Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is very happy to shine our Friday spotlight on literary fiction author Katy Simpson Smith. I asked Katy to say a few words about herself and her writing, and here was her response:
I grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, and studied history for a while before turning to fiction. I started writing novels set in the eighteenth-century South—my first two books explore family ties, freedom, and race—but I have a new novel coming out in March that’s quite a departure! The Everlasting is set in Rome and tells four overlapping love stories that span two thousand years. I now live in New Orleans and teach creative writing at Millsaps College in Jackson.
Where can people find your work? (Besides Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester –though they should totally check here first!)
If you can’t make it to Annie’s Book Stop, find another independent bookstore nearby! Indiebound.com is also a great resource for books. Online, you can learn more about me at http://www.katysimpsonsmith.com
How can we follow your work and share your awesomeness?
I’ll be posting updates about my work on my website and also on Instagram! (@katysimpsonsmith)
What was the inspiration for The Everlasting? What were the steps you took to bring it from initial inspiration to the finished book?
The Everlasting emerged out of a trip to Rome I took several years ago; I went without a particular purpose, but walking around the city day after day, absorbing the churches and the art and the ruins, I became enamored with how Rome told the story of itself—how its history came in layers, each perfectly preserved, so that nothing of the past was ever really gone. It made me think of history differently, and I wondered what it would be like to write a novel where the linear progression of history became something more fluid and looping and circular. Once I had that structure in mind, there was no shortage of fascinating Roman characters to draw from: a Christian child martyr, a medieval monk who tends the crypt, a Medici princess with Moorish ancestry, a contemporary field biologist… From that point, it was just a matter of doing enough research to let my imagination run wild.
What is/are your passions when you’re not writing? How do you make time for your non-writing hobbies/things you love?
I love gardening, and I find that keeping a wild space is so important while I’m writing. When I’m in the dirt, I can turn off my swarming thoughts and just pay attention to the small things: digging out weeds, tending new plants, preparing the soil. And I’m accompanied out there by a menagerie of birds, butterflies, dragonflies, lizards, and worms.
What has been your favorite adventure during your writing career?
This is a tiny moment, but I once took the train to Naples to see a particular crypt that makes an appearance in The Everlasting, and my seat partner happened to be a fairly successful Italian stage actor. He was very well-connected, and after we talked for a while about art and writing, he called up a friend of his who ran one of Naples’ most famous pizzerias. Not only did he procure me a seat in the middle of the lunch rush hour, but the pizza—the best I’ve ever eaten in my life—was on the house. I was there to work hard and do research, but sitting there with my pizza felt like the greatest thing I’d ever accomplish.
Writers very often have furry or feathered or otherwise non-human companions to “help” them through their work. Do you? What do you have? How do they “help” (or, “not-help”) with your writing?
I take care of two wild cats who have come to rely upon me for breakfast. They’re excellent garden companions, and they remind me with their simple needs that my flights of fancy at the desk aren’t actually all that important. What’s important is food, water, shelter, and touch.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned, thus far, in your writing career?
That writing is a beautiful, tormenting, fulfilling part of my life, but that it isn’t—and shouldn’t be—all of my life. I’ve worked hard to find a healthy balance of imagination and reality, even when a novel threatens to swallow my brain whole. Take time to be in nature, to engage with physical things, to listen to your friends’ stories, to help your communities. It’ll only make the writing feel that much richer.