Saturday, August 22, 2009

Author Interview with SYLVIA DICKEY SMITH

Sylvia Dickey Smith’s creative writing focuses on the strengths and weaknesses of middle-aged and older women finding their way and developing a strong identity of their own. She writes a column for the Austin Writing Examiner: Older Women Make Better Writers and is the author of the Sidra Smart mystery series. Syl lives in Texas with her husband and is the proud mother of five children.


You enjoyed a number of major achievements later in life: college graduation with B.A. and Masters Degrees, and careers as a counselor, therapist, and best-selling novelist. What took you so long—and why?

What took so long, and why? Wow, the answer to those questions will take me as long as it took to accomplish those goals! The answer boils down to a lack of self-confidence to even try. I grew up in the fifties, with a mother who believed a girl graduated high school, married a good boy, and let him take care of and provide for you. Her belief fit in really well with a girl who thought herself dumb, ugly, and incapable of anything—even finding that kind of boy. When one came along and asked me to marry him even before my senior year of high school, I said yes—after all, he asked.

Twenty something years later, with four children, I entered a mid-life revaluation (read: crisis) and the pain of inferiority was great enough to propel me to enroll in my first freshman college class at age 40. By then my children were in high school, middle school, grade school and preschool. Plus, I still possessed that husband for whom I cooked, cleaned, ironed, and supplied a cup of coffee in bed every morning before he arose.

Well, the first thing to stop was that cup of coffee in bed. He had to start getting his own.

Once begun, there was nothing that I allowed to stop me going to school. A whole new world opened up for me. I graduated with honors and immediately began my masters program. Of course, as so often happens, by the time I graduated with the second degree, my husband no longer liked the independent, free-thinker I had become. We didn’t fit anymore, and parted ways. I launched my career and had a ball doing so. After I retired, though, is when I found my passion—writing.

There is something so satisfying about taking a group of words and moving them around until they communicate what you want them to. I am a firm believer AGAINST the adage, “just semantics.” There is no such thing as just semantics. Words have power, and certain words have more power than others, and communicate prejudice, inequality, and inferiority. My stand is: when certain words do that, then we need to create a new word or title. I could give examples, but then I’d have to climb up on my soap box.

Your writing focuses on the strengths and weaknesses of middle-aged and older women finding their ways and developing strong identities of their own. Tell us about this passion.

You can likely guess the answer to this question after reading the first one. My experiences have given me a passion to help women find their voice, because it helped me find mine. One of the first actions I took as a part of this newfound passion was to accept the invitation to write and conduct a fashion show for an El Paso church celebrating their 200th anniversary. I agreed to do so only if I could use fashion to depict women’s continued progress toward equality and liberation and titled the play, From Adam’s Rib to Women’s Lib. Loved doing it and received accolades for the program. Still have a copy of the program with accompanying photos—almost thirty years later. Another outlet for this passion was to lead assertiveness groups for women, teaching them more effective means of communication through assertive behaviors. Some husbands didn’t like their wives attending! (LOL) And then I found writing.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer?

Oh my. Finding an agent! The field is so competitive these days. The search for the right agent really gets discouraging. I believe I am a good writer; however, I look forward to the day when I can join forces with an agent who can take me to the top--who can help me make my work better.

What is the title of your most recently published book? Briefly tell us what it’s about and let us know where we can buy it.

My most recent book is the third one in the Sidra Smart mystery series, called Dead Wreckoning. The series is set in southeast Texas, the land of Cajuns, cowboys, pirates and Paleo-Indians. I draw on all this culture to weave a story of suspense and mystery. Orange, Texas is the home of Sidra’s detective agency,The Third Eye, inherited from her brother, an intuitive. In Dead Wreckoning, Sid searches for an elusive schooner and stirs up ruthless smugglers and the spirits of Privateer, Jean Lafitte and Pirate Queen Mary Ann Radcliff--the fictional descendant of true life female pirate Anne Bonny, who rode with Calico Jack Rackham. As Sid searches for the schooner and evidence to clear her client of murder, she battles an unknown enemy, and soon discovers they know their business much better than she knows hers.

The book is available for order from any bookstore, and can be ordered directly from, Barnes & or from your favorite independent bookstore. It is available on Fictionwise and for Kindle as well.

Share with us the trials and tribs of writing a series.

Oh, I love writing a series, especially one set in my hometown, and with a protagonist a lot like me! (However, remember, it is all fiction.) But the most difficult part of writing a series, I think, is to keep each book fresh and new. I am taking a break before writing another Sidra Smart book because I felt like I needed the time, or else the fourth book may be more of the same. She’s a great gal, and folks are begging for her next adventure. She’ll be back, when she’s ready to burst back on the scene. She tells me when she’s ready.

