Please help me welcome Michael D. Smith with an interesting interview and a new book!
Hello, Michael. Please tell us a little about yourself, where are you from? Where do you live now? Family? Pets?
I was raised in the Northeast and the Chicago area, then moved to Texas to attend Rice University, where I began developing as a writer and visual artist. I’ve recently been writing science fiction with a mix of literary and space opera aspects; my literary novels in turn have science fiction or absurdist elements. I’m married to Nancy Remp Smith and we have seven cats, two of whom have a time share arrangement for sitting on my lap as I write. My day job is that of Technology Librarian for McKinney Public Library in McKinney, Texas. Over the years I’ve done extensive programming for adults, including book talks and author presentations, and have marketed libraries through presentations and contacts with local media. I’m currently hosting a monthly Writers’ Exchange group at my library, where participants discuss editing, publishing, and marketing.
Where did you get the idea for CommWealth?
CommWealth came from a long and involved three-part dream, and the novel fleshes out of the first part, in which our supercilious antihero Allan demonstrates his easy adaptation to the new property-less society as he requests every object that strikes his fancy and then hauls it all back to the mansion he booted someone out of. The dream’s second part, in which Allan is “requested” to work in Australia and becomes part of a murder mystery, and the third, where he returns to America shattered and in need of spiritual regeneration, weren’t used, but I’ve always considered that their energy is present in the novel, adding depth to the characters’ motivations.
Why did you choose this genre (is it something you’ve written in before)?
The dream demanded a semi-realistic dystopia, no weird science fiction technology or future setting, and I wanted the book to have a literary element; some of my books are more purely literary, and I felt I needed this genre to explore the characters. Though CommWealth was fated to be a black humor dystopia, a “what if there were no property” plot that practically wrote itself, I also wanted to highlight the usual range of human romance, fear, and courage, as well as the shadow aspects of the self. I’ve always thought of the characters in CommWealth as an ensemble cast in a movie, where accomplished actors divide the plot between them and no one actor has the lead role. The ensemble concept is apt for this novel, in which these characters form the core of the Forensic Squad theatrical troupe.
Was there anything unusual, any anecdote about this book, the characters, title, process, etc, you’d like to share?
The original title was so obviously Property that I was attached to it for a long time–until I saw a novel in a bookstore called Property. That got me to musing about the commonality of titles used for novels, especially bestsellers, and I decided I would make all my novel titles as unique as possible. So CommWealth, the name of the benevolently authoritarian state running the new property-less society, became the final title. Meanwhile I embarked on some quick research about commonly-used novel titles which I put into a blog post; at the time I counted thirty-four published novels titled Flashpoint, for instance. It’s mystifying to me, but also amusing, that big-name authors resort to such commonly used titles.
What is the most difficult thing about writing a book?
The most difficult thing for me is the time constraint, as I often have to subsist on short writing sessions before and after work. However, I’ve noticed in many cases that as I near the time I need to leave for work I often come up with unexpectedly concise chapter endings. I might see that I have ten minutes before I need to wrap things up and I’m confronting three pages of notes that might stretch to ten pages of fiction, yet somehow it now occurs to me that all those notes are superfluous, that naturally Character X would do this and then that in the next few seconds and this is a perfect ending for that chapter. This has happened so often that I wonder if I haven’t unconsciously set this up.
Another difficulty is the uncomfortable sense of confusion and doubt arising when a new novel starts gestating as vague ideas, scattered notes, and a blunt yearning for fiction. But while the process is often painful and sometimes seems hopeless, I can’t really denigrate any of it because the power underneath all that seems destined to lead to some important investigations, no matter how the final manuscript turns out.
What was the most difficult thing about this one in particular?
Possibly because of the force and novelty of the dream, this particular novel flowed fairly easily. It’s seen numerous drafts but there was never a point where the entire plot was in disarray, as I’ve had with several other novels. Every once in a while you’re blessed with a fairly straightforward writing experience, and this was one.
Are there any tricks, habits or superstitions you have when creating a story?
