STEPHANIE SMITH: 25 YEARS AGO, YOUNG PEOPLE HAD A FAR GREATER VOCABULARY
Posted by Ognian Georgiev
Stephanie Smith is our next featured author. She is kind of special, because her profession is to teach others to write and to understand English literature. It’s very useful read for all indie authors, who want to improve their language skills.
– Stephanie, tell us more about your last two novels: Content Burns and Baby Rocket?
– Content Burns is the third novel in the Warpaint Trilogy, Baby Rocket is the second and Warpaint was the first; the novels are connected by friendship and family ties, not by plot, so you don’t have to read them in any order. The WARPAINT trilogy is three intertwined novels, all of which deal with contemporary American women who are struggling to balance art, love, illness and trauma; WARPAINT (2012) is the haunting tale of friendship and rivalry between three women artists, who’ve known each other for years, who must come to terms with imminent mortality and artistic frustration; BABY ROCKET (2013) is the label given to a traumatized, abandoned child who, as an adult, has no memory of this event. She discovers her past when her adoptive father dies, and now, without him, she must piece together the past in a journey that will take her from California to NYC, from Florida to Martha’s Vineyard; CONTENT BURNS (2014) follows two women of the same Puritan name, in the same family but separated by three centuries, both of whom survive historical trauma: the massacre of the Pequot tribe in 1637 and the loss of the Twin Towers on 9/11.
– What is the biggest challenge for you during the write up process of your books?
My job as a Professor of American Literature, and as the Associate Chair of the English department at the University of Florida—it takes up a lot of time.
– How do you find the main characters of your books? Are they some persons from your real life?
– All of my characters are imagined amalgamations of people I have known, or encountered, but the characters ‘reveal’ themselves as the story-line progresses. They invent themselves if you like. And sometimes they surprise me.
– Strange Grace is your next novel; give us some hints about it?
Strange Grace is a departure for me, in that the main character is a man, and a film actor; but that said, he is a character in Content Burns, who decided he needed his own story.
– Who are you?
Stephanie A. Smith took her PhD from Berkeley (1990). Prior to UF, she free-lanced, worked as an editor for Western Imprints, as an assistant at Glamour and Mademoiselle magazines, at David Godine in Boston, and at Representations and is presently a consultant for Feminist Studies. A novelist, she is the author of: The Warpaint Trilogy, Warpaint (2012), Baby Rocket (2013) and Content Burns (2014) (Thames River Press in London); Other Nature (1995), The-Boy-Who-Was-Thrown-Away (1987) and Snow-Eyes (1985) and has won multiple fiction residencies at the Martha’s Vineyard Writer’s Residency in the Noepe Center for the Arts, Hedgebrook, Norcroft, Provincetown and Dorland.
Examining the intersection of science, literature, politics, race and gender, her essays appear in such journals as differences, Criticism, Genders, American Literature and American Literary History. A 1998 Visiting NEH Scholar at UCLA, she is the author of Conceived By Liberty: Maternal Figures and 19th-Century American Literature (Cornell 1995.) Excerpts from her new book, Household Words: bloomers, sucker, bombshell, scab, nigger, cyber (University of Minnesota 2006) appeared in Body Politcs and the Fictional Double and The Cambridge Companion to Women’s Writing. Her essay “Genetics” appears in Glossalalia: An Alphabet of Critical Keywords (University of Edinburgh Press, 2003). Currently, she is finishing a new critical book about aesthetics and the publishing industry in the United States, titled The Muse and The Marketplace, a chapter of which, “Union Blues: Melville’s Poetic In(ter)ventions,” will appear in the Duke journal Genre in 2013; she is also finishing a new novel, Strange Grace, as well as working on several other projects, in both criticism and fiction.
– What are your writing habits?
– Every day for at least two hours, usually in the early morning.
– Are you satisfied by the sales of your books
– No. Unfortunately, my press is very, very small and they have done little to no advertising. But, anyone who has read one of them loves them, so the readers I do reach are enthusiastic.
– What are you doing to promote by the best possible way your book?
– I’m trying anything and everything. Social media, friends, colleagues, local newspaper, libraries; I’m using Poets & Writers, applying to residencies, trying to go to book fairs, and working with independent bookshops. I feel like I’m shouting into a hurricane, though.
– You are a teacher of literature. Do you think that international authors on age 20+ with not so strong English, like me (I am 33), will be able to improve their English language in order to write their stories on English (I used a pro translator of my first book)
– This is hard question to answer because people learn a second or third language at different rates, and with differing levels of success. On the other hand, practice and dedication can work wonders.
– Would you compare the current English language students and those from your generation? Is there some decrease of reading interest among young people?
– Yes, most definitely. When I started teaching 25 years ago, young people had a far greater vocabulary than they do today, and read more. My generation clearly read more than the current generation, and I have seen a significant decline in advanced literacy. People can read, but on a very low level (3rd grade), and resent being encouraged to improve (unlike earlier generations who thought it important to improve). I’m afraid the current social climate in the U.S. is one that values ignorance, for complicated historical reasons that baffle me.
– What kind of advice you may give to all newbie writers who want to improve their writing skills?
– Read. Read. Read. Challenge yourself to read above your current reading level. Analyze the way your favorite writers compose—look at individual sentences, see how they are put together.
Here are the other works of Stephanie Smith:
Household Words: Bloomers, sucker, bombshell, scab, nigger, cyber
The Boy Who Was Thrown Away