Message From The Author
Deborah Smith Conquers the Publishing IndustryOne "House" at a Time
by Tara Gelsomino
Much has been saidand even more has
been writtenabout the Southern Belle.
That curious mixture of steely determination and gracious hospitality, wrapped in an unassuming and
decidedly female package, has been so fjted over the years
that it is nearly clichéd. Yet, there's no denying that these women are not to be underestimated. The strength, power and drive that underlie charming manners and an alluring smile have been at the core of a number of formidable femmes.
Case in point: Deborah Smith. After 20 years as a newspaper reporter and medical editor, this author sold her first novel in 1986 to Berkley's now-defunct Second Chance at Love line, and steadily moved up the ranks from shorter books (21 in total)
to single titles.
Building her career on books featuring Southern families and the skeletons in their closets, Deb carved out her own little niche in the romance industry and cultivated a sophisticated voice that defied market conventions (she even wrote in the dreaded first-person POV) and finally snared an impressive seven-figure
contract with Little, Brown in 1999,
which yielded her breakout book and
hardcover debut, A Place to Call Home.
Fittingly, thanks to her thriving romance career, the place that she'd always longed
to call home was finally within her grasp. She and husband Hank began building their dream home on the 60 acres they had managed to amass over the years, moving from the small, somewhat drafty cottage they'd inhabited on the property since the mid-1990s to a 7,000-square-
foot home complete with luxurious amenities on a lavishly landscaped estate. "I've always earned my living as a writer, but it's taken a lot of years to reach the success I've had since signing with Little, Brown. I can happily say the past two years have made up for
a lot of hard times as a writer before that."
Modeled after a country farmhouse, the home sports influences from the 1930s Arts and Crafts style, such as Craftsman lamps on the spacious wraparound porch, cherrywood floors, and an intricate stained glass entranceway. Deborah and Hank christened the home "Blue Willow" after one of Deb's early romances, and commemorated the estate with a wooden medallion in the foyer floor bearing a background of Georgia mountains and a pair of doves from the famed Blue Willow china pattern. The home also includes a huge gourmet kitchen, spacious living room with a cozy stone fireplace, and a master bedroom suite that is as big as the cottage where Deb and Hank formerly lived, complete with massive Stickley cherrywood bedstead and a master bath with whirlpool tub, sauna and silver chandelier. "I always wanted
a chandelier in my bathroom," Deb confides. "In my family, that's considered real 'class'or real strange, depending
on who you ask."
In the back of the house, a screened sleeping porch, large sunroom and two levels of decks overlook the 60 acres of woods, creeks, old gold mining trenches, abandoned moonshine stills, bear caves and wild turkey roosts. By next spring, a major landscaping will add stone terraces, waterfalls and koi ponds, a formal herb garden and a swimming pool and cabana. In addition, the drafty cottage where the Smiths once resided will be remodeled into a new office for the author.
She'll need the room. Deb's career in publishing is flourishing and expanding. Her newest release for Little, Brown, The Stone Flower Garden, hits bookstores this month and tells another powerful Southern family saga, replete with secrets, lies and betrayals. As with all her books, Deb pulls from her own background for inspiration and one of the novel's central characters, Swan Harding, a rich, powerful and somewhat ruthless matriarch, is modeled on her own great grandmotheran intelligent career woman who was so determined to set things to her liking that she even lied about her birthdate, telling her family she had been born on Valentine's Day. It wasn't until after she died that they found out she was actually born two days after the holiday. "Our family wasn't fancy or rich, but I think every family has turning point moments in its history, where someone made
a decision that would change the whole course of their future. These things resonate through the generations."
Deb's strong, lyrical storytelling also resonates with audiences. Advance buzz on The Stone Flower Garden has been fantastic and coverage has been promised in several major media outlets and magazines, such as Harper's Bazaar, Entertainment Weekly and Vanity Fair. Deb
credits editor Carolyn Nichols from her days at Bantam with encouraging her to write in her own style and to aspire to the mainstream success she has achieved today.
