Five Questions with REMEMBER author Patricia Shanae Smith
Patricia Shanae Smith's debut novel, REMEMBER, was just released, and here she chats with Agora editor Chantelle Aimée Osman about what inspired her riveting first book.
Tell us a little bit about what inspired REMEMBER, and where the characters of Portia and Ethan came from.
I was going through a really dark time and my dad was there. I was doing drugs as much as Portia drank. It sucked watching my dad watch me, so I started writing this story about a girl and her dad and that's all I had in the beginning. I had no idea where it was going to go. Ethan came from my own fantasy of what I would want my boyfriend to be like at the time. What Ethan did for Portia, I personally wanted. I felt too close to my dad, just like Portia. I wanted someone so I wouldn't rely on him so much, and could be independent.
You talk openly about your struggles with mental illness and addiction, as well as how reading and writing have played a large part in your recovery. What, if anything, are you hoping readers with similar struggles take away from REMEMBER?
I hope my readers take away a valuable lesson of speaking up. On how important it is to tell someone that something is not right. Also, that people will understand them, just in case their family and friends don't. I understand them. They're being heard. Most people know mental illness is complex and "hard to explain" and there is no reason to have any shame about it.
Chapters of the story take place at different times in Portia’s life. Did you write the story out-of order? And there are a couple big twists, did you know those were coming when you started writing?
I actually didn't. How my readers find out, I pretty much found out. I've never been good at outlining and planning twists—they come out of nowhere and then I usually have to go back and change a few things. It's annoying sometimes, because if I knew that twist was going to happen, I could have put some foreshadowing in.
Did you write to a playlist? Anything to share?
My writing playlist is all over the place. From All Shall Perish, a heavy metal band, to Brand New & 3 Doors Down, alternative rock bands, to Josh Turner and my favorite, the Dixie Chicks! Mostly—I hate to admit this—I write to TV. An episode I watched before. I like that background noise and it's not too distracting like music can be sometimes.
So, what show do you recommend to continue the experience of REMEMBER?
I love limited series. Sharp Objects, The Sinner. Watching The Sinner really helped me figure out what I wanted to happen and not happen in REMEMBER.
Were there any unexpected challenges that came up writing the novel? What advice would you give to aspiring writers and debut novelists?
Oh, wow, yes! On a personal level, I got sober in the middle of rewriting drafts of REMEMBER. Portia drinks a lot and chain smokes, and I didn't think about that. Basically, I had to write and read about my old lifestyle. But, Portia had to grow up at some point in this novel, just like I had to in real life.
My advice to aspiring writers is: don't forget what you love and that's writing, at least, I hope it is, because if it's not what you love, good luck! It's so easy to get caught up in finding an agent, going to the right conferences, joining the right groups, marketing, etc. and you can spend so much time doing that, you realize you haven't written a sentence in a while.
And, all those things are important, but writing is too. Don't stop. It's way easier said than done, and I'm going through that right now. I'll let you know if it gets easier or harder.