Other Roads: Poplar Bluff's Carolyn Smith, Novelist
Carolyn Smith is too funny to fit squarely into the “romance” segment of the publishing world. “The romance genre’s really locked in,” she observes, suddenly clutching her chest and blurting out in mock-horror, “‘Is she drinking a mimosa? Noooooo! It has to be a Bloody Mary!’” Though romantic themes may figure prominently in Smith’s writing, her work involves original plot and narrative choices that defy the traditional bodice-ripping drill. And so her two published novels, Beyond the Lies and Hole in Her Heart, come under the heading of women’s fiction—where sudden death, or building an entire life and family apart from the hunky but unavailable anti-hero, is indeed permitted.
Both of Smith’s novels were published in 2004, and represent triumph at the end of a long trail. Smith, an Anderson, Indiana native, is a retired educator and administrator who specialized in expanding opportunities for physically disabled high school and college students. She had actually grown up writing stories, but with rearing a family while studying for an education degree, then joining the paid work force, she didn’t have a great deal of time for that part of her life. Still, she managed to get a few stories published, which gave her “a little encouragement” in relation to her writing.
Smith eventually established a writing routine around the work day, using the pre-dawn hours at home for creating, and some evening time for editing. On retirement in 2000, she moved to Poplar Bluff to be near grandchildren, and there threw herself into her writing with relish. “Writing is very satisfying,” says Smith, “It’s the only thing I can do and not think of food”.
In time, Smith got plenty of opportunity to develop the writer’s thick skin—in her case, through the cascade of rejections initially weathered by her debut novel, Beyond the Lies, the story of a young woman whose true identity has been willfully obscured by family. Smith tells aspiring writers to toughen up, and also to refrain from pulling too many critics into their circle for manuscript advice. “I have three trusted readers,” she says. “These are people who read…and know that it’s my story. They’re not trying to make it their story.”
With three more novels in the pipeline, Smith is now taking a break to simply enjoy life around her. She spends time with loved ones, works out regularly, reads, and follows Cardinals baseball. After indulging these other passions a bit, she plans to get the marketing machine in gear once more.
A reminder for those tempted to imbue the writer’s craft with undue mystery and magic: Smith says that when she was little, she and a friend were going to pen the Great American Novel, and that they planned to give their heroine the sultry moniker of “Sable Brown”. Stroke of romantic inspiration? Gift of the muses on high? “Actually,” confides Smith, “that was the name on a popular Maybelline product of the time”.
Ah. So that’s how they do it.