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Rave reviews of 'Rivers' putting Smith at ease


The Fall edition of Catfish Alley magazine, featuring MUW professor and novelist Michael Farris Smith, will be available for purchase next week.

The Fall edition of Catfish Alley magazine, featuring MUW professor and novelist Michael Farris Smith, will be available for purchase next week.



William Browning



Michael Farris Smith, wearing sandals, a white T-shirt and shorts, opened his Columbus front door Thursday afternoon looking laid back and calm. 


His home, with high ceilings and wood floors, was quiet and still, too. Smith was welcoming, and on the surface seemed relaxed. He admitted, though, that on the inside, his emotional state is quite different. 


The 43-year-old writer's first novel, "Rivers," will be published in September by Simon & Schuster. 


Smith and his editor "put the final period" down in October and his anxiety level has risen steadily in the ensuing nine months. 


"It gets worse and worse," he said with a smile, shaking his head. "You can hear my feet around this house just about any time of the day." 


He's tried playing his guitar or hanging out with his daughters, 8-year-old Presley and 2-year-old Brooklyn, and his wife, Sabrea. Or maybe taking Diego, his Cocker Spaniel, for a stroll. But no matter what he does, the worry has a way of sticking around. 


"Time is an evil thing to your imagination sometimes," he said. "I have sat around and wondered, 'Is it any good? Is anybody going to buy it?' All those ridiculous things I have absolutely no control over." 


Looking at early reviews of "Rivers," Smith might have nothing to worry about: 


"A compelling plot, fueled by a mounting sense of tension and hope in the face of increasing hopelessness, will keep readers engrossed to the very end. Tense, moving and expertly executed," pronounced Kirkus Reviews. 


"[A] powerfully written apocalyptic tale...while "Rivers" is already inviting inevitable comparisons to Cormac McCarthy's "The Road," Smith's canvas is broader and the story even more riveting," Booklist proclaimed. 


Those words have flattered the Mississippi native and diminished his anxiety. Something else that will help: His schedule is amping up. 


"Things have fortunately begun to pick up," he said. "It has been a long wait." 


Last week in Birmingham he recorded the audio version of "Rivers." It took him five days to get the book's 95,000 words down on audio. 


He will be on sabbatical this fall from his teaching post at Mississippi University For Women. It's a good thing. 


On Sept. 8 he will have a book signing at his home as part of the Victorian Tour of Homes during the Tennessee Williams Festival. Two days later, when "Rivers" is published, there will be a book launching event in downtown Columbus. Two days after that he will be signing copies and giving a reading at Lemuria Books in Jackson. A week later, he'll be in New Orleans as a panel participant at an event put on by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance. The schedule goes on through the end of the year and will take him to Alabama, Virginia and Texas. 


In between there will be a stream of interviews. He's already fielded calls from Canada and has an upcoming talk with a book reviewer in London lined up. 


There have been so many interviews that Presley, overhearing her father schedule another interview earlier this week, said, 'Why do you have to do another interview? You've already interviewed about "Rivers."' 


Smith laughed and told his oldest daughter, "I hope I do a lot more." 


Next week, Smith will be the cover story in the Fall edition of Catfish Alley magazine. 


As the attention peaks and Smith's calender fills, so does his energy level. 


"But it's not bad energy," he said. "It's good nervous energy. There is nothing else I'd rather be doing. I can assure you of that." 


For more on "Rivers" and Smith visit his website at


William Browning was managing editor for The Dispatch until June 2016.



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