“I had no idea what I was going to do next,” he said. “No clue what I wanted to do with my life.” Not that long after, he took off for Europe. Having landed in Geneva, Switzerland with no knowledge of his surroundings, Smith began reading voraciously.
“I began reading Faulkner and Hemmingway because those were the names I knew,” he said. “I spent all my time reading. I began falling in love. I was 29 or 30 then and that was my baptism into it.”
When he got the opportunity to come back to the states, he decided to pursue his new passion for literature by going to grad school at the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi.
Despite the big gap between undergrad and grad school, Smith said his experience abroad helped him in his writing.
“In that space of time, I had grown up and matured some and felt like I had some more experience… at least more than someone who goes straight from undergrad to grad.”
He got his masters degree and PhD at USM and went into teaching. He is currently a sixth year associate professor at Mississippi University for Women who teaches creative writing and modern literature classes.
But his real passion was soon revealed to be writing. After having several short stories published, Smith began writing a novella, The Hands of Strangers, which was published by a small press called Main Street Rag Publishing in Charlotte, N.C.
“I had no idea the stamina involved in writing (books),” he said. “It’s impossible to explain it to someone who has never tried.”
He said he was thankful more then ever for his time abroad. “When I sat down to write, I felt like I had a lot more in me than I did six or seven years earlier,” he said. “It wouldn’t have come out.”
“The Hands of Strangers” was inspired in 2003 when Smith was teaching a study abroad program in Paris while on the metro.
“I saw a sign for a little girl, saying ‘Please help us find our daughter.’ It reached out and grabbed me,” he said.
He began writing about it in a short story called “Anywhere,” which got published and got some attention. Three years later he decided the story wasn’t done yet and kept working until it was published as a novella.
Smith’s sophomore book, “Rivers,” which he sold to Simon and Schuster Publishing, will be in stores on Sept. 10 of this year.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “We signed the deal back last April. There have been revisions, but advance copies are starting to be sent out.” “Rivers” will be released in the US, Canada, UK, Germany, and Austrailia.
“It’s set on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in a future that kind of imagines years of catastrophic hurricanes, like Katrina never left. The government has withdrawn and drawn a line 90 miles from the coast and said, ‘from here down you’re on your own.’ The story focuses on Cohen, who is defending family land.”
Having picked up some steam, Smith has just turned in a new manuscript for potential publishing, with a working title of “Lay Your Armor Down.”
“I’m hoping in the next couple of months to have it laid out and signed off,” he said. “Maybe to come out next year.”
He also has a few more story ideas jumping around his brain.
“I’ve got a couple of things in the hopper,” he smiled. “I’ve got something ticking. I’ve been digging the Delta for a while. There’s something mysterious about it. I’ve got this image in my head of a guy driving in the middle of the night and he’s in trouble. We’ll see where it goes.”
Smith said that this year for him is going to be all about writing. “The good thing about having a couple of manuscripts out is having a lot of time just to write,” he said. “The rest of 2013 I’m going to work on a new novel and write songs.”
Oh yes, in addition to teaching and writing novels, Smith has found the time to start a band.
“I started playing with James Redd, a musician and writer who lives in Starkville,” he said. “We’ve been playing and writing original songs and have been having a really good time.”
The band has been dubed “Wild Magnolias” and have played a few local gigs. They play country/rock on acoustic guitars and have recently added a drummer and bass player.
He said his wife Sabrea bought him his guitar while he was in grad school. “It was like my motivation (for) when I was finished… and like most things artistic it came to me later in life.
“I don’t do anything fancy,” he said. “But Johnny Cash said all you need is three chords and the truth.”
Wild Magnolias will be playing at Dave’s Dark Horse Tavern in Starkville next Thursday, Feb. 28 at 9:30 p.m.
“Rivers” can be pre-ordered on Amazon.com or through Smith’s website, ww.michaelfarrissmith.com.0