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Interview with Daniel A. Smith, author of Storykeeper

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Tell us about Storykeeper.
Storykeeper is about a first encounter between two completely different cultures and the tragic results that followed. It unfolds through fireside stories told to and by three young protagonists, each a generation apart. In June of 1541, the Spanish conqueror Hernando de Soto and his army of three-hundred conquistadors arrived in the Native American nation of Casqui, forty miles west of present day Memphis, TN. Within a few years, it is estimated that 90% of that native population had died from diseases carried by the Europeans, famines, drought, and wars.

Below the surface, the novel is really about storytelling. I think it is one of humanity’s most basic and defining characteristics, the unique ability and driving desire to tell stories. All stories from ancient cave painting to the most structured novel contribute to the enduring nature of mankind and are crucial for the survival of any culture.

A tip for new writers, don’t tell an agent that you are writing a novel about story “telling” even if you are.

Why’s that?

It comes from a bruising pitch session when an agent admitted that no one was going to give a novel about telling stories a look because it breaks the first rule of fiction writing; show don’t tell. Silly, I know. I spent the next two years and many query letters trying to down-play the storytelling element of my novel. I finally saw the light. I stopped writing queries became an Indie author and embraced my storytelling.

Lucky for us! What genre is this book?
Storykeeper is a historical literary novel, based on actual events documented in four surviving sixteenth-century Spanish journals. It is also a coming-of-age adventure with a cast of thousands in great ceremonies, battles, and an amphibious assault, life-changing journeys, and small love interest. At its core, Storykeeper is a Native American novel, formed from their ancient traditions and culture.

What kind of readers will it appeal to?
I hope that it would be appreciated and enjoyed by a wide range of readers. It will appeal to anyone with the desire to learn more about ancient Native American culture and a neglected, formative period of American history. Some of my favorite comments come from readers who say: this is not the type of book that I would normally read, but I really liked it and I learned something.

Complete this sentence for us: If you liked_____________________, you’ll love Storykeeper
Any novel from the Contact: The Battle for America series by W. Michael and Kathleen O’Neal Gear or maybe the Hobit by J.R.R.Tolkin, whose storytelling style greatly influenced my writing.

What attracted you to this story, and how much research did you have to do?
I have always been interested in ancient historical monuments, intrigued by their mysteries and drawn into the effort of so many to uncover their lost stories. Driving around my home state on business in the 1990s, I realized that there were prehistoric monuments, mounds, canals, earthworks, and an astonishing host of ancient artifacts in my own backyard. I began reading about  Arkansas’s prehistory and learned that the first documented expedition into the state, led by Hernando de Soto, recorded twelve different nations, many densely populated and some eight hundred years old.

I wondered, what would it be like to be the last person who remembers? The scenario piqued my curiosity. Over the next four or five years, I visited museums, archeological sites, studied old maps and read all I could find on the time period. But it was an image that came to me on a late-night  drive through the Ozark Mountains of old man filled with suppressed stories of haunting losses finding a small abandoned child in her own grave that pushed me to begin writing Storykeeper.

In your professional life you’ve got to work for a long roster of big names and celebrities. Care to name drop a little? Who has impressed or surprised you the most?
Yes, I have had many unique and wonderful opportunities. Working for celebrities pays the bills and impresses people, but working with artists to acoustically enhance their performance is what I found to be the most creative and rewarding.

Barbara Mandrell is one of my favorite all around entertainers. I learned a lot of things that surprised me on the road. One is that quite often the most amazingly-talented artists are the nicest. Of politicians, President Clinton was the best to work for. The most impressive tour I worked was Alice Cooper’s Welcome to my Nightmare and the hottest outdoor festivals were the Allman Brothers’ Summer Campaign of 1974 and Willie Nelson’s second 4th of July Picnic.

Tell us a bit more about yourself.
I’m not a writer by trade or training. I’m a sound man, an audio tech who has spent the last four decades relatively unnoticed surrounded by knobs, faders and meters on a raised platform in the middle of large crowds, quietly controlling what they hear and experience. Traveling across the United States, each day a new venue, a different crowd or different event broadened my horizon. It gave me a unique behind-the-scenes perspective into the ceremony, pageantry, group-bonding, and inherent need of people to gather in mass celebrations.

However, when I write I find that I’m most creative when I’m far from crowds and as close to nature as I can get.

Have you got a website where readers can keep up with your work? How can we follow you on Facebook and / or Twitter?
For a southern, I speak slow, and write even slower. I don’t have a web site and have recently given-up on twitter. I do have Facebook page but really I’d rather spend my time on my writing.  However, when something nice or exciting happens, like this interview, I am glad to post the news on Facebook.
http://www.facebook.com/storykeeper.danielasmith.

What’s next?
I will be releasing a short story, The Great Turtle and the White Bird in the next two weeks. It is a companion story to the Storykeeper novel.

I’m also working on the next two books of The Valley of Nine-Rivers series. I began researching and outlining what I thought would be book “two” before Storykeeper was finished. Only then did I realized that it was really book “three”. It is on hold now while I start up the actual second novel of the trilogy.

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2 Comments

  1. Rony Cambell

    Brilliant interview Daniel. So glad that you did it.

    You so deserve to be recognised for writing a truly wonderful book.

    Come on people – if you haven’t read this book – you are missing out on a truly brilliant story

  2. My favorite line in your interview:
    “I wondered, what would it be like to be the last person who remembers?”

    I think the story of that memory ought to be included in helping people learn Arkansas and U.S. history. Arkansas Post and Batesville are old, but they are not the first cities in our land. One of the greatest mass extinctions of a native culture occurred in the Mississippi Delta of Arkansas.

    For me, your book takes that fact from a very faint knowledge to a very vivid image and a new sense of connection to our past.

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