Today’s our stop on the Christmas at the Homeplace blog tour and I’m honored to welcome Bill Smith to Literary, etc! If you’re interested in genealogy, you’ll want to read this interview because he gives us a few tips on where to start.
Q. Tell me something about Bill Smith other than the standard bio on your website.
Very family oriented and a teacher. My wife and I have been married 54 years. Our three daughters are our best friends. Two very young grandchildren: boy is approaching 10, girl just turned 6. All of our travel is now to visit family in Texas and Utah. I was a professor for 15 years. Earned my PhD after I was 50, but now realize I’d been primarily a teacher in most of my prior positions, through the years before that; just made it formal. We are a family of teachers, as well.
“The Homeplace Saga” series of historical fiction family saga stories is one more tool I use to teach about family and interpersonal relationships in families and communities, as I see them from my family history research and my life experiences.
Q. What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I write what I see as my characters interact in a fictional, but realistic, real-world-type setting. This is seeing the world as I see it, I suppose. I write about what interests me. I hope my readers find this interesting as well… and, perhaps, instructive for their own lives.
Q. Historical fiction often focuses on the lives people lived and imagining what their life was like. What type of responsibility do you feel you owe them when writing about them?
Plausible authenticity. I’m currently writing about the 1833 to 1876 period – historic by any definition. I do a lot of research to assure that what I’m saying they did, they could actually have done. Inventions had been adequate diffused. Someone in the general area was doing things that occur in the stories. For example, when were one-room schools developed, when were water wells first drilled, what farm implements were available, what crops and livestock were being grown and used in the area.
Q. If you could describe the Homeplace Saga in 3 words what would they be?
Family, Ozarks, Inter-relationships
Q. What are some of the challenges you encountered while writing a saga and how were you able to get past them?
I began the first novel with the expectation of a trilogy, 5 to 10 years apart. By the time the first was done, however, I realized the ‘backstory’ of the family, why the parents acted the way they did, was at least as important. In the second book, I had some of the characters begin to study their family history. Note: Family history and genealogy are passions of both my wife and I – and now all three daughters are heavily invested in the process, as well. Pretty soon, I wanted to work on the back-story more than completing the planned trilogy. So, that is essentially what happened, in some respects.
In “Christmas at the Homeplace” members of the family help create an “Oak Springs Historical and Genealogical Society” at the local library. This mirrors in many ways what I have seen happening around us as we do our own research. This aspect of the story leads directly to what will be the next three books in the Saga series. In addition, it has encouraged me to write Short Stories, which have been published in a Regional Anthology (three, to date). I also am publishing essays about the stories on other online venues. I have created a “developmental wiki” – my teaching instincts coming out, I suppose – and have invited others to join in the story-telling, within the existing structure, of course. The blog, of course, is the central point of contact for the Saga: The Homeplace Saga blog: http://thehomeplaceseries.blogspot.com/
Q. Christmas at the Homeplace is your current release; do you have a favorite line or scene?
The arrival and acceptance of Jeremy, a ten-year boy (son of Peter, the youngest of the Bevins siblings) that no one knew existed, is probably my favorite storyline/scene. It introduces an entirely new element into the story that will be useful in future storylines – as well as being really fun to write about here, with the holiday seasons being the time period.
Q. Is anything in Christmas at the Homeplace based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?
Everything is based on some aspect of real life experience, created fictionally. Personalities, birth order issues in families, the way families are inter-related, character reactions to events and situations – each and all of these are either composites or fictionalized versions of what I have seen, lived, or found through research. I’m very careful not to replicate any actual persons in the fiction story, but the personality quirks, the reactions to situations, etc. all reflect real life experience.
Q. You include genealogy in your novels. How difficult was it to incorporate aspects of that environment and write about it? Do you find yourself getting too technical at times?
I don’t think I’ve gotten too technical in any genealogy aspect. Some say I get a little detailed in my descriptions of the business and management activities I also incorporate – but, the same persons also say this is what makes my writing and my stories distinctive. I want to see people who read the stories emulate my characters in their lives. Getting too technical will turn them away, not draw them in.
Q. One of your interests is genealogy. How did you get started and what advice would you give people who have limited access to records?
We always begin our study of family history by recording what we already know, asking questions from those around us, especially others in the family, the extended family. You will be surprised how much information you can compile, just doing this. Every day, more and more of the records we want to use to verify this “family tradition” information become available online. FamilySearch.com, for one big example, has the most extensive set of free materials. Use those to do what you can. Again, you may be surprised how far this takes you. Some folks will be happy with where they get to this point. If you want more, you may want to subscribe to a service, such as Ancestry.com, but that is a very personal decision, of course. Local records at county offices, and libraries, are where I started my research, before computers were in common use. It is fun, and you’ll find many kindred spirits that may become some of your best friends, as well.
And, a number of my Characters in “Christmas at the Homeplace” become just as enthusiastic and passionate about family history and genealogy as my wife and I are.
Q. Finally, and on an entirely unrelated note, who would play you in a film of your life?
Not that anyone would want to… Perhaps John Goodman. He is a Missouri native. I’ve suggested him as a likeness for Bart Bevins, one of the major characters in the Saga stories. Ten or fifteen years ago, my ego would have probably said Paul Newman. Of course, he is no longer available. In terms of another current popular actor, perhaps, James Spader (ego, again, no doubt!)
01. Superpower you wish you had?
02. Star Wars or Star Trek?
Star Trek – I really like Spock
03. Cookies or muffins?
Cookies, no doubt
04. Coffee or tea?
Neither; I’ll drink a little tea; can’t stand the smell or taste of coffee
05. E-book or print?
Both. I read a lot in both, tend to read longer books on my Kindle.
06. Favorite city?
Hollister/Branson; Austin, TX; Teasdale, UT (Family there; have lived all over the USA, prefer the heartland… hear the Homeplace!)
07. Favorite movie?
Sound of Music or Murphy’s Romance
About Christmas at the Homeplace
“Christmas at the Homeplace is the fourth book in “The Homplace Saga” series of historical fiction family saga stores set in a rural river valley in the southern Missouri Ozarks near a fictional western branch of the Current River (NW corner of Shannon County). Set in 1996, the story has a “homecoming for Christmas” theme affecting members of the extended families of the central characters. “The Homeplace Saga” series
Will they all be home for Christmas? For the first time since their father died, Karen (Bevins) Winslow is expecting all her children in Oak Springs for Christmas 1996. This Christmas of homecomings offers some surprises as “The Homeplace Saga” continues. Will Staff Sergeant Travis Inman arrive home from Bosnia in time to see his baby daughter for the first time at Christmas? Will a life-long friend of the Winslow family move to Oak Springs permanently? Does Peter have a son? The boy’s mother insists he does. How would this change the inter-generational dynamics in the family businesses in the Oak Creek valley of the southern Missouri Ozarks? Learn more by reading this latest addition to this continuing family saga.
Also, follow local veterinarian Dr. Jennifer Bevins and her young lawyer friend, Brian Kirk, as they temporarily lay aside their personal family history and genealogy research to work with City Librarian Judy Watson and others to form and create an Oak Springs Historical and Genealogical Society. Their hope is that by reaching out to the community they can locate additional local historical records on their families back to the first settlements in 1833 when Jennifer’s McDonald ancestors were among those first arrivals in the valley. Learn what else occurs, before Christmas, as Jennifer and Brian devote their full attention to this new set of activities.
William Leverne Smith was born and raised on a Midwestern farm. A passion for family history and genealogy studies provides background for his writing.
He and his wife live in a cabin in the Missouri Ozarks.