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The Fighter
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Group Reads: Moderator's Choice > Author Q&A: Michael Farris Smith: July 2018

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message 1: by Tom, "Big Daddy" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tom Mathews | 2749 comments Mod
Author Michael Farris Smith is kind enough to rejoin our group for a Q&A of The Fighter. Please make him feel welcome and post your questions here.


message 2: by Josh (last edited Jun 23, 2018 03:18PM) (new)

Josh | 185 comments Welcome sir! Haven’t read the book yet but went to your signing at Parnannus Books in Nashville and it's definitely on my short list. You said there that you typically avoid works related to your topic while writing (like Fight Club or Rick Bass’ short story about a fighter as examples). With that in mind though, I’d be interested to know if the cover art was a tribute to Cormac’s Cities of the Plain?


Tina  | 488 comments Welcome back Michael Farris Smith! I’m looking forward to reading your new book and discussing it with you here on The Trail.


Cathrine ☯️  | 756 comments Hot Damn! Thanks for joining us MFS. This is exciting as I'm such a fan girl.
I'm going to try and read it again before I comment further. First time around I was all alone with it at the library and now there's a wait list. The word must be getting out 😃


message 5: by Michael (new)

Michael Smith Hi all, looking forward to visiting with the group again in July, and thanks so much for selecting The Fighter.

Feel free to fire when ready.


message 6: by Michael (new)

Michael Smith Josh wrote: "Welcome sir! Haven’t read the book yet but went to your signing at Parnannus Books in Nashville and it's definitely on my short list. You said there that you typically avoid works related to your t..."

Hi Josh, nice catch about Cities of the Plain, but it wasn't a conscious tribute (the artists at Little Brown showed it to me without a heads up), but after I got over the initial "wow" from seeing the cover for the first time, and realizing how perfect I thought it was for this story, I was reminded of McCarthy as well, and considering his influence (among others), I liked the nod, whether it was intended or no.


message 7: by Howard (last edited Jun 25, 2018 08:48AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Howard | 502 comments Thanks for joining us, Michael.

I am always interested in what people read as children that spurred them on to becoming lifetime readers and, in the case of writers, what writers influenced them and served as their inspiration to pursue their careers.

Even before I read that Larry Brown was an important influence in your writing I surmised as much while reading "The Fighter."

Who Else? Maybe Daniel Woodrell?


message 8: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Diane Barnes | 4421 comments Mod
You wrote Rivers, and then we had massive flooding from Harvey. You wrote The Fighter, now I read that bare knuckle fighting is making a comeback. Do you have visions of what's coming, or is it just coincidence?


LA Cantrell | 1324 comments Hey, Michael - thanks for joining us for another chat.

I don't know if realism is the correct term for it, but the primary characters in your big-three books - guys who've made bad judgement calls in the past - seem entirely believable.

In Desperation Road Russel, whose drinking once led to vehicular manslaughter, has no business sipping a cold beer and driving around back country roads. Yet having a husband from a tiny MS town, I know first hand that when there's little else for entertainment, that's what you do.

With this book, I read somewhere that your wife's work with kids in the foster system played a role in building Jack. Last summer, when three giant hurricanes boiled up, it gave me a very eerie vibe remembering the storms in Rivers.

I get, then, that everyday life might be feeding your primary ideas. But when it comes to creating smaller characters where do you get your ideas? In particular, I'm thinking of your villains.

The bad guy in Desperation Road is probably one of my favorite characters ever... he's right up there with Joe Lon in A Feast of Snakes. Darryl, in a disturbed way, is trying to correct wrongs just like the heroes in your stories. Where in the world do you get your Aggies and Darryls and Big Momma Sweets? Thanks.


Cathrine ☯️  | 756 comments Michael if film versions do make it to the screen, do you picture any actors in the roles of Russell Gaines and Jack Boucher?


message 11: by Michael (last edited Jun 27, 2018 12:46PM) (new)

Michael Smith Howard wrote: "Thanks for joining us, Michael.

I am always interested in what people read as children that spurred them on to becoming lifetime readers and, in the case of writers, what writers influenced them a..."


