Meet the author: Lori Smith
A MindyWithrow.com exclusive! Two weeks ago, Lori Smith released her second book, A Walk with Jane Austen: A Journey into Adventure, Love, and Faith. Regular readers of this blog know I really can’t be considered a Janeite, at least not according to contemporary criteria (I think she’s a remarkable novelist, but I’ve never watched the 6-hour version of P&P, don’t find Colin Firth attractive, and would more likely have swooned over Heathcliff than Darcy). But I’m intrigued by Lori’s book because it’s not another biography or yet another fan novel, but a memoir of parallels between her own life and Jane’s, and the insights she gleaned from visiting places that held particular meaning to Austen. (It’s also unique in that it began as a “blook,” a book written in portions on her blog to allow the earliest interaction with readers.) I’ll be reviewing the book here in the near future, but in the meantime I’ve been getting to know Lori via email and she graciously agreed to an interview. So, readers, meet Lori!
Lori, my first question to a writer is always: how do you define “the writing life”? Every writer seems to have a different take on it.
Well, I think anyone who writes is a writer (published or not). If you feel like you just have to write, if you can’t make that go away, you’re a writer. But I’m incredibly privileged at this moment to be able to do this full-time. It’s a joy—and at the same time, a difficult life I wouldn’t wish on anyone! It can be pretty tough emotionally, financially…but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. (Um, except maybe health insurance.)
You’ve written on your blog about your battle with Lyme disease. In what ways has your illness challenged you as a writer?
While I was writing this book, I was dealing with an incredibly difficult stretch of months at a time of debilitating fatigue. After I got the contract, I was literally on the couch for six weeks, unable to do anything. After that, it was slow and at times very painful. I could only write small pieces at a time, and it challenged me to just do that, these tiny pieces that I never thought would add up to anything. I would write little bits every day and offer them to God and pray that they would turn into something in the end. When they actually did, my heart was full of thankfulness (and wonder).
C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, and others wrote about the distinction between being a “Christian writer” vs. being a “writer who is a Christian.” As a writer who has identified herself with the Anglican Church, do you think that is a valid distinction? How does your faith relate to your writing?
I struggle with this distinction, and have since college. I’m a Christian who writes. I think any book written by a Christian is essentially a Christian book, because it’s informed by their worldview. My faith shapes my life and thus my writing. But I hope my writing will always be approachable by those who aren’t Christians, and I think I accomplished that here. But then you get into a position like with this book, where the general market stores are shelving the book under “Christian inspiration,” while some of the Christian stores have opted not to carry it (I’m guessing because it wasn’t quite Christian enough). Argh.
That’s frustrating. (I can relate; a major Protestant distributor refused to carry one of my books because the title contains the word “monks,” apparently too Roman Catholic for them.) But it can also be encouraging to realize that you’re so unique people don’t know how to categorize you!
When you’re working on a project, what resources refresh you when the creative well runs dry?
I have a wonderful tiny writers group with two friends who are both working on books at the moment, and they’re my lifeline. Other than that, I need quiet time to fill me up, especially if I’m in the middle of a book project. I sometimes just have to tune out the distractions of life, the phone and email, and just be and pray and think.
Do you keep a journal?
I do, but I don’t write every day. In fact, sometimes I go years without writing, and that’s okay for me. I write when I feel like it, and those entries are precious to me.
Do you consciously practice certain writing techniques?
Nope. Actually, for me I find that that’s kind of a death knell. I just can’t do it.
Where is your favorite place to write? Time of day?
Oh, it depends! At my favorite coffee shop, or my little kitchen table, or out on my back deck. Any time of the day or night.
Do you have a favorite reference work?
Hmm…perhaps my book of C.S. Lewis quotes, or my word menu.
Tell me more about your background. Where were you born, and did you grow up there?
I was born in Ohio, but grew up all over the country since my dad was in the Air Force. We’ve been here in the DC area, though, since I was in junior high, so I really consider this home.
Have you always wanted to write, or was it an unexpected development in your life?
When I went to college, I knew I wanted to write nonfiction, but I wasn’t quite sure how to get there. I didn’t want to study journalism or technical writing. I had this feeling that someday when I was older, I would start writing and never stop, and that’s kind of what happened, when I had enough life experience to actually have something to say.
And is there a new project on the horizon now?
I’m not sure yet—I’m praying and thinking about that at the moment!
Well, I wish you joy in the process, Lori, and thanks for talking with me!