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Group Reads: Moderator's Choice > Author Q&A: Michael Farris Smith: June 2020

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message 1: by Tom, "Big Daddy" (last edited May 29, 2020 09:01AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tom Mathews | 2646 comments Mod
A frequent contributor to our group, Michael Farris Smith has offered to answer questions about his latest book, Blackwood. Please make him feel welcome and post your questions here.


message 2: by Tom, "Big Daddy" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tom Mathews | 2646 comments Mod
Hi Michael. Welcome back to the Trail. I'm about halfway through Blackwood and am really enjoying it. One thing that strikes me from this and other of your books that I have read is that most of your characters are what my folks would call down and out. What is it about socially disadvantaged characters that makes them a central theme to your books? Similarly, do you take inspiration from other authors when you write? I ask this as there is one family in this book that could have driven into town straight off of Tobacco Road.


message 3: by Laura, "The Tall Woman" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Laura | 2121 comments Mod
Welcome back Michael. So excited that you agreed to join us while we read your newest book.

I’ve heard of musicians that keep a notepad by their bed, so when they wake up in the middle of the night with lyrics for new material they can write it down. Are you constantly scribbling ideas for new books and then piece them together? What does the new book process look like for you?


message 4: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Diane Barnes | 4115 comments Mod
I was reading along in Blackwood about the child left at the charity store in Tunica because the father of the family in the Cadillac didn't want another mouth to feed. It rang a bell with me, so I picked up my copy of The Fighter and read the first page or two, and there it was. That baby in Blackwood grew up to be Jack Boucher. Did you know you were going to write this book when you were writing The Fighter, or did you add that detail as you were writing Blackwood? I love it when characters and events from one book are alluded to in a subsequent one, it adds a connection that makes it seem real.


message 5: by Michael (new) - added it

Michael Smith Tom wrote: "Hi Michael. Welcome back to the Trail. I'm about halfway through Blackwood and am really enjoying it. One thing that strikes me from this and other of your books that I have read is..."

Hi all, it's nice to be back and hope everyone is staying safe and well wherever you are.

Okay, Tom. Honestly, I don't really know what draws me to these types of characters. I just know that I want my characters to be as desperate as possible, socially, physically, economically, whatever. My favorite writers do this so I guess it rubs off. It's also part of what I notice and feel in the modern world around me. I mean, we live in a country where nearly 20 percent of kids live at or below the poverty line, who then grow up to be teenagers and adults. It's difficult for me to ignore, I guess.

As to the other question, I don't really think about other authors or books while I'm working on a novel, but do in between. Not sure if that's what you meant.


message 6: by Michael (new) - added it

Michael Smith Laura wrote: "Welcome back Michael. So excited that you agreed to join us while we read your newest book.

I’ve heard of musicians that keep a notepad by their bed, so when they wake up in the middle of the nig..."


Hi Laura. Good question. If I gave you my phone, you'd find the rough trail of my last few novels, ideas jotted down in Notes as they occur to me, even bits of dialogue that struck me, knowing that was the reaction I'd been waiting on. It happens all the time, middle of the night, driving, in the middle of dinner. I've learned when it hits you, write it down or you'll lose it.


message 7: by Michael (new) - added it

Michael Smith Diane wrote: "I was reading along in Blackwood about the child left at the charity store in Tunica because the father of the family in the Cadillac didn't want another mouth to feed. It rang a bell with me, so I..."

Hi Diane. I didn't know those Bouchers were the man, woman, and boy until I was damn near done with what I thought was the final draft of Blackwood. The man, woman, and boy were there, I just wasn't real sure who they were, and it bothered me. So I went back and drove them into town, instead of just starting the story with them already there. When I did, they were driving a "foul running Cadillac." Like you, I picked up The Fighter and looked at the opening scene, knowing I'd heard that phrase. And there it was, they are driving a "foul running Cadillac" when Jack is abandoned, and the light bulb went off and the gong sounded, that's them.


message 8: by Laura, "The Tall Woman" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Laura | 2121 comments Mod
So you completely pulled me in and had me going a million directions with the father. Why did he kill himself, why was he distant from his family, why did he visit a fortune teller? None of my thoughts to why were even close.

How did the loss of the child and by the neighbors dog come to be? That whole scene was shocking and heartbreaking. Complete emotional drain.


message 9: by Tina (last edited Jun 03, 2020 09:59PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tina  | 488 comments Blackwood has been burning a hole in my bookshelf since right before COVID lockdown. I can’t believe I made it this long without diving in. Laura “Tall Woman” couldn’t believe it either. Glad to see you back with us on The Trail, Michael. Really excited to read through Blackwood and discuss it with you.

I’m holding off reading the comments above until I read a bit further in the book. I have to say, that first chapter grabbed my attention immediately. I expect I’ll be awake for a while tonight reading.


Tina  | 488 comments I have started putting sticky notes on the pages where there is a line, a phrase, a paragraph, or a word that I want to reference and remember in Blackwood. At this rate, I’m going to run out of sticky notes quickly and I’m only on page 50.

Michael, reading the part of the book you read aloud at the book signing I attended for Blackwood was just as impactful as hearing you read those words the first time. It gave me chills to step back into the kudzu with this family. Years ago I read an article in Rolling Stone or Billboard where Ric OCasek from The Cars talked about knowing the quality of a song by the chill factor it gave you. When you were writing those early pages where the family has begun living in the kudzu and the man begins to hear the voice, did you feel the darkness of this setting immediately? Was this a “chill factor” moment in your writing?


message 11: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Diane Barnes | 4115 comments Mod
My chill factor came early on. The first chapter left me reeling, and I had to put the book down till next day to continue. How emotionally draining is it to write something that intense?


message 12: by Laura, "The Tall Woman" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Laura | 2121 comments Mod
Agree, chill factor did come early. Tina, there was a phrase, similar use of words used early on and continues to the end of the book. I kept writing them down. I’ve got to figure how to ask my question without it sounding confusing.


message 13: by Michael (new) - added it

Michael Smith Laura wrote: "So you completely pulled me in and had me going a million directions with the father. Why did he kill himself, why was he distant from his family, why did he visit a fortune teller? None of my thou..."

I don't think it's as easy as just answering "why did he kill himself." Seems like there is plenty of gray in such a situation, plenty of the weight of years and regret and time, plenty of issues with self, with others. I really just tried to present what I thought were the most impact, most important aspects of the father's life, a broken trail of what led him to the workshop to do what he does.


message 14: by Michael (new) - added it

Michael Smith Laura wrote: "So you completely pulled me in and had me going a million directions with the father. Why did he kill himself, why was he distant from his family, why did he visit a fortune teller? None of my thou..."

As to how the scene with the dog came to be, it was a few pages I've had laying around for years, and I knew how powerful it was, it was just waiting for the right place and time. Blackwood was the right place and time.


message 15: by Michael (new) - added it

Michael Smith Tina wrote: "I have started putting sticky notes on the pages where there is a line, a phrase, a paragraph, or a word that I want to reference and remember in Blackwood. At this rate, I’m going to run out of st..."

Hi Tina.

Certainly there was the chill factor. Going under for the first time, I felt the pull. I felt the dark. It was a new, exciting, scary world for me, somewhere I hadn't gone before. That's how I knew it was going to be a real experience for the reader because it was a real experience for me.


message 16: by Michael (new) - added it

Michael Smith Diane wrote: "My chill factor came early on. The first chapter left me reeling, and I had to put the book down till next day to continue. How emotionally draining is it to write something that intense?"

Hi Diane.

It's pretty emotionally draining. People talk about putting the book aside for a few days. There were times with this one when I had to step aside for a few days myself. And then when it's over, there is a period of weeks, if not longer, when I have to recover from it. I don't know if depression is the right word. Maybe decompression. It ain't easy sometimes but that's how I know I've given it all I can.


message 17: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Diane Barnes | 4115 comments Mod
I heard Ron Rash speak once and he said his favorite book was Serena, but that it took him so far down it took him months to recover.
Are you telling us that you actually went into a kudzu thicket?