If there’s one thing I’ve discovered about writing, it’s that the methods I used to create the previous novel don’t work for the next one. Various schemes for sorting notes on notecards and rearranging them across a large table have sometimes sparked amazing insight and at other times … have wasted hours on non-starter ideas. Assembling every dream or interesting idea I’ve written on scraps on paper over the past two years into a hundred-page, single spaced Word document of notes … sometimes leads to inspiration, sometimes leads to wasted weeks of “organizing nothing.” The method really doesn’t matter, I guess, as long as you stay with that yearning for fiction and allow “something” to “come together” at “the right time.”
I prefer to work in the morning, especially for rough draft work, as I’m freshest then. A session of two to three hours is ideal. All other writing takes place in the evening after work. I always have ideas cooking and I plan each writing day by what project appeals to me, which one has the most energy resonance. I write just about every day.
What do you want readers to come away with after they read CommWealth?
Even though CommWealth posits a farcical dystopia, there’s much in the way of human friendship and human betrayal, true romance as well as confused lust, to distract these characters as they try to navigate their treacherous property-less society. After all, some theater troupe members see the opposite sex as property to be demanded, whether they’re conscious of that fact or not. The novel can surprise you as it veers between farce and bitter tragedy.
Would you rather have a bad review or no review?
I’d rather have a bad review as long as it wasn’t the only one on Amazon! A ratio of seventy-five positive reviews to one negative review would be fine with me. 🙂
What genre have you never written that you’d like to write?
If it were fiction, I would say a mystery novel. I really haven’t read much in that genre, but I’m fascinated by the intricate structure that must be conceived and executed to get the satisfying final result. And a mystery can also be a literary novel; consider that there’s a murder mystery aspect of The Brothers Karamazov. The genre I don’t work in that truly impresses me isn’t fiction, but well-written biography or nonfiction. I can’t comprehend how some nonfiction authors can so brilliantly integrate long, intense research into fascinating, novel-like books on science or history. I wonder if I would have the diligence for that sort of research and writing. Probably the nearest thing for a novelist would be a historical novel.
Your most prized material possession? Why?
This may not be the most prized possession, as we all have a hundred thousand objects to keep track of, but what immediately leaps to mind is my 1940’s Royal Portable DeLuxe typewriter. I sometimes use it to bang out early novel notes. If any prove useful I’ve found I can scan and OCR the results.
Have you written any other books that are not published?
I’m starting my seventeenth novel now, and I’m proud that eight of the first sixteen have been published, along with a novella and a picture book. Of the remaining eight novels, I’m seeking to publish another two (literary/absurd again), but I’ve accepted that six of my novel experiments should never be published.
Are your characters based off real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?
My goal is a measure of respect and fairness to all characters, as if they were all characters in a Shakespeare play with their special moment on the stage. I want to see all aspects of their personalities as objectively as possible. So I hope I’m creating characters that are not based on real people, or people in my life, but that represent universal human forces. It’s too easy, for instance, to base a character on someone you dislike (who becomes a shadow aspect of yourself you can’t deal with), then pour a lot of bile onto him or her and never really get to the core of the character.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
The concept of property touches us all in deep psychological ways we often don’t want to think about. Just think about “your toothbrush,” for example. The exaggerated ideas in CommWealth nevertheless encompass real ethical concerns. Beneath the apparent farce of the story is this laundry list of realities: theft, greed, dishonesty, cheating, unconsciousness, cowering, power-lust, political intrigue, sexual manipulations, envy, demands for pity, guilt trips, revolution, and above all, the thwarted need for privacy.
How did your interest in writing originate?
1950’s Grade B science fiction movies got me started in the second grade. Then fifth grade assignments to write short stories, based on the current week’s list of a dozen new words to master, really sparked an upsurge in creativity. But in high school the movie 2001 floored me and inspired me to take writing much more seriously than I had before.
Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
My favorite author/book is probably Franz Kafka and The Trial, which I’ve read several times and have also listened to as an audiobook. The fact that Kafka is more and more regarded as a humorist (especially in Europe) resonates deeply. His biographer Max Brod recounts scenes of Kafka laughing as he reads portions of The Trial to a literary group, whose members are also finding the book deliriously funny. To me there’s a psychological dimension of this humor that goes far beyond what we might now call “black comedy.”
