Monday, March 11, 2013

PR Special Edtion: Sherri L. Smith Interview!

Poisoned Rationality Special  Edition
Welcome to another Poisoned Rationality Special Edition!  Our guest today is Sherri L. Smith, author of Orleans (released earlier this month) a novel about finding a future worth fighting for. 
First came the storms.
Then came the Fever.
And the Wall.

After a string of devastating hurricanes and a severe outbreak of Delta Fever, the Gulf Coast has been quarantined. Years later, residents of the Outer States are under the assumption that life in the Delta is all but extinct… but in reality, a new primitive society has been born.

Fen de la Guerre is living with the O-Positive blood tribe in the Delta when they are ambushed. Left with her tribe leader’s newborn, Fen is determined to get the baby to a better life over the wall before her blood becomes tainted. Fen meets Daniel, a scientist from the Outer States who has snuck into the Delta illegally. Brought together by chance, kept together by danger, Fen and Daniel navigate the wasteland of Orleans. In the end, they are each other’s last hope for survival.
Welcome Sherri to Poisoned Rationality--where reading is not just a hobby but an obsession :)
Thanks, Lexie!  It’s a pleasure to visit the equally-obsessed!
From the first time you heard Fen’s voice, did you picture the trials she’d go through for a brighter future?  Was there anything you put to paper that you later decided to take out because it seemed like too much to put her through?
What a great question! When I first heard Fen’s voice, I think she was a little bit softer than she turned out to be. The first words I heard her say in my head were “O-Neg Davis, he beautiful,” so naturally I thought there might be an unrequited romance in there somewhere. As I listened harder and the world developed, I saw Fen differently. She might admire a handsome face, but in the end she’d write it off as trouble if the guy didn’t live up to her very exacting standards. (Something my husband would say is true about me, too!)

As far as putting her through “too much” goes, I have a bad habit of protecting my characters. Some advice I give students when I talk about writing is to think of the worst thing that can happen to your character, then make it happen. So, in early drafts, my editor said “This is a dangerous world, how come there’s no violence or weapons?” I had a reason for the lack of weapons, which is in the book to an extent, but I knew he was right and I was pulling punches.
So I went all in and put the things I’d been holding back. Which won me the comment, “That’s kind of harsh for a ten-year-old. Maybe you want to pull back?” But by that point, I was sold. So there was some haggling and, in the end, I did remove one moment early on in the book and I adjusted some character relationships not because it was too violent or unbelievable, but because in a sea of violence, Fen needed one quiet spot in her life to look back on. I’m happy with the final result, but I do think Fen could have handled the old version, too!
ORLEANS is a different manner of book from either FLYGIRL or SPARROW, but all three share a common thread of perseverance by sticking to what you believe is the right thing.  Is this something you believe to be true?
Absolutely. My brother likes to say, “Stand up for something, or you’ll fall for anything.” We both inherited a strong (maybe overdeveloped?) sense of right and wrong from our mother. And we’re stubborn people when we want to be. Sometimes that’s the only way to get to where you want to be in life.
You’ve described ORLEANS as a very personal book for you because of what your mother went through during Katrina.  Were you able to share Fen with her? 
Sadly, no. My mom passed away in September 2007. Fen was in my head back then, but she didn’t make it to the page until the following year. My mom was a big influence on her, though. One day, my mom and I were sitting around talking and she says, “that reminds of the time So-and-so pulled a knife on Miss Such-and-such and I took it from her!” I was like, “Whaaat?” Apparently, when my mom was in third grade, another student got mad at the teacher and pulled a knife. When the girl passed her desk to attack the teacher, my mom jumped up and disarmed her. Crazy pants. Just like that. My mom, the nine-year-old hero! 
I asked her what the heck she was thinking. She shrugged and said, “she had a knife,” as if that’s all the answer she needed. This was 1940-something so no cops were called and the school wasn’t put on lock down. The teacher was grateful and that was that. The angry girl, however, threatened to beat my mom up after school. So she did the only thing a nine-year-old hero can do in that situation. She left school right after the bell and ran all the way home! I actually wrote a short story based on that conversation called “Momfight.” It’s a huge a tangent from this interview, so I’ll shut up about it, but thanks for conjuring the memory. Today is my mom’s birthday. I love you, Mom!
What’s next?  Will you be revisiting historical fiction or speculative fiction again?
My next book is actually both! I’m working on an historical fantasy based on E.T.A. Hoffman’s “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” which most people know from Tchaikovsky’s ballet, “The Nutcracker.” After that, there might be a mystery or two in the future. I like working in different genres, figuring out how they work, so the future is wide open.
For a first time visitor to New Orleans, what do you suggest they do to avoid being just like every other tourist?
Good question. Well, you want to be like all the other tourists and go to Café du Monde in the French Quarter. While you’re there, treat yourself to a dressed oyster po’ boy at Felix’s. Then you can ditch the crowds and go for some down home food at Two Sisters Kitchen (not to be confused with the tonier Court of Two Sisters in the Quarter). Don’t forget to hit Plum Street afterward for the biggest snoballs you’ve ever had! Oh, and if you’re there for Mardi Gras parades and there are beads or doubloons on the ground, step on them first, and then pick them up. Otherwise, you could lose a finger to a real parade veteran who knows to stomp before you stoop!
Thank you Sherri for joining us today! 

Thanks for having me. It was a blast!


A booked based on "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King"? Count me in!  Sherri's mother definitely sounds like she was someone who had stories to tell (and oh man how cool that she was a true blue hero!) didn't she?  At 9 I wasn't even allowed near knives, never mind disarming a rampaging student...

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