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Virginia Smith

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The Advocate

Virginia Smith Interview

by Kevin Lucia

"My mother reads everything I write, and since she's a writer herself (and a United Methodist pastor), she has a really good editorial eye."
-- Virginia Smith

Virginia Smith is a freelance writer, a speaker, and the contemporary worship leader for Voice of Joy Ministries in central Kentucky. She is the author of Just As I Am and her articles have appeared in a variety of Christian magazines. She is a member of the Christian Writers Fellowship International and the American Christian Fiction Writers and splits her time between Kentucky and Utah.

Kevin: I read in your bio that you left a job in the business world to pursue writing full-time. What led you to such a decision, and was it a bit nerve-racking to take such a big leap of faith?

Virginia: Actually, it wasn’t too nerve-racking. My husband retired, and we had always planned that I would leave the corporate world when he reached retirement age so we’d both be free to travel. The fact that I received my first book contract around that time gave me the nudge I needed to focus my efforts on a full-time writing career. Of course I miss the steady paycheck. But to be honest, what I miss most is the authority. I was a director with a team of almost 40 people beneath me on the corporate ladder. I had grown accustomed to having my slightest request instantly acted upon. But today when I say to my husband, “Gee, the dishwasher needs to be emptied,” he gives me a Look and says, “Well, you’d better get busy then.”

Being a long time self-professed “Trekkie”, my eyes perked up when I read “Biblical Truths of Star Trek” in your bio. What’s that all about?

That is one of the most fun talks I’ve ever given! I was invited to speak at a retreat several years ago, and the retreat coordinator knew I was a Trekkie so she assigned the topic. I combed through all kinds of Star Trek episodes and movies looking for clips to demonstrate Biblical principles. I even contacted Paramount to get permission to use them. And I ordered a bridge officer uniform from TNG, complete with communicator pin!

Here’s an example from my talk: I show a clip from the original series. The Enterprise hovers in space on one side of the screen. On the other side is a Klingon Bird of Prey. On the bridge of the Enterprise, Captain Kirk issues his commands: “Go to red alert. Shields up.” The television camera pans out to show the two starships suspended in space, a galactic showdown. A glittering red ball of radiant energy erupts from the alien ship. A photon torpedo! It speeds directly toward the Enterprise. You hear the Captain say, “Brace for impact!” But then as you watch, the torpedo encounters the shields. Its forward motion stops abruptly a few yards from the hull of the Enterprise and explodes harmlessly in space.

I stop the video at that point and say to the audience, “We’ve all been under attack by the enemy. Temptation to sin in one way or another is a torpedo we deal with on a daily basis. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to say, “Red alert! Shields up!” and then watch as that temptation dissolves into helpless dust before it gets close enough to do us harm? But we can. The apostle Paul told us how to do it. “In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” (Ephesians 6:16, NIV). Each one of us has our own shield. Unlike the crew of the Enterprise, ours never loses power, because our power source is the Source of all power in the universe.”

I see you’ve written quite a bit of short fiction and that those stories have been anthologized. Being a fan of the short story myself, I would LOVE to see this genre explored a little more with anthologies and collections in the CBA market, especially by the bigger publishers. The mainstream has annual short story anthologies aimed at discovering new talent in fiction, such as L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future and an annual Star Trek anthology as well (I forget the name; I think it’s Undiscovered Worlds). Do you think this could ever happen in the CBA?

Bluegrass Peril by Virginia SmithOh, I love Undiscovered Worlds! I didn’t know that was still happening. Is Dean Wesley Smith still the editor? I submitted a couple of short stories to the very first two anthologies, way back when. Both were rejected, but I just loved those anthologies!

Uh, sorry. Back to the interview.

Like you, I’d love to see the sf/f short story gain popularity in the CBA, but I don’t see it happening. The market just isn’t there. Though the target audience is faithful and enthusiastic, they don’t seem to be grabbing the attention of the editors and decision-makers in the industry. Perhaps if we can create an enthusiasm for novel-length sf/f, we’ll create a market for short stories in the genre as well. So we all need to get out there and buy those books!!!!

