Authors of Note: Frederick Smith Re-Published From Spring 2006 Photo Credit: Ibarionex Perello
PRIDEINDEX: Please describe your current or most recent project. Include a brief overview, your motivation for the project, and any notable challenges you encountered.
FRED SMITH: “Down For Whatever” follows four best friends in Los Angeles — 2 black, 2 Latino, all gay — and their quest for love and happiness in the City of Angels. It was published in July 2005 on Kensington Books. The most notable challenge I had was getting a literary agent to represent me and my work. That’s hard for every writer. But once I was picked up by an agent, finding a publisher was very easy.
My newest book is called “Right Side of the Wrong Bed,” will be published in Fall 2007. Picture a couple that’s mismatched in pretty much every category you can think of — backgrounds, education, age, experience, etc…– and despite those apparent differences, and warnings from friends and family, still manage to make it work… or do they? There’s a more detailed summary on my blog www.simplyfredsmith.blogspot.com or www.myspace.com/fredericksmith (Yeah, I gave in to peer pressure and started an official MySpace page.)
PRIDEINDEX: What is your earliest memory of being a writer? When were you first published; under what circumstances?
FRED SMITH: My first published work (poem/story) was called “Where Oh Where Is Valerie?” The Detroit Public Schools used to sponsor The Young Writer Contests and publish an anthology of the winners for each school by age group. I still have a few of the anthologies of my young writer days. It’s amazing that a public school system would support the arts like that. That’s not too common today.
PRIDEINDEX: How do you identify and nurture ideas for new projects?
FRED SMITH: My ideas come from questions and observations I have about the Choices people make. Sometimes I look at the way people interact in various situations, and I think about the story possibilities. I also consider myself socially and politically conscious and aware, and I always want to look at how the “isms” shape and influence the way fictional characters interact with each other.
PRIDEINDEX: Please describe 1-3 authors/writers/performers that have influenced your artistic style?
FRED SMITH: 1. E. Lynn Harris, because his first two novels, Invisible Life and Just As I Am, were the first that spoke to my life experiences and made me feel like the stories of black LGBT folks mattered to society.
2. Terry McMillan, for the same reasons as E. Lynn Harris. Though her novels center on women, many of the experiences I could identify with. And with her being the godmother, so to speak, of contemporary black fiction and opening doors for so many of us, I can’t help but look up to her role for all black writers today.
3. Alisa Valdes Rodriguez, because she infuses messages of social justice in her very pop culture novels, but does it in a way without preaching or boring you. Love the sarcasm and voice of her characters, and her writing is very smooth and witty.
J. California Cooper and Terry McMillan are two writers whose literary styles and stories I enjoy a lot. J. California Cooper has a folksy “tell it like it is” kind of style with her characters and writing — almost a mother wit — and tons of life lessons. Terry McMillan has a keen eye for dialogue and details that make her characters seem like they’re sitting right next to you telling you a secret. Terry McMillan’s success in the early 90s, along with E. Lynn Harris’ initial success, made me believe that it was possible for black writers to have commercial success with their writing. They made me believe I could be a published writer one day.
PRIDEINDEX: What 2 books and 2 CDs should everyone own?
FRED SMITH: Books: 1) Erasure by Percival Everett; 2) Family by J. California Cooper.
CDs: 1) The Best of Sade; 2) The Best of Anita Baker
PRIDEINDEX: Do you believe LGBT authors have an obligation to the LGBT community? Why or why not?
FRED SMITH: LGBT authors have a responsibility to present our community honestly — both the good and the challenging aspects — in the work they create. But I don’t think there’s one set way of life, mold, or formula that LGBT authors or characters have to fit. That’s the cool part about being human… that we are allowed to be individuals within a community. I do think LGBT authors need to look at their work, however, as something that could potentially role model to younger LGBT people. That role modeling and teaching aspect is important for us to think about, but it shouldn’t turn our novels into textbooks or self-help books either. We just have to be conscious of the way our work can be perceived by young LGBT people who might come across our work.
I believe LGBT authors have an obligation to tell the truth in their stories at they see it — to share the good and the bad in a balanced way. I believe we all serve as role models, whether we embrace the title or not, because young people watch us and are always looking for someone to be like. If we can inspire and make young people feel good about their lives and their futures — just by being who we are or through our writing — we should be thankful for the opportunity to provide that inspiration.
PRIDEINDEX: What is the biggest misconception about you and/or your work?
FRED SMITH: Good question. I think people are surprised to learn that I’m a pretty quiet and laid back person, that I’m not a Rafael (the sexually promiscuous character in “Down For Whatever”) or a Keith (always pontificating on race and ethnicity in “Down For Whatever”). A lot of people think the characters are a replica of the writer’s life, and that’s not a hundred percent the case for me. I think because there are a couple of mixed-race couples in my books, particularly between black and Latino characters, people think that I’m not into black-on-black love. Let me set the record straight on that one… I love black men and love black-on-black love. No question or doubt about that. In L.A., we observe a lot of interracial dating between people of color in the LGBT community, and I just try to some extent to reflect that in my novels.
I think people wonder if I’m a serious person, a shallow person, or somewhere in between. I fully embrace the socially-conscious side of myself, but also the pop culture-loving side of myself. So I think that can throw some people off. Overall, I’m very friendly, approachable, and mannerable, and if my parents ever heard I was behaving otherwise, they’d definitely call me to task.
PRIDEINDEX: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
FRED SMITH: I want aspiring writers to write whenever they get the chance, and to find a community of writers in their areas to meet and share their work with. Also, I would advise them to read as much as possible, and as many different types of books and articles as possible. It surprises me when I talk to people who aspire to be authors, and they tell me they don’t read. I definitely think my parents’ rule that I read a book a week as a child fed my love of reading… and writing.
When it comes time to consider submitting your novel or short stories to an agent and publisher, you’ve got to make sure that your work is 100% ready to be sent, no mistakes, no glaring plot holes, no boring pontificating. Agents and publishers get hundreds of submissions every week, and you get one shot to wow them. In fact, you’ve got to wow their assistants first, because they screen work before it gets to the agent or editor at a publisher. I’ve heard that many publishing professionals operate on a five-page rule, or some a one-page rule, meaning that if the story doesn’t move them in that number of pages, they won’t read on. This pertains to fiction. So you’ve got to make sure that your story, action, or conflict starts within the first couple pages. And then if you’re aspiring to be published, you’ve got to think about how you’re going to market and sell your project once it’s published. Publishing professionals like their authors to be very active in marketing their books.
Food: Southern/Soul and Thai
Drink: Mojito (alcoholic); Pepsi Jazz Strawberry (non-alcoholic)
Movie: The Color Purple; Run Lola Run
Singer/performer: Whitney Houston; Diana Ross