publishers who have treated me very well so far, and they include Airship 27 Productions, Buzz Books, Pro Se Productions, and Musa Publishing. 

5. What are you reading now?

Some recent reads include Christopher Farnsworth’s awesome series featuring a character called Nathaniel Cade, a vampire who works for the president of the United States. The most recent is called Red, White and Blood and is a lot of fun. I just finished a dark fantasy novel, Cadaver Island, by my friend Kevin Rodgers.  I revisit H.P. Lovecraft’s work often. It seems that people either get Lovecraft or don’t; there’s no middle ground, but I love his work. Last October, while the power was out here in New Jersey for a week after Hurricane Sandy, I reread Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a book I’ve loved for most of my life. The atmosphere of having no electricity and reading by candlelight really made that classic work on a whole different level! I realize the books I just named are all horror or close to it, but I do read many other genres. It’s just that I go through phases. A month from now I might be reading mostly mysteries or science fiction again. Oh! One more I absolutely must mention! I recently received as a gift William Shakespeare’s Star Wars. Yes, that’s what I said! Ian Doescher, a Shakespeare-loving Star wars fan, has retold the entire first Star Wars movie as a Shakespearean play, and it’s brilliant. It feels like Shakespeare and it feels like Star Wars, and it works on both levels and every level in between. I’ve been having a blast reading that one.

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