Author Interview: Derrick Smythe

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Hey guys, I’m here with another interview (to which I am very, very late posting. Sorry, sorry, sorry to Derrick) I gave his book a 75/100 for SPFBO and in most years that would have made it a semifinalist. This was just a tough year for that score range, a ton of books landed in that area.

So how did you hear about SPFBO, and have you read any entries from this year or years previously? 

I believe I spotted Booknest’s SPFBO review of JA Andrews’ Dragon’s Reach, which I had just listened to and loved. Seeing this, I decided to see what the heck this “SPFBO” was in the first place. By this point, it was too late in the season to enter The Other Magic into SPFBO 6, but I was able to follow most of that year’s cuts and advances.

SPFBO entries I have read aside from Dragon’s Reach include A King’s Bargain by JDL Rosell, Dragon Mage by ML Spencer, The Lost War by Justin Lee Anderson, The Crimson Queen by Alec Hutson, and probably a few others that aren’t surfacing at the moment. There are dozens more I would love to read, but as your reconnaissance has revealed, I have limited available time these days and it has been my reading time that has suffered most of all. About 90% of my book consumption comes from audiobooks so I tend to look for books that have an audio option.

Some people say they can hear their characters in their head and they argue with them, and sometimes the character takes over the story and have minds of their own, do you feel this is true for you? 

I definitely hear my characters speaking as I write, especially now that I have been able to go back and listen to Greg Patmore’s spectacular narration of the audiobook a few times. But even before that, I just imagined someone like Tim Gerard Reynolds reading their lines as I wrote them. Hearing the sound of their voices and the rhythm of their speech helps me smooth out the dialogue as I write and edit. However, my relationship with my characters is pretty one-sided. This is not to say that the characters don’t go rogue on me once in a while, we just don’t really have a back and forth conversation as some authors describe. Perhaps this is because I do not have an internal running monologue in my head like that creepy guy from the show You. That’s just not how my brain works. I visualize the scenes playing out and sometimes as I write them, the most realistic, natural flow of a scene turns out different than how I had originally plotted. In these cases, unless it directly conflicts with a major plot element, I generally allow the changes to stand. Dialogue and action sequences are especially prone to build unexpected momentum. A single phrase coming from a character might illicit a response that I hadn’t planned for and this can have a ripple effect. These scenes often end up being my favorite. Did I answer the question?

What are some hooks that never seem to fail?  Tried and true tropes that get your interest every time?  

I don’t know that I would necessarily point out any hooks or tried and true tropes that never seem to fail. I think any hook/trope can work well if executed properly, or fail miserably if done poorly. As a reader, regardless of the trope/hook, I need to experience a sense of believable tension/danger, and develop some vested interest in the character(s), for good or ill. Sometimes the desire to see a bad guy get what he or she has coming is just as powerful as hoping your favorite character survives their latest trial.

That said, I do have a soft spot for elves, or elf-like beings. Some examples that have worked well for me were Raymond E. Feist’s Eledhel & Moredhel, the dark elves of the Forgotten Realms, and even George R.R. Martin’s “Children of the Forest”, which most would agree are the “elves” of that world. Each time I’ve met beings like these in a story, or they were discussed within one, I wanted to learn more. For me, it’s like learning about an ancient civilization like the Egyptians, Mayas, or Inca. I want to learn everything about how they do what they do. There’s something mysterious and beautiful about ancient civilizations that have been able to do so much with so little and I’m drawn further into any story within which something like this exists.

Congrats on the new baby!! How does one find the time to write with three small children?  

Um…you’re investigative skills are impressive. Thank you! And that’s a great question! My best solution thus far has been to write in the morning before everyone wakes up. I have been blessed with children that are, if nothing else, good at sleeping. With a demanding full-time day job aside from writing, I find that my brain functions best in the wee hours of the morning. This means I wake up at around 4:45 AM and write until about 6:30 AM each and every morning. I started this routine about one month before my first daughter was born out of a fear that if I didn’t carve out some time to write each and every day, I’d never finish my debut novel, The Other Magic. I had just begun my 5th or 6th rewrite, and this new routine significantly improved the quality and output of my writing. I’ve held to this regimen ever since, probably only missing a dozen or so days over the last four years.

May be an image of 2 people, baby and indoor

It lists you as a teacher on FB — so, just how tired are you?  

I would say that I’m generally…Sorry, I fell asleep. What was the question again? Yup, I’m tired. Waking up early to write is great, but by the time I get home from work, my brain feels like it has been stomped on several times. By around 10:00PM I lie down and try to advance as far as I can in whatever print book I happen to be reading at the time. I’m usually lucky if I last five minutes, no matter how good the book might be.

You like wrestling and are a coach!  How long have you been doing that and what got you started? 

I have been involved in the sport of wrestling for almost thirty years now, which saying that now seems entirely impossible. In any event, it’s true. I started wrestling at age six because my older brother decided to give it a try and I guess that was all it took for me to do the same. Wrestling has brought me all over the States as well as Holland, Turkey, Germany, Finland, and Estonia. Having wrestled all through grade school, secondary, and college, I couldn’t imagine not being involved in the sport, and coaching seemed like the natural progression. I coached high school wrestling for a number of years until most recently when I transitioned to the ‘dark side’, officiating. With my writing career beginning to take off, teaching full-time, and three girls under four, officiating allows me to stay connected to the sport that shaped a lot of who I am today without sacrificing the kind of time away from my family that is required to coach a varsity sport.

You guys look outdoorsy, many of your fb pictures are of you and your family out in the woods doing random stuff like archery, having campfires, going for hikes etc.  I also see you’ve liked a ton of parks, Ithaca falls, Taughannock falls, Treman state park, etc. Do you have a favorite park and what’s your favorite view? 

We LOVE hiking and being outside! This world is so beautiful, and my family loves spending time immersed within it. My all-time favorite place to hike and camp is in the Adirondack Mountains. The Saranac Lake Islands State Park has sites that are boat-access-only so it’s very peaceful, and the sites are not all on top of each other. You rarely see another person aside from the passing boat here or there. And my favorite hike, the Ampersand Mountain summit, overlooks these sites. It’s not very tall, but the summit offers a full 360 degree view of the surrounding areas including Upper, Lower, and Middle Saranac Lake. I’ve been to some very beautiful places, but this one will probably always be my favorite.

You’ve tagged a lot of stuff in New Zealand as well, I assume you’ve been there?  What for, and what was your favorite thing about New Zealand? 

New Zealand was one of the major stops on our honeymoon several years back. New Zealand was incredibly beautiful, all of it, but my favorite stop should be no surprise, Hobbiton. Being there in person on this pretty typical New Zealand farm that has been transformed into an entire LOTR experience was as surreal as it gets for a mega LOTR fan like myself.

Any pictures of Magnus? 

 Less photos of Magnus than before we had three children, but he still gets quite plenty of attention, and photobombs his way into a lot more pictures than is intended!

I see you’ve liked the First Law Trilogy.  Abercrombie is known to be a master of grey characters and arcs that are bittersweet. Which character drew you in the most, and why?

Abercrombie’s characters are my envy and Sand dan Glokta most of all. His nonchalant but repetitive mentions of his body being found floating by the docks cracks me up every time. It’s like Abercrombie sandwiched Winnie the Pooh’s Eeyore and Tyrion Lannister into one. At first glance, there’s really little reason to like the guy, but somehow, you don’t just like him, you love him. You root for him no matter what he does. I think when an author can convince readers to empathize with someone who most people would surely dislike if they were to ever meet in real life, they’ve managed to do something special, and Abercrombie nails it with Glokta. Creating characters that are complex, conflicted, and do the unexpected makes for far more interesting stories.

Tell me about book 2!!

Yes. And I can’t tell you how excited I am about this second book in the series. Wait—actually, I can and I will! Feedback has agreed that this second book builds upon everything people liked about The Other Magic. Readers can expect clashes of magic from atop the backs of large, dragon-like creatures, a secret underground city filled with powerful sorceresses, and some artful scheming on the part of my most prized grey character, Grobennar. Oh, and Podium Audio is currently producing the audiobook, which is scheduled for release in March.