What are you working on now and when/where do you expect it to be available?

I have just finished a standalone novel set during World War II, again in southeast Texas. The title is A War or Her Own. I am currently shopping it with agents and have all my hairs crossed! I drafted this work several years ago during NANOWRIMO, and put it aside. The first part of the draft was fairly okay for first draft—but the last three-fourths was really crap. I dug it out after finishing Dead Wreckoning and got to work on it.

A War of Her Own is the story of Bea Meade, a young woman who believes when a person falls from grace it is probably the result of one stupid error in judgment. She doesn’t know it can happen so slowly she might not even know she is falling until after she hits the ground. Caught between a cheating husband and a WWII German Saboteur, the story transports the reader to 1943, to a time and place in American history when the whole world is at war. Desperate people caught in the backwater of the Great Depression flock to sleepy little Orange, Texas, a town in the middle of a social revolution. The population soars over 700 percent as a result of jobs-for-the-taking at the local shipyards. Folks have money to burn, but with little to spend it on or a place to lay their heads. Except for the distant war, times are good. Yet Bea Meade fights another war, and the enemy resides within her---for a lifetime. Any day now, a big-time agent is going to call and offer representation. I feel it in my bones. LOL

Writers, especially new writers, are always looking for tips and helpful information. What is the single most important “tip” you can give to a new writer?

Join a good critique group, a group that will be honest and open about your writing, both about the good and what needs improvement. Along with that, do not, DO NOT, defend your writing during the feedback. Receive it, say “thank you I’ll take another look at that,” and then go home and do so.

Tell us about the Austin Writing Examiner and your column: Older Women Make Better Writers.

I am a strong believer in stories, and I believe the more life experiences we have, the more stories we collect. I also am aware of the difficulty “more adult” adults have in getting their work taken seriously by agents and publishing houses—generally speaking. I know there are exceptions. I am a strong advocate for women, and for more adult women. I truly appreciate any and all support I receive as a writer and this column is my attempt to return the favor, and to bring a higher public awareness of some neat writers who may not make the New York Times Bestseller List. (Of course some do, too!) A couple of male friend authors have accused me of prejudice, so I’ve promised I’d let them have their day in the column, too. Another reason for the column is to encourage older women who have never written to see the example set by so many others like them, and to just do it! Women’s stories need to be told, for if we don’t, those messages will be lost along with us.

Do you have any upcoming book signings or appearances? If so, give us all the details.

Sept. 25, 2009, East Texas Book Fest in Tyler, Texas. Hope all the east Texas folks will come by my table for a visit. Leading a discussion group. Hours: 10:00-6:00 Ornelas Activity Center – Tyler

Oct. 17, 2009, Writers Club of Pasadena, Pasadena, Texas, San Jacinto College Central Campus (All day meeting, speaking at 1:00 p.m.) Books available for purchase

Oct. 22-24, Golden Triangle Writers Conference, Beaumont, Texas

Dec. 5, 2009, The Christmas Stroll, Hill Country Bookstore, on the square in Georgetown, Texas.

Here’s your opportunity to tell us anything else you care to share.

I am busy conducting research on my next standalone book. Not telling the topic yet, it is a secret, but having a marvelous time with the research on a fascinating subculture in our country. Also, I am friends with the mother-in-law of Julie Powell, author of Julie Julia. I listened, from week to week, about Julie’s cooking adventure/blog. I am thrilled to see her success. Next? It’s my turn! LOL

What are the addresses of your website(s) and blog(s):


  1. Lordy, Sylvia, you're making me tired reading all you're doing. I so admire you for what you've accomplished and your energy. It's not a question of whether you'll make that big splash, but when. Soon, I predict.

    Straight From Hel

  2. Hey, Helen, is there anywhere you are NOT on the web? It is so neat running into you all over the place! And yes, my tongue is hanging out!

    Send me your info so I can feature you on the

  3. Thanks so much for the interview, Linda. You do ask penetrating questions. Never could ignoring talking about myself! LOL Hope friends will come by my column and subscribe, plus email me to be featured with the wisdom of sage advice.

  4. I'm glad you enjoyed the interview, Sylvia. And I'm sure people will visit you and your sites - especially us more "mature" folks!

  5. Sylvia, wonderful getting to know you better through this interview. I've been following your column (I'm a subscriber!), and it's fascinating and inspiring hearing what other women are accomplishing. Good interview, Linda.

  6. Sylvia, I love your series on older women writers and can't wait to read each new installment. This is a whole world of women I'd love to know personally. I'm acquainted with quite a few ladies (over 40+) in our own Northern Colorado writers community who are working on their first novels. It's very exciting.

    Thanks to Linda for another excellent feature.