It was in deference to that voice and her own heritage of
strong-willed Southern women that she co-founded with six
other Southern female writers her regional publishing company, BelleBooks, in 2000. The authors wanted a chance to write the charming, quirky Southern stories they enjoyed reading, but that publishers weren't necessarily buying. "If you're not Joyce Carol Oates," says Deb, "there's not a whole lot of interest in these kind of books." The company has released two anthologies, Sweet Tea and Jesus Shoes and Mossy Creek, in trade paperback and recently sold the mass-market subrights for Sweet Tea to Berkley Books. The Belles are currently planning another installment in the Mossy Creek series for 2002 with other Southern authors including Sharon Sala, Carmen Green, Pat Bentley, and Sharon McSparron. They also plan to publish full-length novels by Southern authors, and the first one comes out this month, courtesy of none other than Deb.
ALICE AT HEART is a contemporary fantasy about a family of women descended from a mermaidwebbed feet and all. It's a poignant, magical, mystical Cinderella story about coming into your own and finding true love and for Deb, it's truly a book of the heart. "It's not a typical fantasy/paranormal nor a typical contemporary family story, but a little of each.
I found the whole mythology of mermaids very interesting and very romantic." The novel also includes much of that mythology in the form of journals kept by one of the mermaids. ALICE is the first in the Waterlilies series, about women who discover their mermaid heritages. The next novel features a J.K. Rowling-esque children's author named Molly and will tentatively be titled Two if By Sea.
Deb has another fantasy book dwelling in her imagination as well and you can see evidence of it on her website, www.authordeborahsmith.com. She has posted the first chapter of a new novel titled Solomon's Seal, about a larger-than-life man who fears he's the last of his kind. Like Alice, he's descended from a rather mystical race of beings, though the story is told in contemporary times. Readers can follow the progress of the story on Deb's website as she'll be updating whenever she gets a chance to work on it between other projects, and ultimately it may be published by BelleBooks.
One can't help but wonder, with so many fantasy novels
like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, The Lord of the Rings and the Narnia chroniclessuddenly inspiring movies and experiencing a new surge of popularity, if it was purely luck or great business instincts that lead Deb to explore the world of fantasy. "I think what Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings and all those fantasy works have in common is not just the magic and those rich imaginary worlds, but also the main characters share that 'still waters run deep' sensibility. With Harry, and Alice too, there's
that idea of, 'If they only knew what I could do'"
For Deb at Heart, the possibilities certainly seem endless.
Visit www.authordeborahsmith.com. Deb will also be touring the South through February and March, and will be the keynote speaker at the Duel on the Delta romance conference on March 15 in Memphis, TN.
How a southern Belle with "Stars" in her eyes scored a cover coup
It's not everyday you see a major work of art by
a renowned American painter gracing a romance
novel cover. Leave it to Deborah Smith to be
The industrious author was seeking cover art for the publication of her novel ALICE AT HEART, about a woman with mermaid characteristics, when she
was made aware of a piece of artwork titled "Stars" by artist Maxfield Parrish. Parrish, who was the nation's foremost artist and illustrator throughout the 1900s to the 1930s, was renowned for his use of vibrant color and light. He was also a uniquely practical and avante garde artist, being one of the first and few to license his artwork for commercial uses on everything from advertisements to children's illustrations to magazine covers and calendars. He
is particularly noted for his "Parrish Blue," a rich jewel-like blue color often seen in his depictions of the sky.
That Parrish blue serves as the focal point of "Stars," his 1926 painting featuring a nude woman reclining thoughtfully on a rock beneath a night sky. It was this photo that Deborah Smith thought encapsulated the feel of her novel. Determined, she traveled to the Cornish Colony Gallery and Museum in New Hampshire.
Once Deborah explained to curator Alma Gilbert, a Parrish scholar and expert, that BelleBooks was a regional press that didn't have a huge budget for artwork, the generous woman gave her blessing for Belle to license the painting. "She was just so helpful and accommodating. A lot of times for small presses, people are so happy and appreciative of what you're trying to do, that they will
go that extra mile to help you." Sounds like that Southern hospitality just might be contagious.
Read Book Review ›