Our December Brave Soul Artist is dynamic writer whose work not only entertains, but propels readers to think and FEEL something. Frederick Smith, originally from Detroit, Michigan, is a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism and Loyola University Chicago. A finalist for the 2004 PEN Center Emerging Voices Fellowship, and a member of the 2004 VONA (Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation at the University of San Francisco) novel seminar, Fred is an advocate for social justice and equality issues. His first novel, DOWN FOR WHATEVER, was published in 2005. Released late last month, his latest book, RIGHT SIDE OF THE WRONG BED is a smart and stimulating novel that takes readerson a wonderful ride through black and Latino gay couples in Los Angeles.
This is important to me because often times, we're asked to leave our sexual orientation at the door with our black and latino communities, or we're asked to leave our ethnicity at the door with the larger gay community. My writing characters who are proud of their ethnicity and being gay is part of that effort to tell young gay people of color you can be all who you are without being ashamed or leaving parts of you at the entrance door.
We reached out to Frederick a couple of months ago about being an artist feature here on the Brave Soul site and he graciously accepted, so what you are about to read is a slice of life inside the mind of this talented young man who I'm sure we'll be hearing lots more from in years to come. We are honored to present to the Brave Soul family, Mr. Frederick Smith. Enjoy
How did your first novel, Down For Whatever come into fruition?
Down For Whatever actually started as a short story homework assignment in a beginning fiction class I took at UCLA. The teacher, Kerry Madden, loved the section I turned in, and started asking for more. And trying to be the good student, I met her questions and eventually developed what shaping up to be a good outline for a novel. After the class, I joined a couple writing workshop groups, where we provided feedback for our projects, and then shopped around the completed manuscript to literary agents for representation.
Down For Whatever has been described as a 'black and latino" Queer As Folk" meets "Waiting To Exhale" meets "Sex & The City". How do you feel about comparisons like these?
Oh, I'm perfectly fine with the comparisons. Sometimes, it's pop culture references that make it easiest to give that "elevator pitch" of your novel to others, which is actually what most people have time to listen to. It's all marketing. And those are great projects to be compared to. So advice to potentially published authors I say -- develop your elevator pitch, otherwise known as a 10-second summary, because most folks don't want to listen to a long, drawn out explanation until they figure if they're interested or not.
On your website, you refer to yourself as an advocate for social justice & equality issues. How does that fact influence or affect your writing?
My writing my novels is part of my overall passion for social justice and equality issues. I wanted to read novels featuring characters who are culturally-empowered, meaning they are not ashamed of or apologize for their ethnic or class background issues, within the larger context of the gay community. This is important to me because often times, we're asked to leave our sexual orientation at the door with our black and latino communities, or we're asked to leave our ethnicity at the door with the larger gay community. My writing characters who are proud of their ethnicity and being gay is part of that effort to tell young gay people of color you can be all who you are without being ashamed or leaving parts of you at the entrance door.
Inspiration. What does that word mean to you? Where does it come from for you?
To me inspiration is God's voice speaking to you something that was already inside you. I get inspired by a lot. I like my quiet prayer and meditation time. I am a nosy person and get inspired listening to people's conversations for jump-off points for dialogue and plot. I also like asking myself, "What if?" when thinking about potential story ideas. I also like thinking about worst-case
scenarios and how I, or my characters, would get out of those situation. I find inspiration all around me with regards to writing.
Ten to twelve years ago there were very few black gay writers whose works were published and available to the masses. How do you feel about the shift that has clearly occurred over the last decade or so with regard to the number of black gay authors and stories that exist?
It's so exciting to see so many black gay authors and stories in existence. We know there could be more, especially work that's published by traditional publishing companies. Because we know our community is diverse, we have a number of experiences, and there is no one representative story. I do think we all need to show homage to folks like James Baldwin who wrote his novels in an era when there were no gay civil rights, and barely any black civil rights. I also think that E. Lynn Harris, who opened up the door to modern era black, gay and bisexual stories, is owed a lot of thanks. His work continues to show there is a market for our stories.
How was the creation of your latest novel different from that of Down For Whatever? Did you find it was easier or more difficult to complete this most recent book?
The first book I wrote for fun, on my own time, just to see if I could complete a novel. With the second book, especially once you've been published, your mind shifts to things like numbers, audience, deadlines, marketing, and things like that. So in a way, the art becomes influenced by business matters, in the sense that if you want to maintain a career that sustains you, you are always thinking about how to work quicker, harder, and making those efforts pay off career wise. This is especially true if your goal is long-term career growth, which is what I'm focused on in my writing life. But I also had more fun writing RIGHT SIDE because it's a lot more fast-paced, fun, more sex, and just poured onto the page.
What do you hope readers gain and or learn from reading your latest novel, Right Side of the Wrong Bed?
I hope that readers take a closer look at the romantic relationships in their lives, and take more time at the building stage to ask more questions, look at potential red flags, and trust their intuition... all while having fun getting to know someone new. A lot of times we, myself included, let ourselves get swept away with the feelings and passion of a new relationship, but we overlook those little and large things that say we should slow down. Jeremy and Kenny in RIGHT SIDE definitely have a lot of passion, but they also have a lot of challenges that they are aware of but choose to ignore.
I think relationships between people of different ethnicities can work, but only if those relationships are coming from a place of authenticity and love, and not from a place where someone is being fetished, exoticized, put on a pedestal, or without an understanding and discussion of racism in the U.S. I know it's a lot, because most people say, "people are people, we love who we love," and that you can't overanalyze love or who you fall for. True, but you can ask yourself why you're attracted to the people you're attracted to... and not from a place of judgment, but just from a place of understanding yourself and others. The other day, I heard a young black guy, probably 18, boast, that he's not attracted to other black people... as if that was a compliment or something to be proud of. I challenged him to unpack that, to think about why he's turned his back and attraction on people like him. It made me a little sad, because I was that boy when I was 18, but I thank God for the privilege of education, and being able to study colonialism, the history of racism in the U.S., and how those large topics influenced the choices I made. As for me, I love black men, I love being black, and there's no shame or drama in that for me.
Do you feel living in Los Angeles has influenced, shaped or affected your work as a writer?
For sure. Los Angeles is a great place to be as a writer and creative type. So many different people, so much energy and buzz around the city, always something new to find, discover, or get invovled with. Los Angeles is an essential character of my novels, but not just the "Hollywood sign" L.A. people have come to know in pop culture. We have vibrant communities of color and rich histories that shape why and how we are in L.A. today. And this is reflected in my novels.
What impact has HIV/AIDS had not only your life in general but particularly as a writer/artist?
I lost one of my closest friends... I sometimes call him the love of my life, to HIV/AIDS back in the mid 1990s. If he'd lived, I have no doubt he would have conquered soap operas and would now be into motion pictures, as he had phenomenal acting skills and what many say "All American" looks (not a term I use, but people used it on him). We studied together in undergrad, and I followed him to Chicago where we both did grad school. I had no clue the whole time he was hiding his health status, until one day we received notification from his family he wouldn't be moving back to Chicago for school. Very sad. But I always think of him and what could have been to this day.
Our topic for December and the year's end on the BSC site is God. Any feelings/thoughts that come to mind as it pertains to the idea of God that you'd like to share?
I believe in God. I also believe that people have a right to believe, or not believe, in whatever gives them hope, inspiration, and a sense of self.