Photo of Laurie Smith

Author Interview: Laurie Smith

First off tell me about yourself?

I am a 53-year-old freelance commercial artist who has worked in the comics industry as a professional colourist for the past 24 years (securing an Eisner Award nomination in 1996). In addition to creating fine art and commercial art, I have also produced two original art colouring books and have several credits as a voice actor. I live in Winnipeg, Canada, where I share a home studio with my husband, fellow comic book artist George Freeman.

In terms of writing credentials, I possess a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in English and Philosophy, and have had a short science fiction story (“Like Ants to Honey”) published in the e-mag “Far Horizons” (Issue #2, May 2014). As well, I’ve written, recorded, and produced a 45-minute science fiction comedy album, “Welcome to the Departure Lounge” (2014). My first original fiction novel, “The Codex of Desire”, has just been published through Amazon and Smashwords.

Now tell me about some of your favourite authors and why you like them?

At the top of my list stands Richard Adams (“Watership Down”, “The Plague Dogs”), who had the uncanny ability to get inside the minds of animals in an engaging, dramatic, and believable way. His example constituted a huge influence on how I wrote “The Codex of Desire”.

Another prominent author on my bookshelves is Robert Graves (“I, Claudius”, “Claudius the God”), whose clean and precise way of handling words never fails to inspire me. I may not always be able to emulate his style, but I like to think that I learned a lot from him.

And finally, I’ll mention Stephen King because he taught me to how draw pictures of a person’s vital inner life in deep, rich strokes. He’s a brilliant psychological novelist, and “Codex” is a book that owes a great deal to his example.

Tell me about anything you’ve written and please feel free to provide links?

As previously mentioned, I’ve had a short science fiction story (“Like Ants to Honey”) published in the e-mag “Far Horizons” (Issue #2, May 2014, for which I also provided the cover art).

https://farhorizonsmagazine.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/far-horizons-tales-of-sci-fi-fantasy-and-horror-issue-2-may-20142.pdf

My first original fiction novel, “The Codex of Desire”, has just been published through Amazon and Smashwords.

“Codex” on Amazon (ebook and paperback, available in all Amazon markets):

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07GD3HBHK (UK) and https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07GD3HBHK (US)

“Codex” on Smashwords (in a variety of ebook formats):

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/891165

On both Amazon and Smashwords the listings have the preview function turned on, so readers can try before they buy.

“The Codex of Desire” is the tale of a human palaeontologist who unearths a small feathered Theropod dinosaur fossil with a decorative metal band around one of its forearms. When he touches the metal band (which is an alien-engineered memory storage device), he is mentally transported back in time to experience the tragic intersection of five dinosaur lives. Love, violence, lust, war, secrets, and betrayal all unfold before his eyes, and when so many savage desires collide it might lead to the nuclear extinction of an entire civilisation.

What is your writing process like?

So far, all of my major original fiction projects have started out in the same place: National Novel Writing Month in November. (If you are a writer and have never heard of NaNoWriMo, I sincerely recommend checking them out.) NaNoWriMo gives me the necessary kick in the tail feathers to launch a WIP and (if I work hard all month long) get at least the first 50K words slogged onto the page (not always in narrative sequence). Those 50K words are the “seed” that I can grow a full novel out of.

“Codex” was starting during NaNoWriMo 2015, and I did some basic plotting beforehand. For “Codex”, that took the form of a one-page overview of the book, plus breakdowns of the chapters I knew I needed to hit in order to form a “skeleton” to hang the meat of the story on. In the past I’d been a dedicated pantser, but after so much success with the plotting route on “Codex” I think this is the method I’ll use for future projects. (There’s still a fair bit of pantsing involved — I like to compare my process to that of the gardener who sets up trellises in certain locations and of certain shapes, then lets the vines of characterization and plot find their own way upwards.)

Once I have the NaNo “seed”, it’s a matter of committing to writing every day (or at least every two days), and getting between 1000-2500 words written during each session. Mornings work best for me, while I’m working my way through my first cup of coffee, and usually last 1-2 hours. Then I put those words aside and do NOT look at them again unless I need to reference a particular plot or character point — NO EDITING ALLOWED, it only slows me down and makes me second-guess myself. (Scrivener is wonderful for this, since it allows me to make important character/plot point notes in the right-hand sidebar attached to each chapter: I don’t have to read the actual text at all, which saves a lot of time and helps me avoid the temptation to edit while the work is in progress.)

The goal is to get the first draft out in one big rush. Editing and polishing can come later: in the first draft, I put in anything and everything I can think of, even if it doesn’t fit in the particular spot where it occurs to me. (A lot of material shows up at this stage which gets cut or radically edited later on.) At this point I’m telling the story to myself, and creating the universe as I go. For “Codex”, this part of the process took about 8 months, and I ended up with a 144K MS.

Then I put the darned thing aside for fifteen months, while I mounted up a bigger word count on another WIP and dallied with some fan fiction. Putting “Codex” aside was a vital part of the process: it allowed the novel to percolate in my subconscious, and gave my brain’s Writing Machine ™ time to work out some of the kinks and rough spots.

