With work for children and adults, M. Earl Smith is a writer who seeks to stretch the boundaries of genre and style. A native of southeast Tennessee, Smith moved to Ohio at nineteen and, with success, reinvented himself as a writer. After graduating from Chatfield College in 2015, Smith enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia to study creative writing and history. He is the proud father of two wonderful children and, when he’s not studying, splits his time between Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and Chattanooga, with road trips to New York City, Wichita, Kansas, and Northampton, Massachusetts.
Describe Your Desk:
My desk is nothing remarkable. It’s in my dorm at Penn, with little on it but plugins for my laptop, a wireless printer, and about 8 bucks in change strewn about. I don’t write at my desk, per se. I carry an iPad with me constantly, so I’m writing, sending most of it to the cloud as I do.
What's the Story behind your latest book?
Little Karl started as a moment of frustration. I was taking a class on Writing for Children with the phenomenal Melissa Jensen at Penn, and the first assignment she gave us was a prototype for a children’s picture book. Well, I had no plans on doing such when I took her course (I had a YA project in mind), so I decided to do the most outlandish thing I could think of. Taking my knowledge and love of Marxism and putting it into a children’s book was no easy task, but 32 pages later, what would become Little Karl was born. And she LOVED it. She knew I had something special, even if I didn’t, and the rest, they say, is history. I ended up creating something that I’d always felt important about, in giving a tool for parents to discuss a line of thought that they had grown up loathing.
What is the greatest Joy of Writing for you?
Getting ideas out on paper is the best part of writing for me. I come up with some pretty crazy ideas, and watching them develop from something that was just a germ of a thought into a final product will always hold a fascination for me.
What are you working on next?
Several projects! Along with Little Karl, I have a novel, entitled The Sorrows, that is due out from Blue Deco Publishing on November 25th. I also have a local history book, Images of America: Powelton Village due out with Arcadia Publishing, on December 19th. I just finished a rough draft of another children’s book, based off of Che Guevara’s Motorcycle Diaries, and I am under contract (along with my co-author, J. Huguenin) on another Arcadia project, this time about Mystic, Connecticut. J and I are also working with Norton to construct a classroom simulation around the Amistad trial, and that idea may span into a children’s book as well. Finally, I am working on a YA romance set in the French Revolution.
What is your writing process?
Tough question! I don’t have set process where I sit down and say “Oh, well, let me write 1,000 words today, and that’s that.” Writing is about intuition and emotion for me. Given my classwork and other obligations, there will be several days when I don’t write a thing, and then one morning I’ll get up and pour out 10,000 words. Writing is my release. If I start treating it like a job, I’ll come to hate it
Who are your favorite Authors?
Oh, gosh, that’s like asking a Southerner (which I am!) to name their favorite fried food. If we’re talking fiction, my biggest influences are Mercedes Lackey, Melissa Jensen, John Grisham, and Dalton Trumbo. For children’s books, it’s Mac Barnett, Maurice Sendak, Arnold Lobel, Jean Craighead George, Lois Lowry and Gary Paulson. For historical research, it has to be Timothy Tackett, Marcus Rediker, Karl Marx, Che Guevara, Peter Stallybrass, Roger Chartier and Jon Lee Anderson. Finally, as far as poets are concerned, it’s Shakespeare, TS Eliot, and the aforementioned J. Huguenin. My favorite illustrator is, without a doubt, E. A. Santoli.
What do you read for pleasure?
Chilton auto repair manuals! Okay, but seriously, most of my pleasurable reading comes from my transcription work. I like to take unpublished, hand written manuscripts from the last 250 years, put them all into type, and send them off to publishers. It gives a voice to writers who didn’t have it in their lifetime, and, because it’s a repetitive task where I’m not creating, it’s relaxing for me.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in a town called Soddy Daisy, Tennessee, about 20 miles north of Chattanooga. Growing up in that part of the world was a strange experience, especially given my belief system. It’d be too easy to get into a diatribe about such things, so I’ll just say this: growing up where I did strengthened my resolve and belief system into what it is today, and that translates into my writing.
When did you first start writing?
I remember snippets of writing as a kid, but I really didn’t get serious about writing until I was in my 20s. I did a lot of free-form role-playing online (in fact, that’s where I met J!) and that involved a lot of descriptive, in-depth prose. That evolved into what was the first draft of The Sorrows. It’s fair to say that I didn’t seriously look at writing as a profession until I was in my 30s, after I went back to college.
Do you remember the first story you ever read and the impact it had on you?
The earliest story I can remember having impact was Lois Lowry’s The Giver. All the stuff I had been fed up until that point was either children’s stuff like Frog and Toad (which I still adore!) or stuff like My Side of the Mountain and Hatchet, stuff that sought to capture that fierce American independence. Lowry’s work was something else. It was dark, it was brooding, it was introspective as hell, and it made me completely reconsider the whole storytelling dynamic. From there, I picked up Mercedes Lackey, and was hooked on her Heralds of Valdemar series. A lot of the credit for my descriptive style, in shorts and in novels, goes to her.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Usually my growling stomach! I wish I had a more profound answer here, but I know that each day, I’m crawling out of bed to make a better life for my children, and to write, and to study. What more could a guy ask for?