Meet Frederick Smith, Up and Coming Author
of the debut novel "Down for Whatever"
sexy to the sensational, The City of Angels is a city of stories. This one follows the lives of four friends each hoping to
realize their dreams. But can true love triumph in the town where all the world’s a stage—and everyone’s
Keith, Tommie, Marco Antonio, and Rafael each
ended up in L.A. for different reasons, via different paths, from Mexico to Michigan, from the Ivy League to the streets.
But they have one thing in common—they’re all looking for Mr. Right.
Keith, a preacher’s son from Detroit,
is looking for love in all the wrong places. But when Cupid answers his prayers with a man who’s hot and smart, he’s
got to wonder if it’s too good to be true. Especially since his on-the-prowl pal, Rafael, a striking Latino heartbreaker,
usually gets all the guys—including the ones Keith wants…
Rafael’s problem is that he doesn’t
really know what he wants—so he’s willing to try just about everything. On his own since he was fifteen-years-old,
Rafael craves—and attracts—attention everywhere he goes. But he also attracts trouble...
The most stable of the group, Marco Antonio
is finally closing the deal on a long-distance romance with an up-and-coming actor. Even his tight-knit Mexican immigrant
family is excited about the relationship. But when the Hollywood celebrity machine interferes, Marco yearns for the stability
of a regular guy—and eventually finds himself torn between two lovers.
No one understands living in the shadow of
a lover’s limelight better than Tommie. A former member of a now defunct R&B group, Tommie has fallen for a college
basketball player with a dazzling future in the pros. But at thirty-something, barely out of the closet, with little left
to show for his once-hot career, Tommie can’t help wondering what a young rising star is doing with a fallen star like
Navigating a fast-paced world populated by
divas, drama queens, and DLs, the guys are about to learn about what’s really important: That having it all means being
ready—mind, body, and soul—for whatever comes your way…
Meet Up and Coming Author Frederick
Author of the debut novel "Down for
PWLGB: When did you decide you wanted
FS: "I have been
writing since I was in third grade. I always entered writing contests, submitted short stories to anyone who would take them,
edited my high school and college newspapers, and wrote for TV, radio, and print organizations before going back to grad
school. After all that professional and academic writing, and writing tons of memos and reports at work, I wanted a
break. And that break was to dabble in fiction writing. That was in September 2001, when I decided to take my writing
aspirations seriously and to focus on my craft and goals."
PWLGB:How many novels in
all have you written?
FS: "DOWN FOR
WHATEVER" is my first and only novel. I have always had ideas for novels, even dabbled with some character outlines
in the past, but didn't feel personally or professionally prepared to do a good job with those ideas. I've always been
a good reader, meaning I could tell good writing from something hastily thrown together, but it wasn't until I started
taking fiction classes, joining writer groups, and such, that I felt confident in calling myself a good writer.
How long did it take you to write your first novel?
FS: "It took about
a year to write the first draft of DOWN FOR WHATEVER. But it took another year of getting critiqued by
fellow writers and friends who read, using that feedback to strenghten the story, and re-writing before I considered
the novel done."
PWLGB:Where do you get your inspiration for your stories?
FS: "I love to observe
people, listen to their conversations -- how they talk, what they're talking about, and I also think what we consider "regular"
everyday events and people make good stories. I grew up in a black working class/middle class neighborhood in Detroit,
and in observing my neighbors, classmates and family, felt these were interesting lives we were all leading-- and that
we didn't have to make the 6 o'clock news or make spectacles or stereotypes of ourselves to be interesting. Living in
L.A., and experiencing the rich diversity of ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, citizen status, all that, you can't
help but see how ordinary, everyday experiences make the best stories. Ordinary people thrown into fictional situations
help to inspire my characters and stories."
PWLGB: What made you decide to write a story like DOWN
FS: "It actually
started out as a class project -- a short story -- for a fiction class I was taking at the UCLA Extension Writers Program.
My teacher, Kerry Madden, loved the story -- which I think is like chapter six in the novel -- and wanted to know more.
She asked a lot of "what if?" questions each week that, in her beautiful way of teaching, challenged me to dig deeper
and eventually expand this short story into a novel. But the writing aside, in terms of the story, I wanted to write
a universal story with characters who experience and live life in their own way. The main characters in this novel happen to
be black, Latino, gay, straight, bi, educated, non-educated, serious, culturally empowered, and all living in L.A."
PWLGB:Would you tell us about the story?
FS: "DOWN FOR WHATEVER"
is a black and Latino 'Queer as Folk' meets 'Sex and The City' that follows the lives of four friends, Keith Hemmings, Rafael
Dominguez, Tommie Jordan, and Marco Antonio Vega, who all ended up in L.A. for different reasons and via different roads.
They're smart, successful in their own way, people of color, who happen to be gay or bisexual. And they're dealing with
their lives, loves, careers, hopes, and dreams as most people do. I think the story honors, quite beautifully, the Latino
and African American heritage of L.A., gay and lesbian people of color, and the cultural intersections and interactions
that happen in L.A. on a day-to-day basis. It's also a fun story, full of romance, drama, and I think everyone will learn something
about L.A., the people in their lives who are gay or lesbian, and about how these communities are more alike than they
writing your first novel, did you self-publish? What was that experience like?
FS: "I didn't self-publish,
but totally look up to those who start their literary careers that way. I know how hard it is for stories by and about
people considered "different" -- whether that's ethnicity, ability, orientation, or class -- to be published or considered
worthy of mainstream acceptance, and why self-publishing is a way to get your work out there. But my road to publication
was pretty standard or old-fashioned. After I wrote and revised the manuscript, I sent it out, got rejected by tons
of agents ( I mean DOZENS!!!), and then found an agent, Nicholas Roman Lewis, who started his process. But then totally
out of the blue, a writer friend, Denise Hamilton, mentioned me and my work at an event. The person who eventually signed and
became my editor, John Scognamiglio, inquired about me, e-mailed me, requested the manuscript, and within two weeks he
made an offer. I was at work when I got the call. It was so cool and so funny... all this work trying to get in the
front door, and the side door opened so quickly and easily."
have you heard from fans?
FS: "All positive and
all smiles. Sometimes it freaks me out, because it's your work, your baby, and you know it's good, but then you wonder.
I especially hear from younger people, like in their 20s and 30s, from all walks of life and who traditionally don't
read or buy books but want to see their or their friends' lives in fiction, that they think it's cool. I'm like, "Cool,
right on, dig it." Young people are so open-minded these days and will read something that interests them and reflects
their thought processes. But I hear a lot of compliments: it's SO funny, it's SO L.A., it's SO true of the Latino scene
or Black scene, it's SO true of the gay, church, or entertainment scene, it's SO thought provoking. I'm sure these are
all "Blue State" people with equally progressive minds, who knows? I'm sure the "Red Staters" with their perspectives
will have their reactions, lol. But I didn't write this novel looking for approval or acceptance or trying to convince folks
to appreciate and accept people. If it does, great. But for the audience who chooses to buy and read, I've heard great
things. All I hope is to make it worth their money, time, and effort to purchase and read by writing the best story
possible I can."
PWLGB: What authors do you admire? Did one of them inspire you?
FS: "So glad you
asked... I love, love, LOVE J. California Cooper. She's my absolute favorite writer and storyteller. I met her once at
a signing in San Francisco, and she made me laugh with stories of a young man who used to court her, whose name was
Fred. Very cool person, but I think she spins the best stories, gives you life lessons, and makes you think. Other contemporary
fiction writers I love and read regularly are Tayari Jones, Eric Jerome Dickey, Terry McMillan, Lorrie Moore, Jervey
Tervalon, Alisa Valdez Rodriguez, E. Lynn Harris, Erica Turnipseed, and Alice Munro. Of course I love the veterans and
the folks we ALL look up to like Toni Morrison, Nikki Giovanni, James Baldwin and such. But I also like non-fiction writers like
Keith Boykin, Jasmyne Cannick, Michael Moore, and bell hooks."
PWLGB:Is writing your
FS: "No, but it's pretty
important to me. I'm up writing before work -- yes, I keep a day job -- from 5 - 7 in the morning, and then before I go
to sleep from 10 to midnight. But in between than, I'm working with student organizations, student activists, planning
cultural events in L.A., always thinking about my goals and how I'm going to get there, going to the gym daily because
I don't want to waste my membership or Weight Watchers money (lol), calling my parents and sister back in the midwest,
conference calling my agent or editor, catching up with the shows on TIVO, and trying to maintain some sense of a social
life. So I do a lot in a day. Always running, staying active, and like Jill Scott says, living my life like it's golden.
Weekends too. Kinda goes back to when I was a kid. I'm focused, try to do everything well and organized and professionally,
but I generally keep my passions and goals to myself and just do them. Too many people say, "I'm gonna," or "I should,"
and I used to be one of them. Now I just try to do what I want to achieve my goals and passions, and let the rewards afterwards speak
PWLGB:Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
FS: "With one or
two or three more novels written, in process of being published, or in the idea stage. I'm focused on writing, but I also want
to do quality work and not waste people's money or time on something hastily put together. Let's see, property, family, fulfilling
work, maybe not working a day job. But jokes aside, and aside from writing, I see myself continuing to make a difference
in the lives of others -- through my work helping students and activists, being involved in political causes, involved
in social justice and equality organizations. In the Jesuit education tradition, we're taught to use our lives for the
betterment of others, to help others realize their excellence, and to be leaders with compassion. I hope that I am a
conduit of those ideals."
PWLGB:What advice would you give aspiring authors?
FS: "One, I'd say take classes,
or if you can't afford to, get into a writers workshop with both published and unpublished writers. Be open to feedback,
have an ego or confidence, but also be willing to put that ego and confidence aside to be the best writer and master of
the craft that you can be. The teachers of classes often have connections you'd never dream of, or have access to, so
it helps to befriend your writing teachers and take them seriously. Find support for your dreams from those who will
believe in you. Unfortunately, in many communities of color, we can't always find relatives, friends, etc... who support dreams
and aspirations outside of what they know. So if the support isn't at home, put up an ad, take a class, write to your favorite author,
anything to find a supportive ear or shoulder. Read, but don't just read within your comfort zone or the same kind of work
over and over. Before I took fiction classes, I generally read from one genre of work, but discovered there are other
great writers, with styles I never even thought of, out there. Learn about people who are not like you because it'll
help your work be more inclusive. Try to write the story that's not written -- explore and experiment, but make it high quality
-- so that you catch the eye and fanbase of those who generally don't get written about. Finally, you have to write. Even
if it means getting up at 3 am, or going to bed at 1 am, or using your lunchbreak to write, or finding a summer writing
retreat in the middle of Vermont or North Dakota with tons of quiet time and space, you have to do it. I think the only
difference between aspiring and published authors is focus and determination to keep the main thing the main thing."
PWLGB:What would you like readers to learn from your stories?
FS: "That ordinary people
make for good fiction. That whatever categories we use to consider people "different" are the categories that make for good
stories. And those "differences" don't have to be stereotypes. There's good and bad, support and challenge, in all communities,
and those variances make for good characters and stories."
PWLGB:Are you working
on another novel? What is it about?
FS: "I'm working on a few novels.
Since the publishing thing, I've started three novels, gotten to about page 100 or 150 in each one, and then got focused
on one that's going to be my next novel I present to my agent and editor. Don't want to give too much away, but one project
is a continuation of DOWN FOR WHATEVER, though I'm not a big fan of sequels. I'm like, if there's more
to add then just put it in the first novel. But I think there's enough uumph in DFW for another story. I'm also working
on a novel set in a college setting in Los Angeles. And working on a novel that explores romance among couples with
major MAJOR differences -- education level, age, class, upbringing, etc... The major theme everyone will find in my work
is a commitment to inclusion, telling authentic stories about various communities, and making sure that if there are
stereotypes explored that there are equally strong characters to counter those stereotypes. But it's always going to
be fun, worthy of your time and money, and educational at the same time. Think of my work as a vitamin-stuffed Twinkie.
You get knowledge with the fluff, I guess."
PWLGB:Where can people purchase your books?
Do you have a website?
FS: "Yes, my website is
www.fredericksmith.net. Don't get me mixed up with Fred Smith, the Fed Ex founder/CEO guy's website... unless you're sending
me his check, lol. You can sign up for my e-mail list and check out my blog link through the site. But DOWN FOR
WHATEVER can be found in all independent and major bookstores, as well as on all the online booksellers and
book clubs, and on Kensington's website www.kensingtonbooks.com."
In conclusion... "Thank you so much
for taking the time to meet and greet with me. Book clubs are so important for readers and aspiring authors, because they bring
people together for something most people don't do anymore -- reading. I hope you all encourage your kids and family members
to read, that you buy books and not just pass them along to each other, and to send notes and e-mails (kinds ones, not
crazy ones) to your favorite writers. We, and our agents and editors, like to know someone out there is touched, in
positive and negative ways, by our work."
One of my favorite sites for info on Black Authors