I always enjoy talking with writers who have a diverse career because it illustrates just how many different ways you can make money from writing. When I came across Thomas Smith, I knew I had to interview him for that reason, as well as many others. You’ll soon see why I wanted him on this blog – he gives some great advice! Read on and enjoy this interview.
You’ve had quite a diverse writing career, working as a reporter, TV news producer, playwright, comedy writer, and more. Is there a writing job that has been a favorite of yours? Any advice for writers who wish to expand their careers?
Actually being a full time writer is my favorite writing job, It is what I have wanted to do since I was in the third grade. But as far as an outside writing job is concerned, I really enjoyed being a reporter for the Aiken Standard newspaper. It is a mid-sized daily paper in South Carolina and I wrote everything from obituaries to celebrity interviews. I even scooped the Wall Street Journal on a major business story by 24 hours. I was honored to develop a reputation for being fair and accurate. In fact, when one woman accused me of misrepresenting what she said in the course of a nasty takeover bid, her boss jumped to my defense and said, “Hang on, honey. You might not like the fact that what you said hit the paper. But if it shows up in quotation marks under Tom’s byline, you %$@! well said it.” (Yeah, I edited that one a bit)
As for writers expanding their careers, the short answer is write everything you can. I sort of backed into the newspaper career. I am an ordained United Methodist minister and when my wife and I moved to South Carolina (she had been offered a great job opportunity), there were no churches available. So … I went to the newspaper office and talked with the managing editor. I had been freelancing for 5-6 years and had some clips (none hard news), and four months later he hired me. So I would write all day, then come home and write my own stuff. And as I continued to write, more opportunities presented themselves.
I told you all that to say this: The more you write and the more you keep up with market trends and opportunities, the more opportunities you will become aware of. It’s important not to become a one trick pony. Try to write a number of different things. Non-fiction. Fiction. Short stories. Greeting cards. Too many beginning writers equate being a writer with being a novelist, but there is so much more out there. Granted, there’s nothing wrong with writing novels, but most people don’t have the knowledge or experience right out of the chute. Plus, writing the other things gives you a new level of insight into what you will be able to bring to the novels, plays, etc.
You were part of the writing team for Zondervan’s New Men’s Devotional Bible. What a great project to work on! Was there anything you took away from that experience?
It actually gave me a new way of looking at Bible studies. The editor would send me a group of Bible verses to review and write on. Then when I sent those in he would send another batch. It’s one thing to study a passage of scripture. It’s quite another to study it with a specific group in mind. From that experience, I was able to write projects I would not have been ready for otherwise.
Tell us about Something Stirs. Is there a favorite passage you can share?
Something Stirs is one of the first real haunted house novels for the Christian market. There have been some other excellent novels where the action is centered on a house where odd and terrible things happen, but by and large the controlling force is either outside the house, or a person’s sins and failures are magnified by the house. I wanted to write a story about a theologically believable haunted house.
The story centers around Ben Chalmers, his wife, and their daughter. Ben is a successful novelist (writers’ stock character # 103) and because he has been so blessed, he is able to buy the family’s dream house. But because of a satanic ritual only partially performed while the house was under construction, there is a malevolent entity trapped in the wood and stone of the house. And it will do whatever it takes to complete its transference into our world. In the process, the Chalmers family learns about true faith and sacrifice.
From the Something Stirs prologue:
The house looked down on Pike’s Crossing like a headmaster observing a group of unruly schoolchildren. It stood silent, watching the town from the top of Grant’s Ridge through glittering leaded glass eyes.
Errant patches of moonlight played along the roofline, then disappeared. A weather vane, more for decoration than any real purpose, pointed west, then east. In the woods beyond the back yard, nocturnal creatures stirred, scavenging for food and scouting new scents carried on the night air.
A field mouse scurried across the clearing between the woods and the relative safety of the space beneath the deck, its dash for freedom cut short by a sharp-eyed owl. Talons lifted the dying rodent as lightning arced across the flannel sky.
The night groaned in the wake of the coming storm. Rumbles of thunder echoed and died away, replaced by more of the same. The house stood in dark relief against the darker sky, illuminated by sporadic celestial fire.
Hours earlier workmen had collected their tools, climbed into their vehicles, and sped away toward the coming weekend. Soon electricians would come to run the wiring, then the crew would be well on the way to wrapping up the project and handing the keys to the developer.
But for now the house was content to hold its silent vigil over the town below.
And inside, something stirred.
What’s the most interesting book you’ve ever read?
When the Water Smokes: Tides and Seasons on a Wooden Boat by Bob Simpson.
Book you’re currently reading?
Prayer 101: Learning to Talk with God by Donald Adcock.
In your opinion, what’s the measure of a successful writer?
A successful writer is a writer who is content doing what they do. In other words, if all you ever want to do is be published in your church’s newsletter, that’s fine. Work toward that goal. If you are writing fillers for magazines on occasion and that makes you happy, then you’re successful. If you publish one short story a year or fifty, if that gives you some measure of contentment and a feeling of accomplishment, then you are successful. Success is not someone else’s measure of what you should be doing. It is your measure of what you are and can be doing.
Where can we learn more about you?
I’m sure my mother has some pretty embarrassing stories to share, but barring that, you can find me at:
My website: www.thomassmithonline.com
Anything else you’d like to add?
First of all, thank you for the opportunity. It has been an absolute pleasure.
Next, the best advice I ever received came first from writer/editor/anthologist Kathryn Ptacek and then from just about every pro writer I ever met. A writer writes. That’s it. That’s the whole secret. Whether it’s a novel, play, bumper sticker, coffee mug slogan, screenplay, treatment, newsletter article, or haiku, a writer writes. It’s the hundreds of thousands of words that make their way from your brain via your fingers to the keyboard that gets you where you want to go. That and a lot of prayer!