Q&A with Michael Farris Smith

I cannot shout from the page effusively enough how much I love Michael Farris Smith’s works! His writing is beautifully captivating and in his books, Smith gives voices to those people in our midst that are often overlooked by society. In Desperation Road, we meet newly released inmate Russel Gaines, who comes back to the Mississippi town he has been away from for eleven years. Believing his debt paid by the sentence he served, he is thrown into a violent awakening by his past and those who seek revenge. Alternating between Russel’s perspective is that of Maben, who arrives in town with her young daughter the same day Russel is released from prison. Both characters are desperate to move on from their pasts, but misfortune and violence follow them without heed. Desperation Road is an amazing book, and one that is sure to become a classic. I highly recommend it, you will not be disappointed. Please check out the interview the wonderful Michael Farris Smith allowed me to conduct with him, below!


1) What kind of research did you do, and how long did you spend writing the beginning of Desperation Road?

I guess the hours of my wasted youth, spent riding the south Mississippi back roads, count as research. Who knew?  It probably took me about 12-14 months to get through a draft I was happy with.


2) What part of the novel did you enjoy and/or are the most proud of writing, and why?

As far as enjoy, I think writing Larry. He’s such a loose cannon and I never knew what he might do each time I sat down to write him. I think there is a sense of pride in using my hometown as the landscape for the novel. Many memories came back when I revisited the old haunts.


3) Were there any books, stories, etc. that you drew inspiration from for Desperation Road?

I can’t think of any specific, other than just the culmination of inspiring writers that influence everything I write, the William Gays and Larry Browns and Cormac McCarthys of the world.


4) What character do you relate to most and why?

I can’t decide if it’s Russell or Maben. They both are lost, wanderers, struggling to figure out just where they fit in the world, and that’s something I have felt at different times in my own life, particularly when I decided to try and write fiction.


5) Have you read anything recently that has made you think differently about fiction?

Maybe not about fiction itself, but re-reading favorite books is always interesting to me, because I always see different things and feel different things because my own life is evolving.


6) Who are some of your favorite authors/books?

Father and Son by Larry Brown, The Ballad of the Sad Cafe by Carson McCullers, The Long Home by William Gay, Light in August by Faulkner, The Stranger by Albert Camus.


7) With all of the troubling events going on in the world and especially the US, why do you think written word/art is important? Any advice for writers during this time?

Damn, what a question. I’ll be honest, it’s hard to concentrate creatively right now. It seems like every few hours something is being said or done that just makes me feel mad or depressed or anxious over the state of our country. I guess my best advice for writers is what I tell myself, just try to focus. Feel what is all around you. Don’t shy away. What we write now will be the literature of a troubled American time and it has to have the heartbeat.

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