Hi Howard, good question.

Daniel Woodrell, Carson McCullers (particularly Ballad of the Sad Cafe), Jim Harrison's novellas. All those influenced me right away, I think because they are all able to tell a truly complex and visual story in such an economic fashion, something I believe to be very important for both impact and imagery.

But Hemingway was really a first influence, even before the Southerners. The ex-pats were the first ones I latched on to because I was living abroad when I became more serious as a reader, and I found relation in the landscapes and wanderlust. This was still years before I decided to try and write. And I didn't know it but Hemingway was teaching me a lot about writing a sentence, which I would later need.

I would also add the stories from the bible, which I learned as a kid, have been influential.


message 12: by Michael (new)

Michael Smith Diane wrote: "You wrote Rivers, and then we had massive flooding from Harvey. You wrote The Fighter, now I read that bare knuckle fighting is making a comeback. Do you have visions of what's coming, or is it jus..."

I have visions of what's coming. Are you scared now?


message 13: by Michael (new)

Michael Smith LeAnne wrote: "Hey, Michael - thanks for joining us for another chat.

I don't know if realism is the correct term for it, but the primary characters in your big-three books - guys who've made bad judgement calls..."


How did I know you were going to ask about the bad guys?

When I read, I've always been more interested in the bad guys. In the Joe Lons of the world. I don't know why. So when I sit down to write a bad guy (or even a good guy/gal for that matter) I'm looking for the gray. Something makes bad guys tick just like something makes the good guys tick. Something is driving that moral aesthetic, that notion of what do I want and why, and what do I truly feel about it when no one else is looking.

One of the greatest compliments I get is when someone says they felt sympathy for the bad guy. That means I created humans, instead of just characters. I think, I hope.


message 14: by Laura, "The Tall Woman" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Laura | 2282 comments Mod
You mentioned in Nashville how you started writing or thought I could write a book. Would you be willing to share that story again?


message 15: by Michael (new)

Michael Smith Cathrine ☯️ wrote: "Michael if film versions do make it to the screen, do you picture any actors in the roles of Russell Gaines and Jack Boucher?"

You know, I had so many close calls with the film world, I kinda put it out of my head and stopped thinking about it. But now, I guess, I gotta think about it again.

I thought someone like Jake Gyllenhaal maybe for Russell, and I can't stop thinking about Matthew McG for Jack. Hope we get to truly decide.


message 16: by Laura, "The Tall Woman" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Laura | 2282 comments Mod
Did you know from the beginning your title would be The Fighter and your main character would be named Jack Boucher? (Thank you for teaching this Tennessean how to pronounce it correctly)


Howard | 502 comments Michael wrote: "Howard wrote: "Thanks for joining us, Michael.

I am always interested in what people read as children that spurred them on to becoming lifetime readers and, in the case of writers, what writers in..."


Now that you mention it, I can see the Hemingway influence.


message 18: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Diane Barnes | 4421 comments Mod
Your visions don't scare me at all, unless your next book is about nuclear war. That might be concerning. Next question: what is your favorite thing about the writing process? Research, actual writing, finished product, all of the above?


message 19: by Tom, "Big Daddy" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tom Mathews | 2749 comments Mod
Hi Michael,
Thanks again for joining us. I have two questions.
#1: In reading The Fighter, I couldn't help noticing that it reminded me of the Jack London story A Piece of Steak. Have you read that story and, if so, did it have any affect on the contents of your novel?
#2: I've asked this before but it bears repeating. When are you going to tour in California?


message 20: by Laura, "The Tall Woman" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Laura | 2282 comments Mod
I just finished your novella The Hands of strangers and there is a scene I can barely think upon without tearing up. Jon is waiting for Estelle to join him at the bar. He sees her and “he catches himself on the verge of crying. He puts his fist to his mouth and presses, bends his head and closes his eyes until the threat of tears subsides.”

In The fighter, jack visits Maryann and he’s told to wait. “He stood from the arm of the loveseat and his eyes filled. He squeezed a fist...with the back of his hand he then wiped his eyes...”

