Life With Ferris: Literary Rock Star Gretchen Smith

  • Monday, September 18, 2023
  • Ferris Robinson
Gretchen Smith
Gretchen Smith

Gretchen Smith is one of the least intimidating people I’ve every met. She is down to earth, self-effacing, personable and absolutely hilarious. She has a nutty side to her when she rambles, mentioning rescuing a dog and naming him Kevin because she missed her car her husband sold that was named Kevin. Actually, she didn’t miss the car, just its name; it was an Audi and she never knew if she should pronounce it Ow-di or Auh-di so she just called it Kevin, and after her husband sold it, she missed saying the name Kevin.

See what I mean? In minutes you know Gretchen is the kind of person you want to chat with over coffee or wait with in the waiting room or run into at the market or be stuck in traffic with. Anything!

So why would I be intimidated by her? Let me tell you. She’s a rock star in the literary world. Like, totally.

But the thing about Gretchen is that you would never know it. If you lived across the street from her, she may admit she just received a stack of rejection letters in the mailbox, not that she was a USA Today bestselling author or that she sold upwards of several hundred thousand copies of Double Whammy.

This cute gal recently visited Thrive at Brow Wood to speak with the book club there about the Davis Way Crime Capers, her series of cozy mysteries that total 11 so far. Gretchen’s friend Lisa arranged it, crafting a pink sunglasses-adorned pineapple centerpiece complete with hands of cards and dice and folks gathered around two chairs deep for the occasion.

Gretchen shared her story, beginning with driving a fork lift for her husband who is in the manufacturing business. “I wasn’t licensed but I could definitely operate it,” she explained, adding that he wanted her to come back to work with him. Duh. A voracious reader, she preferred staying home but promised to work with him if she didn’t have success as a writer.

She wrote four books, none of them published. She received 387 rejection letters. She learned a lot, including how important it is to write to your literary market. Unsure of exactly what that was for her, Gretchen knew she didn’t want to write women’s fiction (too much drama) or historical novels (too much research) but she considered cozy mysteries as a genre. They don’t require gratuitous violence, foul language or sex, but more importantly, they interested her and were fun. But the setting is important. She considered medical settings and dental settings but realized she knew nothing about those environs. There are a sea of cozy mysteries, and she needed an edge.

About that time, her husband took her to a casino in Biloxi, gave her $200 to buy hot chocolate (her favorite) in the casino, and two days later, she had $40,000 in her pocketbook. Even better, she’d found her niche.

Gretchen’s fans are devoted and they are many. And they are important to her, and not just because they devour her books. They challenge her.

“Novels are like 80,000 piece puzzles. They are challenging because you must please a wide audience,” she explained. But even though some authors simple “rewrite” their successful books in a series, Gretchen refuses, both because it’s not fair to her readers and because “that’s no fun.”

And although she is wildly successful, like beyond wildly successful, she’s not coasting on her success. She’s a little workhorse, waking up at 4 a.m., when there are no phone calls or emails, to write, or as she says, “rather bang my head on the computer.” During “working hours,” she manages all the different plates that are perpetually in the air with this career, from social media to contracts to research and on and on.

Although Gretchen writes fiction, “Double Whammy” takes place in Pine Apple, Al., an actual town. She saw the exit on the freeway and knew she had to stop. “It was absolutely the cutest little town,” she gushed. And although she took a few creative liberties with the size of the tiny town (“It had to be big enough for two policemen”), in reality it’s very meaningful to her. When the town dedicated its new library, Gretchen was asked to speak. And she was clearly moved when she shared this honor with the Thrive book club.

A graduate of Red Bank High School, Gretchen has had no formal training in writing, saying she just “stumbles her way through.” She is surrounded by other authors of her stature, all with MFA degrees. She mentioned this difference to her editor early on, who nipped any inkling of self-doubt in the bud.

“Trust yourself and write your book,” her editor said.

Indeed.

* * *

Ferris Robinson is the author of three children’s books, “The Queen Who Banished Bugs,” “The Queen Who Accidentally Banished Birds,” and “Call Me Arthropod” in her pollinator series “If Bugs Are Banished.” “Making Arrangements” is her first novel. “Dogs and Love - Stories of Fidelity” is a collection of true tales about man’s best friend. Her website is ferrisrobinson.com and you can download a free pollinator poster there. She is the editor of The Lookout Mountain Mirror and The Signal Mountain Mirror.

Gretchen Smith at Thrive at Brow Wood
Gretchen Smith at Thrive at Brow Wood
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