The Author Spotlight Series shines a light on writers creating heartfelt and original work across genres, giving them an opportunity to talk about their books and why they do what they do.


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“Douglas Smith is a four-time winner of Canada’s Aurora Award, most recently in 2023 for The Hollow Boys, as well as the juried IAP Award for the same book. He’s been a finalist for the Astounding Award, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Bookies Award, the juried Alberta Magazine Award for Fiction, Canada’s juried Sunburst Award, and France’s juried Prix Masterton and Prix Bob Morane. His latest book The Lost Expedition, book 3 of his Dream Rider Saga series, was released in January 2024″.


When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I did a lot of writing in high school, but then got away from it for many years. I’d always planned to get serious about fiction “someday.” Then, in my early forties, I read that one of my all-time favourite writers, Roger Zelazny, had passed away from cancer at the far too young age of 56. It made me realize I couldn’t count on having time to chase the dream “someday,” so I started writing seriously right then. I sold my first story, “Spirit Dance,” professionally about a year later.


Do you remember the first thing you ever wrote?
The first thing I remember is a story in Grade 4 where the assignment was to a write something using personification of an inanimate object. I wrote about a football in a game, getting kicked, jumped on, etc.. I can’t recall much more about it, beyond I wrote it in the first person and tried to make it funny. I know I got a good mark on it and that the teacher’s reaction to it made me want to do more writing. So…yay teachers and positive reinforcement.


How did you develop your skills?
I started with short stories because, in speculative fiction, that was the traditional way to break in. But I also felt it was the best way to learn the craft. I could experiment with far more styles, voices, genres, story structures, etc. in twenty 5,000-word short stories than I could in one 100,000-word novel.


And it let me develop other skills I’d need when I moved to novels—handling multiple points of view, use of scenes, characterization, plot, pacing, dialog, setting, world building, information flow, voice—not to mention basic sentence structure, paragraphing, punctuation, grammar.


Plus, I knew my writing had reached a professionally publishable level when I started selling regularly to short fiction markets.


Who are some of your biggest literary influences? Do you have a favourite book/author?
As a kid, I read everything I could find by Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradury, and Isaac Asimov. Bradbury had the biggest impact, certainly when I started out writing short fiction. I love stories that show something fantastical hiding in our everyday lives, and Bradbury’s stories are often about that, whether the hidden mystery is wondrous or frightening. And I loved his lyrical prose style, the simple humanity of his characters, and his insight into what it means to be human, no matter what our age. I reread his Something Wicked This Way Comes recently. When I’d read it as a teenager, I remember loving the book and the kid characters, but not really “getting” the father. Reading it now, as a father, I realize that Bradbury really understood both generations and the changes, choices, and regrets that come with age, and that is where the power of the book resides.


In university, I discovered Zelazny, who I’d probably list as my major influence, although Charles de Lint would be a close second. I’ve always loved myths—Greek, Norse, Egyptian, Native American—and Zelazny’s stories are often based on mythology. His prose style was lean but poetic, his stories poignant and filled with unique characters you wanted to spend time with, and his story showed the most fantastic range of imagination of any writer I’ve ever encountered.


I’ve also written several short stories inspired by the songs of Bruce Springsteen. He’s an astounding storyteller. In a few lines, he tells stories of everyday people struggling with whatever life has thrown at them, but with an attitude of defiance and hope despite the odds against them.


For favourite books, too many to list. Zelazny’s Lord of Light is one of the greatest speculative fiction novels ever written. Another favourite is E.R. Eddison’s Zimiamvian trilogy, a forgotten classic that influenced Tolkien. Favourites I’ve read over the last decade include Station Eleven(Emily St. John Mandel), The Queen’s Gambit (Walter Tevis), A Gentleman in Moscow (Amor Towles), We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Shirley Jackson), and the Song of Ice and Fire series (George R. R. Martin).


How would you describe your work?
My short stories have covered the full spectrum in speculative fiction: science fiction (both hard and soft), fantasy (a lot of urban but also high fantasy, sword & sorcery, supernatural), some horror, some humour, some slipstream. My novels are all urban fantasy, although I do have an SF novel planned.


Not being restricted to a single genre, there are fewer (no?) limitations to the types of stories that I can tell. The stories still need an internal logic and consistency, but I’m not bound by any concerns of matching current reality. That is wonderfully freeing for a writer.


