South Surrey author Tanya E. Williams’ Becoming Mrs. Smith is a touching, bittersweet, often-poetic story of love and loss and the impact of the Second World War on ordinary people on the homefront.
It’s a debut work of fiction for the local businesswoman – who closed the Tri Geeks Multisport store last year after a 14-year run – following up on her first book, Breathe, a collection of short pieces on the relaxation and rejuvenation practice of mindfulness meditation, inspired by and interspersed with photography by her husband, David (their son Justin, 18 – also a keen supporter of Williams’ creative enterprises – is completing his senior year at Earl Marriott Secondary).
For Williams – who acknowledges she has been a writer from an early age – the opportunity to concentrate on writing and marketing her work has clearly been a liberation of sorts.
“I love the writing process – I love every aspect of it,” she said.
And she’s pleased that her first step into publishing fiction is a novella – a form that strives for a concise, perfectly balanced expression of idea and mood – although, as someone who has carefully tracked online reader feedback since Becoming Mrs. Smith was first published in October, she recognizes the market has long been conditioned to pay more attention to books roughly the size and weight of a small brick.
“Some people didn’t understand what a novella was. They said, ‘it’s short’ – but that was the point. A novella can only have one plot – there’s no room for sub-plots… I love the form, myself. I love to be able to sit down and read and experience the whole journey in one reading and then get on with the day.”
Those entranced by the journey started in the gem-like Becoming Mrs. Smith can be content that there is more – a lot more – to come. Williams is nearing completion of a second volume in what will eventually be a trilogy, and part two, the intriguingly titled Stealing Mr. Smith, and the as-yet-untitled part three, will each be longer and more fully-fleshed out in character and incident than the first.
In fact, Williams admits, her main novel was always meant to focus on the story of the male protagonist, Mr. John Smith – quite consciously created as an everyman – who grows to adulthood in the small farming community of Cedar Springs, South Dakota in the 1930s and 1940s.
“But in the middle of writing that I had these two female characters who got noisy and started waking me up in the middle of the night demanding that their stories be told,” she said.
She chuckles at the notion that a writer, in the process of freeing his or her imagination, can create characters who seem to end up directing their own lives and actions and conversations.
“That’s what I love about it – you can have a plan, but not all of life goes according to plan. You have to ad lib, but sometimes these changes give you more opportunities.”
That is, in essence, the story of Becoming Mrs. Smith. It’s told from the perpective of Violet Sanderson, an enterprising and empathetic young woman all too aware of the physical – as well as metaphorical – operations of her heart. A bout with scarlet fever at the age of 11 has weakened that organ, but has also given her a heightened awareness of the value of day-to-day life.
But her evolving romance with her childhood sweetheart, John, is knocked sideways by America’s entry into the Second World War and an inevitable parting of the ways.
Through the eyes of Violet, the reader gains insight into life at the time and a reminder that the tragedy of wartime was just as present in the hometowns as it was in the frontline foxholes.
A lover of historical fiction of all eras, Williams said she decided to set her story – at least partly inspired by some true events – in the U.S. because the emotional experience of being thrust into the Second World War by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941 seemed more straightforward there than in Canada, where participation in the conflict was bound up with a lot of complicated political issues.
But part of her success with Becoming Mrs. Smith is in evoking a world that seems to belong in a Norman Rockwell painting – complete with all of that artist’s wry, as well as sentimental, observational touches.
“I love doing the research,” she said, noting that she has spent hours listening to actual wartime news broadcasts to help capture the feeling of the time, and has discovered online records that pinpoint weather conditions in South Dakota at each step in a timeline that spans the years 1935 to 1949.
“It’s amazing that you can discover something, like a heavy snowfall, that fits in so well with what you imagined,” she said.
Becoming Mrs. Smith is published by Rippling Effects Writing & Photography. For more information, visit www.ripplingeffects.ca or the author’s website: www.tanyaewilliams.com