I understood where Nature was coming from. My family never listened to me either, which is why I didn’t tell them about the guns I bought.
The whole thing started with the train wreck.
My Blog (where I have a 13-part series on What to Stock and What Not to Stock for An Apocalypse): https://brendamariesmith.tumblr.com/
Where are you from? Tell us a little about yourself
Thank you, Denise. I really appreciate the interview and your time.
I was born and raised in Oklahoma City, but left for good when I was twenty. I lived off the grid in the woods of the Arkansas Ozarks, then joined The Farm, a hippie spiritual community in Tennessee, where I also lived off-grid and my two sons were delivered by midwives—one in a converted school bus, the other in a large Army tent like they have in M*A*S*H*. As part of the Farm, I also worked in farming and with the elderly, and I lived in Florida, Louisiana, and Southern California before I landed in Austin, Texas in 1980.
Here, I’ve helped to found the Austin Peace & Justice Coalition and Soy Foods of Texas (a tofu salad manufacturer), promoted concerts for nonprofit causes, and managed co-op housing for University of Texas students. I’ve also worked in real estate management and insurance, and I do bookkeeping, income taxes, and copy-editing today.
I didn’t get to work on my lifelong dream of writing novels until my two sons and three stepsons were grown, but I’ve been at it for nineteen years. My first novel, Something Radiates, is a paranormal romantic thriller. My stellar muse of a husband and I have two grandkids and live in a solar-powered home in South Austin.
Tell us about your book? How did it get started?
If Darkness Takes Us is the winner of the Southern Fried Karma 2018 Novel Contest, and I am humbled and grateful for that.
“IN SUBURBAN AUSTIN, TEXAS, BEA CRENSHAW SECRETLY PREPS FOR APOCALYPSE. But when a solar pulse destroys modern life, she’s left alone with four grandkids whose parents don’t return home. She must teach these kids to survive without power, cars, phones, or running water in a world fraught with increasing danger.
“If Darkness Takes Us is realistic post-apocalyptic fiction with a focus on a family in peril, led by a no-nonsense grandmother who is at once funny, controlling, and heroic in her struggle to hold her family together with civility and heart.”
I’d wanted to write an apocalyptic novel about a grandmother and grandkids for a while, then found the right disastrous event to use from listening to a progressive podcast, The Mike Malloy Show, where a contributor spoke about the potential consequences of a solar electromagnetic pulse. He then cautioned us, half-jokingly and half-not, to stock up on canned goods. I ran with the idea and added a speculative element about the North and South Poles reversing to make the disaster more widespread than would probably happen in reality, and also to knock out the phones and most cars. The rest of the science is as real as I could make it. I drew heavily on my personal experience from living off the grid and farming with no cars, phones, or running water for years.
How do you create your characters?
It’s hard to describe, but I’ll try. I have a general idea in mind for a few main characters and major plot points, then I just start writing, and the characters come to life on the page. I’d always heard of this but was skeptical until it happened to me. I pull in different traits from different people I’ve known and largely from myself, but I do my darnedest to mix traits up so as to avoid depicting any particular individuals. After I get a draft finished, I spend a lot of time tweaking character behavior, dialogue, and emotions, and I get plenty of feedback from good writers and editors to help me create the most realistic and poignant characters I can manage. Characterization is the hardest thing to get right, but it’s also the most critical. Without good characters, no one will care what else happens in the book. And I have to care about them to write them well. Very difficult, but very rewarding when things click.
What inspires and what got your started in writing?
I’ve wanted to write stories since I was six years old, standing atop my swing-set and letting the Oklahoma wind buffet me. I wrote a story about a girl named Windy who could fly on the wind. I got frustrated, though, when I couldn’t get two characters to come out the way I wanted them to, lol. Highschool teachers, the great writers who teach in the UCLA Writers’ Program, and a couple of editors inspired me and taught me craft.
I’m actually very anxious about the world and so many horrible things that happen, and I feel it’s my duty, as a fortunate person, to strive to make the world better. I’m drawn to stories where ordinary people are in grave peril and must dredge up major courage to overcome it. I hope to teach socially enlightening concepts by making such thought processes part of various characters, and I try very hard to avoid preaching and instead to let the characters and events tell the tale. I’m an old activist and wanted something more effective than marching. I think humans are in love with stories and learn best from them.
Where do you write? Is there something you need in order to write (music, drinks?)
I have an office in my remodeled garage, but we got a new garage door with two rows of windows, and I open it often to be more in touch with outdoors. I must have steady, muted noise in the background (strange, I know), whether it’s news, radio podcasts, or music. This gets my mind working. Once I get to concentrating, I can sometimes work in silence. And I need some caffeine: coffee in the a.m., diet sodas or tea later on. I’m getting where I can’t handle so much caffeine anymore, so I do decaf a lot.
I often make playlists that I use to inspire me for different kinds of scenes, especially for action and for scary or romantic events. Nirvana Unplugged is great for scary, mystical scenes. And all the love songs.
How do you get your ideas for writing?
Stephen King says that writers don’t know where our ideas come from, and I like that. Sometimes I don’t know either. But many of my ideas spring from a mish-mash of my life and my viewing or reading experiences that come together in odd combinations when I’m in a creative frame of mind. My first novel actually started with a prescient dream I had, and IF DARKNESS TAKES US arose out of my concern for the state of the environment and our ability to continue to survive on our one and only planet.
What do you like to read?
I love literary voices of all kinds and great characters. A sense of humor and/or hope is good, some love and ardent conviction in the mix, surprising twists. I’ve read a ton of classics, though I have many more to go. And I read all of John LeCarre, John D. McDonald, Dean Koontz, lots of Joyce Carol Oates & Anne Tyler. The Goldfinch was fantastic and unique. I sample all the genres.
Other great stories I’ve read recently: The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily, by Laura Creedle; The Assassin Fall series by Aden Polydoros; Lying for a Living by Steve McCondichie; The Shadow Keepers and The Unadjusteds by Marisa Noelle; The Art of Falling in Love by Haleigh Wegner, so many apocalypses I can’t possibly name them (I binge-watch apocalypses, too); and several good books that aren’t out yet, written by friends.
What would your advice to be for authors or aspiring in regards to writing?
Writing is rewriting. Edit your books dozens of times and keep tweaking until you have it right. There is no drama in a story if you don’t get your characters right, so make them shine, make their actions make sense, and show us the reasons why they do what they do. If something doesn’t feel right to you, think about it then change it. Read great books constantly to keep good rhythm and flow in your head. Get lots of feedback from people you trust to be both honest and kind. Don’t be married to any particular words. Almost everything can be described dozens of different ways. Focus most of your attention on story and characters. Writing is a lifelong commitment. Give yourself time, take care of yourself, and NEVER, EVER give up.
It’s taken me nineteen years to get published by a real publisher, and it was worth every minute of struggle. Be unfailingly kind to everyone who helps you along the way. I’m a big believer in karma.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Yes, thank you. IF DARKNESS TAKES US is out this week, tomorrow as I’m writing this. I do hope your readers will give it a try. It’s got lots of good reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, and people keep telling me that, once they start the book, they can’t put it down. It’s not your normal apocalyptic story by any means. It’s a study on family resilience in hard times, featuring a strong grandmother and feisty children, and it’s pretty darned realistic as well. I also have a sequel in progress.
I really appreciate you, Denise, for giving me this opportunity. Thanks to your readers as well.