'Silent City' . . .

University of Michigan alum pens her first foray into crime fiction 

By Kurt Anthony Krug
Legal News

There’s a gap of more than 25 years between Detroit native Carrie Smith’s first and second novels.

Which begs the question: Why?

“That is the question of questions,” said Smith, 58, senior vice-president/publisher for the Benchmark Education Company in New York.

Smith lives in Manhattan with Cynthia Swain – her significant other of more than 26 years – and their twin children, ages 17. A 1975 alumna of University Liggett School in Grosse Pointe Woods, Smith went on to earn her undergraduate degree in literature and creative writing from the University of Michigan in 1979.

It was during Smith’s senior year at U-M when she wrote her first novel, “Forget Harry,” which is now out of print. It was a work of literary fiction that was published in 1981 by Simon & Schuster and received a Hopwood Award for Fiction – a prestigious writing award through U-M that Smith won a total of three times.

“When I published ‘Harry,’ I was 22. Quite frankly, I didn’t think I was ready to be a writer. I didn’t really have the confidence and the self-knowledge to take it and run. Some people can, but I wasn’t there. It took me awhile. Then life took over. I got on a professional track, I had children – life intervened. But I’ve always written. I’ve always wanted to get back to it. I did often feel like a has-been... I decided at a certain point I was gonna do this and I’m happy to say it worked out,” she explained.

Her latest book, “Silent City” (Crooked Lane $24.99) is her first foray into crime fiction. It also marks the debut of Det. Claire Codella of the New York Police Department. No sooner does Codella return from a medical leave – she won an ugly, hard-fought battle with lymphoma – she’s saddled with a new partner named Det. Eduardo Muñoz and they must investigate the murder of Hector Sanchez, a beloved principal of an up-and-coming public school.

“I work in the education field. I’m talking to teachers, administrators, district leaders, and publishers all the time and I’m a parent of two kids in high school,” she said. “I know a lot about the New York Public Schools. I know it from a political and pedagogical perspective. Some of the best mysteries take place in a microcosm – a little world in a big world. Setting it in this context felt very comfortable to me… I wanted to have some fun with it.”

The impetus for giving Codella lymphoma came from her significant other’s battle with the same disease.

“Cynthia developed lymphoma about six years ago – knock on wood, everything’s fine now… You know how debilitating cancer can be,” said Smith. “I had to be in that situation, but I was watching the situation at the same time. I think my writer’s instincts took over as a way to transform a difficult situation and make something out of it because I had to do something. It feels like it’s made the detective in my book a type of character a lot of people really seem to resonate with… It gives her a depth that maybe certain detectives in crime novels don’t necessarily have. That’s the genesis: My own experience with that illness.”

Smith didn’t want to say too much about Codella. A good deal of her origin is depicted in “Silent City” with more to be revealed in 2017’s “Forgotten City,” which is the sequel.

“I wanted her to be a strong, self-sufficient character who in some ways is flawed because of that; she needs to get closer to people and that’s a problem for her that she has to deal with throughout the series,” said Smith. “Then, of course, she (works with Muñoz). I made him a gay, Hispanic detective. I wanted to represent diversity. Being in New York, being who I am, I felt it was very important to have characters that were representative of the spectrum of all human beings.”

It hasn’t been too much of a stretch for Smith to switch from writing literary fiction to writing mysteries/crime stories. In fact, she stated both aren’t mutually exclusive and the crime genre is a great platform for a literary writer.

“What the crime genre does is it makes you very disciplined about your plot. But it allows you to also be a good writer; you can write some really great fiction – it can be very incisive, very character-driven, beautiful writing. I don’t feel that I’ve abandoned literary writing; I just poured it into a new vessel,” she said.

These days, Smith feels much more confident in her career as a novelist.

“I would say some people are just meant to do something like this. I think certain people are observers. They really hone in and explain the world by writing it down,” said Smith. “I don’t know if I exactly believe in inspiration… I think that when you’re a writer, whatever circumstance you’re in, wherever you’re at, you’re both in the moment and you’re outside of it looking in. You’re always trying to transform things and making something explainable… I’ve always been fascinated by interactions between people. I think that’s one of my strengths as a writer: analyzing characters and their interactions.”

She continued: “It’s great. I love what I’m doing. I know that people read this genre. I feel closer to my audience. Just in the little bit of time I’ve been out there and reading the reviews... It’s just so nice that people want to read a book like this and get connected to a character they want to continue on. So to me, it’s been amazing.”

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