The Sweetest Debut: ‘Desperation Road’ Author Michael Farris Smith on Writing His Novel About “Regret, Revenge, and Redemption”

Welcome to The Sweetest Debut, a new and regular installment in which we reach out to debut (or near-debut, we’re flexible!) fiction, poetry and nonfiction authors working with presses of all sizes and find out about their pop culture diets, their writing habits, and how they explain their books to different people in their lives. 

Today, we hear from Rivers author Michael Farris Smith about his new, brooding novel, Desperation Road. The book’s narrative follows two imperiled people (one, an impoverished woman traveling from motel to motel with her young daughter; the other, a man just released after finishing an 11-year vehicular manslaughter/drunk driving prison sentence) approaching the same Mississippi town from opposite directions; Smith examines what happens when the weighty baggage his characters bring with them is eventually combined. 

What is your elevator pitch to folks in the industry describing your book? 

The three R’s: regret, revenge, redemption.

What you tell your relatives it’s about?

I tiptoe around that so as not to scare them. And then I finally have to explain, “no this didn’t happen to me.”

How long was this project marinating in a draft or in your head before it became a book deal?

About 18 months.

Name a book you’ve read more than two times.

The Stranger.

A book or other piece of art that influenced your writing for this particular project.

A Feast of Snakes by Harry Crews is right up there.

What’s your favorite show to binge watch when you’re not writing?

Recently, Sneaky Pete on Amazon but it only has one season, so not much of a binge. Stormed through The Americans pretty quickly.

What’s the last movie you saw in theaters?

I have two daughters: Sing. And yes, I liked it.

Do you listen to music while you’re writing? If so, what kind? 

No, but I listen to it right before I sit down to work. I’m listening mostly to Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, Lucero, more singer/songwriter stuff with a guitar crunch.

Who is your fashion icon?

Jim Morrison.

If you could buy a house anywhere in the world just to write in, where would it be?

Paris. Cliche, but I can’t help it. That’s where I was living when the idea of writing finally struck me, so I earned this answer.

What did you initially want to be when you grew up?

A major league shortstop. But then a rock star. And I still want to be a rock star.

Did you have a new years resolution for 2017? If so, what?

To kick ass on the revision of my novel The Fighter, set to follow Desperation Road next year.

What freaks you out the most about four years of Trump as US President?

The daily, and sometimes hourly, idiocy that undermines every damn thing we are supposed to stand for.

Do you prefer a buzzing coffee shop or silent library?

If hanging out, gimme the eye candy of the coffee shop. But I liked coffee shops a lot more before cell phones.

Is morning writing or late-night writing your go-to-time?

Morning. Drop my girls off at school and go right to it before life interrupts.

Do you tend towards writing it all out in one big messy draft and then editing, or perfecting as you go (or something in between)?

I tend to manipulate it as I go along, so when I’m done I can really focus on the story.

How do you pay the bills, if not solely by your pen and your wit?

I teach in a creative writing program.

What is your trick to finding time to write your book while also doing the above? 

Discipline. And the desire to get out of it.