Leaping off the last question, Stephen King recently wrote an article for The New York Times about the state of the American Short Story, and how it could be currently listed as “stable”, but not in great health. Any comments on that?

I haven’t seen that article, but I do agree. I think short stories enjoyed a great following several decades ago, but I think television has killed that trend. Now if people want to be entertained for a short period of time, they watch an episode of CSI or a sitcom. There used to be more magazines that published short stories, but today most of them stick with nonfiction. Look at Reader’s Digest. I used to love reading the novel excerpts and short stories there, but I haven’t seen any fiction in those pages in a long time. I think the sci-fi segment is unique in that area – there are still a bunch of sci-fi magazines that do nothing but short stories.

As a writer, I learned how to actually end stuff with short stories, and writing them has taught me much about narrative control and word economy. Are there any other things fledgling writers can learn from grappling with the short story?

You’ve hit on a couple of key points, narrative control and word economy. I think writing short stories well is an art in Virginia Smithitself, and requires different skills than writing novels. I think short stories are harder, and if you can master them, your novels will be richer and the writing just better. One of the best short story writers of all time, in my opinion, was Isaac Asimov. That man was a genius. Talk about word economy! But he also managed to do terrific characterization with just a few words. I’d encourage anyone who wants to learn how to write short stories should study Asimov’s.

One last question about short stories, and then I promise I’ll leave my tub-thumping behind. As a short story writer, have you ever taken advantage of – or thought about utilizing Amazon.com’s Amazon Shorts, a publishing program that sells short stories in e-format for 49 cents a pop? Is this a new, revolutionary way for folks to get works from their favorites writers into their hands without going to a bookstore, or is it just a fad with little or no value?

I’ve heard of Amazon Shorts, though I haven’t taken advantage of them. The concept is interesting, and I guess it’s an opportunity to get your work out there for people to read. I haven’t talked to anyone who’s had any measure of success with them, though. And I worry about the lack of an editor’s eyes, if I understand the concept properly. My editors make my writing shine. I’d rather not show my unedited drafts to the world. :)

I saw something on your website about a $500 shopping spree that can be won on March 31, 2008. Tell us a little more about that.

It’s true. In February I have a new book releasing, and this one is a big deal for me because it’s the first of a series that is based, in part, on my relationship with my wacky and lovable sisters. Authors are always conducting contests to promote their books, and I frequently do it myself. But I wanted this contest to be special, because this book is special. I figured that much money will probably attract some attention.

Stuck in the Middle by Virginia SmithThe idea for a shopping spree came from a scene in the book. In Stuck in the Middle, Joan Sanderson wants to impress the good-looking doctor who lives next door. The problem is that her pretty little sister, Tori, is also taken with the guy. Before she knows it Joan is engaged in an all-out war to snag the doctor's attention. Big sister Allie takes sides and drags Joan on a shopping spree to dress her in designer clothes. Then in one of my favorite scenes, Allie gives Joan a lesson in "How to Flirt" using tips she learns on the Internet. Trust me, that scene is sure to bring a smile to your face!

The prize is a $500 Visa Gift Card. To enter, all people have to do is subscribe to receive my bi-monthly eNewsletter. Oh, and they can get extra chances at winning by referring others. (Visit Virginia's website here to find out more!)

Would you consider any authors – contemporaries or otherwise – as inspirations? If so, which would you say have influenced you the most?

Different people have influenced me at different times in my life. I’ve already mentioned Isaac Asimov. Another author whose work instilled a desire to write in me was Anne McCaffrey. I adore her dragon rider and Crystal Singer books. In recent years, my writing has been influenced by Deborah Raney, who does a terrific job with characterization. I’ve learned a lot about creating characters from Deb’s books. Just recently I’ve been trying to learn how to instill more suspense in my stories, so I read Brandilyn Collins’ Crimson Eve. Man, what a terrific book! The suspense starts in the first chapter and doesn’t stop until the end. Another of my recent favorite authors is Sharon Hinck. Her Restorer series literally took my breath away. I had the honor of endorsing The Restorer’s Son and The Restorer’s Journey which means I got a pre-release copy from the publisher. Those stories containing everything I love in a book – real characters, a compelling plot, action, adventure, an inspirational theme that was woven intricately into the plot. You’ll think I’m weird when I say this, but reading those fantasy novels really did change my life. I’ve started memorizing Scripture, something I haven’t done since I was a little girl. (To know how The Restorer encouraged me to memorize Scripture, you’re just going to have to read the book and find out!)

Christian entertainment has changed much in the last few years; especially in the areas of music, fiction, and movies. What do you see in the future for Christian entertainment?

I’m really encouraged by the popularity of Christian fantasy movies, like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, so I hope we’ll start seeing more quality films based on Christian classics. And wouldn’t it be cool if those would spawn an increase in interest for Christian fantasy novels? I think Christian entertainment in all forms continues to be influenced by trends in the secular entertainment fields, especially in the area of music and movies. We tend to like Just As I Am by Virginia Smithto recognize popular trends and clean them up for a Christian audience, and I think that’s terrific. So if you want to predict the future of Christian entertainment, take a look at what’s becoming popular in secular entertainment.

How do you feel about Amazon.com’s new wireless reading device? How do you feel about someone potentially downloading Blue Grass Peril or Stuck in the Middle?

I say go for it! Anything that gets people reading is great. Personally, I don’t see it replacing the printed book anytime soon, just as the Internet has not replaced newspapers or magazines. I mean, can you see taking a Kindle to the beach? What if it gets wet? But maybe it will expand our reading audience and get stories into the hands of people who don’t want to carry a book around.

I read in Stephen King’s On Writing that he has an “inner circle” comprised of his wife and closest friends who read his work before any editors or publishers do, to give him an “everyman/woman’s” opinion. Who reads your work – if anyone – before a publisher and editor does?

My mother reads everything I write, and since she’s a writer herself (and a United Methodist pastor), she has a really good editorial eye. My sisters also read my stuff, and they give me great reader reactions. Plus, I am a firm believer in critique partners. I have several, and we trade books. My critique partners wade through my first drafts and help me polish my writing so my editors don’t have to see all the terrible mistakes I make!

Short stories again – sorry, I fibbed! Do you think genre-themed anthologies, featuring short stories by some of the brightest voices in the CBA would do well on the market? Ex: a science fiction/fantasy anthology featuring Donita K. Paul, Bryan Davis, Sharon Hinck; a thriller anthology featuring Robert Liparulo, T.L. Hines, Brandilyn Collins, Eric Wilson….

Barbour has been doing that for years with romance, and it seems to work well for them. I say we should go for it!

Finally, if there was any advice you’d like to give to aspiring writers, what would it be?

Don’t give up. If the Lord placed that desire to write in your heart, He’s going to bring it to fruition. In the meantime, your job is to polish your skills so you honor His gift in the best way possible. Study the craft. Take classes. Join a critique group. Read extensively, and analyze what you read. You wouldn’t go down to Home Depot, buy a hammer and a box of nails, and then proclaim to the world that you are ready to build a house. First you have to learn how.

Kevin LuciaKevin Lucia Kevin Lucia writes for The Press & Sun Bulletin and The Relief Journal. His short fiction has appeared in Coach’s Midnight Diner, The Relief Journal, All Hallows, Darkened Horizons Vol. 3 & 4, NexGen Pulp Magazine Issues 1 & 4, From the Shadows, Morpheus Tales Magazine, Bohemian-Alien, Shroud Publishing’s horror anthology, Abominations, and Tyndale House’s inspirational anthology Life Savors. He’s currently writing a novella for Shroud Publishing’s upcoming novella series, The Hiram Grange Chronicles. He resides in Castle Creek, New York, with his wife Abby, daughter Madison and son Zackary. He teaches high school English at Seton Catholic Central High School in Binghamton, New York; and is finishing his Masters of Arts in Creative Writing at Binghamton University. Visit him at his website and Myspace page.