Welcome, one and all, to my latest author interview. Today, I’m talking to Todd Smith.
Todd, welcome to the site! For those not familiar with you, can you give a quick introduction?
Hi, I’m Todd Smith. I’m a former journalist now turned author. I decided to write my first book, “Murder, Romance, and Two Shootings” based on my experience of having been shot twice in two separate incidents, the second being a mass shooting that caused the death of six other people. I also wrote about the tragic death of a close friend in a gay bashing.
Murder, Romance, and Two Shootings is soon to be released by NineStar Press. The first thing I wanted to ask was whether reliving these events while writing the book caused you any difficulty, or if it was more cathartic to get your story out there?
One of the things that became clear to me as I was writing is that I am not the same person who was shot in 1997 or even 2008 (when I was shot again), either physically and mentally. Something that was cathartic for me as I started to write the book was that I was working for a non-profit, which helped impoverished fathers find employment and improve their relationships with their children. I was robbed by young men in the first shooting and in the second shooting the individual was dealing with financial problems and took his anger out on a city council that he felt had wronged him. I felt the need to give back to society through being a force for change in working for this agency and writing this book.
How close do the events of your fictionalized memoir run to the actual events on which they’re based? Are they near spot-on, or did you need to add or remove scenes to aid the ease of reading?
The details of what happened during each shooting are pretty spot on, the bullet being pulled out of my leg or watching someone else who was killed are as accurate as I remember them to be.
As far as changes from fact to fiction, I have changed names of the people in the book and modified details of them. I occasionally omitted people and events, but only when that omission had no impact on the substance of the overall story. There were also some tweaks to the romance but I don’t want to kiss and tell about those.
Starting with the issue of shootings, this is quite timely with the current conversation going on around gun crime in the USA. Did the recent events make you feel like the book is more important to release now, or did you experience any trepidation releasing it in the current climate?
The sad thing is that there hasn’t been a time since either shooting that the book wouldn’t be timely. I am heartened by how things have been moving since Parkland, but I had hoped that we would be in a better place by now.
Do you think that there is a quick solution to the amount of gun related crime at all, or do you think it’s more complicated by nature?
In our society I don’t think there is an easy answer. It will take more people standing up against the NRA and telling politicians that we’ve had enough and voting them out. It will take Democrats and Republicans working together to find a solution that works for everybody involved hopefully starting with the banning of assault weapons like AR-15s.
Did either shooting have any major effects on how you approached life moving forward? Or has looking back on them changed how you live life now?
Both shootings have affected my life. When I take my child to school I always look around for who is around me. If I go to a movie I make a note of where the exits are and who is in attendance. I am always wary of large events. It is like I have lived in a war zone and I only look at life from that perspective. I can’t unseen the deaths of others and being shot at.
The death spoken about in the book relates to an unsolved gay bashing in Kansas. Can you tell us a little about what happened?
My friend, Gary (Rick in the book) was killed in a gay bashing in 2001. He had gone out to a bar and then went to a party with other people. While he was there he was tortured and killed. I explain more of this in the book. There were times after that event I kept thinking I saw him while I was out to eat somewhere then quickly realizing that he was gone. He was about to move to Orlando before he was killed. Which seemed a more welcoming place until the Pulse nightclub shooting. That is how dangerous times have become for gay people gong to a bar, a place of refuge, they thought would be safe for them amongst friends.
The whole ordeal must have been terrifying for those close to the victim. Did you ever worry that your own life was in danger as a result?
Each shooting and murder I’ve worried about this. I have trouble going to Kirkwood, where the city hall mass shooting happened. I would still have trouble walking through the neighborhood in Delaware, where the first shooting took place. I think for the gay bashing is I don’t know who they are or where they are. It is actually far scarier to see the killer or shooter up close and personal, which is not an experience I wish for anyone to have.
With the nature of some of the events covered in the book, should readers expect it to be particularly graphic?
I didn’t write a true-crime novel, but yes there are a few passages that someone may find hard to read. But the underlying message of the book is how someone can experience something horrific but still reclaim their life.
The book is does not only follow the negative events that you have lived through though; in fact, it is described as not only detailing the downward spiral that the above events caused in your life but the fact that you found true love. How long have you and partner been together now?
We will celebrate our 9th wedding anniversary in October and been together for 12. At the time of the second shooting, we were registered domestic partners. This spring we celebrated our son’s 3rd birthday.
Did you meet him while you were still in the midst of your downward spiral, or when you had started to recover? How did the two of you meet?
We got to know each other by first chatting online in 2006, right before moving to St. Louis. I was slow about being serious with him. I had some bad relationships in the past, which I discuss in the book, and it took a lot for me to trust someone again.
We started dating a year before the second shooting and he was there through a tumultuous time period in my life as I recovered.
You first came out as gay back when living in rural Missouri. I must confess, my knowledge of which parts of American predominantly hold which views in relation to sexual orientation. What was coming out in Missouri like at the time, and is it any different there now?
Coming out in Missouri took the help of a close gay best friend and Gary, who is killed, was someone I turned to as I came to terms with my being gay. My coming out to my parents was difficult and that is detailed in the book. We’re in a good place now, but it took a lot of work and I wasn’t always sure we would get there.
The best friend in the book also suffers some traumatic life events, notably the loss of his mother to cancer and a break-up, before finding his true self as a drag queen. Was this character based on someone real?
Yes, the fabulous Jade Sinclair, I kept the drag name since that is how he is known in St. Louis and couldn’t come up with a better name than what he used. The book details the struggles our friendship went through, he has been through two shootings with me, this would be a lot on any friendship. We’ve both grown as people and the book details these struggles and triumphs vividly.
How would you describe the book to those potentially interested in what to expect? I know when we spoke before that you said that the book was similar in scope to Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home.
I think it is more like Harvey Fierstein’s book, with three tragedies. There is a lot of heart to the memoir. For dark events, I’ve always managed to find a way to keep going, which is what I hope the book inspires.
Do you have a favorite scene in the book? Or was there one that particularly difficult or easy to write?
The two shooting scenes were the hardest to write. There are times I still have nightmares seeing people die in front of my eyes or blood trickling down my body. I’m still amazed I survived.
What other projects do you currently have planned? Is there another book in the works?
I plan to do a book with details on adopting and raising our kid and us living in Munich while my husband is on sabbatical as my next book. I am also playing with the idea of giving Jade Sinclair her own book.
Do you have any advice for budding authors?
Edit, Edit and more editing.
Moving away from books for a moment, you actually have twenty plus years in experience as a writer, having worked as both a reporter and an editor for various newspapers and websites. What first got you interested in journalism?
I love to learn new things. I once worked at a newspaper that part of the territory included a Native American reservation. I learned their language, how they viewed life and even attended some pow-wows.
How difficult an industry is it to break into and survive in?
Journalism is tougher now than it was. Newspapers keep downsizing. I hope there is a future, but it is tough to see. I’ve decided that my future lies with becoming a published author
You are still sought out by the national media for opinions on mass shootings and violence. Did it ever surprise you to be asked to comment on these events?
Yes, but it is sad that there keeps being more mass shootings, I hope one day this doesn’t keep happening. I think the Parkland students are inspiration and hopefully the next generation is a source for change.
Your Tumblr account focuses on travel, sharing photos and thoughts on different places that you’ve visited with your partner and young son. Do you have a favorite travel related memory that you can share?
When David and I went to Mexico prior to the first shooting with his family I was able to stand at the top of an ancient Maya Temple on Christmas Day.
What is the first thing you look into when deciding where to visit?
I first check out hotel deals, tourist sites and go through many travel books. I always recommend researching where you plan to travel first. This helps you have the best experience possible.
Do you have a favorite destination? And are there any places that you’re yet to visit that you really want to get around to?
My favorite travel experiences are with my husband, we’ve been to most of the US together, Mexico, Italy, Germany France, Canada, Alaska and Hawaii. He is my best friend and experiencing the world with him has been the best part of our lives together. I want to eventually go for more adventure: Machu Picchu, Angor Wat and the Great Wall. I love history and can’t wait to see these sites.
Finally, I wanted to thank you for stopping by today. Did you have any final messages for readers? Also, where can they go to find out more about you and your work? Feel free to link to anywhere you want.
I think everyone has a book in them. If you want to write one do it. Also, surround yourself with fellow writers that give encouragement and don’t give into the naysayers. Also, if you want to change the world vote!
Go to https://www.toddallensmith.com/ for more information on me and the book.