When I came back to Codex in September of 2017, I was able to re-read it with a fresh set of eyes — no taking notes, just a straight read-through from start to finish. Relieved to find that it held up well to a cold reading, I set about the second re-read, this time taking meticulous notes for all levels of the editing process to come. I tackled macro-edits and content/stylistic edits before sending it to my beta readers; when it came back from them (along with answers to the “Twenty Questions” I had submitted for beta feedback), I embarked on another round of content/stylistic edits, followed by a “Fine Art of Killing Words” course with Beth Daniels over at SavvyAuthors.com (highly recommended for trimming the fat off your MS). With a novel that was now about 8.5K words leaner, I proceeded with two rounds of line edits (during which a short chapter that had been cut during “Killing Words” ended up being reinstated). Then came proofreading, which (of course) included one last line editing round… and at last, at long LONG last, “The Codex of Desire” was wrapped up at 7:11 Am CDT on August 11th of this year.

What market/demographic do you write for?

I don’t consciously write for any particular market or demographic, aside from adult science fiction readers. I’m a firm believer that if a story is good enough and is well told, it will find (or make) its own demographic.

What genre do you tend to write in?

Adult science fiction and fantasy are my two big ones. “Codex” is science fiction with a touch of fantasy involved; “Where Darkness Falls”, a WIP which deals with secret government agents who possess supernatural powers tied to their religious/spiritual beliefs, is urban fantasy set in Chicago in 2038, so there are also science fiction elements; “Micro Noir” is science fiction alternate history in a universe where the bacterial and viral colonies which exist in the human body have attained sentience in each human individual, whose hero/narrator is a NYC police detective, so there’s that noir atmosphere mentioned in the title; and “Hateseed” is science fiction about a utopia which is actually a dystopia, and how the inhabitants deal with that kind of environment.

Are you working on anything right now?

Not until November, most likely, when I’ll be taking one of the WIPs mentioned in my previous answer and using NaNo as a framework to pound up the word count. Whichever project I select for NaNo 2018 will be the next novel I take all the way to the finish line.

What advice do you have for other writers?

That’s a pretty big question. The first thing that comes to mind is: Write for yourself, because if you don’t believe in the story you’re telling that uncertainty and lack of interest will probably come through in the writing. Your potential readers will sense it and won’t be “gripped” by your narrative.

Second: JUST WRITE, no matter what your experience level. There’s a saying in the visual arts world that everybody has 10,000 bad drawings in them, and I think there’s some equivalent number of words in the writing field. Everybody starts out not knowing quite what to do or how to go about it. Keep writing, every day if possible, and you’ll stand a good chance of getting better at it and finding your own individual voice.

Third: Facebook has some excellent writers groups that provide valuable resources. Seek out as many as you can, and see what they have to offer you. “Fiction Writing” and “Writers Helping Writers” are two groups that I personally found helpful on my journey.

Fourth: Don’t be afraid of writer’s block. It happens, it comes, it goes. Don’t stress yourself out or panic over it. If your brain demands a break from writing, give it what it wants: put aside the work, and if you wait long enough, eventually you’ll find yourself longing to get back to it — and that’s the time to hit the keyboard or pick up your pen again.

What does literary success look like to you?

I try not to focus too much on sales figures, especially with a high-concept novel like “The Codex of Desire”. What means much more to me is telling a story that grabs the hearts of readers and won’t let them go.

For example, I had one of my beta readers take me aside at a convention and talk to me for a good ten minutes about how deeply “Codex” had affected her, about the points in the narrative where she had to put the book down and recover her composure, but how she was always compelled the pick the book up again because she loved the story so much and NEEDED to know what happened next.

Another beta reader recently told me that she’s re-read her beta copy of the MS nine times so far, and is determined to own every edition of the novel that I produce.

To me, those are the marks of true success as a writer — and I’ve achieved them, so that’s cause for great happiness.

What’s the best way to market your books?

Ask three authors that question and you’ll probably get nine different answers.

I’ve been marketing through online interviews, through my author FB page, through my Twitter account, and through posts to the FB groups of my local science fiction and fantasy community. I also have a radio interview lined up for September, and a couple of book reviews on relevant blogs in the wings. I might also do an AMA event through amafeed.com.

Locally, I’ll be holding a book launch at a local big box bookstore in November 2018 and will have a dealers table at our city’s largest SF&F convention in May 2019. I’m also making connections with local author groups to network through them to potential new markets.

And last question, how do you deal with writer’s block?

As noted in my answer above, I tend to accept it as a natural part of being a writer and take a Zen approach: whatever comes, does not last forever, and eventually it will go away again. In fact, I try to look on it as a positive thing — my brain, and the Writing Machine ™ inside it, need their rest too, so “writer’s block” is a chance for them to relax and gather strength for future creative endeavours.

I find that the more I stress myself out about not being able to write, the bigger the block tends to get. So I relax, practice radical acceptance, and occupy myself with other things until the desire to write returns. Sooner or later the yearning will come back, and then it will be time to plant new roses in the garden and watch them busily climb those trellises in my mind.

 

First Published on: https://offtherecordblog.org

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