Again this is really an emotional part of the book for me. Both felt very similar to me. The despair that is passed on to the reader, how does that work for a writer? Do you know you’re getting it right or is it more just a wait and see?

Both scenes are so powerful.


message 21: by Michael (new)

Michael Smith Laura wrote: "You mentioned in Nashville how you started writing or thought I could write a book. Would you be willing to share that story again?"

Hi Laura. Thanks for coming out in Nashville.

It just got to the point where I wasn’t going to happy unless I tried to do it. I was either going to fail miserably or find a way, but I wasn’t going to ignore the feeling any longer. I had read enough, found authors I loved and who inspired me, both with their fiction and their own stories. I just so happened to be at a real crossroads in my life and there was no damn reason not to try. So I tried, having no idea what I was doing.


message 22: by Michael (new)

Michael Smith Laura wrote: "Did you know from the beginning your title would be The Fighter and your main character would be named Jack Boucher? (Thank you for teaching this Tennessean how to pronounce it correctly)"

This is a good question, because The Fighter is the only novel where this has been the title all the way through. I slapped it on there right at the beginning and it never wavered, not by me or the editor or the publishing house. Rock solid.


message 23: by Michael (new)

Michael Smith Diane wrote: "Your visions don't scare me at all, unless your next book is about nuclear war. That might be concerning. Next question: what is your favorite thing about the writing process? Research, actual writ..."

I think I have two favorite parts. The first is the quiet time of writing the original draft, those months where you are so wrapped up in the story that it’s almost like you are walking around in a dream, and you can’t wait to get to work each morning. It’s falling forward and you can’t stop it.

The second is at the end, after revisions, after the manuscript is all signed off, where there is this tremendous feeling of relief, and exhaust, knowing it’s done.

I hate research so that’s why I don’t do much unless I absolutely have to.


message 24: by Michael (last edited Jun 28, 2018 07:44AM) (new)

Michael Smith Tom wrote: "Hi Michael,
Thanks again for joining us. I have two questions.
#1: In reading The Fighter, I couldn't help noticing that it reminded me of the Jack London story [book:A Piece of St..."


Hi Tom.

1. I haven’t read the London story. It was mentioned to me while I was writing The Fighter, which meant to avoid it. When I’m working on a novel, I don’t like reading anything that may “be like it,” which people will give you suggestions all the time. I have an idea of what I’m doing and I don’t want it messed with, so to speak. Although, I’ll read it now, so thanks for the reminder.

2. Don’t know about California. I’d love to. I think with Blackwood next year we will go to some different places around the country, so I’ll throw in a vote for Cali, if they ask me.


message 25: by Michael (new)

Michael Smith Laura wrote: "I just finished your novella The Hands of strangers and there is a scene I can barely think upon without tearing up. Jon is waiting for Estelle to join him at the bar. He sees her and “he catches h..."

Thanks for this.

As far as getting it right, my only measuring stick is myself. If it’s hitting me, making me emotional, moving me in ways I don’t expect, then that’s the sign. If I’m not moved, I don’t figure anybody else will be either. If I’m not moved then it is more like something contrived or bullshit, neither of which belong.


Howard | 502 comments Michael,

Did you have someone in mind when you created Big Momma Sweet? If you did, I don't want to meet that person.


message 27: by Laura, "The Tall Woman" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Laura | 2282 comments Mod
Since you mentioned Blackwood can you give us a little hint of the plot/characters?


LA Cantrell | 1324 comments Here is a Group confession (don't slap me, y'all). While everybody here reads a wide variety of genres, we do get pretty geeky when it comes to southern lit.

We actually have formal discussion areas in the group for "Dead Mules" and another called "DEAD SNAKES HANGING ON A FENCE TO BRING RAIN." Neither of these were started by me, by the way..

But between Rivers and Desperation Road and The Fighter, I'm thinking we made need a PICKING UP HITCHHIKERS section. So in your new book, should we expect somebody to catch a ride? It's a pretty clever way to introduce a jack-in-the-box, plot wise.

