Sherri L. Smith had been working on writing her Young Adult novel The Blossom and the Firefly. Late one evening, Sherri made a declaration to her husband. Three days before the editors deadline, she announced that she had just completed her first draft.
But the conversation that followed made her rethink everything.
In an interview with Smith, we speak about a good and bad day of writing. She talks about what it feels like to know when you’ve written something that works. She tells us how she was convinced at one point that she had ruined her career, until she found hope unexpectedly in a pop-up retail book store at the mall.
What does a good day of writing look like for you?
There are scenes in the book that are very emotional. I don’t write romance normally, but I had a sense of the height of the romantic moment in this scene. But there’s this other scene that I didn’t realize until I was writing it and I was thinking- oh my god, this is a love story about parents and children too. And I just started bawling and then you know you’ve hit something.
Then you finish it and you go on and you think you’ve done your good work.
And when I got my copy of the book and its after I’ve gone over this writing a million times and I hit that section again and started the bawl again!
I was like, oh yeah this is good. So that was a good day.
What about a bad day of writing? Can you tell me about a day when you felt blocked or doubtful of yourself?
It was a Monday or Tuesday, my final draft was due Friday. Thursday I was babysitting my brother’s kids all day, and so I’m working late Tuesday night to finish.
I went to my husband – we both work from home- so I go into his office and I’m like “well I finished my book. It’s sad, but I finished it.”
And my husband (who’s not a romantic) is very pragmatic and he goes, “What do you mean it’s sad?. You can’t make it sad- you have to give people hope!
And it was like the late evening sun was beaming in and he gives me this rousing speech about how important hope is like, “Who the hell are you?”
And I was like, “Well then maybe I’ve ruined my career by writing just a tragic sad story, and I’m going to bed!”
And I shuffled off down the hall. And I got into bed.
And there’s something sort of niggling at me in the back of my mind. And I finally say it out loud- “I’ve ruined my career!”
Then I thought, “….Or else, I haven’t finished the book!”
The minute I said that, twelve more chapters slammed into my head!
Then I thought, “This is due Friday and I’ve only got two working days left in the week”
So I keep a notepad by the bed, and I wrote down a description of each chapter and because this is alternating chapters six of them were hers, six for him. The next day I wrote his chapters, and then the wall I hit was- I was writing a war story and all my research was about the war itself and now I needed to write post-war stuff.
I didn’t know anything about post-war Japan.
And so I wrote my editor and I was like, “I’ve had an epiphany. I know it’s due Friday but I am looking at Friday night. I will see what I can do.”
And she was like “Oh, I love epiphanies. Go ahead.”
The next day, I went to the mall before I had to go babysit. My mall doesn’t have a bookstore anymore. It’s a tragedy.
But there was this pop-up temporary bookstore, and I was like- oh! I’ll walk by and just see what they have. And lo and behold for $5 they have two Time/Life books on post-World War Japan and post World War II Asia!
I’m like- okay kismet, sit down!
While I’m babysitting, I’m reading through this book. I worked into Friday night, and I finished the draft, and I sent it in, and my editor was like “you know, these last 12 chapters… we might have to deal with pacing…you might need to edit those…”
And I was like, “Sure, okay, because that’s a first draft. Everything else has been revised and revised. That was just…that was the epiphany happening.”
And you know, those are the pages we didn’t touch. We ended up not cutting any of those chapters and just sort of massaging lines and stuff for clarity. That was amazing.
So it was the worst day – I thought my career was over.
And then, in the end, I didn’t make it less sad. I gave people hope.
The idea was: what is hope after tragedy? You can’t erase the tragedy. So, how do you show it? That’s why I needed post-war events. How do you come through something like that? What is it like to survive and be defeated?
These stories of heroism and triumph- there’s always “a loser”. So what does that look like?
What is the meaning of a sacrifice when the sacrifice doesn’t work?
This blog is part one of a series of a conversation with Sherri L. Smith about the process of writing The Blossom and the Firefly. If you enjoyed this conversation, please share it on social media. You can order your copy of The Blossom and the Firefly now on Amazon.
To learn more about Goddard College’s MFA in Creative Writing, make an inquiry with Goddard’s admissions office. We’d love to hear about your writing and process to see how Goddard’s low-residency model can help reinforce and invigorate your writing practice.