Winnipeg writer Sherri Smith’s debut crime novel, Follow Me Down, is as gripping a book as I’ve read in a long time. It’s a great gift to be able to dole out suspense at exactly the right pace and Smith’s got it. She also writes so vividly about Wayoata, North Dakota, a fictional town located in the most obscure corner of the American mid-west, that the reader feels the same icky ambivalence toward it as the book’s protagonist. These qualities earned Smith a contract with Forge Press, Macmillan’s U.S. mystery and thriller imprint.
In Follow Me Down, Mia Haas, who has successfully escaped Wayoata, is forced to return there to deal with the fact that her twin brother Lucas, a high school teacher, has disappeared. Worse news greets her when she finds out that Lucas is wanted for the murder of one of his students.
When not writing, Sherri Smith spends time with her family and two rescue dogs, and restores vintage furniture that would otherwise be destined for the dump. She finds that Winnipeg’s long, cold winters nurture her dark side.
Follow me Down is available at Whodunit, McNally Robinson Booksellers and Chapters Indigo.
Here is my e-conversation with Sherri.
CM: I’m filled with writer’s envy when I read sentences like, “She was exceptionally tall, almost six feet, with broad rounded shoulders and a very bad Blondissima dye job that was almost blue, making her dark inky eyebrows pop like a punch line.” Does that kind of writing come fairly easily to you or do you sweat for every syllable?
SS: Why thank-you!! Those kinds of sentences come easily enough to me, but there’s a dark side because I also have trouble culling all of those sentences. I have a tendency to write through issues, so I basically write two or three books to every one book (I am not a fast writer) and so that’s a lot to wade through. For me, writing is definitely rewriting and rewriting and rewriting!
CM: What attracted you about using first person narration, and did you find that it had some downsides too?
SS: First person comes most naturally to me. I love the feel of really slipping into someone else’s head for a while but yes, first person can also be really frustrating too because you’re so hindered on what you can reveal. You also lose out on using shifting perspectives to balance out your character’s tics (and Mia has plenty of those,) it’s also especially difficult when your first person narrator is not a detective, and she needs to use her own wits to unravel the mystery.
CM: Mia is a wry and dead-on observer of the world around her but she doesn’t always have an equal degree of insight into her own behaviour. Sometimes the reader wants to shake her. Was writing her a difficult balancing act?
SS: Good question! I just wanted Mia to be realistic. She’s conflicted and she’s in an incredibly stressful situation and struggling with her own addiction and so yes, I think she absolutely lacks insight into her actions (as most addicted people do) but I also feel it’s part of her charm. She’s doing the best that she can, in the given circumstances. I love how flawed she is, how her gummy brain works, how she can twist things to suit whatever she’s chasing down. I admire her loyalty and how she keeps her snarky humor going because I think it’s true of how a lot of people cope with their dark childhoods.
CM: The differences in language and culture are pretty subtle between the American mid-west and the Canadian prairies. But your Wayoata seems bang on to me. How did you get the American details so right?
SS: Google. And I like to go to Grand Forks and go shopping, so that too. All of my research trips were really just shopping trips at Target and Gordman’s.
CM: Who are the writers that you most admire and why?
SS: There are so many, too many and I am always discovering new writers to admire but my go-to list of writers who never disappoint are:
- Laura Lippman
- Gillian Flynn
- Chevy Stevens
- Peter Swanson
- Tana French
CM: What are you working on now?
SS: I am currently writing another suspense novel. I don’t want to say too much about it at this point other than it takes place at a wellness retreat, involves psychotropic tea and murder. Its scheduled release is Winter 2019.
CM: I’m fascinated by the process of choosing a title. Is there a story behind the choice of “Follow Me Down”?
SS: The original title was Dickson Park, but my publisher thought it was too quaint and Brit sounding, so I changed it to “Follow Me Down”. I think it aptly represents where Mia takes the reader; down the rabbit hole, into her pill-addled brain, and her downward spiral.