Interview with Jeri Smith-Ready

May 13, 2008

Today I post another interview with one of my buddies from sfnovelists.com.  I met Jeri Smith-Ready at RavenCon less than a month ago and we hit it off immediately.  She has an evil sense of humor and is lots of fun at “Koffee-less” kaffeeklatches.  She also has lots of interesting things to say about writing, as this interview reveals.  Her newest book, Wicked Game, is out as of today (Congratulations, Jeri!) from Pocket Books.  So read the interview and then check out her book!

 

1) What was your inspiration for writing WICKED GAME?
A song, of course. Not the song “Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak—that came much later. Almost three years ago to the day, I was driving down the road flipping the dial and came to a classic rock station playing “Bad Company” by the band of the same name. I thought, Hmm, “Bad Company” would be a perfect title for a paranormal book with a shady main character.

By the time I reached my destination, I had a fully formed idea for vampire DJs who were psychologically and culturally ‘stuck’ in the era in which they were turned. I also knew the heroine would be “bad” in some way. (The punch line is that even though it all began with “Bad Company,” the publisher ultimately asked me to change the title.)

2) Who are your favorite authors and books now and when you were growing up?

I tend to read widely rather than deeply and rarely follow series for more than a book or two, regardless of how much I enjoy them. I’m the opposite of an addictive personality. I’m pretty sure I’d be the world’s first casual crack smoker.
I was completely different as a kid, of course. I read EVERYTHING, especially books by Marguerite Henry, Walter Farley, and Jim Kjelgaard, who each wrote continuing series about animals (and not talking animals, either—usually just plain old horses and dogs). I also loved the Trixie Belden mysteries. Trixie was like Nancy Drew, but with an actual personality. 
My all-time favorite book was DOGSBODY by Diana Wynne Jones. It combined my love of animals with my passions for astronomy and mythology. Because of that book, Sirius became my favorite star (not to mention my eventual choice in satellite radio).
My current favorite authors tend to write stand-alone novels or loosely connected series: Neil Gaiman, PC Cast, Charles de Lint, Christopher Moore, James Morrow, Caprice Crane, and John Irving, to name a few. They also tend to be funny.

3) What is it about fantasy/science fiction that attracts you?

To me, speculative fiction at its core is about what it means to be human. Often it does this by juxtaposing humans with other races or species (like elves or vampires or aliens), or by putting ordinary people in extraordinary settings. I also like the genre’s tendency to push the boundaries of humanity itself.

4) Why did you decide to make Ciara a con artist?

From the beginning I knew that the main character would have a shady past. Her current job is in sales and marketing (S&M, as she calls it), which is really just a legal form of con artistry. It sounds like a cheap joke, but the two pursuits both require an understanding of human nature and how to manipulate people’s emotions to make them cheerfully act against their own best interests. 
Ciara tries to save the radio station from corporate takeover by branding it as “WVMP: The Lifeblood of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” essentially hiding the vampires’ nature in plain sight. She disguises the truth as a marketing gimmick. I loved playing with notions of truth and lies, and I loved watching Ciara’s moral acrobatics in justifying her actions. Con artists are sociopaths with little notion of right and wrong; however, Ciara’s parents gave her a religious upbringing, which she’s rejected, but only on the intellectual level. She still feels guilt.
5) What (besides writing) do you do for fun?
I’m an avid pro football fan. It’s the only thing in my life that has nothing whatsoever to do with writing, and I guard my time with it like a starving dog with a bone. I also follow politics, but that’s not fun—more like a form of sado-masochistic torture.
6) What sort of research did you do to write WICKED GAME?
For the musical aspects, the research came by osmosis over the course of months and years. I’d think of a band and then run to Allmusic.com (and more recently Pandora.com) to learn all about them. Then I’d surf the links to understand the connections among that band and its forerunners and followers. 
And of course I read books. One of my favorites was THE ROCK SNOB’S DICTIONARY by David Kamp and Steven Daly. Entertaining, informative, and an incisive look inside the mind of the cooler-than-thou rock snob. 
To learn about radio stations, I interviewed DJs and had them ‘vet’ the manuscript when it was in near-final form, to make sure I didn’t have any major mistakes. A highlight of my life was getting a cover quote from Weasel, who used to DJ at the legendary Washington, DC, alternative station WHFS. He said that, disturbingly, he could relate very well to my characters. 
7) Shane McAllister (the 90s grunge DJ vamp) loves Nirvana. Is that your favorite band, too?
Yep, though I was only a casual fan during the band’s actual existence. I was sad but not devastated when Kurt Cobain died in 1995. However, as the years go by and I’ve learned to appreciate the band’s incredible talent, I grieve his loss more intensely. 

I suppose the creation of Shane is my small way of honoring Cobain’s life and work and the impact it’s had (and continues to have) on my psyche. I feel a spiritual kinship with them both and wonder if but for the grace of good fortune I’d be in as bad a shape as they were in their lives.

8)  What are you writing now?
I’m working on the second draft of WICKED GAME’s sequel, BAD TO THE BONE (May 2009). That’s due to my editor in a few days, which explains the bags under my eyes. And probably the hallucinations.
9) What does a typical writing day look like for you? How long do you write, that sort of thing? 
After three years of writing full-time, I’ve ceased to feel guilty for not writing first thing in the morning. My brain just isn’t wit-enabled before 10 or 11 am. 

10) What is easiest/hardest for you as a writer?

Dialogue is by far the easiest. Maybe it’s my theatre background, but my first drafts tend to consist of characters arguing in living rooms and coffee shops. I keep forgetting that novels have infinite budgets for location shoots.
First drafts are the hardest by far. It feels like sculpting air. Once I have a rough draft down, no matter how crap-adelic, I can work to make it better. But that initial creation of the story is torment.
11) This isn’t your first book; tell us a little bit about what else is out there?
I also have an epic fantasy series, the Aspect of Crow trilogy, which takes place in a world where everyone has magic bestowed by their Guardian Spirit animal. The first one, EYES OF CROW (Luna Books, 2006), won the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice award for Best Fantasy Novel. The second, VOICE OF CROW, came out last October (a favorite of mine because it was the Book That Almost Killed Me), and the trilogy will conclude this November with THE REAWAKENED.
I also have an older urban fantasy (REQUIEM FOR THE DEVIL, Grand Central Publishing, 2001). It takes place in modern day Washington, DC, and Lucifer masquerades as a political consultant. For the first time in his ten-billion-year existence, he falls in love. It changes everything.
12) What is the purpose of fantasy/science fiction, if any?
See answer to #3. I can’t be that earnest twice in one interview.
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One Response to “Interview with Jeri Smith-Ready”

  1. […] Smith-Ready is talking with David Coe about her latest novel and the joys of writing. She is also guest blogging over at Southern Fried […]

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