Please help me welcome Evelyn Eileen Smith as today’s Wednesday’s guest. When her publicist, P.J. Nunn at Breakthrough Productions, contacted me to possibly review Evelyn’s book and host her on the blog, I could hardly say “no.” My mother’s name was Evelyn, and my stepmother was Eileen, so an immediate connection was made. I forgot to ask Ms. Smith what refreshments she might like, but tea and cookies always go well on a cold winter day. Help yourself. I have more.
And now Evelyn Eileen answers some questions.
As you say, they are different, but the three novels––Boardinghouse Stew, Times Like These, and the Memoir, In Love and War––all came before the mystery series. After writing these, which are based on true stories, I decided to try my hand at writing fiction, and I love reading mysteries, so why not write one? (I asked myself.)
Do you still love trains as much as you seemed to as a child?
Absolutely! And I love the old steam trains the best. Some years ago I bought and transformed a 1912 wooden cupola caboose into a writing studio and guest house. You may recall in Times Like These that I dreamed of having a caboose of my own someday, after “playing house” for a week in one that was sidetracked in Shafter, Nevada, awaiting repairs. And fifty years later, I was able to make my dream come true.
There’s an adage that what doesn’t break us, makes us stronger. What is the strength you gained from your tumultuous childhood?
It’s hard to survive the kind of disruptive childhood I had (remember that I spent the 8th grade in three different schools, and states) without being a little bruised and battered, emotionally. I think what I gained from it was self-reliance. When you can’t depend on your family, you learn to depend on yourself. But I had help along the way, i.e., the loving couple who adopted me at the age of 14, gave me a real home for the first time in my life, sent me to college, etc. I was exceedingly lucky to get that kind of second chance.
Do you consider it a blessing or a curse that most young people today have much fewer challenges?
I don’t believe they do have fewer challenges. Different ones, perhaps, from my generation, but I would not like to be a young person today. They are a lot “freer” than we were as teenagers, but there is a kind of safety in obeying stricter moral codes. We didn’t have to think about it. We just did what we were taught to do, for the most part. Those who didn’t would soon suffer the scorn––not only of society, but of their peers. And think of all the things kids today have to learn! No thank you!
If you could go through a wormhole, would you go into the future, the past, or stay right here? Why?
I would go into the past, no question. To quote Helen Hayes as the mother of the deposed Tsar of Russia in the movie, Anastasia, “I am the past; it is sweet and familiar. The present is cold and foreign. And the future? Fortunately, I don’t have to worry very much about that.” Being part of the past, which has sometimes been good, and sometimes bad, for me, I feel comfortable in remembering and writing about it. I know the past a lot better than I know or understand what is happening today. The future sometimes feels like it’s already here, considering how far we have come in the last century or so. Whether people can use that progress wisely, before we destroy our world, is an open question. I don’t want to be around when we have to colonize Mars because the earth has become uninhabitable.
Have you always wanted to be a writer, or have you come to writing after another career? What was that career?
I don’t think I always wanted to be a writer, but I knew from my teachers in school that I had an aptitude for it, and my mother was convinced that I would be one. When she died, I discovered boxes of my old high school English themes, carefully preserved. I found that very touching. I did turn to writing after several other careers. As a young married woman, I worked as a secretary to put my first husband through a Ph.D. After I went back to school and got a degree myself, I worked as an architectural designer, and following a year in law school, became a paralegal. It was the sudden death of my second husband in 1983 that made me want to write––first about him, then about us, and finally about other things. I began as a playwright, then went into novels, and finally mystery writing.
What is your fondest childhood memory?
After reading Times Like These, you might understand why I don’t have a lot of fond––or happy––childhood memories. But getting my own horse, a wild Mustang captured off the desert in Nevada, was the best thing I can remember. My father was an expert poker player, and a scruffy Mustang trader owed him $10, so my father offered to cancel his debt in exchange for one of his horses. I spent that whole summer breaking the mare I called “Dusty” to a saddle. My mother wrung her hands, and my father said he didn’t know which one of us would be “broken” first: me or the horse! I still consider it a great triumph, and if you think about it, pretty unique. How many kids today have even seen a wild Mustang, much less ridden one?
What are your favorite movies?
I am the consummate classic movie nut, with a library of old films on tape and DVD’s to prove it. If I had to name my three top favorites, I would say they were Casablanca, It Happened One Night, and The Apartment. I could watch all of them a hundred times (and have). I don’t see many new movies. The ones I do see I find instantly forgettable, although I really enjoyed The Artist, a few years ago. Lots of tap dancing, like the old Astaire and Rogers films that I also love. For those, I have a tape of only the dance numbers because the plots and dialogue are so silly.
What other creative things do you do?
While studying for my B. A. in design, I took courses in painting, drawing and sculpture. My walls are covered with paintings, and there are small sculptures on tables and the shelves of bookcases that represent art projects from those bygone days. I’m sure I could still do those things if I tried, but can’t seem to find the time or the inspiration to begin. Nowadays, and for the past six years, what creative talent I may have goes into my monthly blog for Psychology Today. I am called one of their “experts,” which is funny because I’ve never even had a psychology course! But I’ve found it interesting and challenging, and yes, creative.
Where do your stories begin? With character or plot?
Mine begin with the characters. I always say that I create the characters, i.e., who they are, what they look like, how they talk, and then they proceed to write the story. I have only a vague idea of the plot to begin with, and rarely know where it is going, or even how it will end. This is also true of the mystery series, oddly enough. Most people don’t believe me when I say that I am as surprised as anyone to find out what happens. They say that I must create very strong characters for them to take over like that!
What is the most interesting job you ever had?
I’ve had many interesting jobs, but I think the one I liked best was working for a spin-off of Boeing in Seattle, designing airplanes. Not the body of the aircraft, of course, which is designed by engineers, but the cabin interior. It was not easy, because I had to learn everything about every kind of airplane in use at the time (1970’s). The company would send me to smaller, independent airlines around the country to give presentations of my designs for refurbishing their existing fleet. I loved to fly in those days, and I was young enough not to mind the long hours and lack of sleep that went with the job. Needless to say, I couldn’t do it today!
Check out the REVIEW I did last Sunday. This is a good story with lots of interesting history. BUY LINK