Spruce Pine woman fulfills writing dream
When Spruce Pine resident Leeann Smith was asked by an Army recruiter in the 10th grade what she wanted to do when she was older, the only thing she could think of being was a writer.
The now adult Smith has worked in the healthcare profession for many years – a world driven by facts, figures and truths, which is a far cry from the creative realm of storytelling.
But even though she still works in healthcare, Smith has finally lived up to her 10th-grade ambitions and become a writer.
Cat’s Eye Marble, Smith’s first book-length story, hit shelves a little more than a week ago, and she said she’s still having trouble believing the whole process is real.
“I keep wanting to pinch myself and see if I’m dreaming,” Smith said. “I still can’t believe I have a book that has been published and that people I don’t even know are reading it.”
Smith said she first fell in love with writing at the same time she fell in love with reading, which was pretty much instantaneous from the time she read her fist book.
“Being able to take someone into another world is just a wonderful talent and something I just love,” she said.
“I wrote when I was younger and on into high school when I worked for the Journal Record covering football games.
“I was probably my editor’s worst nightmare because I wanted to use lots of adjectives and dress the story up, and all they really wanted was a cut-and-dry replay of events and the scores.
“That creative element was just there and it was hard not to let it loose, even on a football story.”
Smith’s creativity was still a large part of her life, but it wasn’t something she acted on professionally, and soon she had pushed the idea of writing to the back of her minds.
“I wasn’t thinking about writing very much, and I certainly wasn’t thinking about writing a book,” she said. “As simple as it sounds, it really just happened. It wasn’t a conscious decision.”
The storyline for Smith’s book focuses on a girl named Dani who was the victim of child abuse and a very hard life. The story chronicles Dani’s life and the measures she has to take to make it through each day and the ability of a child to use his or her own mind to escape such harsh realities at such a tender age.
Smith said she classifies the book as “reality-based fiction” because even though the characters, their names and the places are fabricated, the story is based loosely on the real-life story of a person Smith met.
“A few years ago, a person I was talking to opened up to me about the abuse they had experienced as a child and it was just unfathomable,” Smith said. “It broke my heart.
“I saw her as a survivor and admired her for how far she had come, and her story just stuck with me.”
As a way to deal with the overwhelming emotions from hearing what circumstances this person had to overcome, Smith said she just began writing.
“I wrote a lot of things down and pretty soon a storyline began to evolve,” she said. “I played around with the story for about two years and it wasn’t really going anywhere so I just pushed it out of my mind.”
Smith said she didn’t give the story much more thought until this spring when a seemingly mundane activity brought it right back to the forefront of her mind.
“This spring I decided to plant a garden in my yard, and as I was tilling up the ground, something caught my eye,” she said.
“What I had dug up ended up being a clear and orange cat’s eye marble that reminded me of the marble I had when I was a child.
“I started thinking about how I used to play with those marbles and how I would imagine they were crystal balls that could take me to far off places and let me see all kinds of fun things.”
That was when it hit her.
“All of a sudden I realized that children who are the victim’s of abuse, like the person who inspired this story, have to employ those same kinds of tactics just to survive – to use their own minds to escape reality out of necessity rather than just for fun.
“At that moment, it just all fell into place. I put my tiller down and went inside, dirty, muddy clothes and all, and wrote the first two chapters of the book.”
Once the story locked into place, Smith said the words flowed easily and she had finished the book in a matter of months.
She then began navigating the self-publishing process with the help of her editor, Cassie McCown, and soon had the book signed on to be published by Friesen Press.
“I knew I wanted to have the book published because I wanted people to take two things away from this story,” she said.
“One, I wanted those who are the survivors of child abuse to know they’re not alone. So many of them feel so lost and as if they are all alone in their struggles and I want to be a voice for them. I want them to know there are people who care about their story.
“Two, I want to help people who have never experienced child abuse or personally know someone who has to be able to understand this on a more personal level. I want them to be able to walk right alongside Dani on her journey and feel what she feels.”
Smith said the reason she feels so strongly about this is because it is a subject that is usually swept under the rug.
“You hear the statistics but then you just go on with your life, not really considering that those numbers are actually people.
“Child abuse is an epidemic in our country, and even right here in our county. It goes on more often than people realize, mostly because people don’t want to talk about it or report it or get involved. But it needs to be discussed, and if my book impacts even one person, I’ve met my goal.”
To celebrate the release of the book, Smith will hold a book signing at the Russellville Public Library on Saturday, Dec. 15, from 10:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m.
Copies of the book will be available as well as snacks and a special gift for those who attend.
“This has been such an amazing process and I’ve already gotten such great feedback,” Smith said. “The book reached my publisher’s best seller list already, and I’ve had people tell me how emotional the book was for them, which is great to hear because that means I conveyed my message.
“I grew up in Hackleburg and now live in Spruce Pine so this isn’t something a small-town girl like me expects, but I’m enjoying every minute of this process.”
In addition to the book signing, copies of Cat’s Eye Marble can be purchased at Barnes and Noble, at www.friesenpress.com, and on Amazon.com in hardback, paperback and Kindle formats.