“The Things Your Eyes Have Seen” is a collection of short stories that is a must read. Author Lisa Michele Smith has a pure sense of story telling with an Urban influenced flair that is addicting and entertaining.
Synopsis: The short story collection The Things Your Eyes Have Seen is not about women finding salvation or asking for redemption. These women accept and in some cases embrace their inadequacies; and find strength within to love and to let go, to speak and demand they be heard. In the story The Reunion, a married woman ends a twenty-year relationship with her suddenly-widowed lover. In the three-story Mary Magdalene series, a terminally-ill woman travels to the south to seek answers from her estranged grandmother on her true identity. An insignificant article of clothing reinforces a woman's pride in serving her country in The Brown Coat. These stories speak to all women as they try to find love, self-respect and fulfillment in a world that grows more complicated and demanding. It is not always easy to find the straight path, and few may never find it.
SayWhatNews had the pleasure of speaking with Lisa about her life’s journey as an aspiring author who self published her own work:
SayWhatNews: Good morning Lisa. Thanks for taking the time and speaking with SayWhatNews. First tell us who is Lisa Michele Smith?
Lisa: Thank you for finding me interesting! Who is Lisa? Well, Lisa is a person who is extremely fluid and ever-changing. I think at my core I’m a protective mother, a driven artist, and a person who is flawed but is under no illusion I will achieve perfection by the time my life ends. I’m still learning about this thing called life. My curiosity to discover the new is what keeps me ever-changing. However, I will admit that bad memories hold me back at times, but my persistence keeps me pushing forward.
SayWhatNews: You are a self-published author, why did you have such an extreme interest in writing/journalism from child-hood to college and college to the navy?
Lisa: My mother says I inherited my gift for writing from my father and I'm inclined to agree. He was always writing essays and plays, but since he was an absent father I never paid much attention to what he wrote or the talent I inherited. Writing was and has been the one thing I can do with ease, it comes so natural especially when I'm driven by emotion, by passion. As a child I didn't really appreciate the gift, but by the time I hit high school I became more confident. My teachers during that time and subsequent have played a huge part in getting me to believe in my writing ability. They still do; one of my professors as an undergrad is my biggest cheerleader.
SayWhatNews: After being discharged from the Navy you took a 3 year freelance writing assignment for a line of romance magazines. How did that come to be?
Lisa: That assignment came out of a need to find part-time work I could do at home so I wouldn't have to leave my kids with a babysitter. I tried submitting essays to big name magazines and couldn’t get published. As a teenager I used to read the Black Romance line of magazines so I thought I’d try that. My first story got rejected so I tried again. The second try was the clincher; the editor at the time, Marcia Mahan, liked it and wanted revisions. To see my story in print for the first time was such an elixir for me and I continued to submit, pounding out at least two short stories a month and never got rejected. Once I caught on to the formula of romance writing it was easy. Pretty soon I was included in a stable of reliable writers. Mahan would send out storylines with due dates and I met each deadline. I think that’s why I’m so addicted to the short story format.
SayWhatNews: Those who are in the Army or Navy always say that the training and discipline helped them in life. How did your experience in the Navy help you with your writing and meeting deadlines?
Lisa: Yes, I would say my military experience definitely contributed to my writing and my almost obsessive need to meet deadlines. If you could only see how anxious I get when a deadline is approaching and I’m getting nowhere with the story; it’s agony! I feel if I don’t meet that deadline I’m letting a “shipmate” down because I’m inconveniencing them when I don’t hit my mark (deadline) when they need me to. If I’m hired to do a job, even something as volatile as writing, I’m work on their time, not mine, cut and dry. So no hissy fits, no “I can’t find the character so give me more time” nonsense. If I need to stay up late, if I need to shift priorities, I do it and I won’t give you lesser quality either.
SayWhatNews: Tell us what you learned from romance writing and how it helped enhance or even changed your writing style?
