Wordsmith – Cheryl Smart

Cheryl SmartAge: Old enough to have worn original bell-bottom blue jeans, and young enough to have worn them again when they came back around disguised as boot-cut.

Location: Memphis,Tennessee

Education: Late bloomer. I earned BA’s in English & Philosophy in December of 2013, and am currently a 2nd year MFA candidate at the University of Memphis, studying Creative Nonfiction, Fiction, and Poetry.

The Writer

How long have you been writing?
My mother kept stories I wrote in elementary school. I could not quit chatting to my classmates so my 3rd grade teacher moved me all around the classroom in the hope of finding a location where I wouldn’t disrupt the class with my storytelling.  There was no such place.  Finally, my desk was butted up to my teacher’s desk, but this attempt to silence me failed also.  That brilliant teacher, Mrs. Sue Shelly, struck a bargain with me.  She said she would listen to my stories if I wrote them down on paper.  I’ve been doing it ever since.

Do you have a specific writing style?
Writing style?  Hmm.  I suppose my writing style is to rip your guts out.  But, we’ve bonded over these words, haven’t we?  I don’t take this bond lightly.  So, I’ll fold everything back in, sew you up, and give you a hug.  I’ll give you scotch whiskey as antiseptic.  But, not good scotch, because I’m a grad student, so most likely it’ll be cheap scotch.  You wouldn’t want that scotch.  But, my hugs are awesome.  And, I can sew you up like a determined girl scout itching for a homemaker merit badge.

Do you see writing as a career? 
A girl can dream.

What is your greatest challenge as a writer?
To not be so attached to my words that it hinders the revision process.

The Work

Tell us about your work in Crack the Spine.
“Grandmother” is a nonfiction vignette about a woman who downloads her memories to her grandchildren.  The older we become, the stronger the need to pass on our history to others so a part of us is left behind.  In this process, we sometimes uncover memories that open up old wounds.

Is there a main theme or message in this piece?
The themes in “Grandmother” are family, loss, and betrayal.

What inspired “Grandmother?”
My grandmother repeatedly shared a story of her sister destroying her only doll, a doll made of chalk, by throwing it into a rain barrel.  As my grandmother’s years were winding down, this was the memory she shared most frequently.  It seemed important to her, so I thought it should be important to me as well.

Tell us about another project you have published or are currently working on.
I wrote a short whimsical piece of Creative Nonfiction called, “Horses in the Wrinkle” about the feral horses on Cumberland Island in Georgia.

What inspired “Horses in the Wrinkle?”
My family and I camped on Cumberland Island, a National Seashore that is inhabited by wild horses.  No one knows in any certainty how the horses came to be there.  I waited for days to catch a sighting of those horses, and when I finally did, it felt as if I had slipped into some other world.  It was such a remarkable experience to me, it was necessary to share it with others through the written word.

Where can we find this work?
“Horses in the Wrinkle” will be published online in the March issue of “Cleaver Magazine.”

The Methods

How often do you write? 

Where do you write?
Usually in my study, fondly dubbed – The Brain Wave Cave.

How many drafts do you generally go through before you consider a piece to be complete?
I rarely consider a piece complete.  I still critique my work even after it’s published.  I can always see room for improvement.  Writing takes practice.  The more we write, the better we write.  Say we had a piece published six months ago.  We go back to that piece with six more months of writing experience and notice little hiccups here and there, a place that could have been strengthened with simile, a better title.  Such is the life of a writer.

How do you react to editorial rejections of your work?
Like someone said “Sic ‘em” to a bulldog.  I’m pretty tenacious.  I usually send to five suitable journals when I think a piece is ready for publication.  If the piece is rejected by those journals, I send to five more.  If I get rejected ten times, then the piece most likely needs to be revisited, torn down, and remade.

How do you react when one of your submissions is accepted for publication?
Like I just received the Miss America crown.  I cry, call my friends, scream in their ears, they scream in my ears.  It’s a good time.

What is your best piece of advice on how to stay sane as a writer?
To not.

The Madness

What is your favorite book?
Now now.  There are too many favorites to claim a favorite.  However, I will say there is this one book that changed the way I think about something really big.  The book, “The Shack” by Wm. Paul Young changed the way I see God.  I fell in love with the idea of God as a maternal black woman who gives me warm hugs and sage advice.  And why not?  God is God.  God can be anything God wants to be.

If you could have dinner with one fictional character, who would it be and why
Alfred Prufrock because Prufrock needs a hug and I give awesome hugs.

What is the greatest occupational hazard for a writer?
Being too attached to our words.

Who would play you in the film of your life?  
Goldie Hawn.

What’s in that cup on your desk?
Paper clips.  You thought I was going to say scotch, didn’t you?

Beach or Mountains?  
All of it.

Cats or Dogs?  
Two of each.

Beer or Wine?
Yes and yes.

Additional Reading on Cheryl



on “Wordsmith – Cheryl Smart
7 Comments on “Wordsmith – Cheryl Smart
  1. Cheryl has a wonderful way of using words that has only gotten better with time.She pulls me apart and then puts me back together again.And her hugs are amazing!!!!

  2. I’ve found that Cheryl seduces you to sit a spell, take a load off, turn off the filter and care a while, then resume this thing we call life! Always a treat.

    • To have the support of friends who take the time not only to read my work, but to also leave feedback for me is so much goodness! Thank you, Melinda.

  3. Thank you, Denise. Your words perfectly describe the impact I had hoped my words would have on my audience. Writers and the magazines we publish in crave feedback – good and bad. It helps us know what we’re doing right and what we may be doing that is less right. Bless you for taking the time to comment always.

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