Today I'm interviewing author Sylvia Dickey Smith. I met Sylvia through my critique group (where it's gals against the guys and the gals generally win.) Thanks for joining us, Sylvia!
PDD: Tell us about Sylvia Dickey Smith. Where is she from, where is she headed, and what is she doing in between?
SDS: I was born and reared in Orange, Texas, a small town on the Texas/Louisiana border. As G. Howard, says, Orange has its own gravity. You get out early or you don’t get out at all. I was one of those who left early—right after high school. At times I’ve been glad I left, and at other times, wished I could move back. Where am I headed? New York Best seller list I hope! In between, I work at improving my writing, my marketing and my book promotion.
PDD: Tell us a bit about your Sidra Smart series.
SDS: Ah, Sidra. Sidra is one of those post menopausal women ready to take on the world. She’s left a world where she felt caught in a vise and has ventured out into a world so foreign to her some days her head reels. Her new world couldn’t be more different than the one she left. Her ex-husband is a preacher who controlled who she was, what she said and did, and what she thought. Soon after her divorce, her brother dies and leaves her his detective agency in small town Texas. Now she’s on a roll trying to figure out who she is, what she stands for, what she doesn’t stand for, and what she absolutely won’t stand for.
PDD: What prompted you to write this series?
SDS: Life—my own, and that of other women caught in similar circumstances. I write to entertain, but my writing also gives voice to important social issues. These issues may be subtly woven in the stories, but they are there. I encourage readers to look for them. DANCE ON HIS GRAVE, book one, was inspired by a true story. DEADLY SINS DEADLY SECRETS deals with people’s prejudices and the blind eye we can turn on injustice and abuse. The newest book, DEAD WRECKONING, is due out April 1, 2008. I’ll let you figure out the social issues in that one.
PDD: You are also working on a contemporary romance. How difficult or easy is it for you to switch from one genre to the other? What draws you to each?
SDS: I shelved the romance for now. I realized I wasn’t having nearly as much fun writing it as I was the mysteries. But I must take opportunity and tell you about the historical mystery I’m working on that’s lots of fun. The book takes place during WWII, and again is set in my hometown. The title is A WAR OF HER OWN.
Before December 1941, the sawmill and farming town of Orange, Texas was full of grand homes, its streets lined with virgin pine, ancient oaks draped with Spanish moss, and bayous full of cypress and water tupelo trees. If someone even said damn, folks fell out in horror. Codes of conduct were exacting, at least in public.
Then, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, propelling the whole country into what became the Second World War. Along with it, Orange shipbuilders gained contracts with the Secretary of War to build Dreadnaughts, destroyers, and destroyer escorts. All hell broke loose. By 1944, the population of Orange had exploded to well over 70,000 people, and with this explosion, a war effort to end all war efforts. Yet one woman fought another war, and the unnamed enemy resided within her.
This work is such fun for me, and as you might expect, is loosely based on family members who lived there during that time period. I hope to have it finished and be ready to query within the next few months.
PDD: Among the topics you present to groups is Mystery Writing and Self Discovery. What did you discover about yourself when writing your mysteries?
SDS: Oh boy. Well, I think the most important thing I learned was that I had a voice. All my life, I forced that voice to lie dormant, fearful to use it, to speak out, to take a risk. Writing helped me tap into it and let the written word embrace it. I learned of my keen insight into people, and a strong intuition available to me. To put it simply, I learned to be authentically me.
PDD: What is a typical writing day like for Sylvia Dickey Smith?
SDS: (Laughter) There’s nothing typical about my day. There was at the beginning, but you know how life happens in the midst of our writing. Previously I spent almost all day at my computer, in my private office, starting early and ending at dinner time. Then, my mom grew ill and came to live with us, needing my time and attention. She passed last year. But did things settle back into the old routine? No way. We decided to downsize, which stole much of my writing time. We packed, we sold, we gave away, we trashed. Then the move happened and along with it the sense of having lost my writing space. Next, an 18-year-old grandson moved in with us. I had forgotten how much a teenager eats! Add to that, a further lack of writing space. But I’ve recently carved out a cubbyhole behind the laundry room and steal a few minutes there several times a day.
PDD: You belong to a monthly book club. Besides the fellowship and the food, what does the club do for you? And what can you do for the club?
SDS: It helps educate me on what people like to read and why. What they like about a book and what turns them off. I see the delight in their faces when they discuss one they love, and it inspires me to keep at it. What I do for them, I think, is to remove the halo many people like to put on an author. (Maybe some authors enjoy the halo. I am not one of them.) I share with them my struggles to make a work happen, the pitfalls inherent in the process, etc. What I love the most is when they review my books and want to talk about my characters!
PDD: Any tips for new writers to help them stay focused?
SDS: Dig in your heels and keep at it. When those voices in your head tell you that your writing stinks, stuff a rag in their mouth and keep going. Force yourself to sit in that chair and put words on the page. Find a way to get inside the scene, inside the character’s head. Feel what they feel and allow the dialogue to evolve from deep inside that character.
PDD: What is your best marketing tool? What sells books?
SDS: I love starting conversations with strangers. I enjoy that one-on-one contact, of being real with people, the kind of contact that binds us at a spiritual level. Perhaps that is what makes people interested in me and my characters. I hope so.
PDD: You work with a critique group. How does the group help your writing? How do you help theirs?
SDS: Wow. I couldn’t do it without them. For one thing, when you write, you know what you mean to say, so when you read it back, your brain reads what you meant to write—not what you wrote. They find where I’ve used the wrong word, made a grammatical error, ‘head-hopped,’ where I may step outside my point of view—all those things that an author can miss when we read our own work. Members are also good at pointing out a ‘darling’ that we need to kill--that beautiful prose that we fall in love with, but has nothing to do with the plot.
My desire is to offer the same back to them. I hope I do.
PDD: Anything else you'd like our readers to know about you or your writing?
SDS: I am in the process of creating a whole new website and hope folks will stop by to visit when it is up and running, probably around April 1st, when my third book, DEAD WRECKONING launches. The address is http://www.sylviadickeysmith.com/. There is a link on the site to my blog at http://sylviadickeysmith.blogspot.com/.
Just recently, my protagonist, Sidra Smart, got her own website where folks can ask her questions, make comments, read short stories about her and her brother Warren who left her the Third Eye Detective Agency. They will also soon learn about her new venture making Alligator Pickles! These pickles feature, of all things, a dancing alligator on the label and are pickles with a byte! She will offer these pickles for sale at some of her book launch parties and will give away her secret recipe in book four, due out next year. Oh yes, her blog address is http://sidrasmart.blogspot.com/. She told me to tell folks she hopes they’ll stop by and chat!
PDD: Alligator Pickles? Facinating. I'll have to look into that. Thank you for sharing with us today and best of good luck with the new book!