- Lee's new non-fiction book "Dimestore" will be published in March 2016. Here's her description of writing it:
by Lee Smith
Place is paramount for me as a writer. I was lucky enough to grow up in a small coal mining town set deep in the rugged Appalachian mountains of southwest Virginia, very near eastern Kentucky, and very isolated in those days. My father owned and ran the Ben Franklin dimestore on main street; my mother was a home economics teacher at the high school. I was an only child born to them late in life, so I grew up hanging around the older folks in my daddy's big, raucous family--world-class storytellers all of them. I don't know how many nights I fell asleep on somebody's porch trying to stay awake long enough to listen to the story being told......so that even today, when I'm writing, stories come to me in a human voice, and all I have to do is write them down. Sometimes it is the voice of the narrator or another character in the story, but often it seems to be the voice of the story itself.
I started working at the dimestore as a very little girl when my job was "taking care of the dolls." Not only did I comb their hair and fluff up their frocks, but I also made up long complicated life stories for them, things that had happened to them before they got to the dimestore, things that would happen to them after they left my care. Their lives were very dramatic. I gave each of them three names: Mary Elizabeth Satterfield, for instance, or Baby Betsy Black. Upstairs in my father's office, I got to type on a typewriter, count money, and observe the entire floor of the dimestore through a one-way glass window reveling in my own power----nobody can see me, but I can see everybody! I witnessed not only shoplifting, but fights and embraces as well. This I learned the position of the omniscient narrator, who sees everything, yet is never visible. It was the perfect early education for a fiction writer.
So you can see how my writing is tied to that town and those people.
I always knew I wanted to set down some thoughts and reminiscences based around this theme----about place, memory, and writing----but this project got a real kick-start recently when the entire town was demolished as part of a flood-control project. Only last August, the house I grew up in was bulldozed too. Several local people rescued the door-knocker---brass, with an engraved "S" on it----and sent it to me here in North Carolina in a handmade box frame, which I treasure. I've got it hanging on the wall right here in my study----and I've got the memories too, finally written down in a little collection I'm calling DIMESTORE.