Tina  | 488 comments I don’t think anyone that’s never seen kudzu can appreciate how ravenous it is and how it completely chokes and smothers out everything growing in its path. I’ll never look at this creeping vine my father swore vengeance against on a yearly basis in the same light after reading Blackwood. I believe you might have said something about it in your book signing, but can you tell The Trail members what inspired you to make a valley of kudzu a place of evil and macabre in Blackwood?


message 19: by Michael (new) - added it

Michael Smith Hi all, been unplugged this week, sorry for the delay. I'll catch up this weekend.


message 20: by Tom, "Big Daddy" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tom Mathews | 2646 comments Mod
Michael wrote: "Hi all, been unplugged this week, sorry for the delay. I'll catch up this weekend."

Must be nice.


message 21: by Michael (new) - added it

Michael Smith Diane wrote: "I heard Ron Rash speak once and he said his favorite book was Serena, but that it took him so far down it took him months to recover.
Are you telling us that you actually went into a kudzu thicket?"


Ha, it only felt like it. And then I've been writing the script the last month or so and have gone below again and it's really much of the same experience. Fortunately, the nightmares haven't come back with the adaptation. Not yet.


message 22: by Michael (new) - added it

Michael Smith Tina wrote: "I don’t think anyone that’s never seen kudzu can appreciate how ravenous it is and how it completely chokes and smothers out everything growing in its path. I’ll never look at this creeping vine my..."

Much of it had to do with driving back and forth from Oxford to Water Valley where I have my writing studio. Acres of kudzu. I just began to notice it differently, notice the way it seemed to be its own creature, sometimes even move in the twilight, or at least I imagined. And then I just had an idea for a small town at the edge of a valley, draped in it, and all the whispers and ghost stories that might have arisen from the valley over time. I felt the spook in it right away and wanted to find out what might be down there, real or imagined.


message 23: by Michael (new) - added it

Michael Smith Tom wrote: "Michael wrote: "Hi all, been unplugged this week, sorry for the delay. I'll catch up this weekend."

Must be nice."


It was more like glorious.


message 24: by Laura, "The Tall Woman" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Laura | 2121 comments Mod
Can you share what you are working on next? Did the quarantine and cancelled book signings help to get more writing done or was it a bigger distraction?

And remind us which books will be going to the screen?


message 25: by Michael (last edited Jun 15, 2020 06:46AM) (new) - added it

Michael Smith The Fighter is basically waiting on covid restrictions to clear up to start production. Desperation Road is currently casting and also dependent on restrictions allowing for a film set. I'm working on the Blackwood script now with the same directors as The Fighter (screen name is Rumble Through the Dark).

Being at home with everything canceled actually helped me get the Blackwood script done, it's in revision stages now. If I would've been on a book tour, I'd probably just now be starting it.


message 26: by Michael (new) - added it

Michael Smith This is next. It's been a well-kept secret for certain reasons but word is starting to leak out.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/5...


message 27: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Diane Barnes | 4115 comments Mod
That is exciting! It's a real departure from your previous books. Much as I have loved them, I'm really excited about this new one. You are a busy man these days with two screenplays, a new book, and and a family.


message 28: by Laura, "The Tall Woman" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Laura | 2121 comments Mod
Oh my gosh! Excited and looks like a gatsby reread is in order. Proud for you to get to experiment with a new book. You deserve it!!! On my TBR.


Wyndy | 229 comments Excellent novel, Michael. Thank you for sharing some of your valuable time with us and especially for ending my nearly three-month reading drought with this book! Also, congratulations and best of luck on your upcoming movies. I have two questions: 1) What was going through your mind when you chose to have the hidden house speak to Colburn? 2) The last few pages of this book are intense and emotional. Why did you feel it was so important for Colburn to say “I’m sorry?”


Tina  | 488 comments Michael, I was blown away by Blackwood and have been sitting on it for days thinking about writing my review and how to properly do it justice. I cannot wait to see Blackwood on the big screen. The fact that you have the joy of writing the script will keep this story on course. Also, I am anxious to see who is cast for The Fighter and Desperation Road. Do you envision someone playing the leading roles and do you have any say in their selection? It would hard for me to see one of my characters cast with an actor or actress that I did not feel would be a good fit.

As for your next book, can’t wait! I see a buddy read with some friends here in our future.


LA Cantrell | 1312 comments Hey, Mike. My crew from Tylertown and McComb say hi. I know you used to be a professor over in Columbus. Any chance you've thought about picking up a class at Ole Miss? There's so much complexity in Mississippi's history, especially right there, that your insights would probably be a gift to young people. It's not like you have lots of free time, but eventually? Please and thanks!


LA Cantrell | 1312 comments And for “Nick,” are you going to give us as fantastic a bad guy as Darryl in Desperation Road? His mounting anger at the world and with himself entirely knocked that book into the stratosphere for me. When he felt emasculated by the two guys trying to steal his boots in the lock-up, you were not blatant or heavy-handed about it, but it just felt like kerosene was being added at the edges of a fire.

Maybe I read Blackwood (which will be the Halloween read for our coed club) too quickly or maybe mental illness is a different backstory, but I did not have the same kind of reaction here or with the bad guys after grown up Jack. Please give us another Aggie or Darryl? Heading over to Edelweiss to snag an early look. Thanks!


message 33: by Laura, "The Tall Woman" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Laura | 2121 comments Mod
Michael
I kept getting this strong pull to the phrase or word “hands, hands of strangers, multitude of hands, invisible hands” Your novella which I think has one of the most moving scenes I’ve ever read is called The Hands of Strangers. Any significance to this word usage?


message 34: by Sara, "Ivy Rowe" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara (phantomswife) | 1202 comments Mod
Just completed reading and still shaking a bit. Thank you so much for answering all these questions and giving us a glimpse into your thought process and thank you so much for going to this dark place and writing this book. I understood Diane's need to put it aside, but I could barely stand to do so. I read it through in two days and I have it for another 12 days from the library, so I might just take the next two days and read it again.


message 35: by Laura, "The Tall Woman" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Laura | 2121 comments Mod
Sara
I started at page 1 after reading the very last page. I never do that. I had to see what clues I missed with my first read. I enjoyed your review.


message 36: by Sara, "Ivy Rowe" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara (phantomswife) | 1202 comments Mod
I never do that either, Laura, but my first thought was "I can read this again before it is due". I was so wrapped up in the story and wanting to see what was going to happen I'm also sure there were subtle things I missed.


message 37: by Book Concierge (new)

Book Concierge (tessabookconcierge) | 409 comments I don't have a question but do have a remark. Some years back I had the pleasure of seeing you at a literary luncheon in Memphis, where you read from your (then) just-released Rivers. I was blown away by the excerpt you chose to read, and by your presentation. And I'm happy to say that I have signed first edition of that book as a result!

Congratulations on your continued success. And, thank you for sharing your gift of writing with us, your readers.


message 38: by Michael (new) - added it

Michael Smith Wyndy wrote: "Excellent novel, Michael. Thank you for sharing some of your valuable time with us and especially for ending my nearly three-month reading drought with this book! Also, congratulations and best of ..."

Hi Wyndy. I think the answers to both of these questions just comes down to an impulse. I had no idea the house would begin a conversation with Colburn, or at least have it told that way, until I was there and he was creeping around inside. I just felt really drawn to the parallels between the two and the idea of a house having a life all its own. It was a really moving thing to me.

Same with the end. I didn't know Colburn was gonna say it until he said it. All I know is I was imagining a man at the very end of his rope who had lived a trouble life, and wondered what may be going through his mind. That came out.


message 39: by Michael (last edited Jun 25, 2020 07:20AM) (new) - added it

Michael Smith Tina wrote: "Michael, I was blown away by Blackwood and have been sitting on it for days thinking about writing my review and how to properly do it justice. I cannot wait to see Blackwood on the big screen. The..."

Hey Tina. Yeah, I've been involved with cast lists and the such. It's been nice to have input. I can say that we have the lead for The Fighter, just can't announce it yet, but I'm thrilled and think he is going to kill it. It's hard sometimes to try and put faces on the characters that have lived very specifically in my head for so long. It's one of those things when you kinda know the person when you see them. But all the producers and directors have been great about getting my input.

And thanks for such kind words for Blackwood.


message 40: by Michael (new) - added it

Michael Smith LeAnne: wrote: "Hey, Mike. My crew from Tylertown and McComb say hi. I know you used to be a professor over in Columbus. Any chance you've thought about picking up a class at Ole Miss? There's so much complexity i..."

Hey LeAnne. My goal is to get out of teaching, not into it at another place. There's plenty enough complexity to go around.


message 41: by Michael (new) - added it

Michael Smith LeAnne: wrote: "And for “Nick,” are you going to give us as fantastic a bad guy as Darryl in Desperation Road? His mounting anger at the world and with himself entirely knocked that book into the stratosphere for ..."

I think you mean Larry, right? NICK has plenty of everything. I mean, it has Germans in WWI. They're pretty bad guys.


message 42: by Michael (new) - added it

Michael Smith Laura wrote: "Michael
I kept getting this strong pull to the phrase or word “hands, hands of strangers, multitude of hands, invisible hands” Your novella which I think has one of the most moving scenes I’ve eve..."


Probably. I find myself returning to that phrase sometimes. I think in all of my novels I've either used a previous title or a previous former title at some point. Kinda sneaky, I guess. But I like the moment of reflection. And no, I'm not telling you the former titles.


message 43: by Michael (new) - added it

Michael Smith Sara wrote: "Just completed reading and still shaking a bit. Thank you so much for answering all these questions and giving us a glimpse into your thought process and thank you so much for going to this dark pl..."

Thanks very much, Sara. I've heard it both ways. Can't stop and had to stop. I'm glad it grabbed you this way.


message 44: by Michael (new) - added it

Michael Smith Sara wrote: "I never do that either, Laura, but my first thought was "I can read this again before it is due". I was so wrapped up in the story and wanting to see what was going to happen I'm also sure there we..."

Hope it's just as good, if not better, the second time.


message 45: by Michael (new) - added it

Michael Smith Book Concierge wrote: "I don't have a question but do have a remark. Some years back I had the pleasure of seeing you at a literary luncheon in Memphis, where you read from your (then) just-released [book:Rivers|16130400..."

Thanks very much. That was a fun event. And a big event. I remember having to drink a couple of mimosas to get up in front of that huge crowd.


message 46: by Book Concierge (new)

Book Concierge (tessabookconcierge) | 409 comments Michael wrote: "Thanks very much. That was a fun event. And a big event. I remember having to drink a couple of mimosas to get up in front of that huge crowd...."

It WAS a huge crowd ... the large ballroom was completely full. Had to be about 400+ people. You did great!


message 47: by Sara, "Ivy Rowe" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara (phantomswife) | 1202 comments Mod
Read it through the second time. Truly tremendous writing, Michael. This copy must go back to the library, and I have asked them to please purchase The Fighter and Desperation Road so that I can catch up on all the fun! Thanks so much for coming to answer questions. Hope your exciting career continues.


message 48: by Michael (new) - added it

Michael Smith Thanks everyone, enjoyed chatting. Hope you all stay safe and healthy wherever you are. Until next time...


message 49: by Tom, "Big Daddy" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tom Mathews | 2646 comments Mod
As always, it has been a real pleasure having you join us. Only part of that is from the knowledge that we get to read another one of your books.


message 50: by Connie (last edited Jul 17, 2020 06:55PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Connie G (connie_g) | 450 comments The Guardian has an interesting article about Michael Farris Smith's new book Nick Nick by Michael Farris Smith that will be released a few days after the US copyright expires for The Great Gatsby The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald on 1/1/21.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/202...


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