Today Rebecca Lee Smith, author of The House on Crow Mountain, is visiting Ascroft, eh? to tell us about the beginnings of her writing career.
Welcome, Rebecca. I’ll turn the floor over to you –
You Had to Be There
(At least, I did.)
Before I discovered how much I loved writing mysteries on the cozy side, I wrote a couple of romances. The setting for my first book (written waaay back in the 80’s) was a lovely little village outside of London, England, with a magnificent estate near the edge of town (isn’t there always?) called Ashford Manor. Looking back, the whole setup was some kind of weird cross between Downton Abbey and Hogwarts. I’d never been to England. At the time, I don’t even think I knew anybody who had been to England. But I’d always wanted to go, and I loved to read books and watch movies and TV shows that took place there. So it never occurred to me that setting a book in a country I had never visited would put me at a disadvantage. My heroine was American, after all, and I thought a quaint English village within walking distance of London, whether one existed or not, would be a wonderful place to spend time in my head while I banged out a 55,000 word manuscript in my quest to get published.
I was wrong.
Some authors can do it. They can write about places they will never set foot in and find it exhilarating. Most of them do it so well, and make their settings seem so real, that few of their readers ever suspect they are creating worlds solely from their own imaginations. I am not that author. A writer’s imagination is a powerful thing, but it can only take you so far. Today, the Internet, which didn’t exist when I was piecing together my version of the English countryside, is even more powerful. Now, I could go online and visit those places virtually. I could walk my characters through a country church graveyard or have them sit on a bench in Hyde Park, and see exactly what they were seeing. I did eventually visit Hyde Park in London, and it had a very different vibe than I’d written for it. I had envisioned a fun space with crowded family picnics and peals of spontaneous laughter, but it was much more stately and serene. I had tried to make the visual images in my book, from the streets of London to Ashford Manor’s maid’s quarters, feel authentic. But back then, I had no real way of validating it.
I didn’t realize how exhausting all this would be, and how much of a time suck, until I set my third book, which I later sold, in the mountains of North Carolina, a place I live near and have visited hundreds of times. It was like breathing a sigh of relief. Like coming home and kicking off shoes that pinched my toes. Finally, I could describe an atmosphere I was familiar with and concentrate on the mystery plot. The sounds and smells of a damp hardwood forest, the sight of a lone crow soaring over the hazy Blue Ridge Mountains, the woozy feeling I get from standing too close to the edge of a scenic overlook: these are the things I could close my eyes and conjure instantly without worrying about whether or not I was getting it right.
I drug that old manuscript out of the drawer the other day and thumbed through it. It wasn’t as bad as I remembered. Oh, the dialogue was cringeworthy. And I used at least fifty adverbs per page. And anyone with half a brain would have guessed the ending long before the end of Chapter One. But I had to ask myself: Would a reader actually believe the space my characters inhabited in the world was somewhere across the pond in England? The answer is—maybe.
As long as they’ve never been there.
Thank you for sharing this with us, Rebecca, and good luck with The House on Crow Mountain.
The novel is available online at the following retailers:
About Rebecca Lee Smith: Rebecca lives with her husband and a dog named Wilbur in the beautiful misty mountains of East Tennessee, where the people are charming, soulful, and just a little bit crazy. She’s been everything from a tax collector to a stay-at-home-mom to an award-winning professional actress and director. When she’s not churning out small-town cozy-ish mysteries, she loves to travel the world, go to the Outer Banks for her ocean fix, watch old movies, and make her day complete by answering the Final Jeopardy! question. Her Southern roots and the affectionate appreciation she has for the rural towns she lives near inspire the settings and characters she writes about.