Julie Smith Author Biography Essay

Major Works

Nonfiction

  • Writing Your Way: The Great American Novel Track (2011)

Short Stories

  • Bad Girl School (2013)
  • Private Chick (2012)
  • Mean Rooms (2000)

Talba Wallis Novels

  • P.I. on a Hot Tin Roof (2005)
  • Louisiana Lament (2004)
  • Louisiana Bigshot (2002)
  • Louisiana Hotshot (Forge) (June, 2000)

Skip Langdon Mystery Series

  • New Orleans Mourning: #1 (2013)
  • Boneyard Blues (2004)
  • New Orleans Beat (Fawcett/Columbine) 1994
  • Mean Woman Blues (2003)
  • 82 Desire (Fawcett/Columbine) September, 1998
  • Crescent City Kill (Fawcett/Coumbine) August, 1997
  • The Kindness of Strangers (Fawcett/Columbine) 1996
  • Death Before Facebook (1995)
  • House of Blues (Fawcett/Columbine) 1995
  • Jazz Funeral (Fawcett/Columbine) 1993
  • The Axeman’s Jazz (St. Martin’s Press) 1991
  • New Orleans Mourning (St. Martin’s Press) 1990

Akashic Noir

Rebecca Schwartz Series

  • Other People’s Skeletons (Ivy) 1993
  • Dead in the Water (Ivy) 1991
  • Tourist Trap (Mysterious Press) 1986
  • The Sourdough Wars (Walker & Co.) 1984
  • Death Turns A Trick (Walker & Co.) 1982

Paul McDonald Mysteries

  • Huckleberry Fiend (Mysterious Press) 1987
  • True-Life Adventure (Mysterious Press) 1985

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Julie Smith: A Biography

by Mary Zhu (SHS)

Julie Smith was born on November 25, 1944, in Annapolis, Maryland.  She is the daughter of Malberry, a lawyer, and Claire, a school counselor, Smith.  Having  spent the majority of her childhood in Savannah, Georgia; she felt the need to find a a different  place to go to college, so she decided to go to college at  the University of Mississippi, located in Oxford, Mississippi (Smith).   Smith was seventeen when she went  to Ole Miss in 1962 as a transfer student from a small girls’ college. Since early childhood, she knew she wanted to write.  Her talent quickly bloomed in a creative writing course taught by the late Dr. Evans  Harrington.  She was one of five students in Harrington’s creative writing class that year who went on to become published authors, with dozens of fiction, nonfiction and poetry works between them. The others were John Carr, Christian Garrison, Henry Hurt, and James Seay.

In an interview with Rick Hynum, Smith, who was a journalism major, explained, “Faulkner had a lot to do with my decision to come to Ole Miss. I had read Light in August and Sanctuary. I was reading Mosquitoes when I arrived (in Oxford), and I  immediately felt as though I was trapped in the novel. All the Southern names, the intense heat, the  beautiful old homes, the people themselves. Oxford was so romantic, and it had so much history.”  She got her  B.A. in journalism from UM in 1965 (Hynum). Then Smith used her graduation money to buy a bus ticket to New Orleans, Louisiana.  She felt that New Orleans was perhaps the best place on earth and still in the South.  Eventually,  Julie Smith became a writer for the Times-Picayune newspaper of New Orleans.  Then she moved to San Francisco and became the second woman to write for the San Francisco Chronicle.  Smith wrote about five books set in San Francisco while she lived there.  Rebecca Schwartz, a female lawyer,  and Paul McDonald are her main characters in these books.

After fourteen years as a reporter for the Chronicle, Smith quit and joined with two other women seeking to create a freelance writing firm called Invisible Ink in 1979 (Smith)  Her first books had not been successful, but when Death Turns a Trick was published in 1982, her future as a writer seemed promising.  She went on to win an Edgar Award in 1991 for New Orleans Mourning, which made her the first American woman to win an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America since 1956 (Sherwin).

