Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Chat with Sylvia Dickey Smith

Sylvia Dickey Smith was born and reared in exotic southeast Texas, the land of Cajuns, cowboys, pirates and Paleo-Indians. She came into this world feet-first, and spent the first half of her life making it up to her mother. After marriage, she lived on the Caribbean island of Trinidad for seven years before returning to Texas. At 41 she took her first freshman class and fought her way to a BA in Sociology and a Masters in Educational Psychology while raising four children. After that, she worked with non-profit and for-profit organizations within the human services field before embarking on a career as a novelist. Books in her debut mystery/suspense have achieved winner status in writers’ contests. Her books are Dance On His Grave, Deadly Sins Deadly Secrets, and Dead Wreckoning, along with a cookbook, Sassy Southern Classy Cajun. She writes the Austin Writing Examiner on-line newspaper featuring the works of other authors, and conducts weekly interviews with mystery writers on her blog talk radio program, Murder, She Writes. Her latest work, A War Of Her Own, an historical novel set during WWII, is set for release on
September 2, 2010.

Sylvia, it's great to have you over. What an interesting background you have! I've read your books and enjoyed them immensely.
Is there a message in your writing you want readers to grasp?

Susan, I’m all about supporting women and helping them find their voice. For too many years, I didn’t have a voice. I started writing after I retired and that effort helped me find my voice and give it wings. These days, I never hesitate to speak up for myself, to express who I am in words.

I remember reading "Divorcing God",  a short, and my first introduction to Sylvia Dickey Smith. I remember the struggle. I'm so glad you worked through that to become the independent thinker you are now.

When I write, I also keep in mind how important if is for me to think outside the box. That catch phrase has been so overused I’m afraid it may lose it’s meaning, but to me, thinking outside the box means to not accept easy or pat answers that people give and expect me to embrace them simply because they tell me they speak truth. Actually, I not really into answers at all anymore. I believe in questions. They are what empower me—the what if’s, the why’s, the how come.

As a part of this thinking, I like my writing to cause people to question prior learning—whether it’s about religion, prejudice, or other social issues.

Briefly tell us about your latest book, A War of Her Own.

It's historical fiction set during WWII in southeast Texas, during a time when the whole world is at war and people live for the moment.

What’s the hook for the book?
A WAR OF HER OWN transports the reader to both a time and a place in American history when "all hell breaks loose." Of people caught in the backwater of the Depression. Where a sleepy little town, overnight turns into a vibrant wartime shipbuilding center caught in a maelstrom of social change. Yet one woman fights another war, and the unnamed enemy resides within her.

I'm intrigued.
Do you think your writing has improved since your first attempt? In what way?

Most definitely improved--my fans tell me so. Practice does, indeed, make us better regardless of what we're practicing! I think my characters are better and I give the reader a better sense of place.

Were any of your books more challenging to write than the others? If so, why?

Yes, A War Of Her Own was the most challenging. I’m dealing with an historical period—which requires more research. People thought differently, acted differently, had different social values.

How do you develop characters? Setting?

Setting, to me, IS character. When I read novels, I want to be IN the story—not simply read ABOUT the story. Setting, to me, is what accomplishes that. To develop setting, I take myself inside the scene and feel the temperature of the room, see what is around me, react to the tension that might be there. Flavor it with smells and colors and sounds! Character—I guess I do the same thing. I get inside the person and BE them.

I totally agree.
Do you have specific techniques you use to develop the plot and stay on track?

No, I’m a pantser—true and simple. I just sit and write. Sometimes this approach really slows me down because I must go back and look for information. And sometimes I don’t stay on track and have to get back on it! Critique groups help me with this. My brain resists outlines and tracking techniques. I discover the story as I go, and rewrite when I go astray. One of the neat things about writing a book though, is you do what works for you. There is no right or wrong way to go about. Writing is a very personal, individual effort. What works for one, might not work for me. And that’s okay. I figure it out as I go.

I'm also a pantser.
With your background I feel certain that your environment/upbringing color your writing.