Lastly, we would really love to see either a dead mule or dead snakes hanging on a fence to bring rain but will roll with whatever you deliver. We like your books. Thank you, Michael!


message 29: by Tom, "Big Daddy" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tom Mathews | 2749 comments Mod
Michael wrote: "Hi Tom,
When I’m working on a novel, I don’t like reading anything that may “be like it,” which people will give you suggestions all the time. ."


Makes perfect sense.

Michael wrote: "I think with Blackwood next year we will go to some different places around the country, so I’ll throw in a vote for Cali, if they ask me. "

If you do, Book Passage in Corte Madera is a excellent Bay Area indy store.


message 30: by Michael (new)

Michael Smith Howard wrote: "Michael,

Did you have someone in mind when you created Big Momma Sweet? If you did, I don't want to meet that person."


She makes me nervous, too.

Creating her was really about what I knew about this novel as soon as I started it, I was going to push characters to extremities while trying to remain in the realm of being realistic. Jack was the genesis and then I had to make sure I raised the others up to meet his level. I’ve been asked about Big Momma and Annette quite a bit.


message 31: by Michael (new)

Michael Smith Laura wrote: "Since you mentioned Blackwood can you give us a little hint of the plot/characters?"

I’ll let the publisher announcement do the work:

https://michaelfarrissmith.com/blackw...


message 32: by Michael (new)

Michael Smith LeAnne wrote: "Here is a Group confession (don't slap me, y'all). While everybody here reads a wide variety of genres, we do get pretty geeky when it comes to southern lit.

We actually have formal discussion are..."


I don’t think there are hitchhikers necessarily in Blackwood, but there are definitely strange and dangerous people lurking off the side of the road.


message 33: by Michael (new)

Michael Smith Tom wrote: "Michael wrote: "Hi Tom,
When I’m working on a novel, I don’t like reading anything that may “be like it,” which people will give you suggestions all the time. ."

Makes perfect sense.

Michael wro..."


Thanks for the mention of Book Passage, I’ll pass it along.


message 34: by Tom, "Big Daddy" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tom Mathews | 2749 comments Mod
LeAnne wrote: "Lastly, we would really love to see either a dead mule or dead snakes hanging on a fence to bring rain but will roll with whatever you deliver..."

or snake handlers. Aren't you the one with a passion for those?


Cathrine ☯️  | 756 comments Michael wrote: "but there are definitely strange and dangerous people lurking off the side of the road."

Ooh, southern lit stranger danger from the safety of my reading chair. Be still my beating heart.


message 36: by Laura, "The Tall Woman" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Laura | 2282 comments Mod
I finished the reread today and think I liked it even better, if that's even possible. I didn't see it the first time but when Big Momma Sweet allowed Jack to pay her back instead of fighting, it showed a little bit of her humanity (a little bit). Did you intend for her to show this? Do you think even the worst of people have some redemptive quality?


message 37: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Diane Barnes | 4421 comments Mod
I don't know if you are a Pat Conroy fan , but he used to give his enemies and sometimes friends a bit part in his books by using either their first or last names, or a revealing description of the character. Do you do that at all, in a good or a bad way? Is it difficult to keep real people from popping up in your writing?


message 38: by Laura, "The Tall Woman" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Laura | 2282 comments Mod
When he used the term “dirty Work” couldn’t help but to think of a tribute to Larry Brown but you know how readers are...we tend to over analyze everything.


message 39: by Michael (new)

Michael Smith Laura wrote: "I finished the reread today and think I liked it even better, if that's even possible. I didn't see it the first time but when Big Momma Sweet allowed Jack to pay her back instead of fighting, it s..."

I do think even the worst have a moment. And I just thought it was important to create a history with Big Momma and Jack that led up to these final few days, honor among thieves kinda thing. And again, more human and real. At least in my humble opinion.


message 40: by Michael (new)

Michael Smith Diane wrote: "I don't know if you are a Pat Conroy fan , but he used to give his enemies and sometimes friends a bit part in his books by using either their first or last names, or a revealing description of the..."