Julie Smith got married in San Francisco in 1996 to husband Lee (Smith).  She decided to move back to New Orleans once again (Sherwin) and, as a result,  New Orleans has been the setting for numerous novels by Smith, many with the female protagonist and homicide detective Skip Langdon and poet/P.I. Talba Wallis.  These characters have gained Smith popularity, fame, and recognition.

Her book, Louisiana Hotshot,  was published  in May  of 2001. It continues with Talba Wallis (Baroness do Pontalba), who is a black poet/computer expert and would-be investigator who first appeared in the ninth Skip Longdon mystery  called 82 Desire.  Smith often depicts dysfunctional families, and one appears in Louisiana Hotshot. One of Smith’s  strengths is her love for New Orleans, and she describes both the quaintness and strangeness of the city well.  Like Welty, Smith recognizes  the importance of locale and local color as she brings New Orleans to life.  The Baroness Pontalba is a hip, smart, cool female detective, making the book fun and intriguing to read.

Smith has written novels in four series:  The Skip Langdon Series (9 novels), The Rebecca Schwartz Series (5 books), The Talba Wallis Series (4 novels), and The Paul McDonald Series (2 novels).

She currently lives in the Faubourg Marigny section of New Orleans.

In 2006 she founded Writerstrack.com, a course of writing instruction done through conference calls, which in 2011 she turned into an ebook titled “Writing Your Way.”

In 2010, Smith founded the online publisher booksBnimble ( www.booksbnimble.com ), publishing four ebooks by four authors who were also friends. Getting the rights back to her own twenty-odd mysteries, she added them plus many other authors and series. In its third year, booksBnimble achieved the honor of having a book nominated for a Digital Book Award.

Smith is a writing teacher, author, and publisher who wants to help new authors.  According to her web site, counting her novels, short stories in anthologies, and  essays, her publishers have included Ballantine, St. Martin’s, Tor, Walker & Company, Knopf, Doubleday, Avon, Harper-Collins, Berkley, Warner, and Oxford University Press– plus some smaller ones, including Akashic Books, Carrol&Graf, Allen &Unwin, Taplinger, and Four Star.

She is considered  one of the best living writers of popular mystery fiction, according to journalist David Templeton.

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Timeline1944-2001

  • 1944 (November 25)– Julie Smith is born in Annapolis, Maryland
  • Childhood–Smith moves to Savannah, Georgia.
  • 1962– Julie enrolls at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Mississippi.
  • 1965– Julie graduates with a BA in journalism from Ole Miss
  • 1965-66– Julie works as reporter for Times-Picayune , New Orleans, LA.
  • 1967-68– Julie works at San Francisco Chronicle as copy editor.
  • 1968-1979– Julie works at San Francisco Chronicle as reporter.
  • 1979– Julie founds Invisible Ink (editorial consulting firm), San Francisco.
  • 1982– Death Turns a Trick is published.
  • 1984– The Sourdough Wars is published.
  • 1986– Tourist Trapis published.
  • 1990– New Orleans Mourningis published
  • 1991– The Axeman’s JazzandDead in the Water are published. Smith wins Edgar Award for New Orleans Mourning .
  • 1993– Other People’s Skeletonsis published.
  • 1994– New Orleans Beatis published.
  • 1995– House of Blues is published.
  • 1996– Julie marries Lee. Kindness of Strangers is published.
  • 1997–Julie moves back to New Orleans, Louisiana.
  • 1998– Crescent City Kill is published.
  • 1999– 82 Desire is published.
  • 2001Louisiana Hotshot is published

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Reviews

A Review of Other People’s Skeletons

by Mary Zhu (SHS)

Mary Zhu, SHS Researcher

Other People’s Skeletons is an interesting,  suspenseful mystery book with Rebecca Schwartz, a defense attorney from San  Francisco, California, as the narrator.  This book is suspenseful because it leads you to think the story is going in one direction when something happens to change the plot.  Although this book is unrealistic for people that are skeptical to psychics, I believe anyone who loves action and suspense will find Other People’s Skeletons quite fun and interesting.  I am amazed how a book can be so full of action, yet be so full of compassion, and at the end, leaves you feeling touched.  This book has a little bit of it all.  I highly recommend it.

