Roger Smith’s latest thriller, “Capture,” is out now and the premise is just as captivating as his previous novels. The author recently stopped by to talk about his latest novel, his writing method and why his stories always take place in Cape Town, South Africa.
Q - Thank you Roger. How are you doing?
A - I’m doing well, Jason. Pleased to be talking to Zoiks!
Q - You are the author of four novels, with “Capture,” being the latest. How did you get involved with writing and how did you fall into your particular genre - thrillers?
A - When I was a kid my father always had a stack of crime novels next to his chair and when I was around twelve I snagged “The Hunter” by Richard Stark. It blew me away; I was totally unprepared for its amoral worldview and gut-punch writing - lean as a Brazilian supermodel. I still have that dog-eared little paperback. I always wanted to write crime but in South Africa, where I grew up, apartheid made crime writing irrelevant, so I got into the movie business, doing anti-apartheid documentaries for a long time. But apartheid is gone and South Africa (sadly) has a crime epidemic, so about five years ago I sat down and wrote my first crime thriller.
Q - Briefly describe the story of “Capture.” What can readers unfamiliar of your work expect?
A - Drugs. Sex. Violence. Obsession. Murder. Kurt Vonnegut famously said “be a sadist.” In other words make your characters suffer, and that’s what I do in “Capture.” I take a couple of flawed human beings and put them through hell. Nick and Caroline Exley are youngish, prosperous, living in luxury in picture-postcard Cape Town, until the accidental drowning of their four-year-old daughter tears their world apart. A sociopathic ex-cop named Vernon Saul, a product of the brutal Cape Flats ghetto (one of the most violent places on earth) moves in on them, exploiting their grief and guilt, manipulating Nick who ends up fighting for his sanity and his life.
Q - When you write a novel, do you have a certain process? Describe the process you go through when writing.
A - I always start with an image, something vivid that comes out of someplace deep and dark and grabs me by the throat. With “Capture” it was the image of a man sitting on the rocks beside a private beach watching a child drown in the ocean and choosing to do nothing. I couldn’t shake this image. I didn’t know who the man was. I didn’t know who the kid was. So, in order not to go crazy, I had to find out. And the only way I could find out was to start writing. That’s how it is for me: I don’t write outlines, I mostly don’t know how my books will end, I let the characters jump out at me and take me with them. If I’m not shocked and appalled and terrified as I write then how can I expect my readers to be as they read?
Q - With all the rewrites and editor recommendations, how do you know when your story is actually complete? Do you ever implement changes to find that it alters the storyline?
A - First drafts for me are journeys of discovery. They’re messy, sometimes misshapen, filled with some good stuff and lots of crap. That’s okay. I get my first draft out quickly, a kind of expiation getting the stuff “out of the old gut onto the goddamn page” (in the immortal words of Terry Southern.) Then I rewrite. Endlessly. I love it. I love shaping this rough thing into something more layered and polished. And I welcome the input of my early readers and editors. And then there’s that day when it’s done and I wander around wondering what the hell I’ll do next.
Q - Have you ever disagreed with an editor and what did you do to work around that?
A - I’ve been lucky to work with editors who know how to enhance what’s there, and don’t let their egos rule them. Suggestions that have been made have always helped my books, and have never taken them into places I didn’t want them to go. I write dark books. Brutal books. Uncomfortable books. No editor has ever tried to change that. If they did I would refuse to act on those demands, even if that meant the book wasn’t published.
Q - You’re currently represented by The Martell Agency. How long did it take to land an agent and what advice could you give to aspiring authors going through the process?
A - After I wrote my first novel I sent out 250 query letter and emails. It was a nightmare. Great thing is that Alice Martell had been on top of my list, and about three months into the query process she asked to see a chapter of my book, and then the whole novel. She read it in a few days, agreed to represent me and within three weeks had me a two book deal with a major US publisher. My advice? Be patient and thick-skinned. It’s not fun.
Q - What did your day job consist of while you were developing a writing career?
A - As I said earlier, I was in the movie business. First directing and producing documentaries and then later writing narratives for film and TV. So I was doing a lot of writing, but just in a different medium. And the screenwriting background was good; it helped me understand pace and was invaluable when it came to weaving together multiple-characters, which is what I like to do.
Q - With digital downloads and Kindle, do you have to change the way you market books from when you first were published?
A - In the last few years ebooks have changed the landscape. All my novels have been published both in print and digitally, in a number of countries, but these days ebook downloading can be triggered by effective social networking. Everyday people are talking to me on Twitter about my books, responding to what I tell them and hitting that download button. Amazingly immediate.
Earlier this year I wrote an e-original novella called Ishmael Toffee which is available exclusively on Kindle. It was an experiment on my part. A very successful one, I’m happy to say. I’ll be doing at least one e-original novella a year, along with my traditionally published novels.
Q - I noticed that your novels take place in Cape Town, South Africa. What ties do you have to this area?
A - I grew up in Johannesburg, but moved to Cape Town in the late 90s. It’s a spectacularly beautiful, if shocking schizophrenic, city. The playground of the rich along the coast where people like the Beckhams and Madonna own houses, and a living hell out on the windswept Cape Flats where millions of mixed race people live a life dominated by gangs, child abuse and deprivation. My wife is from the Flats and the stories she told me and the world she introduced me to spurred me to write.
Q - Have you evolved as an author from when you first debuted?
A - Hell, I hope so. People are kind enough to tell me I have! I think I’m more confident now, more prepared to go deeper into character. Plot is vital, and I love writing fast-moving, complex thrillers, but more and more I’m submerging myself in the worlds of increasingly dark and messed up people, and I’ve grown to trust that my readers will follow me there.
Q - Thank you again Roger. Is there anything you wanted to add?
A - Thank you, Jason. I appreciate this.
Readers can purchase “Capture” at Amazon.com and can learn more about Roger Smith at his website: www.rogersmithbooks.com.
Jason Tanamor is the Editor of Zoiks! Online. He is also the author of the novels, "Hello Lesbian!" and "Anonymous." Email Jason at firstname.lastname@example.org.