You Fly, Girl

"All those who see me, and all who believe in me, share in the freedom I feel when I fly."

Interview: Sherri Smith

Sherri L. Smith was born in Chicago, Illinois and spent most of her childhood reading books. She currently lives in Los Angeles, where she has worked in movies, animation, comic books and construction. Sherri's first book, Lucy the Giant, was an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults in 2003.

Flygirl is her fourth book. It's about a light-skinned black girl who passes for white in order to become a WASP and serve her country. The prejudice that African Americans faced during the war years is juxtaposed with the prejudice women faced, as they too attempted to serve their country as pilots in a once all-male domain.

You first heard about the WASP program on an NPR program.

I first heard about the WASP on a Radio Diaries documentary while I was sitting in rush hour traffic here in LA. It's a fantastic 40 minute piece that had me glued to the radio. This was at least five years ago, well before the news that there was an active campaign for the Congressional Gold Medal. That's what made it so interesting--it was new to me.

Why did the WASP story resonate with you?
There's a line in the documentary about farm girls and heiresses training together and that just struck me--what drama! And the romance of WWII, the thrill of flying--why wouldn't I want to write about that? I actually had another story in mind for my thesis (which turned into my third book, Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet) but Flygirl piqued my interest and I was off.

There were two themes in your book, the prejudice of whites against blacks, contrasted with the prejudice of males against females.

I knew when I first heard the radio piece about the WASP that it would discuss gender equality, and the idea of race immediately sprang to mind. I was thinking "You know who else had it tough?" and the idea of a girl who had two barriers to compete against came to mind. Ida Mae and the double discrimination of being black and female were at the heart of the story I wanted to tell from the start.

Describe the writing of Flygirl.

I do tend to write with an outline, and Flygirl was no different. I actually started this book as a master's thesis, so I wrote it start to finish in the first draft, then focused on a smaller section of it for the thesis. Some more revisions, and we sold the book. And then it was rewrite city--more research, more punch ups, and a lot of fleshing out. The ending always seemed inevitable to me. I waited for something "happier" to come along, but nothing else rang true.

I just received an email from someone requesting a sequel. I had to tell them, if I ever discover what happens next, I'll be sure to write it!

Were you able to meet any WASP during any of your book tours?

Unfortunately, I have yet to meet any WASP. My trip to DC was actually a week too late to attend the award ceremony [in which surviving WASP were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal]. That said, I have met several female pilots and military personnel who attribute their status today to the sacrifices the WASP made 60 years ago.

Please share some personal background. You worked as a stop motion animator for Mars Attacks!?

I was the Assistant Stop-Motion Coordinator and Assistant to the Stop Motion Animation Supervisor on the film. Which means nothing if you see the final project. The martians in the final film are computer generated, based on the models we created and animated early on in the project. So none of the footage I was involved with is in the final movie. That said, my job was not actually animating, rather I was the person who kept track of film stock being used and our progress animated a shot. It's the administrative side of animation production! And yes, I have met Tim Burton. I actually worked for his production company before I worked on the film. He's a talented artist and a very creative guy.

You then worked for 3 years at Disney TV.

Goodness. So many projects were in the works in my time there. I had a finger in a lot of pies--Lion King 3, Hunchback of Notre Dame 2, Little Mermaid 2, etc. I assisted some of the story executives on the big sequels, but my personal creativity went into original projects, many of which were never sent to production. Those are the vagaries of movie-making. A lot of eggs are laid, but not all of them hatch

What's your next book?

The next book will be Orleans, a story set in a future New Orleans that has been devastated by storms and man-made disasters. The entire Delta coast has been quarantined from the rest of the United States and the society in Orleans is now tribal. The book follows a teenaged girl in Orleans trying to save the life of a newborn baby. You know, it's a comedy.

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