I don't really think to do that. Maybe every now and then there will be some comment or description that is borrowed from my life or things my friends would know about. Like in Desperation Road when Boyd is watching the high school football players run the bleachers in the summer (we did that). Or in the music someone is listening to. There's a nod obviously to some tattooed friends with Annette.


message 41: by Michael (last edited Jul 02, 2018 11:36AM) (new)

Michael Smith Again in response to Diane's question and now Laura's (about the dirty work mention), I will work in not people, but a title if it is something that has influenced me, or maybe one of my past titles, if it happens to fit just right and comes along organically. In The Fighter, I used a phrase that was the original title for Desperation Road. In Rivers, I used the phrase "the hands of strangers." I've used Faulkner titles here and there in subtle ways. So watch carefully.


LA Cantrell | 1324 comments Tom wrote: "LeAnne wrote: "Lastly, we would really love to see either a dead mule or dead snakes hanging on a fence to bring rain but will roll with whatever you deliver..."

or snake handlers. Aren't you the ..."


Guilty, Tom. Every since reading about a little Mississippi girl who discovers a box of rattlers meant for the pulpit, I've had a soft spot for snake handlers in fiction. Blame it on Donna Tartt.


LA Cantrell | 1324 comments A reader in an earlier author Q&A (or perhaps book club chat?) asked you once about using your middle name. You said something to the effect that it was helpful for a new writer because Mike Smith was a pretty forgettable name.

Joey and I were watching Sneaky Pete the other night when the main character Marius needs a name badge for his con job. He tells the guy to just give him the most forgettable name ever. It was Michael Smith. We howled laughing and toasted you!

What about your writing do you think is best remembered by your readers? What would you hope they carry with them?


Cathrine ☯️  | 756 comments LeAnne was that in Season 2? I loved S1 but haven't gotten any further.


LA Cantrell | 1324 comments Cathrine ☯️ wrote: "LeAnne was that in Season 2? I loved S1 but haven't gotten any further."

Yes, season 2 - total romp! Prepare to meet a bison!


Tina  | 488 comments Michael, you had me hooked from the first two paragraphs when little Jack was dropped off in Tunica with a saggy diaper and Planet of the Apes backpack. I often think that the first and last paragraphs of a novel can make a lasting impression in a persons mind. I’ve had the last sentence of The Great Gatsby stuck in my head since I read it in high school. Believe me, that’s been a while. Do your initial and final paragraphs come to you early in the draft of your novel or do they materialize after most of the book has been written? This may be a crazy question, but I always wanted to go back and rewrite my first paragraphs of my creative writing papers in school when I got to the end.


message 47: by Michael (new)

Michael Smith "What about your writing do you think is best remembered by your readers? What would you hope they carry with them?"

That's a good question, and I guess the only way to answer is to answer as a reader. When I'm in a novel, I want to be moved emotionally, I want to be challenged about what I believe or how I see the world, I want to be exhausted, I want to close the book and know I'm different somehow.

So that's what I hope to give a reader.


message 48: by Michael (new)

Michael Smith Tina wrote: "Michael, you had me hooked from the first two paragraphs when little Jack was dropped off in Tunica with a saggy diaper and Planet of the Apes backpack. I often think that the first and last paragr..."

The first and last paragraphs have been very organic for me, for each novel. The first and last of each book, the way you see them, is exactly the way I wrote them. The first paragraph is typically that thing I've been carrying around in my head and it just has to get out, so it comes out sharply. And in some ways, the last paragraph is the easiest to write, because I don't really know it's the last paragraph while I'm writing it, it just all of a sudden hits me - that's it.


message 49: by Laura, "The Tall Woman" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Laura | 2282 comments Mod
Some of us are also connected to your FB page. Desperation Road is going to be a movie, yay!!! Can you share what roll you will have with the development of the movie? Some of us Trail members still have nightmares about Ron Rash’s Serena at the movies. But thrilled he was compensated for the rights.


Cathrine ☯️  | 756 comments Yes, so happy to learn MFS will be included in the script adaptation. I love, love, loved Desperation Road!


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