Totally! In more ways than I can count! It guides me in character development, in describing setting—even in story ideas. None of my books were written in a vacuum. Each involves elements—all mixed together and changed until they are something/someone new. My beliefs and struggles flavor my work, inspire me, set me on the hunt of a good story.

What are your current projects, Sylvia?

Right now I have about three projects going on at the same time. One is a breakout novel from my last Sidra Smart mystery of Dead Wreckoning. Fans fell so in love with one the characters in the book that they begged for her—Boo Murphy—to have her own series—hence the birth of Swamp Sleuth. Another is the fourth book in the Sidra Smart series called Dance With the Devil. The third thing I’m working on right now is more of a saga named Call Her Cyn.

Wow! Good luck with all that going at once.
Where can folks learn more about your books and events?

My blog, has descriptions of my published books. The books are available to purchase—autographed—from my website at using PayPal. If folks want to pay by check, they can email me at and we can work out arrangements. They also can be purchased at, Barnes &, etc.
This week I will be adding a place on my blog where I can let folks know about the upcoming book launch events for A War Of Her Own, which should be on the streets in August, with an official launch date of September 2, 2010. A pre-order discount form for the book is now on my website at the May 27th posting date.

Sylvia is giving a free copy of A War Of Her Own to a lucky commenter. I will draw a name from the comments and Sylvia will take it from there. Don't forget to click the comment link for your chance to ask her a question or make a comment. Good luck!

Syliva, it has been my pleasure to learn more about you. Continued success!


The Belle in Blue said...

I love strong female characters, so your books sound right up my alley, Sylvia! Looking forward to reading a few!

dkchristi said...

Historical novels are a challenge. I'm writing a story that takes place as part of the Civil War, and I find the challenges Sylvia mentions immense. The book sounds like one I would enjoy from a writer whose background isn't that far off from aspects of my own. Thanks for the glimpse. author of Ghost Orchid, a mystery of love, lies and redemption.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Lovely interview! Sylvia, your new book sounds very meaningful. Best of luck.

david said...

an excellent interview and your book sounds fascinating. i'm also interested in trinidad - any plans to write about that part of the world?

Christy Tillery French said...

Great interview, Sylvia. I really enjoy your Sidra Smart series and am looking forward to the next one.

Anonymous said...

Great, and thanks, Belle. Yes, I too like strong women--and love writing about them. As a matter of fact, my blog yesterday at is my attempt to help women who are not strong, become so, by learning to be assertive! Several years ago I led women's assertiveness groups. Fun! But the women's husbands didn't want them to attend! Go figure! Ha!

Anonymous said...

D.K. Thanks for stopping by! Yes, historicals are great fun AND challenging. There is so much info out there about the Civil War but it does takes lots of research! I loved writing A WAR OF HER OWN because the main character reminds me so much of my mother during those years!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Jacqueline! I'm excited about it! Don't you just love book launches!!??

Anonymous said...

Hi, David, thanks for writing! If I wrote about Trinidad I'd have to set it in the 70s! It's changed so much. Met a woman at a book signing at Barnes & Noble, Austin, in May who was Trinidadian! We had a great time remembering!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you Christy! I hope you like this one even better! Practice makes close to perfect--perfect practice makes perfect--and I'm still working on it!

Laura Elvebak said...

Wonderful interview, Sylvia. Your historical sounds very intriguing. It will be another excellent addition to your works.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Laura. Good to hear from you. This is a moving into a new genre--which is exciting!

Betty Gordon said...

A great interview, Sylvia. Susan asks enlightening questions. I'm looking forward to reading "A War Of Her Own." The years you explore in this new work were changing times for women.
Good fortune with your new projects.

Betty Gordon

Susan Whitfield said...

Christy Tillery French has won the drawing for Sylvia's book. Congrats, Christy. Sylvia will be in touch.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Betty! It has been a ride! And congrats, Christi!
Soon as I get the first copies, I'll get yours in the mail!