Today, we welcome paranormal/dystopian fiction writer, Brenda Marie Smith to Novels Alive to answer a few of our questions. Welcome, Brenda!
Thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here. I love your thought-provoking questions.
What drives your story forward in your books the most, the characters or the plot, or do you feel they are intertwined?
I do feel that plot and character are intertwined. Events take place in a story, but what makes them interesting is the characters and what they have at stake. That’s the source of the drama. For this novel, If Darkness Takes Us, and its standalone sequel, If the Light Escapes, which comes out this August 24th, the characters drive the stories, and the plot arises from their personalities and situations.
If you were a character in one of your books, which would you be? The hero/heroine, mentor, villain, love interest, etc.?
So far, I’ve always written from the perspective of the hero, whether male or female. In If Darkness, the hero is seventy-year-old Bea Crenshaw, and she is a lot like me: old, for one, but a little older than I am; worried about environmental and societal collapse; the matron of a large step-family with five grown kids and some grandkids. Bea thinks a lot like I do, only she is more reserved and polite, and also much more secretive. I can only hope that, if I ever find myself in a dire situation similar to the one that Bea is in, I could be half as heroic as she is. She is also a mentor, not only to her grandkids but to her neighbors as well. I’m very much a mentor as well.
Do people you know end up as characters in your book? Be honest…
Not whole people, but the traits of certain people. Mostly I mix up traits from a lot of people and also invent new ones. But there are a few exceptions. My husband Doug has been the role model for two love interests in my stories—Jack Jeffers in If Darkness, though Jack doesn’t look like my husband at all. But he has Doug’s wisdom, practicality, and big heart. A younger version of Doug can be found in Johnny Trahan, the love interest in my first novel, Something Radiates, a paranormal romantic thriller. For the villain in that novel, I took the worst aspects of my two ex-husbands, smooshed them together, added supernatural abilities, and ramped them into overdrive. Direct quotes from each of my exes come out of the villain’s mouth. That was especially fun when the villain gets his comeuppance in the end.
If you could meet a literary character, who would you most like to meet?
Offred in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. I would comfort her and ask where she finds the strength to endure the hardships she has to live with. I’d also like to meet Iris Chase in Atwood’s The Blind Assassin, an intriguing elder woman full of secrets with a tale to tell. Or maybe I should just meet Margaret Atwood. If only…
Was there something in your first edit that didn’t make it in the final copy?
There was a lot of rambling narrative. In early drafts, I tend to overwrite until I find my footing, then I go back and trim things, sometimes with a scalpel, other times with a machete. Also, there were a few scenes that I cut in half. And one scene had an argument between the protagonist Bea and her neighbor Sonja that wasn’t working. So, I rewrote the scene, making the argument more intense, but also showing them becoming tentative friends in the end.
What do you do to prepare your mind to write? To get into the mind of your characters?
I do my best writing when I have time to immerse myself in the story and the character’s emotions. To prepare, I often spend a few days taking care of all my personal business so I can carve out time to write without much interruption for a week straight. Then I take another personal day or two, and go at it again. I usually reread at least one if not several previous chapters before I start each writing day. It helps me get back into the rhythm and flow, to recapture the mood.
What book as a child/adolescent most influenced you as a writer?
As a little girl, it would have to be Little House on the Prairie. As an adolescent, far and away it was 1984. I never thought of this until now, but you can see those influences reflected and even combined in If Darkness Takes Us: a dystopian situation in which the characters are isolated and have to struggle to stay alive by farming in an unforgiving climate, scrounging for water, living at the mercy of the weather and outsiders who are bent on causing trouble.
How much research went into your last book?
For both If Darkness Takes Us and If the Light Escapes, a solar electromagnetic pulse has destroyed the grid and modern life in general. The characters are forced to survive without power, phones, cars, running water, and so much more. After If Darkness came out, people kept remarking on how much research I must have done to make the details so authentic. But I didn’t have to research it because I had lived off the grid, on purpose as a lifestyle choice, in the 1970s. I didn’t know then that I was researching a novel I would write forty-five years later. I was busy communing with nature and learning to grow food.
