Monday, September 05, 2005

Interview with Bestselling Author :: Danyel Smith

CLG: You are an everywoman, having not only written novels but also being ed-in-chief of VIBE magazine. What is your favorite memory as VIBE Editor-In-Chief?

DS: My favorite memory is anything having to do with the staff – Vibe 1997-99. I worked with some of the smartest, most talented, and committed people in publishing.

CLG: Though I know you still work in the music industry, what prompted your move from music journalist to fiction author?

DS: It was just time. I had gone back to school, to Northwestern University on a fellowship, and really got into writing short stories there. One of those stories, in a much-edited form, exists as a chapter in More Like Wrestling. When I got back to NYC, I was promoted to editor-in-chief, so I didn’t even look at that fiction for two years. The seed was planted though. I wanted the freedom fiction provided. I love journalism, but there are so many rules! I respect and abide by the rules, but sometimes you want to spread your wings a bit more.

CLG: I cannot say enough about your first book, MORE LIKE WRESTLING. It was the best book I read last year. Your writing, in both MLW and in your latest novel, BLISS, is infused with rhythm and sound and music. How much does music play a part in what and how you write?

DS: Thank you! I am so glad you liked. This is a good question and I don’t know if I have a good answer. Music is such a part of me, I can’t tell where I stop, and it begins. I listen to it almost constantly. I read about it a whole lot – current stuff, as well as histories of soul and R&B and gospel and rock. My husband loves music as well, so we talkabout it probably too often. : )

Music is always there. In my room, in my iPod, on my mind, on my bookshelves, in the CD cases, in almost every one of my memories. Right now I’m listening to Aretha Franklin’s “Daydreaming.” Before that it was the Sylvers doing “Boogie Fever.” And before that it was BeyoncĂ© and Jay-Z doing “Crazy In Love.”

CLG: I'm hearing nothing but good things about your latest novel, BLISS. For those who don't know, tell us about it.

DS: I helped write the flap copy, so I’ll give you a modified version:

In Bliss, a sensual tale drenched with love and music, I present the reader an intriguing set of characters facing life-changing choices in the swirl of the music industry at its decadent peak… At a glossy gathering on Paradise Island, record exec Eva Glenn—soulful, sexy, powerful, and possibly pregnant—is throwing a comeback showcase for her singing sensation Sunny Addison, a barefoot diva with a poet’s heart and the voice of a lion. At the event’s high-strung peak, however, Eva begins to sink beneath the waves of anxiety washing over her—anxiety over a confusing sexual triangle, a career at a crossroads, and decisions to be made about her possible pregnancy -- and decides, in a blink, to flee. She leaves Paradise for the petite, pastoral out island of Cat, accompanied by her sometimes lover D’Artagnan Addison, an earnestly crazy mystic looking for answers of his own. What begins as an idyllic break quickly turns into an intense sojourn that brings Eva to terms with the crises closing in on her.

I try to cast a cold eye on the drama and machinations of the industry. I try to infuse every page with a passion for the power of pop, soul, hip hop and R&B. This is a novelabout the real rhythm and blues of life, about pain and loss and why we hold tight, in the end, to the sex and music and love that offer us a fleeting glimpse of bliss -- even when the price is steep.

CLG: I think that all authors integrate personal themes and views into their work. Are there notions important to you that, whether consciously or not, you find (or others find) in your work?

DS: Hm. Another good question. I know I like to write about women trying to get from a “bad” place to a good one. In More Like Wrestling, I was consumed with the idea of the relationship between sisters. And the relationships between black women and their parents, especially their mothers -- what we inherit from them that we treasure, and the traits we get from them that we wish we could shake. In Bliss, it was important to me to write about the effect music can have on us, the way it can be attached to so many moments in our lives. I am also a bit obsessed with women who are considered “fast,” as we used to call it. I wanted to write about a girl who is free with her sexuality. It was a challenge. In both books I also wanted to write about the relationships between women and the men they love. I didn’t want the relationships to be perfect, nor did I want them to be soap-opera melodramatic. I wanted them to be imperfect, sensual, tough-to-make work, passionate, and filled with issues of poorcommunication. That was a huge challenge. I wanted them to be real.

CLG: As a successful, published author, what three pieces of advice would you offer to aspiring-to-be-published authors?

DS: One: Keep writing, Two: Keep reading, and Three: To quote Master P: Don’t talk about it -- be about it. And this is what I try to keep in mind: Just when things are going horribly, that’s when you really have to keep going. It’s always darkest before the dawn. And don’t let just anybody read your work while it’s in progress. Only people you trust with your innermost. Even if the book isn’t “personal,” writing is personal, and people sometimes react strangely to you when you are committed to your project. Because when you’re committed to your project, you are committed to yourself. And if you’re not like that usually –- super-committed to your dreams -- you have to give people a chance to get used to your creative, committed side.

CLG: Are you working on anything new?

DS: Novel Three! I hope to be almost done by May 2006.


CLG: Being so big in the music industry, name three HOT artists out today and tell us why.

DS: Kanye West because he’s deeper than you think, and the music is amazing. Mariah Carey because she’s been doing her thing for years, she writes her own songs, and her songs are awesome. Mary J. Blige because she is truly every woman.

CLG: What are your three guilty pleasures?

DS: Probably eating too many Rice Krispie treats. Watching old cop dramas like Columbo and Matlock. And the last one is a secret.

CLG: What do you do on a CHILL day? (Considering you have one--LOL)

DS: I love to bake. Have the house smelling all good, and then get compliments on the cookies or cake later. I love to be in the bed watching West Wing marathons. And if it’s a SUPER chill day, I’m someplace like the Bahamas, on a chair at the beach with some vanilla rum on the rocks, and the ocean just begging me to wade in.

CLG: What is the one thing that makes you feel the most feminine, and why?

DS: Dang, Shon, these are some good questions! I guess … pretty underwear. New make-up. High heels. Scented lotions. A gift -- just because. Old-fashioned gestures like a man helping me on with my coat. Or opening a door so I can pass through. Why? I don’t know. It’s in my DNA, I guess. Also, I think the answer to this question is also a better answer to the “guilty pleasures” question.


Shonell Bacon said...

Thanks, Miss Sassy. :-)

TJ said...

I can't wait to read your book if your writing is anywhere as good as your interview style. I grew up in LA, so this is nice to see.