Q&A With Gayle M. Smith

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Q&A With Gayle M. Smith 

Another guest Mickey Mikkelson connected me with is author Gayle M. Smith! Gayle M. Smith is the author of her debut novel Thickwood.

Q: Gayle would you please tell us about your debut novel Thickwood and where your idea for the novel came from?

A: The main character, Willo, has been a muse for many years. I knew she had a story to tell. As I developed as a writer, I wrote about Willo at different ages and explored her personality. 

I also have a keen interest in the outdoors and in horses with a data bank of sensory experiences and a trove of personal adventures. In 2013, I was accepted into the University of Saskatchewan’s Master of Fine Arts in Writing program and had the guidance of published author and program head, Jeanette Lynes as well as the mentorship of Allan Safarik, another published author. I explored different angles for a novel, but was particularly inspired to write a historical novel, set after the Second World War, in the geographical transition zone between the prairie and the northern forest. During this time there was a stark contrast between urban and rural life. Many farms were without telephones and still used horses for some chores. 

I decided to research the historical beginnings of a community pasture in an area known as the Thickwood Hills. 

In 1939, after the terrible drought, the Canadian Government started to gather poor and non-arable land into community pastures. Over the years, these pastures created communities of people steeped in traditional horse culture while using the best range management practices. This knowledge and way of life was passed from one generation to the next until the federal government closed down the pastures and other related federal conservation and drought management projects. 

I was concerned about the loss of the community pasture program and all the stories that went with it. I phoned the pasture manager in the Thickwood Hills and asked if my partner and I could ride and spend the night on a pack trip in the pasture. We were granted permission, signed the necessary paperwork, and then we explored the rugged backcountry. The vast pasture set in rolling hills, forests, and riddled with beaver dams, was just as I had imagined. After, around the ranch kitchen table, tales were told of adventures with wildlife, horses, and cattle in the Thickwood Hills. These stories further inspired my writing. 

Then I found out through my research, that many Canadian rural women were recruited to play in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. 

Now I have a story!

Q: Are you currently writing a sequel to Thickwood or is it a standalone novel?

A: I am not writing a specific sequel to Thickwood but I am writing about the same historical period at another geographical location. Maybe one of my characters will meet Willo? Time will tell, but the opportunity is there. I think of this next project as a related novel. 

Q: If you were to explore writing in another genre other than fiction, which genres would they be and why?

A: I also like to write poetry and have a project on Instagram called Love Poems to Equus. People have encouraged me to consider writing non-fiction short stories about my life with horses. 

Q: When did you know that being an author was what you were called to do in life?

A:  I developed a love for reading at a young age which led to writing my own stories. I still have some of my illustrated booklets from long ago. 

I was always studious and wrote in many forms: essays, speeches, and papers. Eventually, I had time to write about my experiences and ideas in the form of poems and short stories. I recall starting at a New Year’s party, when asked about our resolutions, that I wanted to write a book. From there I wrote a young adult novel while under the guidance of a Writer in Residence at our local library. I kept practicing the craft of writing; taking many writing classes. Eventually, I had a portfolio that qualified me to be accepted into the MFA program. 

Q: If Hollywood were to snatch up the rights to your novel (if they haven’t already) who would you cast to play the characters you created?

A: Thickwood has been described as Yellowstone meets A League of Their Own

For the main character, Willo, I would like to see a feisty and athletic actress. The female sidekicks in baseball would also be unique individuals: one tall and one shorter. We need some rugged cowboys, both indigenous and European. An old curmudgeon with a big handlebar mustache, like Spitz, would also have a role. Then there is the villain, Nesteroff, who would have to be played by an actor built like a bull dog with one eye. Seeing a cast of unique and sensitive actors take on the characters in Thickwood would be a thrill! 

Thickwood published by Shadowpaw Press.