When my friend Sarah Mackenzie over at the Read-Aloud Revival said that The Green Ember by S.D. Smith was the one book you must read this year, I knew it better go on our wishlist. And then it came out on audiobook, read by Joel Clarkson (and oh how we love audiobooks!). My children were hooked after the one-hour audio preview available at Story Warren. So I knew that The Green Ember was the perfect audiobook on which to use our free Audible credit. And it was with great anticipation that we turned on The Green Ember as we began our 2,000 mile road trip.
Instantly, our entire family was transported to the grassy field where Picket and Heather were playing Starseek. We were on the edge of our seats as they encountered danger. Our hearts warmed as they fought to protect each other, against all odds. The tale kept the entire family entertained–from my husband down to our 3-year-old son (he’s still worried about three characters whom he hopes are rescued in the next book!).
So even though March was well underway by the time we’d finished listening to the thrilling tale of The Green Ember, I knew an interview with its author would make the perfect addition to our March of Books here at Kindred Grace. It’s with great delight that I present Sam Smith, creator of Story Warren, author of the children’s fantasy novel The Green Ember. I hope this introduction gives you a taste of his dedication to good literature, his passion for family, and his inimitable sense of humor. (Click here to read my full review of The Green Ember.)
Gretchen: Welcome to Kindred Grace, Sam! We’re delighted to have you here today to talk about story, rabbits, family (anything but writer’s block, right?).
Sam: Thank you! I’m very happy to “be here” and to answer questions “insightfully” and to “use quotation marks” a lot.
Your debut novel, The Green Ember, was an instant favorite with our entire family. Can you tell our readers a bit about the storyline?
Thank you so much. I’m so glad the entire family enjoyed it. That’s especially encouraging to me because I view the book as something our family is sharing with other families. The story started on my front porch with my toddling daughter. I told her stories about the rabbits hopping around in our yard and the tale just grew as I told her (and the next kids) more and more over the years. The story centers on two rabbits (highly personified, not like the incredibly brilliant Watership Down, these rabbits have hands) named Heather and Picket. This brother and sister experience a calamitous personal event which propels them into an adventure where they irresistibly collide with the much larger story of the trouble in their kingdom, trouble they have a very personal stake in.
You describe The Green Ember as “a new story with an old soul.” Elaborate a bit more on what you meant by that.
I guess that mostly speaks to my intentions as a storyteller. When C. S. Lewis talks about the importance of reading outside your own century, I think we mostly view that as touching non-fiction. But I almost believe it to be more important with fiction, and most particularly perhaps in the formational literature that children (and families) read. I am a man of my time and I can’t (and wouldn’t) change that. But I hope this tale echoes the virtues of both an older and future age. I have intentionally ignored the fads of contemporary publishing, where often we just get recycled versions of the last “hits” over and over, ignoring timeless art in exchange for marketable material that can quickly sell. It seems like the products of those motives can often place kids at odds with their parents and live short, vapid lives. I wantedThe Green Ember to feel old in the best ways. That was my (ambitious/arrogant?) aim. I don’t regret trying.
Rabbits with swords. Is this a long-fostered bit of fantasy or a spur of the moment addition to the story?
Well, they had to fight with something, and while #RabbitsWithBazookas sounds awesome, I thought swords were a little more elegant.
The sibling relationship between Heather and Picket reminded me of growing up with my brother. Did you grow up with siblings close to you, or is this a vision you have for your own children?
I did grow up with three brothers and a sister, and we are all very close. Heather and Picket are more modeled on my own (oldest) two kids. I think those relationships are special, at least they have been for me. I wasn’t trying to “work anything in,” but what I know and love about having those special relationships definitely informed my own story and that had to find its way into this tale.
What does the writing life of a father of small children look like? Are you able to write amid the chaos or do you shut yourself up in a noiseless chamber somewhere in the depths of your home?
I do it every way imaginable, but I do work better without a lot of noise. I want to be a present father and husband, but the truth is that my wife has helped make space for me to do this work and without her it would be impossible. But I love being with my family far more than writing and I don’t expect that to ever change.
Have you always wanted to be a writer? How did the transition come about to full time author?
Well, I’m not a full-time author, although that was probably my earliest ambition. I wanted to write ever since my first grade teacher read Lassie to our class and my mom read us The Chronicles of Narnia. However, I left it behind for most of my life, and I didn’t even really read much as a kid (something I’ve worked for the last twenty-something years correcting). I would love to write full time, but we have four kids and they love to eat food, wear clothes, and weird stuff like that.
Your sense of humor is very evident in your blog and social media posts, and comes through in various characters in The Green Ember. Are there specific literary influences to your humor, or does it come naturally?
I have always just been very incredibly funny, ever since the womb or possibly at an even earlier age. I love P. G. Wodehouse, but I don’t think he’s been influential on me beyond just seeing that it was possible to write humorous fiction that went beyond jokes. It’s impossible to imitate someone like him. He’s like Michael Jordan. Sure, you can practice your jumpshot, but good luck. Other writers I think are funny: Jack Handey, Douglas Adams, and Jerome K. Jerome. My dad is funny, so I’m at least half-funny on my father’s side.
It has been said that to be a good writer, one must read good books. What are the books on which you feed your writer’s soul?
I love Lewis, Tolkien, and Chesterton. I know it’s super cliche, but I don’t care. I love them. I also love Doyle’s Holmes, everything Wodehouse, Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series, and Umberto Eco, among others. My writer’s soul also loves nachos, but you didn’t ask about that.
You describe our homes as “little warrens for stories, with eager bunnies abounding.” What are some of your favorite stories (in addition to your own!) to read aloud to your children?
I end up telling the kids a lot of (made-up) stories. That’s how a lot of my (written) stories start out. Right now I’m telling the youngest two a serial called The Princess of Lava Mountain. It has lava in it. Gina (my wife) does most of the read-alouds (at least of novels). I read the kids The Hobbit recently and I read lots to our 3-year-old girl. I love to read her poetry collections, or books of poetry. I think poetry is so important for formation of understanding and appreciation of beauty. The Bible has so much poetry in it and I feel like it’s sad that poetry seems to be a fading (or morose) endeavor. I think everyone should, like me, have a hidden vault full of horrible poetry that one’s relatives will discover after our deaths so they have something to laugh about.
And finally, the very most important question (and my children’s primary contribution to this interview): when is the sequel coming? Is The Green Ember going to be an entire series?
Thanks for asking and thank you for doing this interview. It’s been an honor.
I am working on the second book now. I’m not sure how many books it will take to tell Heather and Picket’s story, but I plan to tell it till it’s over. In the meantime, before book two comes out, we plan to release a prequel novella featuring Whitson Mariner and Blackstar, two historical characters referenced many times in The Green Ember and featured in its prologue. It’s short, but I enjoyed it. It has some backstory that readers of The Green Ember may enjoy. More rabbits. More swords. What could go wrong?
S.D. Smith is offering a print copy of The Green Ember to one U.S. resident, plus an audio/ebook combo to three more winners anywhere on earth!
Visit S.D. Smith online at his personal website or at The Story Warren. You can also find him writing (appropriately) at The Rabbit Room. And don’t miss Sam’s interview over at the Read-Aloud Revival with Sarah Mackenzie!