About the Author:
Michael D. Smith was raised in the Northeast and the Chicago area, before moving to Texas to attend Rice University, where he began developing as a writer and visual artist. In addition to exhibiting and selling paintings and drawings, he’s completed fifteen novels.
Smith’s writing in both mainstream and science fiction genres uses humor to investigate psychological themes. On his blog, he explores art and writing processes, and his web site contains further examples of his writing and art. He is currently Technology Librarian for McKinney Public Library in McKinney, Texas.
CommWealth is his first novel published by Class Act Books.
Find out more about Michael at:
Website: , www.sortmind.com,
Blog: www. http://blog.sortmind.com/wordpress/
The CommWealth system, has created a society in which there is no legal claim to any kind of private property. Any object from your house to the clothes you’re wearing can be demanded by anyone, to be enjoyed for thirty days before someone else can request it. As actors in the Forensic Squad theatrical troupe attempt to adapt to this chaos, their breaking of the Four Rules sustaining the system, as several members navigate betrayals, double agents, and murder to find themselves leading a suicidal revolution.
Rule One – You are free to enjoy the chosen object for thirty days. During this period no other person may request it.
Rule Two – The requestor is untouchable for thirty days by the person asked. Attempts at retaliation, such as demanding unusually large quantities from the original requestor after the thirty-day period, carry stiff penalties.
Rule Three – Once you ask somebody for something, you can never ask him or her for anything else again.
Rule Four – You can never ask for the same thing back from the person who got it from you, not even after his or her thirty days of enjoyment.
Allan shivered at the reflection of his black overcoat and his striding legs on the wet sidewalk. Up ahead someone with a DreamPiston Electronics bag opened a shiny red
Porsche glistening with thousands of water beads.
“Okay,” Allan said, “I’ll take your car.”
The mustached little twerp looked up. “Ahhh, crap…”
“C’mon, don’t give me any trouble. Gimme the key.”
“Look, it’s raining. And I just got these MP3 players and the new Fappy tablet—”
“Not my problem. Fork the key over.”
“Look, my umbrella’s in the car—can I just get my umbrella so my stuff—”
“Forget it. The umbrella’s part of the car as far as I’m concerned. Anything in the car. Besides, I just lost my umbrella a couple blocks back. I’m soaked.”
“C’mon, I just got this car the other day!”
“Don’t hand me that. The sticker on the plate says you got it a month and a half ago. You’re overdue, buddy. Now hand me the key.”
“Got trouble there?” A bright blue City of Linstar police car idled in the rain. “Got a Hoarder there?” a huge officer grinned.
“Uh, no… not at all…” said the twerp. “I just—I just can’t find the key—”
“Yeah, right—you just unlocked the damn car with it,” Allan said, turning to the policeman. “He is giving me a lot of crap about it.”
“C’mon, sir, you know better than that.” The officer’s name tag read BARCLAY.
The twerp snarled. He separated the Porsche key off his key ring, thrust it at Allan, then spun around and fastened on a man coming down the sidewalk. “Give me that umbrella! Right now!”
The man grunted, surrendering his umbrella to the twerp, who grabbed it and hoisted it above his DreamPiston bag.
“We really got the Christmas spirit here, don’t we?” Barclay said.
“Really,” Allan said. “Some people…” He examined the Porsche key in the rain. “Thanks for your help, officer.”
“Oh, I’m sure it wasn’t really necessary. People are basically good, you know. Give ’em time to adjust and all, that’s what I say.”
The twerp leapt into traffic with his new umbrella and his bag, waving his free arm. A little green car skidded to a halt. The twerp ran to the window and pounded on it. “Give me this car! Right now!”
Barclay was out of his patrol car in a second, hand on his hand on his holster. “Sir, that’s not the right way to go about it. We need to be respectful. That’s the CommWealth way.”
CommWealth is available at: