Paul Smith - Turning a Recurring Nightmare into a Book
P. G. Smith is a former U.S. Army officer and educator. His work has appeared in many publications, to include Country Living, Military History, Career World, Canada's History, National Guard, GX, and the Boston Globe. His concept for "Prayers for Evil: A Novel" began as a nightmare that he just couldn't forget. The short story idea became a novella, which finally grew into a novel. As our Author of the Day, he tells us all about it.
Please give us a short introduction to what Prayers of Evil is about.
Here's a good teaser for "Prayers for Evil:" Chris Murphy arrives in a small New England town looking for a fresh start after the breakup of his marriage. He soon falls head over heels into a steamy romance, encounters cryptic characters, and witnesses mysterious mishaps in the old Maine village. Before long the tentacles of an ancient force that has long lain dormant ensnare those around him. Chris races against time to uncover the source of the sinister curse that reaches from medieval mysticism through Nazi Europe and into coastal Maine. Can he seek out and defeat this evil before it destroys those he loves?
Tell us more about Chris Murphy. What makes him tick?
I created Chris Murphy to be Everyman or Everywoman to whom everfy reader should be able to relate. He's an ordinary person who suffers from a broken heart when his world falls apart. So he picks himself up, packs up his five-year-old daughter, and tries to start a new life in a new place. He's not perfect; he struggles to keep his temper in check, he's always late, and sometimes he lets pretty faces lure him into bad decisions. But he's a decent human being who tries to do the right thing, like befriending a man with Down's Syndrome, which pays off in unexpected ways. Somehow Chris finds the courage to accomplish heroic deeds - just like all of us who deep down inside have what it takes to be heroes.
What inspired you to write about an ancient curse with roots in medieval mysticism and Nazi Europe?
Ever since I started reading, I've been fascinated by mysticism, archaeology, and history. The most frightening stories to me have always been horror mixed with religious myth. The ultimate evil is the darkness and terror created by the Nazis, who were deeply interested in the occult, and believed that their heinous actions were justified. Perhaps my main theme in this book is that the cruelest forms of evil are perpetrated by those who believe in their own sanctity and self-righteousness.
You are a former U.S. Army officer and educator. How have your former experiences in this field influenced your writing?
As an Army officer I was involved in operations at the border, in South America, and in many, many disaster relief missions during my 35 year career. One of my last assignments was as the Brigadier General in command of military forces during the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings. I wrote "Prayers...." off and on over the course of many years. It often served as my refuge from the ugly realities with which I was confronted. In my little world of Ashton Falls, Maine I could control the characters and the outcomes - something I certainly couldn't do in my Army crisis world.
Prayers for Evil started out as a short story. Tell us more about how the novel came about.
As I've noted - "Prayers.." began as a nightmare that nagged me until I developed the images into a short story. But, before long. more characters and plot twists developed and I had a novella. Finally, I decided to stop developing the story when it reached the point where I had a novel. I'm actually kind of sorry I stopped writing the story because more plot threads occur to me all the time - and I really had a great deal of fun writing it.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I'm retired from my military and education careers, although I still teach Counterterrorism courses at Nichols College part time. I cross-country ski, row my boat across Boothbay Harbor, bike, spoil my grandchildren, and make a mean pancake. I'm a rabid New England Patriots fan and an avid collector of military antiques, particularly 19th century officer swords. My writing also occupies a great deal of my time.
Why did you pick an old mill town in Maine as the backdrop for your story?
I love small town New England, particularly coastal Maine. The scenic views, neat village commons, and white spired churches convey a sense of peace and tidiness. However, under the gravestones in the churchyards lie tales of pirates, Native American conflict, witch trials, lust, greed, and treachery. You just need to dig a little bit on a damp,foggy evening to be amazed, dazzled, or terrified.
The book contains some unexpected plot twists. Did you plan them out before you started writing?
The plot that drives "Prayers.." came about as I created the story. Other than some of the characters and the ending, very little was planned in advance. Quite seriously, this story wrote itself, which is both wonderful and kind of creepy at the same time.
Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?
There are actually so many...Mark Twain has to be one of the wittiest, funniest people in history, I'd love to go drinking with him. I also adore the wit and wisdom of Benjamin Franklin, Winston Churchill, Charles Dickens, and Abraham Lincoln. One of my greatest heroes is the Irish-American poet, John Boyle O'Reilly, who was well-known to Dickens and Twain. Perhaps I could pack them all into a boat and row them out to one of the remote Boothbay Harbor islands for an afternoon barbecue and beer blast (ah, what a fantasy!)
Is there anything you're too scared to write about?
I can't and won't write about harming children. When I write a passage, I actually live it in some small way. The injury or death of a child is too painful and tragic to even contemplate. (I tease my readers that Veronica, Chris' little daughter, might be harmed by the curse in "Prayers..." I suppose I've given away a little bit of the plot here, because my pen could never hurt her.)
Some readers compared your writing to that of Stephen King. Are you a fan? Which other authors inspire you?
I consider Stephen King to be one of the greatest living American writers. His novellas, "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption," and "Apt Pupil," are absolute masterpieces. I'm also a huge admirer of George Orwell, Graham Greene, Robert Harris, Erik Larson, and Alan Furst. Right now I'm on an Eric Ambler kick - reading every spy novel I can find.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What does a typical writing day look like for you?
Perhaps the strangest habit I have, and I wouldn't recommend it, is that I compose in my head while I walk, hike, row or bike by myself. I concentrate on a short story, chapter, or article sometimes for weeks before I sit down and write it - often in one long sitting. I wrote my first published short story ("For Sale" - Country Living magazine) during an all-nighter after my wife and I had put our babies to sleep. Although it's cathartic, and Jack Kerouac swore by it, I really don't advocate this inefficient writing method.
What are you working on right now?
I'm working on too many projects right now:
a. Memoir about my 35 years in the Army - mostly funny vignettes, although I can't seem to get around to the heavier stuff.
b. Collection of short stories - I've been writing them for nearly 40 years and I still crank them out when a concept takes hold of me.
c. Military History magazine articles - the editor kindly publishes (and pays for) my featrure articles about little-known intrigue, battles, and heroes (most of which are connected to New England).
d. Maybe, maybe, maybe I'll start writing another novel....
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
I love to hear from readers - my e-mail is: