Stormy Smith

Stormy, author of a new novel that takes place in Des Moines, was always lost in stories and daydreaming.

Tell us about your childhood. I was raised in Mt. Pleasant (SE Iowa) and my mom was a big reader. She helped me fall in love with books and I was always known to have one in my hand and one in my backpack. I'm so terribly uncoordinated, so instead of playing sports I was always lost in stories and daydreaming about characters I wished were real. We lived in the country for the majority of my childhood so I was always out with the other kids in my neighborhood making up stories, going on adventures and getting lost in the "woods" behind our houses. 

What was your first job? I worked at a Maid-Rite that was part of a gas station. Because I was never coordinated enough for sports, I always knew I wanted a job as soon as I could get one, so as soon as I turned 14 I applied. I spent that summer surrounded by my friends, being "managed" by fellow high school students and eating my weight in fried cauliflower, cheeseballs and tornados (our version of a blizzard).

What’s currently keeping you busy? As of December 22, 2016 I became a mom to two identical twin boys - Samuel and Elias. I've been home with them since then and am returning to work full time on June 1. They are quite a handful in the newborn phase, but they amaze me with how much they learn and change every single day. In tandem with that, I'm working on releasing my next novel, a coming of age contemporary story called Who She Was.

The story is set in Des Moines and is what I like to call a subtle love letter to the place I call home. My beta readers have said if they live here they are so impressed with the way I wrote the city into the story, and those who don't tell me they can't wait to visit.

The story follows two childhood best friends who are separated and find each again their freshman year of college. One of them has changed drastically and the bulk of the story is them learning to find themselves, and each other, amidst the expectations and tragedies they face.

"Out of nowhere, a story hit me. I'd never wanted to be an author. I always loved reading but never dreamed of writing myself."

Why Des Moines? To be honest, I didn't care much for Des Moines when I first moved here in 2002. That was when 235 was a wreck, downtown was a place people avoided and West Des Moines had yet to sprawl out to include Jordan Creek Town Center. My husband (then boyfriend) is from West Des Moines and always said he wanted to stay, so I bucked up and settled in. Much to my surprise, over the next ten years Des Moines would become a city I truly love.

I got to watch downtown evolve and thrive, the West side become a mecca of shopping and restaurants, bike trails and art were suddenly everywhere, and most importantly to me, the city as a whole embraced entrepreneurs of all sorts. When the economy crashed we could have all turned to big box stores and ways to live cheap, but instead more and more small businesses started popping up and suddenly it was a city-wide mentality to shop local and eat local. Even myself, as a self-published author trying to take my side hustle legit, I found so much support as I launched my first series. From the local bookstores to my colleagues at work seeking me out for signed copies to use as gifts for the readers in their families, people have been truly amazing.

Des Moines (both the city and the people) invested in itself and we've become a gorgeous destination that, much like they say in Portland, we'd love for you to visit but don't want you to stay because then it would change. ;)

What are you most proud of and why? I am a person who likes rules and predictability. My life has always had a path and I knew in high school that my dream was to work in an ad agency and run my own team. At 31, I was doing that at a local agency in Des Moines. I love public relations and I had my dream job. But then, out of nowhere, a story hit me. I'd never wanted to be an author. I always loved reading but never dreamed of writing myself. But once I sat down and wrote those first few chapters of Bound by Duty, I knew nothing would ever be the same. I spent 2013 writing (and rewriting and rewriting) Bound by Duty on nights and weekends.

I decided late that year that something had to give. I was traveling ten plus days a month for the agency and I couldn't sustain both dreams, so I made the hard, scary choice to quit my dream job and take a corporate job that allowed more flexibility and less travel, to pursue a new dream. It gave me the ability to focus my creative energy and really focus on my writing. That drastic change goes against my very nature. The fact that I made it with very little fan fair, that I just knew it was what had to happen and after discussing it with my husband (who was totally on board) just did it, told me this dream was one that was more than just a dream. It is my passion. It is my reason. It's hard as hell and I'm so happy to have it.

"Instead of playing sports I was always lost in stories and daydreaming about characters I wished were real."

Walk us through the days leading up to writing this new book. The Bound series has three books in it so far and I wrote/published those three in the course of three years (that's a lot for just nights and weekends!). When I was writing Bound by Prophecy (the third book) I was pushed to my limit. I survived on caffeine and worked more hours between my two jobs than anyone should, but I couldn't stop. When the launch came my husband made me promise to take a month off from all things book related and I did, but just because I wasn't working doesn't mean I wasn't thinking.

The story for Who She Was had started trickling into my mind as I was writing Prophecy, lines and scenes being spurred by lines of songs, conversations I overheard or stories I read in the news. I had been taking notes of all these tiny pieces but in that month it all started coming together. I'm not typically someone who outlines a book but this one developed so slowly over so many months that it almost outlined itself.

So on January 1, 2016 when I started writing it I already knew so much. I knew the characters, their attitudes and emotions, the reasons for their pain and joy...everything I wanted the readers to take from the story was sitting in my notebook. So when you ask about the days leading up to writing this book, I have to say that it was all eager anticipation. I waited out my promised month but those last few days my fingers were itching for the keyboard to get the story out and on paper.

"My friends always knew when I was finishing a book because I'd disappear for a few months."

Walk us through your process of putting the book together, from a daydream to final product. The only way I can describe what happens when a new book idea hits is to say the first chapter simply starts writing itself in my head. I’m not usually sure where the full story is headed or how we’re going to get there - I’m not too big on outlining my books - but I immediately know the characters and how we’re beginning the story. Typically, I sit down and just let it flow. I write until the story stops - which could be one chapter or ten - and then I assess. I use an 8 point story arc structure to loosely roadmap my plan and then allow myself the mental space to let the story marinate. I don’t write every day, I write when I know which words to put down on paper. I love to write in 4 to 6 hours sessions, but with two little boys added to our mix, I’m not sure that will be a thing anymore. ;) 

Once I get a first draft finished I actually go back and plot out the story. I make sure the characters are developed enough, that their motivations are clear, and that the resolutions are plausible. I map secondary characters, A and B plot lines and overall tone. I remove ancillary words and tighten the text. It usually takes me a few passes before the book goes off to my formal editor for shredding. Then it gets another full pass before it goes to beta readers (fans/friends who are avid readers with strong opinions) to make sure the story resonates. So I do another pass. One more with the editor for copyediting and we’re ready to roll.

During those last few passes I’m also working on marketing the book. If it’s a stand alone (like Who She Was) that’s harder. You don’t have people already vested. But if it’s a series (like my Bound series) then it’s all about the excitement. I love marketing so this phase is one of my favorites. I’ve done everything from a Taylor Swift spoof video to hours-long live author chats in Google Hangouts to celebrate a release. I literally will try anything once!

How do you juggle everything? I have no idea. Haha. Truly though, before the boys, it was simply an exercise in time management and will. My husband was in school (he was a returning adult Grand View student who is now an Earth/Space Science teacher) so we both had "homework" every night. There were a lot of work dates with a bottle of wine sitting between us on the kitchen table, a lot of eight to ten hour writing weekend days, and not a lot of social time, TV time or much of anything but book time. My friends always knew when I was finishing a book because I'd disappear for a few months and then reappear at launch making dates with all of them to catch up on life.

Because of my time at the agency and a career in marketing, I handle all of my own PR for the books and that takes more time generally than the actual writing. However, there are over 150,000 of my books floating around the globe, so I consider the time well spent.

What books do you hope to read to your twin boys one day? And why? All the books! Ha! But in all seriousness, there are so many. I keep telling my husband I want at least one of them to want to read Harry Potter. I want them to read about magic, but I want them to also read about kindness, compassion, willingness to work and conquering fear. Harry Potter will give them all those in one series. I was actually an HP holdout and didn’t read the series until years after it had come out but absolutely love it. And now being an author myself, I have mad respect for what J.K. Rowling came up with.

Who is someone you admire that others may know in the Des Moines area and why do admire them? Katie Patterson, the owner of Happy Medium, is a good friend of mine and woman I admire immensely. It's hard to live in Des Moines and not have heard of Katie or her agency. Much like I've done with my books, Katie took a dream and built it from the ground up. She focused on core values and not only who she wanted to be, but what she wanted her company to represent, and she's stuck to those values as she's grown.

The opportunities she's had have been amazing and her success is something I celebrate as her friend, but also as a female entrepreneur. She's also a mom, and now that I have the boys, I have even greater respect for how involved she stays in the community while balancing her business and her priorities as a parent. I've never believed that you can "have it all" as a working mom, but Katie helps me believe that as my sons grow I will be able to find the balance of being who they need and deserve but also the person I need and deserve.

"When the economy crashed we could have all turned to big box stores and ways to live cheap, but instead more and more small businesses started popping up."

Convince us to visit one of your favorite places in the Des Moines area. One of my absolute favorite things about Des Moines is the ability to be "in the city" one moment and then feel completely separate the next. I'd love for you to join on me at Gray's Lake, one of most popular destinations for dog-walkers and joggers, and spin off on a bike trail headed west. We'll take a tour of Gray's just to show you the 2-mile loop around the lake and say we crossed the bridge, but it will be once I take you through Water Works Park and into the forests behind the Sherman Hill homes that you'll forget we were ever in the city. You'll be surrounded by trees and you'll likely come across a deer or even a beaver (I saw one once!) as you twist and turn your way through the quiet tree-lined paths.

As we loop back around to head back the way we started, you'll be surprised as I veer off course and we end up on the back patio of Confluence Brewery, clinking glasses in celebration of a day of sunshine, movement and peace. Maybe we'll keep going and make our way into the downtown Court Avenue area to sit on the deck at Mullets and share some southern deep fried appetizers, or just keep buzzing down the riverwalk past the iCubs stadium and into the East Village. There are so many places we can lock up our bikes and take in the sights, but if you ever get sick of the city, it's only a few more miles before we can find another tree-lined path to lose ourselves on.

If you could grant the Des Moines area one wish what would it be? Drastically revamp public transportation. As someone who lives in Pleasant Hill, I would absolutely LOVE the ability to hop on a train or other transit option to get downtown, to Ingersoll or West Des Moines. Having Uber here has been great but a true public transit system that was fast and affordable would be so amazing.

What’s one thing people need to know you really care about? Mental health. May is Mental Health Awareness Month and it’s the reason I chose May 4 as the release date for Who She Was. Mental Health isn't just about the big illnesses like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. It’s about depression, anxiety and truly, how you process life. For teens especially, mental health is a fragile thing. The amount of teenagers making life-altering choices during a hormonal, scary, stressful phase of life is terrifying and it’s something that needs more attention.

At the same time, so many of us are seeing the highlight reel of life through our social feeds and struggling to see our own lives as “enough”. It all affects our mental health and we have to be self-aware enough to know when we need help. My hope is that the stories of Charlie, Trevor and their parents will hit home for both adults and teens, and bring additional awareness to some really important topics.

Derek Jensen