This week’s interview is with Laya Vivian Smith whose book THE LUMBERMILL released just last week! Congratulations Laya! Read below about her proudest writing moment (in eighth grade!), advice for her younger writer self, the in-depth research she did for her book, and the heartbreaking loss of her long-time first reader.
Laya V Smith is a member of International Thriller Writers, SCBWI, AWP, and LUW. Through no fault of her own, she was born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, and still lives there with her husband and two children.
Do you have a regular first reader? If so, who is it and why?
This is a difficult question to answer because I lost my regular first reader to heart disease earlier this year. My big brother, Aaron, was the first person to read virtually everything I ever wrote—from Donald Duck fan fiction when I was a preschooler to my first published novel. Actually, The Lumbermill was the very last of my novels that he ever read and gave me feedback on. I miss him every single day, and it makes it hard at times to move forward with my writing because I know I will never get to hear his thoughts on it ever again. My regular first reader now is my husband, and I am so fortunate to have him. I doubt I would have made it through this last year without him.
Tell us about one of your proudest writing moments.
When I was in eighth grade I had to do a project on the Civil War that was worth a huge portion of my grade. The topics weren’t assigned and we were allowed to use whatever medium we liked. I decided to write an alternative history story about what it might have been like if the South had won the war. My main character was Jefferson Davis and the tone of the story was very dark and Gothic. It was the first time I really put my all into creating a piece of fiction. My history teacher, Ms. Nagata, whose name I will always remember, not only gave me an A on the project, she showed it to my English teacher and got him to give me extra credit for the story. Her faith in me and her pride at what I had accomplished really helped me see myself as someone who had the potential to put together a story other people might actually enjoy reading. I wish I could find her and thank her.
If you could tell your younger writer self anything, what would it be?
Two things. One, stop writing in a vacuum. I wrote my first four novels without ever showing them to anybody other than my brother and without seeking out resources on the craft. I just wrote the stories because they needed to be written, like I was exorcising demons from my brain. If I had joined some small part of the writing community, workshopped what I was writing, and also read one or two books about writing, I feel like I could have honed my craft much faster and more effectively. The second piece of advice I would give my younger writer is to work harder and much sooner to try to get my work published. I submitted one query when I was about twenty, was rejected, and didn’t try again for eight years. Honestly, all I have ever wanted to do was write– literally sitting in a dark room in front of a computer intensifying my carpal tunnel syndrome. But I wish I could go back in time and force myself to learn more about the other aspects of turning my passion into a career—networking, building a platform, studying the craft, etc. I wasted so much time.
How long did it take you to write this book and what kind of research did you do for it?
It took me about a year to write, revise and find a publisher. Since this book is set in the 1950s and so much of the plot is based on the real events of WWII, a lot of research was necessary.
As a hardcore history nerd, I’ve been studying WWII most of my life, but this is the first time I’ve ever written about it. For “The Lumbermill” I read dozens of books about the war in the Pacific, the Japanese internment camps, and the story of Imperial Japan’s invasion of China. I listened to hundreds of interviews of veterans.
I read fiction set during that time by both American and Japanese authors, including rereading classics like “Slaughterhouse Five”. A few books that were very influential include “The Sea and Poison” by Shusaku Endo, which really helped me to get into the psychology of the Japanese doctors who were responsible for the experiments at the University of Tokyo; “The Last Fighter Pilot” by Don Brown and Cpt. Jerry Yellin tells the story of the men who flew the final last combat mission of WWII; “Voices of the Pacific: Untold Stories from the Marine Heroes of World War II” is a wonderful audiobook that chronicles the story of the men whose exploits inspired the popular HBO series and includes interviews with the veterans.
I also spent untold hours reading articles online about everything from the stage shows put on in Los Angeles’ Chinatown in 1954, to the design of Delta’s original crop-dusting planes, to the specific effects of fugu poisoning. I listened to so much 1940’s and 50’s R&B and popular music, I watched old episodes of dragnet, I went to vintage shops and ran my fingers over the fabric of USAAF pilot’s uniforms. It’s a good thing I enjoy research or this book never could have been written!
What are your interests outside of writing and reading?
I really love acting and putting together audio and video recordings. The first works I ever wrote that were published in any way were one-act plays. In addition to writing, I narrate audiobooks, which gives me a chance to stretch my acting legs. I co-narrated The Lumbermill. Right now I’m working on putting together my own YouTube channel. Making videos gives me another outlet for my creativity which I don’t always get to express in my writing. I love playing with music and imagery and the relationships between them. It’s a very new hobby, which I am still trying to get the hang of, but I am very excited about where this interest is going to take me. So far I’ve made simple narrative YouTube videos, done a few interviews, and put together some theatrical book trailers, which I am very proud of. In the future, I would love to get into making dramatic short films, which I would script myself, of course.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Los Angeles, 1954.
Sending a pair of mass murderers to the chair got his name in the papers, but veteran fighter pilot turned detective, Augy Small, couldn’t celebrate. The culprits confessed, but the cops only ever found one body. Who had the killers died to protect?
Katya Tyler, a Russian enigma with a wad of cash in one hand and a hit list in the other, claims to have the answers. First, she wants Augy’s help to bring down a massive underground network of human traffickers.
As the case unfolds, every clue is an echo of his past. The horrors he experienced in the Pacific, shadows of scars he still carries, and rumors of a place long since destroyed. The Lumbermill is back in operation. Every day more innocents are harvested, their screams muffled in darkness. And the only way Augy can stop it is to go back into the nightmare he thought he’d escaped forever.
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