Butcher knife on cutting board

A tasty cut at the behest of a sharp butcher’s knife

Oh dear Lord I worry for my sanity sometimes. I’ve been struggling to write an intro for this post because much of my brain cells have been dedicated to fighting my Depression and Anxiety. INSERT colourful language. I wanted to include references to Boondock Saints and Dexter but I just couldn’t connect that to the rest of the post without going off on a longer tangent; which I am really not in the mood for. So I leave you with: And then, right about the time that I would request my second cup of coffee, there was a flicker in depths of that murky pool. I really like knives. Anything with a sharp shiny edge is thrilling. And here we are opening this blog post with a gif of knives fitting for what follows. Do enjoy!

Please introduce yourself to cosmicTaryn readers.

I’m Anthony Neil Smith, an English professor and crime novelist originally from Mississippi, but teaching at Southwest Minnesota State University for the past sixteen years. My new novel, The Butcher’s Prayer, is my fifteenth. I also love Mexican food, cheap red wine, and Italian exploitation films. I have two and ¾ cats (one lost a leg).

Anthony Neil Smith

How long have you been writing?

Nearly my entire life. I started writing stories in second grade and dreamed of being a crime writer. Then I moved into comic books, then songwriting, and then back to crime fiction when I was about nineteen. I started publishing stories in 1999, while I was in grad school at the Center for Writers at Southern Miss. My first novel was published in 2005.

What attracted you to write in this genre?

I saw a Hardy Boys cover where the guys were stuck in a Cessna plane, hurtling towards the ground, and I had to find out what happened next. I quickly moved on to “adult” crime fiction after that and that sealed the deal. Crime fiction takes some real life issues and amps them up so that they’re more electric, propulsive, and exciting. I am fascinated and disgusted by the awful things people do to each other, and I want to read and tell their stories.

Which of the character/s do you relate to the most and why?

In this book, I would say I relate to the protagonist, Hosea, even though I’m not a preacher, never was, and not a cop. But I did leave the church because I just couldn’t believe it anymore. I think the Pentecostal church broke my heart, but writing helped mend it.

How long do you spend researching before starting to write a book?

It varies, and it’s a drawn out process. I’m usually working on two different books at the same time, but it takes months, sometimes years, of an idea worming its way through my brain until the circumstances are just right, or the character finally shows up in my head. Sometimes I end up combining two different ideas before it feels right. But I like to fumble through writing, too, and only use the research to decide if this is a story I really want to tell.

Anthony with mask
Anthony with mask on

What part of the book did you have the hardest time writing?

I’ve been trying to write The Butcher’s Prayer (or some version of it) for twenty years. It’s inspired by a real case. I went to church with a guy who had been a pretty wild dude before joining the Pentecostals, and he had seemed to turn his life around. He married someone from church, and things looked promising. Next thing we know, he’s murdered a guy and tried to get rid of the body by butchering him and throwing him in the bayou. But the dead man’s girlfriend escaped where they’d kept her and got help. Otherwise, who knows what would’ve happened? It took a very long time for me to decide what story I wanted to write. I wanted a more complex butcher character with a wild card partner who could flip the script. And I wanted a way to explore a character dealing with a loss of faith in something he’d grown up believing 100%. Okay, this was a long answer, but I guess the hardest part of the book was trying to show the butcher’s emotional state changing as we go.

The Butcher’s Prayer book cover written by Anthony Neil Smith

What does literary success look like to you?

Well, I’d say that it looks like a writer building an audience who will trust them wherever they decide to go, and who has a support system in place to help promote the books. That’s the outward appearance anyway. With my fifteen novels and a few novellas on small presses (that I love, by the way), I feel that I have to start over every time I publish a book. I’d like to maintain some momentum that keeps my audience growing, but it *feels* like I have to win everyone all over again. And that’s tough, because I really like to try new things with every book. I’m writing without a net! So it’s a good thing I love my day job, teaching at the university.

My good friend Allan Guthrie – a wicked noir novelist who has also been my agent, editor, and publisher at various times over the past sixteen years – told me I had to learn to separate commercial success from artistic success. The book can be a stunning work of art but still not make any money or find a lot of readers. There’s a lot of luck and timing out of the writer’s control when it comes to commercial success. I think I’ve had bad luck with agents and publishers, and I have made some weird business decisions along the way, but somehow I’ve been able to write a lot of novels that have still found their way to great publishers and readers.

Name an underappreciated novel that you love.

No fair. This is part where I’d really want to list every novel by my best friends, Victor Gischler and Sean Doolittle, and also Allan, and Vicki Hendricks, but I’m going to choose a writer who has not been on a Big 5 publisher, and that’s Ian Ayris, whose novel ABIDE WITH ME is one of the most stunning things I’ve ever read. Fahrenheit Books was smart enough to snap this one up, but shame on the rest of the publishing world for not giving it all the awards and promotion! Ian writes with an incredibly authentic and moving voice. I first heard that it was heavily situated around soccer (the footie!) and thought, “There’s no way I’m going to care about this.” But one page was all it took to change my mind. Please, readers, seek this out!

If you could choose celebrity parents, who would you choose?

Celebrity parents??? What a nightmare! But if I had to, I’d say Paul Schrader (screenwriter and director) and, oh, Susan Sarandon.

What is the one thing would you give up to become a better writer?

That’s something I haven’t thought of much. I think I’m becoming a better writer every day because I’m still learning more every day. But if it was a sudden choice: Twitter.

Off the top of your head, who would you give a shout out to on Twitter?

My friend and tremendous genre writer Victor Gischler. @victorgischler.

Is there a way for your fans to connect with you?

On Twitter, or on Facebook, or on Instagram. I have a website with a contact form, but it’s not the best way to get in touch.

Care to share what you will be working on next?

I have a new novel coming from an exciting young press sometime in 2022. I can’t share details yet, but I’m really happy to be working with them.

And there should be the second part of my (planned) SLOW BEAR trilogy out from Fahrenheit 13 in early ’22.

Intertwined dragon banner used at end of blog post
Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

5 Comments

  • seriah sargenton

    Thanks for writing such a lovely review! The Butcher’s Prayer seems like an interesting read and I enjoyed learning about this author.

  • Unwanted Life

    The butcher’s knife just reminds me of being in primary school, home for lunch, crying, holding a butcher’s knife, and wanting to cut off my left hand. That always comes to mind when I see a butcher’s knife.

    On another note, I too left the Christian faith because I just couldn’t believe in it anymore. However, I was forced to go until I was old enough to be left home alone

  • Jaya Avendel

    It is so fun to see interviews that ask interesting and engaging questions! I loved getting to know about Anthony Neil Smith’s writing process, research process, and especially what literary success looks like to him.
    Thanks for sharing!

Comments welcome

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