Lisa: One thing that stayed with me is how to write a successful love scene! It’s a fine line between romance and erotica so to write a passionate love scene yet keep it “clean” is a challenge. While I was in graduate school I sat in on a workshop and a lot of the students complained about writing love scenes and I chimed in, “Are you kidding? They’re so easy!” Everyone looked at me as though I was nuts. I looked back on the stories I wrote for those magazines and I realized every one of them was based on my love misadventures. So I’ve learned that I’m at my best when I write on experiences that are close to me, I more connected to the story that way.
SayWhatNews: Lisa you admit to having your essays and even your manuscript rejected by magazines and literary agents. What inspired you to keep pushing on and find a way to still channel your love for writing by continuing your studies in college and getting your Masters to teach English?
Lisa: Persistence, a thick skin and a belief that someone out there will get what you’re trying to say...eventually. I had the pleasure of speaking with Chimamanda Adiche, a fellow alumna, at a book signing at Eastern Connecticut State University. She had just published Purple Hibiscus and she talked about the rejections she faced and the frustration at being told her book wouldn’t get published unless she changed the setting to the United States. She refused and she got the last laugh. Most recently she was listed among The New Yorker’s “20 under 40” best writers for 2010. Her words stayed with me and she was the perfect example of not comprising your principles for profit.
As for graduate school, the decision to attend came out of a plan B sort of thing. I always have a plan B; in this case it was to teach if writing full-time didn’t happen and to be competitive in the workforce. A bachelor’s degree is fine but a master’s is better. After all the struggles I faced as a single parent, it feels good to see “MFA” after my name; it’s a reminder that it was all worth it.
SayWhatNews: Your book “The Things Your Eyes Have Seen” is a collection of short stories. The book its self has its own interesting back story. Tell us how you came up with the idea for the book?
Lisa: The book came out of my master’s thesis, “Straight is the Gate.” My intended thesis was a fiction mystery manuscript based on a character I had developed before graduate school. After my first year I was at a cross roads; the manuscript had changed so much due to input from my writing mentors I didn’t recognize the story as my own. So I complained to Edmond Chibeau, a professor at my undergrad school and my biggest cheerleader. At that time “The Travels of Mary Magdalene” had just been published in the Connecticut Review and awarded a fiction prize, and he suggested I use that story, write seven more, and put it together as a short story collection. I added poetry to it; the poetry served as an introduction to the stories. I was nervous about submitting a mixed-genre thesis but it worked out. The natural progression of things is that you seek to publish your thesis so I eliminated the poetry, added two stories, and retitled it The Things Your Eyes Have Seen.
SayWhatNews: Now, Lisa your writing style for this book is in story telling format with an essence of what is considered to be Urban literature. There is something so very pure and cohesive about your writing. Tell us what you want your readers to get from reading your book?
Lisa: The one message I hope the book conveys is that we’re all flawed, but within us is a corrective mechanism that will always get us back on track if we listen to it. None of the women in my stories are perfect, yet all of them eventually do the right thing. And if the right thing means self-preservation to maintain their sanity, they’ll do it but not with the intent of hurting the other person. My story “Breathe Again” is a perfect example of a woman bent on self-preservation but striving not to hurt the man who will be affected by her choice. Please don’t label me a feminist! I don’t burn my bras or castigate men folk, I just want women to see that they’re not alone. I write in a way that’s palatable because I’m turned off by “cerebral” writing; I keep it simple.
SayWhatNews: Now, I did notice that you have various references of the Bible through out the book but you have said your intent was not to make this a faith-based book. What exactly was your intention?
Lisa: My intention was to let people know that you don’t have to go to church every Sunday to have religion in your life. I know the church-goers are probably gasping at that statement, but I’ve always felt that faith and belief in a higher power lives within me, not a brick-and-mortar building. I carry the message, or the word, wherever I go and church, though necessary in the lives of some, is not for me. I grew up in an Episcopalian family and my maternal grandmother chastises me to no end about the lack of church in my life. But I don’t want to disrespect her by saying, “if you follow the Bible so much, how come you [insert sin here]” You get a hint of my views on religion in my story “A Perfect Day for a Haircut.”
SayWhatNews: “The Travels of Mary Magdalene” is the anchor story of your book. How did it inspire the other short stories?
Lisa: The excellence of that story inspired the others. That was my first true literary story, not a genre fiction story. The positive responses for it were so great it encouraged me to write more like that one. If you had to ask me out of all the stories I have written which one defined me as a writer, that one did.
SayWhatNews: Now Lisa, in the short story “The Amaryllis” the character Ethylene doted so much on taking care of this plant. Was the plant a representation of what she could not control in her own life, like what was going on in her grandson’s life?
Lisa: You hit it right on the head. Plants need the basics to grow: water, sun and a little fertilizer. That’s it. How well that plant does depends on the amount of care you give it. To “grow” a human being is infinitely more complicated and never clear-cut. Ethylene could control the amaryllis and see the effects of her nurturing. However, Ethylene didn’t realize that her actions were providing a foundation for her grandson and as long as the foundation is there, there is a chance of a turnaround.
SayWhatNews: You have been quoted of saying that, “less info about the main character, the better” and this is why you did short stories; so why write “A Trip to Jacksonville (The Continuing Travels of Mary Magdalene)”?
Lisa: When the first story in that series was published, all who read it said the same thing: I was expecting more. People felt cheated, they needed a resolution. But I wasn’t ready to give them a cut-and-dry resolution, hence the “Jacksonville” and “Final Trip” stories. That was my way of giving the readers some sort of resolution but still keeping the stories as succinct as possible.
SayWhatNews: In the short story “A Perfect Day for Haircut” why did you do a homage to Langston Hughes?
Lisa: During graduate school I had the pleasure of reading Hughes’ prose for the first time. Can you imagine? A former English major who kinda, sorta knew Hughes wrote something other than poetry. I stumbled upon his “Jesse B. Semple” series and I was smitten. I loved the Semple character, loved the dialog, everything. One day I happened to be in my hairdresser’s chair after finishing The Best of Simple and I noticed that my hairdresser and me were conversing like the unnamed narrator and Semple characters. I decided to try and emulate Hughes’ easy style and humor, and sort of resurrect what I considered to be one of the greatest pieces of black literature written.
SayWhatNews: Lisa you are working on a new short story collection which is a series of mysteries featuring a single parent heroine. Can you give us a sneak peek into this new character and what to expect?
Lisa: For this collection I’m going back to my romance writing roots with a lot of humor thrown in. Hopefully I’ve made readers think; now it’s time to make them laugh. One hint: this heroine has a gift most of us wish we had and this gift helps her solve mysteries.
SayWhatNews Do you have a name for the book yet and a release date?
Lisa: This collection is still a work-in-progress! No release date yet.
SayWhatNews: Lisa you are a strong advocate for reviving a Harlem Renaissance-type celebration of minority art and literature among the youth. With a magnet school you oversaw a group of students who created a literary magazine called “Graffiteen.” Tell us about the magazine and where it can be found.
Lisa: Unfortunately, the magazine was a one-time occurrence, though I had hoped it would continue. I won’t go into specifics; all I will say is that the very thing that made it special is the very thing that ended production of the magazine.
SayWhatNews: Lisa you are a self-published author. For those aspiring authors what is the best route if they decide to self-publish? Should they go through some of the various self-publishing companies out there? Tell us about your journey?
Lisa: When I decided to self-published I looked at the various print-on-demand companies and compared distribution capabilities, cut of royalties, ease of publishing, etc. I found Lulu.com was the best company for my needs. It was a good choice; Lulu.com had recently partnered with Apple to make books like mine available on the iPad as long as it’s in e-Pub format.
SayWhatNews: What’s next for Lisa Michele Smith?
Lisa: I see in the future recording The Things Your Eyes Have Seen for an audio book, discovering networking opportunities, and flushing out characters for my next collection. I’ve also been toying with the idea of starting an online humor magazine for parents of difficult children, something with an Erma Bombeck flair. When I say difficult, I mean like the grandson in my “Amaryllis” story.
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