Interview with Brenda Marie Smith, author of scifi If the Light Escapes
A standalone sequel to IF DARKNESS TAKES US
A solar electromagnetic pulse fried the U.S. grid fourteen months ago. Everything’s gone: power, cars, running water, communications, all governing control and help—gone. Now northern lights have started in Texas—3,000 miles farther south than where they belong. The universe won’t stop screwing with eighteen-year-old Keno Simms.
All that’s left for Keno, his family and neighbors is farming their Austin subdivision, trying to eke out a living on poor soil in the scorching heat. Keno’s still reeling from the the death of his pregnant sister. His beloved Nana is ill, Grandpa’s always brandishing weapons, and water is far too scarce. Desperate thieves are hemming them in, yet he can’t convince his uncle and other adults to take action against the threat.
Keno’s one solace is his love for Alma, who has her own secret sorrows. When he gets her pregnant, he vows to keep her alive no matter what. Yet armed marauders and nature itself collude against him at every turn, forcing him to make choices that rip at his conscience. If he can’t protect Alma and their unborn child, it will be the end of Keno’s world.
IF THE LIGHT ESCAPES is post-apocalyptic science fiction set in a near-future reality, a coming-of-age story told in the voice of a heroic teen who’s forced into manhood too soon.
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Bright green lights stream and pulse across the northern sky all night now, growing from thin and wispy to bold and fat, expanding, contracting, sending out bands of yellow streamers like they’re partying on ecstasy at some cosmic rave. The lights are pretty, and they’re hypnotic, and they creep me out to the core.
Northern lights every night for two solid weeks in Texas. Halfway to the equator from where they belong. They’re supposed to be a phenomenon tied to the magnetic poles—it’s a scientific fact.
Nothing is right about this. The only explanation I can think of is that the north and south poles are shifting. I don’t know what that means for the planet and the future of its creatures. We don’t have TVs or talking-head scientists to tell us…
The universe just won’t stop f**king with us.
Today, I’m hoeing corn in our front yard, sweat stinging my eyes. It’s blistering hot out here—early December in what used to be high-tech Austin, until the … sun zapped us with an electromagnetic pulse and took our power, our cars, the damned running water. It stopped pretty much everything—everything modern, that is.
It’s been fourteen months, and all the front yards in our subdivision are mini-cornfields now. We grow beans and veggies in the backyards. It’s a desperate attempt to keep us alive when our food stockpiles run out. Don’t know if it will work, but I’m doing my damnedest to make sure it does.
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An Interview with Brenda Marie Smith
-If you could apologize to someone in your past, who would it be?
So many. I would apologize to my friends who are no longer with us for not spending more time with them while they were alive. I would apologize to my parents for trying to take the only family car for a joy ride when I was fifteen. I have apologized to my sons for marrying my second husband who was abusive to them, and I will keep apologizing for that. And I apologize to the world for my bad jokes.
-If you could keep a mythical/ paranormal creature as a pet, what would you have?
Tinkerbell. She could fly around bestowing blessings and favors on my friends and family members, which would make me very happy. Plus, she’s little and cute and wouldn’t take up much space.
-How do you keep your writing different from all the others that write in this particular genre?
Apocalypses are often all action. Mine have a lot of character development, and also show the everyday hardships of trying to grow your own food, find water, stay healthy, find love. Some apocalypses show a complete breakdown of human compassion and morality. My premise is that it would take a very long time for all civility to disappear. It didn’t disappear in this pandemic or in the Great Depression. In fact, for many people, it brought out the best in them. Some old classic apocalypses show literacy and complex language disappearing within a generation or two, and, while that could be the case for some, I feel certain that most people would educate their kids at least verbally.
-What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you ever received?
“Show don’t tell” is both the best and the worst and a source of so much confusion. It’s definitely true that the story should take place in scenes and that too much continuous narrative can damage the flow, but it’s also true that you have to maintain a balance. You can’t possibly show everything, nor should you. The trick, which I am still trying to master (and I suspect I always will be), is to weave the showing and telling together so that it’s seamless.
-Are the experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Yes and no. The events are mostly based on my fears of the way I see the country heading. The hero of If the Light Escapes, eighteen-year-old Keno Simms, is a kind of conglomeration of all my five sons and three brothers, a young man I feel like I know, but who sprang to life with a mind and agenda of his own. I literally could not type fast enough to keep up with him.
In my twenties, I lived off the grid without running water or telephones and with limited access to cars, so I know what that’s like. For the first book in this series, If Darkness Takes Us, many people think that the grandmother is me, but that’s not quite true. She’s certainly thinks a lot like I do, but she’s more conservative and strait-laced, a little like my mother and grandmother. And I cuss like a sailor while she barely cusses at all.
About Brenda Marie Smith
Brenda Marie Smith lived off the grid for many years in a farming collective where her sons were delivered by midwives. She’s been a community activist, managed student housing co-ops, produced concerts to raise money for causes, done massive quantities of bookkeeping, and raised a small herd of teenage boys.
Brenda is attracted to stories where everyday characters transcend their own limitations to find their inner heroism. She and her husband reside in a grid-connected, solar-powered home in South Austin, Texas. They have more grown kids and grandkids than they can count.
Her first novel, Something Radiates, is a paranormal romantic thriller; If Darkness Takes Us and its sequel, If the Light Escapes, are post-apocalyptic science fiction.
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