Other People’s Skeletons is about the attorney Rebecca Schwartz, whose law partner gets accused of murder.  Rebecca, through the course of attempting to prove her partner’s innocence, learns so much about her life she never knew before.  She uncovers a secret about her best friend, makes her way through relationship problems, experiences the fear of possibly having a deadly disease,  is shot at, and finds that she is willing to risk her own life for the safety of others.  This book is very unpredictable because too many people have motives and they could all be suspects.  The suspense almost killed me.  Full of twists, turns, and uncertainties, the whole book creates a hunger for the reader to finally consume the outcome, but the turning point is definitely where all the facts come together.  For most readers, this book will not be put down until the reader is satisfied by the very gratifying ending.

Other People’s Skeletons is mainly set in San Francisco, but the setting jumps momentarily to Monterey, and Atlanta, so it does a fair share of city-hopping.  Also, the cities in the book truly exist:  even the newspapers mentioned are real.  This creates a real atmosphere for the reader.  Imagery in Other People’s Skeletons makes it easy to picture yourself watching all the goings on in the book.  I felt as if I were an onlooker throughout almost all of the book.  Detailed character sketches contributed to my picturing the happenings in the book.

The characters in Other People’s Skeletons range from the rich and famous, to lawyers and reporters, to prostitutes, to a psychotic man, but despite the varying characters, everyone plays an important role leading to the final conclusion.  The ending isn’t a terribly shocking one, but is somewhat surprising, and lets your mind rest from the pensive strain of wonder.

I believe every aspect of this book is laudable.  To those of you that may be offended by sex or profanity, this book has a  little of both, but nothing over-the-edge obscene.  For the most part, any profanity  is used to stress the importance or a character’s mood in a particular situation.  I stress to anyone with the desire  to read a suspenseful book that this may be  the book you are looking for.

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Related Websites

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Bibliography

  • “femaledetective.com.” 25 Apr. 2001 <http://www.femaledetective.com/authors/smith_julie.html>
  • Hynum, Rick.  Alum Julie Smith Making a Killing on Mystery Novels Set in New Orleans. 15 Apr.
    Available at http://www.olemiss.edu/news/newsdesk/story330.html
  • Sherwin, Elizabeth. Smith banishes old demons in latest mystery novel  l. 20 Apr. 2001.
    <http://www.dcn.davis.ca.us/~gizmo/1997/julie.html>
  • Smith, Julie. “Julie’s Biography. “Casa Mysterioso:  An Online Salon Hosted by Julie Smith. 15 Apr. 2001.
    <http://www.juliesmithauthor.com/juliesbio.htm>

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Mystery author Julie Smith calls herself a "recovering novelist."

While some New Orleans writers pushed through the devastation of Hurricane Katrina with words, Smith was at a loss.

"I won't call it writer's block because it really wasn't that," said Smith, who wrote two mystery series set in New Orleans. "It's just that, I didn't know what to write, because I didn't know what the city was becoming, or what it would be like by the time I had written the book, or even what it was. And, I guess I was depressed."

As for many in the city, the storm forced a turning point in life, ready or not. She began a novel, but it didn't go far. Then, in 2009, her husband bought her an e-reader for her birthday, allowing her to read electronic versions of books.

"I got hooked immediately," Smith said. "It was really weird. Nothing has ever caught my attention like that except for writing, which it had for my whole life."

Five years later, Smith runs her own e-book publishing company, booksBnimble, which has sold more than 337,000 copies. Nearly a third of the sales happened in the first half of this year, an indication she's on track for a record year. Her company carries 15 authors, many of them mystery writers, and 70 titles.

"To go from being a writer to being an entrepreneur is really a kick," Smith said. "You feel like you've really got a new life."

