Dominic Smith

How did you become a writer?

When I was about ten my family experienced tragedy—my mother had a stroke at the age of 37 and, in the same year, our house burned down. These events turned me to writing as a place where I could control the fates of other people’s lives. My interest in writing intensified throughout my undergraduate degree at the University of Iowa, where I took fiction workshops, and into my MFA at the Michener Center for Writers here in Austin, Texas. As I see it now, it all began with me writing serial spy stories before the age of twelve.

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).

I’m drawn to stylists like James Salter and Don DeLillo. Flannery O’Connor has been important to me in the way that she flirts with high drama while keeping the action deeply psychological. Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway is one of the most perfect novels I know. Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda was the book that made me want to write historical fiction. I’ve also been lucky enough to have some amazing writers as teachers, each of whom taught me something distinctive about process: Joy Williams, Dennis Johnson, James Magnuson, Elizabeth Harris, Stephen Harrigan, Anthony Giardina.

When and where do you write?

I write early in the morning, five days a week, for 2-4 hours, depending on the day. It happens either in my living room or in my backyard studio—a 10x12 room with nothing but books and a desk inside.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a new novel that takes place in the world of early cinema—a slice of time when Edison and the Lumière brothers were competing for the same American eyeballs. In a way, it’s a return to material that I discovered in a short story I published a decade ago called The Projectionist.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

There are certainly days when it feels like nothing is flowing, where the conceit or the writing itself seems lacking. But I've learned to accept this as part of the normal writing practice. I strongly believe that inspiration comes out of the work. We shouldn’t wait for inspiration to strike as a condition for writing. We develop the practice, do the work, and inspiration comes. Writing is muscular and requires a regimen.

What’s your advice to new writers?

Read widely, experiment with form and voice. Be willing to fail. Develop discipline about when and how you write. Begin crafting your life so you can solve how to make a livelihood while still carving out time to write on a regular schedule.

Dominic Smith is the author of four novels, most recently of The Last Painting of Sara de Vos (Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus & Giroux 2016). His short fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and appeared in The Atlantic, Texas Monthly and the Chicago Tribune. More details can be found at his website: