Lindsay Smith‘s love of Russian culture has taken her to Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and a reindeer festival in the middle of Siberia. She lives in Washington, DC, where she writes on foreign affairs. SEKRET is her first novel.
The Poetics Project: Describe your book in ten words or less.
Lindsay Smith: Psychic teens in 1960s USSR forced to spy for KGB.
TPP: What inspired you to write Sekret?
LS: I’ve always wanted to write a book set in Soviet Russia, and when I was brainstorming ideas, I focused on the extreme sense of paranoia the average Russian lived with on a daily basis. They couldn’t share some of their inner thoughts, their criticism, for fear of who might be listening—their minds were the only completely safe place for dissent. Then I thought—what if even that wasn’t a haven? Once I’d solidified the idea of PSYCHIC SPIES, everything else flowed quickly.
Russian music and literature is also a vital part of the story, and I listened to quite a lot of Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky while working on Sekret, though it draws from a number of other musical inspirations, as well!
TPP: What was the hardest part about writing a historical fiction novel?
LS: I struggled most with deciding how strictly I wanted to follow the events of history. I chose the exact year I did, 1963, because it represented the stage in the Cold War when the US and Soviet Union were most equal and most competitive, and had just come down from the extreme tension of the Cuban Missile Crisis. But I had to fabricate some of the internal Soviet politics based on what we know was happening at the time, and, of course, add in the psychic angle. On the whole, though, I chose to stick as closely to history as I could while still telling the story I wanted to tell.
TPP: What do you want readers to take away from your novel?
LS: I hope readers can gain some perspective on a time period, culture, and setting very different from their own, and better understand how this era in history reverberates through today’s international politics, as well. My characters live with an insane amount of paranoia that, unfortunately, is still a feature of daily life in many parts of the world, and there are serious consequences that I want readers to grasp.
TPP: What advice can you give aspiring authors? What advice do you wish you would’ve been given?
So much advice these days deals in absolutes—you must write every day, never use passive voice—but it’s important to look hard at the sound-byte advice you’re given and see through to the larger point it’s trying to make. For instance, it’s important to develop discipline in your writing habits and to make time for your writing, rather than hoping to find it on the sidewalk on your way home, but don’t beat yourself up if life gets in the way. Learn from your mistakes—ignoring your book, having to gut and rewrite a scene (or entire manuscript), flattening a character—and resolve to grow from them.
I wish someone would have told me (repeatedly, if necessary!) the importance of recognizing subjectivity in reviews, editor’s opinions, agent’s opinions, and all the way down the line. Sometimes, yes, it’s your craft that needs work, and never shy away for opportunities to grow and take risks with your storytelling. But understand, too, the peculiarities of personal preference, and stay authentic to the story you need to tell. Your revisions should be about better expressing that core story than chasing a trend or whim.
TPP: If your novel was made into a movie, who could you see cast as Yulia?
LS: I love how prickly, cunning, and resourceful Tatiana Maslany is when portraying her many clones in Orphan Black! I think she could masterfully depict Yulia as she tries to navigate the KGB and its demands on her while trying to accomplish her own, conflicting goals.