Smith created her business just as e-books in the United States were beginning to take off, through sales on Amazon's Kindle, Barnes and Noble's now discontinued Nook, Kobo, iPad and other devices.

According to an industry survey by the Association of American Publishers, e-book sales generated $3.04 billion in net revenue (representing 512 million e-books) in 2013. The trade ebook sales include adult fiction and nonfiction, children's and teen books and religious books.

Revenues were essentially flat from the previous year but up by 43 percent compared to 2011, when revenues totaled $2.12 billion. E-books now represent about one-fifth of all trade book revenues for publishers.

"Julie was definitely ahead of the curve when it came to seeing that e-books and e-book publishing were going to be the wave of the future," said Kimberly Hitchens, founder and owner of Booknook.biz in Arizona, which formats e-books for writers and publishers, including booksBnimble.

Smith, an Edgar Award-winning novelist, started off as a journalist, first at The Times-Picayune for one year starting in 1966, then the San Francisco Chronicle for 14 years. She was one of the first women to get hired on to the Chronicle city desk. Among other assignments, she wrote about Harvey Milk's run for supervisor.

She grew up in Savannah, Ga., and has lived in New Orleans for the past 20 years.

In her first steps as a publisher, Smith acquired four books. She picked up "Phone Kitten" by Marika Christian, a novel about a writer wrongfully fired for plagiarism who turns to phone sex to make a living.

She also looked to fellow New Orleans writer and friend Patty Friedmann.

Friedmann, known for her dark humor, said she was similarly "at loose ends" after the storm and swore off writing more books.

"What do you do when New Orleans has been your palette, and you're not sure about your definition of New Orleans anymore?" Friedmann said recently.

Friedmann agreed to write a short-story for a "New Orleans Noir" anthology that Smith curated.

Smith urged her to expand the story into a novel for booksBnimble. The book "Too Jewish" tells the story of a man who escapes Nazi Germany to New Orleans only to find discrimination from his Jewish in-laws.

"Julie was so emphatic and excited and sure that this was going to work," Friedmann said. "I didn't think twice about giving her the book."

Smith had a list of what to figure out: how to get the books on Amazon (her primary platform for sales); how to get ISBN numbers for the books; and the critical step of how to market and advertise the books online. "A whole community of readers has grown up around digital reading," Smith said. "A lot of websites exist that have huge mailing lists that are tailored to reading tastes."

She hires contractors to design covers and format the books for Kindle before uploading them directly to Amazon.com. Amazon promotions and email lists such as BookBub help her market her catalog, targeting readers by their interests.

The digital books cost $2.99 each. Amazon takes 30 percent. BooksBnimble and the author split the revenues equally after the costs of converting the files to the e-book format and designing covers.

At first, the sales trickled in. Four or five in one week. Four or five in a day. As she added more authors, she also acquired the rights to her backlist, renewing sales of her own novels.

Interest in the company's roster swelled: 2,700 copies sold in 2011, 17,900 sold in 2012, and 98,800 sold last year, according to figures provided by Smith.

Through June of this year, the company sold more than 119,000 copies.

The pattern of booksBnimble's sales mirrors the industry overall.

"Ebooks release to a whimper, and their sales build over time with word of mouth, with reviews, until they develop a steady life of their own," Hitchens said.

It took a $50,000 investment to start. She has a staff one contract employee.

"It's a whole different life," Smith said. "Our life is so solitary as writers. We're so introverted, and a fiction writer is so dependent on her own inner life and inner thoughts and inner stories. Going to thinking in terms of an entrepreneur...I am just totally proud of myself."

In her second professional life, Smith proved to be nimble.

"I get a lot more fan mail now than I ever have," she said.

This story was updated at 11:31 a.m. to explain the growth in e-book revenues as reported in the Association of American Publishers survey. Revenues were essentially flat in 2013 compared to the previous year but up by 43 percent compared to 2011.

The story was updated at 11:26 a.m. to correct the number of e-book unit sales reported in 2013.

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