This Week’s Feature Author Interview with
Hi Rhonda Smiley, welcome to the Indie Publishing Group website. Introduce yourself to us. Tell everyone who you are, where you’re from, what do you enjoy doing, hobbies and interests.
Sure. I’m Rhonda Smiley, and I was born in Montreal, Canada, but moved to Hollywood to live with my dad and two (of my three) siblings when I was 12. I now live in Glendale, California with my partner, Jim, and our terrier-mix, Jojo. I won’t say which, but one of them is a great listener, rarely interrupts, and always agrees with me. I’m addicted to puzzles, spider solitaire, crosswords, and Sudoku, and don’t feel guilty about it anymore since researchers say these are brain-builders, not time-wasters. My favorite pastime is walking, though. Through neighborhoods, parks, mountains, you name it. If I could walk and write at the same time, I would.
When did you start writing and why?
I started writing in college. I majored in Film Production at Concordia University in Montreal, thinking I wanted to be a director. Most students wrote the movies they made, so I started writing scripts, and never stopped. After college, I came back to L.A. to be a screenwriter and wrote a bunch of specs that apparently only I loved. Eventually, after lots of hard work, I got lucky enough to be hired as a writer on a kids TV show, and I’ve been writing for television ever since. But whether you’re writing on a show, or someone is interested in producing one of your specs, you realize pretty fast that screenwriting is a very collaborative medium. You’re never quite telling your own story (even in your specs) because many people become creatively involved along the way. I wanted to tell my own stories, the way I saw them, so I started writing books.
Which is your favorite book you have written and what gave you the idea for it?
Well, since Asper is my only book so far, I’ll go with that one. I hope that will change, in that I’ll grow as an author and like each subsequent book more than the last, but I really do have a special affinity for the characters in this book. I spent a lot of time developing them, especially the protagonist, Milla. She’s the source of the idea in a way. I was writing a lot of boy-centric shows and I wanted to represent. I wanted a well-rounded, flawed, but strong female protagonist – a girl who faced the impossible and didn’t back down. Girl power!
How did you come up with the title for your book?
My title is so straightforward, you’d think very little thought went into it, but I played with a lot of titles before I settled on Asper. Every time I thought I had a good one, I researched to see if it existed in the YA fantasy genre, and you’d be surprised how many titles you come up with that someone else has in your same genre. I settled on Asper because it’s the world Milla is from and her world – everything she knows, everything she thought she was, and her literal world – are all at risk.
Who helped you with the cover? Or did your design it yourself? What was your inspiration for your cover design?
My story takes place in both Asper and Earth so that was the main inspiration for the cover. Then of course, I wanted to get across that it was a fantasy and the main character was a girl. Thankfully, I knew my limitations, and chose to use a professional designer at Damonza.
It was an interesting process. First, I gave them a few ideas I had for the cover, one of them being the juxtaposition of the 2 worlds, and they gave me roughs of each of the ideas. I then had the opportunity to ask for changes on any or all of their roughs, to try to narrow down which one I’d land on. I eliminated one right away, and got revisions on the remaining two, before deciding.
I’m glad I went with Damonza because, even though I had pitched the concept of 2 worlds, they came up with the idea of putting it behind the silhouette of the girl, which I think looks awesome. I never would’ve thought of that.
What are some of the themes of your story?
Love and family would be the strongest themes running throughout. People do great things and terrible things, find strength and weakness, in the name of love and family. This book explores both sides, the good and bad, and what drives people to do what they do. Everyone in this story is dealing with the fallout of their choices, choices they made based on their heart.
What’s your process when you sit down and decide to start writing a book? What is your process and do you have a system?
I outline. I have to, or I get lost. When I first started writing, I’d sit down with a general idea and let the characters guide me through the story. When I started writing professionally, I was required to deliver outlines. The more I did, the more I realized that having the main beats of a story in place made it much easier (and faster) to write, and freed me up creatively. I know that sounds contradictory, but it’s not confining at all. To me, the opposite. With an outline, I know clearly what it is I’m trying to say and where I want to go in the bigger scheme, and that gives me the freedom to play around within the scene. That’s not to say that I don’t deviate, because I do. New ideas spark all the time, and I don’t let the outline stop me from exploring them. I just make sure it fits in with what I’m trying to say overall and gets me where I need to go.
Who are some of your favorite characters and why?
Everyone who has read Asper, loves Parker. He’s the teen from Earth that Milla (the protagonist) develops feelings for. He’d totally be the kind of boy I’d crush on in high school. But as a writer, I adore Zanub. He’s a young soldier in the queen’s army, raised in the castle since he was a child, and loyal to a fault, which makes him the enemy. But he’s always been in love with Milla. You can’t dedicate your life to good and evil. You have to choose one because they will collide at some point.
And then, of course, Milla. She’s an innocent when this story begins. Because she lost her mother when she was only three, her well-intentioned father became unreasonably overprotective, trying to shelter her from the evils of this world – mainly the queen and her army. They lived in hiding, Milla had no friends, and was rarely allowed to go outside and play. So when the army kills her father, she’s not only thrust into an unbearable heartbreak at 16 years old, she’s thrust into a dangerous world with no skills to survive. But she discovers she’s a fighter, because now, she has something to fight for.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
I go between craving what I’d call fast summer reads to slower-paced character driven stories. Some of my favorite books are from John Irving, Nelson DeMille, Clive Cussler, and James Rollins.
Have you got anything you’re working on now?
Right now, I’m working on a graphic novel called Blowback with my partner, Jim. We’ve collaborated on a lot of projects, and this one is based on a spec we wrote which won first place in the sci-fi category of the FadeIn screenwriting contest. We didn’t have high hopes of selling a sci-fi crossover historical action spec with a budget upwards of $150 million, but we wanted to get it out there, the way we saw it. A graphic novel felt like the perfect medium. We’re pretty stoked to have artist, Kev Hopgood – who is co-creator of Marvel’s War Machine – onboard. Every time we get pages from him, we’re awed by his talent. Blowback will be released in Spring 2018.
If you could have any super powers what would they be?
How funny. At least once a day I lament not having telekinesis. Not so I could bring the remote or a cup of coffee over without getting up, but because I’d love to be able to get cars to actually stop at stop signs so my dog and I can cross the street. I know it seems like a trivial use of a superpower, but when you walk your dog three times a day, you need to get across that street! I promise to think of more altruistic uses, though, if I ever do develop that superpower.
Thanks so much for taking the time to do an author interview. Take a minute and check Rhonda Smiley out on the links below. Rhonda Smiley’s book, Asper, is available now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.
Rhonda Smiley Author Website
Rhonda Smiley Amazon Author Page
Rhonda Smiley Goodreads Author Page