Richmond Made: A Museum Store Q&A Series
Richmond Made is a new Q&A series focused on Richmond Makers featured in the Valentine Museum Store!
Our Museum Store Manager Brianna Landes recently sat down with Richmond-based author Steven K. Smith to talk about his Virginia Mystery book series. Young readers will find adventures set against the backdrop of famous Virginia locations, from Maymont to Mount Vernon. These books are perfect for students of Virginia history who are looking for thrills and chills heading into Halloween!
Q: Have you always wanted to be a writer? What compelled you to start writing children’s books?
A: When I was a kid, I wanted to be a professional baseball player. Or a forest ranger. One or the other. But I have always loved reading, and even made a card catalogue for the books on my bedroom shelf. When I was in grade school I made a copyright page on all my book reports with my own publishing company name. Funny how no one else seemed to do that. I wrote poems and creative stories for school and fun, and wrote an annual Christmas letter each year after college. Its fun to look back and see clues to what might happen down the line, but it wasn’t until many years later that I even considered writing a book. When my youngest of three sons was born, I started a blog called MyBoys3 about the joys and craziness of a house with three young boys. A few years later, soon after we moved to Richmond from New Jersey in 2011, I made up a bedtime story for my older boys about two brothers who move to an old house in Virginia on the edge of the woods and discover lost coins in the creek. That turned into Summer of the Woods, my first book, and I haven’t looked back. I’m about to publish my ninth middle grade children’s book plus two books for adults.
Q: How do you find different places and topics to base your books on?
A: When I moved to Virginia, everything was new and exciting. I was a political science major in college and have always loved history. Sometimes I think when you grow up somewhere much of the surroundings become like wallpaper and are just ignored. But my new home in Richmond was dripping with history and I was eager to discover as much as I could. When I started my second book, I decided to brand the series The Virginia Mysteries, which was like a Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew story set in historical places around Virginia. With so much history, the hardest part is narrowing the choices down to find the story that gets me most excited. If I’m excited by things, chances are that excitement will come out in my writing to my readers as well. I’ve written about places in Richmond like St. John’s Church, The Jefferson, Belle Isle, Hollywood Cemetery and Maymont. In the most recent two books in the series, I’ve gone further around Virginia and picked locations that are especially prominent school unit studies like Jamestown, George Washington, and Mount Vernon.
Q: Do your sons read your stories?
A: Having three boys running around the house has always been a source of inspiration for me. Even pulling things like the way brothers relate to each other and the occasional funny phrase is helpful. My wife and one or more of my kids are often my early readers or listeners to a rough draft. My youngest is in fourth grade, so he’s right in the middle of the target age range. My older two are teenagers and not surprisingly are beginning to think they are too cool for Dad’s books, but I still make them sometimes.
You can find a collection of Smith’s Virginia Mystery books and other items at the Valentine Museum Store!