Sherwood Smith was a writer I discovered soon after I sold goose girl as a young adult book and wanted to see what else was out there in that genre. I was perusing my library's YA section and was drawn to Crown Duel just by the cover. And loved it. And had to go back to the library immediately (like in a hurry just as it was closing) to get the sequel, Court Duel. These are a fun duet of fantasy novels that you'll rip through and utterly enjoy, and she's written many others including the popular Wren series. Let's meet the lady of the week!
Me: What did you think being a writer would be like when you were younger? How is the reality different?
SS: I never thought that what I was doing (stories and drawings about another world) was the same as "being a writer." In other words, the books I loved to check out of the library (I was, and am, a voracious reader, beginning a book-a-day habit at age eight, and continuing that all my life--except when Real Life interferes) all came about by god-like grownups, which had nothing to do with my little messes that adults thought a waste of time and worthy only of the trash. At thirteen I began typing up, and sending out, novels written as a compromise between what I figured "they" would publish, and what I really wanted to read. My motivation was because by then the careers for women--excuse me, ladies--were firmly directed toward housewife, nurse, teacher, or secretary, and I did not want to be ANY of those. By then I'd discovered that books were written by actual human beings, so, why not me? I thought published authors had it made in the shade--I could own a big house full of rescue animals, where friends could stay, and I could write and never have to wear shoes again. As if!
So my mom let me have her old manual typewriter, and I saved my babysitting money (fifty cents an hour!) for postage. There was a lot I didn't know, including how to rewrite, so I didn't actually sell anything until I was in my mid-thirties. In between i did many things, like live in Europe, work some horrific jobs and some cool ones, get married, have a kid. We decided I would stay home for our first child's early years, but as soon as she started school I had to get a job. So I had those five years to try to sell something. Well, the irony is I did sell something the very year she began kindergarten--but the reality of advances (very modest money paid in increments over very long waits) meant I had to get the full time job anyway, and that meant getting up at four a.m. in order to get those three precious writing hours each day, from four to seven. The rest of the day I was teacher, wife, and mom.
I read Crown Duel and Court Duel as separate hard covers, and in paperback they're combined. Could you tell us how that came about?
I mentioned above writing what I thought "they" would accept, and what I loved. How I tried to find a compromise. When I was 17, I got the idea for Wren, and blithely began writing it. I decided I would make a world, not discover one, like S-d. When I write an S-d story, it "feels" like I'm a watcher at the window. I can't change anything that happened any more than I can willfully make myself younger or change our bank account from disagreeable and ongoing debt into comfortable wealth. It just is, and all I can change is how I write about the events. This new world would be fun, and it also would not break the "rules" I perceived in children's literature at the time.
See, in those days, you didn't have fantasy stories for kids in which kids from this world could go Over There and stay;. They always had to come back, grow up, etc. Or, the ending I loathed with intense passion, they were enchanted to forget all their wonderful adventures, or to think "it was all just a dream." Bleccch! The stories also had to be very short (mine tended to be long).
Sooo…anyway, I sent Wren out, it almost sold, thank goodness it didn't, I put it away, tried it again in my mid-thirties when my first child was old enough for school.
I was going to finish the four Wren novels as I'd envisioned them all those years ago, but about the time I was finishing the third Wren book I thought it might be fun to just try one of the S-d stories--see if anyone would possibly like them. Try one "in disguise." So I picked one out of the main story-line that could stand on its own, typed it up one summer, and changed little details--which was easy, since I'd used S-d for a model for Wren's world, which was kinda "S-d lite." Like Eidervaen was in Wren's world Erev-li-Erval. Easy changes. The Hill Folk existed in both worlds, so no problem there. Gave it a title (few of the handwritten ones have titles; this one was just "Mel's story in Remalna") and sent it in to my editor.
Well, it worked. But the editor wanted it split into two (those rules were still in effect, one of which was "YAs won't read long books") and I left out the Flauvic scene to keep it more G than PG.
Crown Duel turned out to be far more popular than the Wren stories, so for the Firebirds edition of Crown Duel I changed everything back to the way it was supposed to be. Including putting it together back as one book.
Can you tell us one of the best things you've ever heard from a fan?
Oh, easily the best things are the enthusiasm, the questions about the stories beyond the story.
Do people in your neighborhood know your profession? How do acquaintances react when they learn what you do?
Few know, and most are indifferent, sometimes faintly hostile or derisive. You have to remember I live in Southern California where it seems that every third person wants to be something in the film industry. Saying "I'm a writer" in this town probably translates in other towns out to be "I'm a pretentious slacker." The first question after is usually "What have you done?" and following that I usually hear, "I've never heard of you" or "Ohhhh, Children's stories," in a voice like "There's a worm in my salad." So I seldom mention writing. The only neighbor who knows, for example, is the one who is an actress.
If you could do something outrageous, dangerous, or crazy without any ill consequences for anyone, what would it be?
I've already done all three, and outrageous, dangerous, or crazy aren't the same in real life as they are in film! Though outrageous is still possible. Someone made the mistake of daring me to do the Chicken Dance once. of course I did it! Buck-a-buck squauuuwk! Squawk!
Thank you, Sherwood! Here's to many more productive years as pretentious slackers!