Maggie Smith, Writer
I write stories about strong women
I wasn’t always a writer. First, I was a psychologist. Then, a successful businesswoman. But something was missing.
On a whim, I took a writing workshop. Our instructor gave us this prompt: “I Could Never Write a Book About” and with no hesitation, I wrote mothers and daughters. And you know where that kind of thing leads. That single prompt set me down a path that changed my life.
I read somewhere that you don’t truly become an adult until you bury your parents. That once they’re gone, you can be whoever you want, you’re the grown-up, you’re in control. But of course, that’s not true. Your family is the one thing you can’t escape. They’re in your bones, in your head, in your heart. You carry them with you everywhere.
That was my first attempt to frame the book that evolved into my debut novel TRUTH AND OTHER LIES. I realize now the passage came from a deep-seated need in me to plumb the elusive nature of the hold my family of origin had on me.
Why the fascination with this theme?
It all traces back to my prickly relationship with my mother. We were strangers to each other, shouting across the great expanse of changing women’s roles. No way would I be like her, a housewife in middle America. My role model was my dad, a college-educated chemist and business manager who supported our family of five with his weekly paycheck.
I wasn’t even sure what my mother did except cook and clean the house. That certainly wasn’t the life I planned for myself, and I made sure to tell her every chance I got. And she, a product of the Depression and a world war, thought my dreams of a career in journalism were cock-eyed and unattainable.
But as I wrote in the prologue above, your family is the one thing you can’t escape. And so, because I did not understand my mother, and because I was afraid of losing my freedom, I chose not to have children. It was only years later, long past the time it was a possibility, that I began to wonder what I’d missed. That’s why I didn’t think I could write about mothers and daughters. And why I realized I had to.
That’s what writers do. The good ones, at least.
They delve into their own psyche to explore what makes them tick, to exhume the missing and broken pieces in their own lives, bring them out into the light, and share how they managed to survive and grow. All in the hope that by admitting what scares them, what they long for, what embarrasses them, sets their teeth on edge, or touches their soul, they will write words that resonate with readers, that help them cope with their own lives.
My first book evolved as I grew as a writer.
As the world morphed, I became interested in other themes beyond family—issues of privacy and fake news, female role models and power. My heroine moved from a college student to an aspiring writer to finally, an investigative reporter, much as I had been in my early career. And I began to explore another issue that has been a touchstone in my own life—that of betrayal. But it all began with that simple writing prompt.
You never know where a simple fork in the road may take you.