Sulphur Springs native, Christian author tapped as guest speaker for library’s Annual Gala Fundraiser and Luncheon
Annette Woodall Smith to talk about books, the writing process and how faith figures in her work
By TERRY MATHEWS | News-Telegram Arts Editor
Annette Woodall Smith was never especially interested in English classes when she went to Sulphur Springs High School in the 1970s. But, when she enrolled in the nursing program at Paris Junior College, she did well enough on a standardized test to avoid having to take English in college. She's never had a creative writing class, yet she's written more than a dozen books, including five novels.
What Smith lacks in formal training, she has made up for in the art of listening — and remembering.
�People tend to tell me their life story,� Smith said in a recent interview. �I�d much rather listen than talk. I find most people I meet have a story they need to tell. I glean stories from the woman who checks my groceries, from my husband�s best friend and from the young college student at the hospice facility where I work.�
Smith, a 1977 graduate of SSHS and daughter of former longtime residents Louie and Marolyn Woodall, will be the guest speaker at this year's Friends of the Sulphur Springs Public Library Annual Gala and Fundraiser Luncheon on Friday, March 9.
Smith’s first book, “Whispers of Angels” (Harvest House, 1998) has sold over 113,000 copies and continues to be popular.
�No one can explain the book�s staying power,� Smith said. �The average life span of a book is about six months. Maybe it�s the title, but to tell you the truth, there�s not one angel in the book.� The book is a collection of stories and essays inspired by situations she witnessed in her 20-plus years of nursing.
�You get to see intimate things � funny, poignant, outrageous things,� Smith said. �The book came about because I would see these situations and meet these great people and I would think that someone should write it all down. That someone turned out to be me.�
Her latest book, “A Bigger Life,” (NavPress) was released in January. The plot line for “A Bigger Life” came from time spent sitting in a hairdresser’s chair.
�My daughter was tired of me having what she called �old lady hair,� so she took me to the mall in Tyler,� Smith explained. �The hairdresser I got was 6�3�. His name was Paul. He had tattoos and a shaved head. Almost immediately, he poured out his story to me. The mother of his son had just died in a hit-and-run accident. I was captivated by his voice.�
Her hairdresser’s story and point of view were so compelling that Smith went home and got the first chapter of “A Bigger Life” on paper within a couple of days.
Although her hairdresser and his story were the basis of the book, Smith is quick to point out that the story is fiction.
�This book has his voice and his spirit, but it�s not his life,� Smith explained. �Paul inspired the character. He is not the character.�
When she told him she was writing a book based on his story, “he was blown away. He’s been very supportive throughout the whole process,” Smith says.
Smith dedicated “A Bigger Life” to him. “I couldn’t wait to place a book in his hands. He just wept,” she said.
Although Smith’s earlier books have enjoyed great popularity, she believes “meeting Paul in that salon was orchestrated by God.”
Smith’s previous books are classified as mainstream Christian fiction. They’ve been compared to Jan Karon’s “At Home in Mitford” series - sweet, gentle fiction with an underlying faith-based message.
�There are boundaries in Christian fiction. I pushed them with the new book,� Smith said. �It�s grittier and it has sexual situations, but I think it�s tastefully done. I have no delusions of grandeur. I�ve written some good books and some not so good books. I feel like all the other books were just the warm-up for �A Bigger Life.��
Of her success, Smith says, “I’m a small town lady who likes to read books and who was in the right place at the right time. There are thousands of writers better than me who will never have the honor of having their name on the cover of a book. It was a combination of hard work, good luck and a little grace.”
Smith’s next book, “A Crooked Path,” is due for release in the fall and begins in Mexico.
The plot for “A Crooked Path” came as a result of some 20 short-term medical mission trips Smith has taken into the interior of Mexico.
�The main character is a young Hispanic male,� Smith says. �On his 12th birthday, he takes a trip with his father from their remote village to Mexico City where they can find work. He doesn�t make it to the city and must return home with devastating news for his mother.�
Smith and Randy, her husband of 27 years now live in Quitman, where she is a hospice nurse and Randy is a high school girls’ coach. They are the parents of two grown children and a shaggy mutt named Wally.
Smith is available as a guest speaker for book clubs and civic clubs. Contact her at www.annettesmithbooks.com or at P O Box 835, Quitman, TX 75783.
The Friends of the Sulphur Springs Public Library’s Annual Gala and Fundraiser Luncheon is scheduled for noon Friday, March 9, in the library’s large meeting room. It will be a catered affair. Tickets are $10 and may be purchased at the library or by calling 903-885-4926.