Flying High with Sherri L. Smith
Sherri L. Smith's novel Flygirl has a one of a kind premise - the heroine not only wants to be a pilot during World War II, but she is also a woman of color. Now that's a strong heroine I can root for. I just had to ask Sherri to come by for an interview!
Ida Mae Jones dreams of flight. Her daddy was a pilot and being black didn’t stop him from fulfilling his dreams. But her daddy’s gone now, and being a woman, and being black, are two strikes against her. When America enters the war with Germany and Japan, the Army creates the WASP, the Women Airforce Service Pilots—and Ida suddenly sees a way to fly as well as do something significant to help her brother stationed in the Pacific. But even the WASP won’t accept her as a black woman, forcing Ida Mae to make a difficult choice of “passing,” of pretending to be white to be accepted into the program. Hiding one’s racial heritage, denying one’s family, denying one’s self is a heavy burden. And while Ida Mae chases her dream, she must also decide who it is she really wants to be.
Simone: Flygirl is such a fascinating premise. When did you first hear about WASP and what inspired you to write the story?
Sherri: I first got the idea for FLYGIRL while listening to a Radio Diaries documentary about the WASP on NPR. It was such a gripping story, I was hooked. I started thinking about women in a man’s world, and what other sorts of discrimination people face, which made me think of my mother’s stories about growing up in New Orleans in the ‘40s and ‘50s. Ida Mae was born, and the rest is… well, in the book!
Simone: What kind of reaction have you had from readers?
Sherri: It’s been really great. The book appeals to boys and girls, young and old. I was particularly moved during a signing at the Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. when I was approached by a boy who had flown in from Japan and came to see me on his vacation! At the same signing, a woman was pushed forward by her adult daughters. It turns out she wanted to be a pilot, but her eyesight wasn’t good enough. She was in tears when she picked up the book.
Simone: Research must have been such a large part of writing this book. Did you research as you go, or do all of the research first?
Sherri: Yes, and yes. I started with a transcript of the radio documentary. From there, I looked at picture books, and worked my way up to memoirs. I wrote FLYGIRL before there was an official WASP museum, so the research was not as readily available as it is today. In fact, more resources surfaced as time went by, so the research never stopped.
Simone: I know that feeling! What inspires you daily?
Sherri: Everything around me. There are stories in every single thing we do, and my mind just spins tales as I navigate the day. Good books, gossip, talking to people and hearing their stories, anything can lead to the next book idea.
Simone: What is the best book you've read recently?
Sherri: That’s a tough one. Right now, I’m reading The Diamond Age by Neil Stephenson. He’s such a complex writer. I think his work can be hard to delve into—very complex worldbuilding at play, but he’s like a linguistic archeologist. The words he uses! He keeps me running for the dictionary, but I’m glad because it’s easy to forget how deep our language can be. It makes me want to memorize a thesaurus!
Simone: Where is your favorite place to read?
Sherri: The planet Earth. I think I could read anywhere in the universe. If the book grabs me, I’m in 100% and it doesn’t matter where I am, just that I’ve got a good book!
Simone: What's next for you?
Sherri: My next novel comes out in Fall 2012. It’s a speculative novel set in a not-so-distant-future New Orleans. I’m super excited for it. And then I’ve got my fingers in a few mysteries, and maybe even a fantasy down the line. And then, who knows? I can only guarantee that there is more writing to come!
Thanks so much, Sherri!
I so love heroines. Love them. Check out the real WASPs on the left. Are they not awesome???
So who is your favorite heroine, fictional or not?