Authors of Note: Frederick L. Smith talks Happy or Happily Ever After

It always a pleasure to catch up with authors that I’d interviewed in the past and to become re-acquainted with that person’s work. Often times I am amazed to see the progression that has taken place from a creative writing, personal and some in cases educational perspective.  I am happy to present Frederick L. Smith and his book, Busy Aint The Half of It  forthcoming from Bold Strokes Books.  Smith co-authored this book with his good friend Chaz Lamar Cruz. “The book follows the journey of Elijah Golden and Justice Monroe, who are two black men living in Los Angeles, trying to find a way to have their way to happy or happily ever after,” said Smith.  

Smith discussed his partnership with Cruz, his return to writing fiction after taking short hiatus to pursue academia ventures and what’s next.

PrideIndex (PI): Fred it is a pleasure to talk to you once again and become acquainted with you. How are you?

Fred Smith (FS): I’m wonderful. Good to talk to you again.

PI: The first time we became acquainted was years ago. It was for the Esteem Awards, you actually donated two of your books to our raffle, which I was grateful to receive.

FS: Absolutely. It’s been a long time.

PI: I need to apologize for not talking to you a little bit more. I’m just looking at all the books you have written. Damn there have been a few.

FS: That’s all good. Yeah, it’s been a few. (Laughs.)

PI: The first one I want to talk about is the new one that’s coming out next month. I guess we’ll have to ‘say spoiler alert’ or you won’t give away too much.

FS: Absolutely. The new novel is called Busy Aint The Half of It. It’s co-authored with my good friend Chaz Lamar Cruz. The book follows the journey of Elijah Golden and Justice Monroe, who are two black men living in Los Angeles, trying to find a way to have their way to happy or happily ever after. Elijah Golden is the nephew. He’s an actor. He auditions by day by night, works five different jobs and divorced. Justin Monroe is a single father with teenage twins. He’s also a TV journalist, an anchorman in LA.  Something happens with his physician and he’s no longer in the public eye. And so after a recent divorce from his wife he wants to explore a part of his sexuality, his fluidity that he hasn’t had a chance to explore. It’s a romance, it covers family dynamics, and being the first in a family to achieve something. It follows a relationship that is trying to hold together and a relationship that’s emerging. And what I really like about this novel is that it really speaks to the supportive roles that families can play in supporting each other around genders and sexualities. I love this relationship between Uncle Justin and Nephew Alijah. I think it models what so many of us want and aspire in terms of having a family member who will support us, both financially and mentally in terms of just trying to keep us together in our lives. So that’s a little bit about Busy Aint The Half of It. It comes out on August 10. And we are really excited about it.

Chaz and Fred Photo Credit: Daryl Shorter

PI: As I listen to you describe the book with that sort of detail it’s kind of hard to believe that it is fiction. It almost sounds like it could been based off somebody’s life or at least loosely based off someone’s experience.

FS:  It’s all fiction.  And that’s the fun part about that is that it’s 100% fiction, just like all my novels are, and but the fun part about writing fiction is that, fiction, both is, an imaginary story and a tale that authors, creates in terms of roles and characters. But it also can, can be aspirational in terms of what people want, or need or look for in their lives and everything. But there’s a fiction, its romance. And we’re very excited about it.

PI: Okay, you said we’re, and I’m assuming that that we’re is yourself, as well as Chaz Lamar Cruz. Tell us about your partnership. And how did that come to be?

FS: Chaz and I have written is our second novel we’ve written together. In 2019, our novel, In Case You Forgot came out. Chaz and I have known each other for years as friends and colleagues. And about two and a half years ago, when I was thinking about getting back into writing fiction, I took a little bit of a break to complete a doctorate degree. And so when I was done with all my academic coursework, I wanted to get back into writing fiction. Chaz has always been a poet and a writer and a spoken word performer. And, for me, I thought, ‘wow, this might be great to kind of thing to bring Chaz along the publishing journey since I was already established with Bold Strokes Books. I thought this would give him an opportunity to get some pub credits under his name, and also learn the process of writing a novel of publishing, and then all the work that happened afterwards, too. And so, for us writing together was just an extension of an already strong friendships. And it extended into the writing process, too. And so it’s been really fun. Co-writing these past two novels. Very different than writing solo, but just as rewarding.

PI: Okay. And know, when you anytime you have a partnership, you did all the differences of opinion exists. How do you get how did you guys resolve some of the differences, or the way you want it to go with the book?

FS: Well, I think the best part about partnerships is that you trust everyone who’s involved in a partnership, in terms of their strengths and what they bring. And so for us, it really was a matter of what we what we decided in terms of our writing is that each one of us would take lead on a particular main character, in terms of the writing. And we would each trust each other in terms of where we took the character, and the story, and where we left off. And then when we get back to the document, we saw where the previous person had left off, we would just pick up with, our character and the next parts of the story and everything. And so it was actually really easy. And fun writing with Chaz. And, I think the other part too, is that, knowing someone for so long, as much as we have, we can really read each other’s thoughts, we understand each other’s writing styles, and we don’t go too far outside of the realm of believability with our writing. So, it was a really good and strong partnership writing together.

PI: Will there be a Smith-Cruz trilogy, if you will?  

FS: what, we are always open to writing together, also open to doing some separate projects, too. And we will see what happens after this project, it’s always a joy working with Chaz. And it’s always a joy working with Bold Stroke Books. So we will see what happens in terms of third.

PI: You’ve just took my segway with regards to Bold Stroke books. How did that relationship come about?

FS: Okay, so, both wrote books is a medium sized midsize publisher in New York. And they’re focused Song quality and diversity in LGBTQ literature. And so back when I had taken a little bit of a hiatus from fiction writing after rice out of the wrong bits, were just my second novel. But I had written a third manuscript, which eventually became play it forward. And I was looking for places to pitch, whether we’re literary agents or publishers, for my third novels, and I submitted a page shared some of my previous publication were some of the awards that I’ve been nominated for. And both books came back with a yes. A few months after my initial pitch and query letter to them. And so since then it’s been a great match as forms of them taking on Play It Forward in 2015. In Case You Forgot In case in 2019, and now Busy Aint The Half of It is coming out in August 2021.

PI: That is outstanding to hear. It sounds like we could possibly see some Lambda Literary Awards nominations or submissions from this?

FS: Well what the denominator nominated or even considered for an award is an honor. We will see what happens with this novel. I have been nominated before and made a finalist for a Lambda Lit Award before my second novel, Right Side of the Wrong Bed was nominated for Best Romance.

PI: And sure, well

FS: I was pleasantly surprised because I was so early in my writing and literary career. And I remember that, man, one of my writer colleagues, Fiona Zedde, she writes black lesbian fiction. She was nominated that year to for two awards. And we went to the award ceremony together and down in West Hollywood? downtown LA that year, and it was a blast, but we will see what happens with VBA to have it for me, it’s about writing a good story, a compelling story, a story that people can relate to something that provides hope and realities. And the awards and rewards will come as they come, but I don’t go into writing, hoping or thinking that that an award or a reward will happen. For me, it’s just about continuing to publish continuing to produce work that can add to the LGBTQ literary canon, so to speak.

PI: Right, Good for you. It’s about putting that quality work out there. And with the awards and accolades will come when they come, but you don’t go to seek them.

FS: Exactly.

PI:  I was surprised to learn that you now reside in San Francisco, because last I thought you were still up in Detroit.

FS: Well,

Detroit was my hometown. That’s where I grew up. Okay, that. Yeah, so that’s my hometown. And all my family’s still in the Midwest. And I have a few relatives. When I was in LA for a while with all my novels, I lived in LA and then just two years ago, I moved up to the Bay area for professional opportunity. And so yeah, now I’m in the San Francisco Bay Area.

PI: I read somewhere that you were that you wrote something that wasn’t fiction, but I believe it was in the academic realm.

FS: Okay, yeah. So, for my doctoral program, I wrote a dissertation and dissertations are like these super long papers, almost like a sizable book. And so yeah, so my dissertation, focused on black women who are advocates for racial justice, gender justice on their college campuses. And, I interviewed and did research around, their work on college campuses and history of like, ethnic studies and cultural centers, and student activism and so Yeah, so that was a dissertation in 2018. And so that was a little bit of that was a little bit of my fiction hiatus because I went back to school for three years.

PI: Oh my god, anytime I hear that word, “dissertation,” or “thesis,” I sortta cringe. I guess this is because I kind of remember having to write long essays in school and the work involved. And I recall having a professor who would let you have it they thought you’d plagiarized. Like how the hell did this professor know? He or she read everything that’s ever been written?

FS: Laughs.

PI: That s not say that I was ever accused of plagiarizing in undergrad. And I recall hearing grad student’s talk about their dissertation. It’s like they transferred their stress over to me.

FS: Yeah. Laughs. Academia can be a challenging beast, it can be a fun beast. But nonetheless, it’s a rigorous process. And, I was pretty lucky in terms of my dissertation chair, Dr. Antonia Darder. She was 100% in my corner from the beginning, and provided me with great critical feedback that I needed to produce the best dissertations thesis possible. I totally hear that, being in any academic program, no matter what level it is, can be a challenge. I had a good time in my program. I’m so grateful that I did it.

Pi: We’re glad to have you back in our fiction realm.

FS: Thank you. I’m to be back, no more school. I still work a day job so now I’m at a point where I can kind of predict my life. My plan is to be a lot more productive with writing, maybe get on a once every two year cycle with something new coming out. As opposed to some of the larger gaps that I’ve had. I’m so much better with time management now. I kind of know my writing flow and what works best with me. I have some great friends in the romance writing community and the black writing community. And so we all keep each other motivated. I hope to be more prolific and out on the scene.

PI: And speaking of being ‘out on the scene’ this book comes out in August, when and where, or how can we get a copy of it? Will you promote it remotely?

FS: It’s currently available for pre-sale or sale on all online platforms, wherever people buy books, or look for books. It will be in most major and independent bookstores as well. In terms of promoting it, we’re still in that 50/50 phase. The pandemic is still here, although some places are opening up. The plan for now is to do a number of virtual events so that people can access them from wherever they are in the country or the world. We will be looking at doing some select in-person events in August and September.

PI: How can I find out information about those virtual events?

FS: I am very active on Twitter, talking about my life and about the book. My twitter handle is fsmith827. My website is  I’m also on Instagram and Facebook. That’s where I’ll be putting most of the events as they come together. We have a great publicist, Ruth Thurman Glass. She is getting those events lined up for us as we speak.

PI: And it’s wonderful to hear that. So what’s next?

FS: Well, I always have ideas percolating for what’s going to come next in terms of my new novels. What’s next for me is writing even more novels. Also it is serving as a leader and role model in higher education, which is my day job serving as a supporter and cheerleader of students and student success. And making sure that I do what I can to motivate people to get their stories down on paper too. So I think that’s so important for all of us to write, create, leave something behind, or something that people can look to for aspiration, inspiration, etc.