For both books, I did have to research solar pulses, northern lights, and potential shifts in Earth’s magnetic poles. And I had to be sure I got the growing seasons right for various crops in Central Texas. For If the Light, I needed information about something that would be a spoiler to disclose, but let’s just say I was worried I’d get in trouble with the NSA by searching online, so I bought a book, which may or may not have been less suspicious.
What’s one of the most important things you’d like your readers to know about you? What defines you most as an author?
I go out of my way to create stories that are unlike any I’ve ever seen or heard of. Character-driven apocalypses are out there, though fairly rare, but none that I know of have a grandmother for a protagonist, or a married eighteen-year-old boy who’s an urban farmer, as with the sequel. My first novel draws on hippie lore (Timothy Leary, Carlos Castaneda, Carl Jung, Zen Buddhism) to build its paranormal world. I like to create passionate characters who are ordinary people, put them in precarious situations, and watch them face down their fears and find their inner heroism to overcome their obstacles.
What is one thing about you that may surprise your readers?
I already told you that I’m old, and I alluded to being a hippie. My husband and I have five sons between us, two grandkids with a third on the way, and we have been married for 26 years. I mentioned that I have two ex-husbands, and Doug has three ex-wives. We get a lot of razzing about that.
Can you tell us what prompted you to write your latest release?
I wrote If Darkness Takes Us because I wanted to explore what it would be like for a normal American family to suddenly be without its creature comforts and support systems. I also wanted to show how strong grandmothers are crucial to the human family by showcasing the courage and smarts of a particular old woman. I wrote the sequel because Bea’s grandson Keno was so compelling in the first book that I wanted to develop his character further.
What’s next for you? What are you working on now?
I’m plotting the third book in this series, which doesn’t have a title yet. And I am also developing a novel of a different genre altogether, Guru of the Ozarks, which will draw on my time living in the Arkansas woods and also living communally in central Tennessee.
Thank you so much for joining us today and helping us to get to know you better! I’m a little more of a diva. I don’t even like to “tent it,” let alone live off the grid! I applaud your adventurous hippie spirit! I look forward to reading If Darkness Takes Us!
Publication Date: October 15, 2019
In suburban Austin, Texas, Bea Crenshaw secretly prepares 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, running water, or doctors in a world fraught with increasing danger. And deciding whether or not to share food with her starving neighbors puts her morality to the test.
If Darkness Takes Us is realistic post-apocalyptic science-fiction that focuses 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.
The book is available now. It’s sequel, If the Light Escapes, is told in the voice of Bea’s eighteen-year-old grandson, Keno Simms, and will be released by SFK Press on August 24, 2021.
“Bea Crenshaw is one of the most unique characters in modern literature—a kick-ass Grandma who is at once tough and vulnerable, and well-prepared to shepherd her extended family through an EMP disaster, or so she thinks.” —Laura Creedle, Award-winning Author of The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily
Brenda Marie Smith will be awarding a $50 Amazon or Barnes & Noble gift card to a randomly drawn winner via Rafflecopter during the tour.
Brenda Marie Smith lived off the grid for many years in a farming collective where her sons were delivered by midwives. She’s been a community activist, managed student housing co-ops, produced concerts to raise money for causes, done massive quantities of bookkeeping, and raised a small herd of teenage boys.
Brenda is attracted to stories where everyday characters transcend their own limitations to find their inner heroism. She and her husband reside in a grid-connected, solar-powered home in South Austin, Texas. They have more grown kids and grandkids than they can count.
June 28: Our Town Book Reviews
June 28: Rogue’s Angels
June 29: Literary Gold
June 30: Lisa Haselton’s Reviews and Interviews
July 1: Fabulous and Brunette
July 2: The Avid Reader
July 12: Becoming Extraordinary
July 13: Andi’s Book Reviews
July 14: Westveil Publishing
July 15: fundinmental
July 16: All the Ups and Downs
July 19: The Key Of Love
July 20: Linda Nightingale, Author
July 21: Novels Alive
July 22: Long and Short Reviews
July 23: Kit ‘N Kabookle