I really don’t think about genre when I write. I don’t think “oh, this is an SF story. I can’t do *that* in an SF story.” Which is probably why I tend to mix genres not only across stories, but within a story as well.


I appreciate the power of speculative fiction as a literature, to paraphrase Damon Knight, to hold up a distorted mirror to our current reality, to focus on some aspect of our world which needs to change (in the writer’s opinion). It’s that “if this goes on…” type of story that allow speculative fiction to provide a social commentary in a way that mimetic fiction cannot.


What’s your writing process like?
The “external” process is on a laptop, using Scrivener for drafts…and coffee.


I’m most productive when I get away from my house, usually to the local library or coffee shop. My mind set becomes “Well, I’m here. I might as well write.” Four to five hours is about right. More and my mind turns to mush, and less makes it hard to get a decent word count.


My only real writing ritual is listening to classical music to drown out distractions. But it can’t have lyrics (they compete with the words I’m trying to write) or any strong emotional flavour (it won’t likely match what I’m writing). So, despite my love of rock, I listen to orchestral pieces—instrumental, no vocals, and preferably baroque or early classical. Vivaldi is a favourite.


For the “internal” process, I’m a “headlights on the highway” writer, a phrase from E. L. Doctorow, who once compared writing a novel to driving across the desert at night. He said you can only see as much of the road ahead as your headlights illuminate, but you can drive across the entire desert that way.


I’m a character-based writer, so before I start, I have to know my characters intimately. They’re my drivers on the trip, as their motivation will determine the turns I’ll make when I come to a crossroads.


I also need to know where I want a book to end up at the climax (the city at the end of the desert road), as well as the big events and surprises in the book (the signposts, the towns I’ll pass).


Once I have all that, I can start. But I don’t do an outline. I write three-to-five chapter chunks (as much as my headlights are showing me), fix them up until I’m happy with them, and then let those chapters light up more of the road ahead. Then I write the next set of chapters.


I think of it as a compromise between outlining and “pantsing.” It lets me make discoveries along the way, but still keep control of the overall direction of the book. Most of the cool things that show up in my stories come from this approach. I know I’d never have discovered them using an outline. The story is discovered in its writing, as someone said.


Tell us about your most recent book.
The Dream Rider Saga is a young adult urban fantasy trilogy that I describe as Indiana Jones meets Teen Titans. The first book, The Hollow Boys, came out in 2022 and won Canada’s 2023 Aurora Award for Best YA Novel:


At seventeen, Will Dreycott is a superhero…in his dreams. And in yours.


Eight years ago, Will’s parents, shady dealers in ancient artifacts, disappeared on a jungle expedition. Will, the sole survivor, returned home with no memory of what happened, bringing a gift…and a curse.


The gift? Will can walk in our dreams. At night in Dream, Will hunts for criminals—and his parents. During the day, his Dream Rider comic, about a superhero no one knows is real, has made Will rich.


The curse? Severe agoraphobia. Will can’t go outside. So he makes his home a skyscraper with everything he needs in life—everything but the freedom to walk the streets of his city.


Case, an orphan Will’s age, survives on those streets with her younger brother, Fader. Survives because she too has a gift. She hears voices warning her of danger. And Fader? Well, he fades.


The second book in the trilogy, The Crystal Key, came out last year, and the final book in the series, The Lost Expedition, was released in January.


Each book tells a complete stand-alone adventure, while building on both the romance between Will and Case, as well as the core mystery of the trilogy: what happened eight years ago in Peru.


Book Life made both The Hollow Boys and The Crystal Keyan “Editor’s Pick” and described the series as “thrilling YA fantasy.” BlueInk gave both books a starred review, calling the series “a must-read story of YA fantasy fans.”


What are you working on now/next?
I’m working on the second edition of my writer’s guide, Playing the Short Game: How to Market & Sell Short Fiction, and planning my third short story collection, as yet untitled. Both should be out in 2024.


I’m also in the early stages of my next novel, The Wolf and the Phoenix (working title), which will be a sequel to my first novel, The Wolf at the End of the World, and will expand my Heroka shapeshifter universe that I began with my first short story, “Spirit Dance.”