About Sarah Smith, Edgar Allen Poe and Sue Grafton

August 27, 2000
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@ dcn.davis.ca.us

Sarah Smith is a woman of many interests: she is a writer, a computer whiz, a film buff and more.

Her most recent book, "A Citizen of the Country," is the third in a trilogy that began with "The Vanished Child," and "The Knowledge of Water."

She was born in Boston and lives there today where she also is, in her spare time, the Webmaster for Mystery Writers of America. Be sure to visit that Web site to find out what's going on in the world of mystery writers.

For instance, visit that page if you want to add your name to an on-line petition to save the last remaining house lived in by Edgar Allan Poe. That house is a historic 1800s brownstone on West Third Street in New York City, owned by New York University. It is slated for demolition.

Edgar Allan Poe moved to the house at 85 Amity St. (now West Third) in the late summer of l845, a year biographers consider one of the most important of his life. Poe, accompanied by his mother-in-law, Maria Clemm, and his wife, Virginia, moved to the house sometime between the late summer and fall of l845. Virginia's worsening tuberculosis likely prompted the move.

The house featured a small yard (still extant), and this feature plus the building's proximity to Washington Square, with its relatively fresh air, were presumably intended to improve Virginia's health. While Poe occupied the house for no more than eight months, a number of critical events occurred during his residency there. It was in October of that year that he achieved his lifelong dream of acquiring and editing his own literary magazine, the Broadway Journal, and it was at 85 Amity St. that he worked up to 15 hours a day in an effort to keep the magazine afloat.

But, this is a digression. Back to Smith.

Smith, a Radcliffe graduate who earned her Ph.D. at Harvard, says "A Citizen of the Country," may be difficult initially for those not familiar for the books that preceded it, but stay with it. It's not easily categorized as either a literary novel or a mystery.

"It's the book I wrote, and the rest is a marketing decision," says Smith. "I take elements of a traditional mystery and subvert them. I was once told that you can't write a mystery in war time because the rule of law is subverted, so I took this as a challenge."

Smith sets her book in Paris and Flanders just before the outbreak of World War I. If you want something one-dimensional to read on the beach, this is definitely not your book. The plot, intricate and complex, features Dr. Alexander von Reisden, head of the Jouvet medical research institute; André du Monde, Count of Montfort and owner-writer-performer for the Grand Necropolitan Theater, and a cast of family and friends who gather at Montfort castle to make a silent movie modeled after "MacBeth."

No wonder Smith feels a connection with Edgar Allen Poe.

"This is the last book in the trilogy," Smith says, "but I may not be finished with the characters."

In the meantime, she has Webmaster tasks. Being the Webmaster of such an interesting site is a lot of work, Smith concedes.

"But I could never be too involved with the world of mystery writers. The site offers a great chance to get involved in the world of working mystery writers, those who have published one to three novels," she says.

She says the mystery market is hard to judge. For year, the publishing world has been saying that the female sleuth of the type done so perfectly by Sue Grafton is dead.

"But then someone comes along and does it very well," said Smith. For instance, Janet Evanovich has become the East Coast answer to Grafton with her introduction of a character who is every bit as independent and funny as Grafton's Kinsey Millhone.

However, the available slots for mid-list writers (opposed to best-sellers) is contracting at traditional publishing houses, she says. Yet at the same time non-traditional presses are popping up including new, smaller houses and houses in cyberspace that specialize in filling print-on-demand requests.

"The problem with electronic publishing is that there are few good editors," said Smith. "The barriers to entry may be low because they lack the filter of a major publishing house."

Smith predicts that this perception will change when those who publish on-line write stories that are "extremely well-written, interesting, amazing and full of life." But that's not happening quite yet. Stayed logged on.

To inquire about ordering any of the above mentioned books from an independent bookstore,
Bogey's Books at discounted prices [ Click Here ]

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