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Dennis Smith: Straight out of a Mystery Novel by Grace Olson

Dennis Smith is a retired high school teacher who taught music. He didn’t think he’d go into education, given how little he liked school as a child, but it turned out to be his dream job. “I only went to school for sports and music,” Mr. Smith said.

Once, Mr. Smith found a writing class to take. One of the prompts in the class was to write a 1,000-word story about something that either made you happy or something that frightened you. Mr. Smith chose to write about something that frightened him. When he finished that assignment, the writing teacher said to him, “This is a longer story, isn't it?” Mr. Smith said that it was. “She said to me, ‘just write it.’ So, I started writing, and it became a book. That was my first novel,” Mr. Smith explained. This is how Mr. Smith began his writing career outside of music, which he’s written a lot of.

Mr. Smith and his wife bought a house in Arkansas that they were going to flip. “One day, my agent called me,” Mr. Smith said, “and said ‘You’ll never guess what we found under the bathroom floor.’ And I said to him, ‘A body?’ And he said, ‘No, a bathtub.’ It was a large, black porcelain, heart-shaped bathtub.” They find out about the man who first built the house for his wife, who wanted that bathtub. She died, and the man wanted to still live in that house, so he covered up the bathtub because it reminded him of his wife. “We would’ve had to knock down a whole wall in order to get it out of there,” Mr. Smith said, “so we boarded it up again.” Later, about a month later, the same agent called Mr. Smith again about a client wanting to see the house. “There was another car there in the driveway,” Mr. Smith explained, “and my agent said, ‘That’s the car of another agent, which is great because then there would be a bidding war between my client and the other agent, who had talked to me about buying the house before.’ So, she gets out of the car, goes to his car, and he’s slumped over the steering wheel with a bullet in his head. The agent is dead.” Later, they found out that the shooter was the agent’s ex-wife, who killed him for the life insurance money she’d get.

Apparently, if an accident occurs in a house one wants to sell, that information must be disclosed. “We were trying to sell a house labeled with ‘House Where Man was Shot,” Mr. Smith said. “We barely broke even in the sale.” After that, Mr. Smith got to thinking about the story and the house.

And thus, On the Run, a suspense thriller novel, was born. Mr. Smith’s book follows the main character Avery as he discovers a skeleton under his bathroom floor with a bullet hole in his head. In fear, Avery buries the skeleton in the woods. Not only is he on the run from the FBI, but when a survey crew also discovers the skeleton bruised in the woods, Avery calls his only friend for a meeting. At the bar the friends were supposed to meet, a woman approaches Avery. This woman knows about the skeleton in Avery’s woods, and she’s very suspicious of Avery. “In many ways, it’s about choices,” Mr. Smith said. “The guy makes choices and then he realizes those weren’t the right choices and he decides to try and make it right. But if he makes it right, he might get killed. There are several life-and-death choices in the book.”

During the creation of Mr. Smith’s book, his favorite moment in the writing process was finding out about all the characters and creating them. “I loved figuring out how everything worked,” Mr. Smith said, “how this character is going to work. I also loved waking up and wanting to write.”

As a child, Mr. Smith hated reading. “I didn’t understand the rhythm of words,” Mr. Smith said. “But this one English teacher I had helped me understand words. He taught me how to read and write.”

As for the final message Mr. Smith wants the readers to take away from his book, he hopes they learn about making choices. “I want them to understand the importance of choices,” Mr. Smith said. “The choices that Avery makes aren’t about right or wrong; they are about survival and what we do to survive.” Choices are very important, and Mr. Smith’s book demonstrates that.

Finally, I got to ask him my favorite question: what advice would you give to a young writer? Mr. Smith answered with, “Follow your heart and your gut, even if it doesn’t seem logical. But also, don't force it.” What I got from this is go with the flow. Mr. Smith’s advice perfectly aligns with my own philosophy about writing. I write what I want and how I want.

I learned a lot from interviewing Mr. Smith, and I hope you did, too.

Happy reading!

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