Contributor Spotlight: Jamie Lyn Smith

“Search, Rescue, Recovery,” a short story by Taylor Koekkoek, appeared in Issue 19 and can be read here.

We’d love to hear a little more about what inspired this story.

The river that inspired “Search, Rescue, Recovery” – the Kokosing- is a character in and of itself in the stories I write about Knox County, Ohio. This particular piece was inspired by a couple of stories I’ve heard from friend and family who are first responders when people go missing on the water. Years and years ago, a child drowned under circumstances that were entirely tragic or entirely mysterious; and that was the inciting event.  I was so troubled by the way that everyone involved in the case was finger-pointing, speculating, and condemning a family that just suffered a terrible tragedy. Had the family been richer, or well-educated, or had any socioeconomic capital at all, I suspect that public opinion might not have rushed so quickly to judgement.

What was the most difficult part of writing this story?

I initially wrote the piece as a relay tale, that passed from narrator to narrator as the events unfolded. In a story this short, that choice was disastrous and undermined the narrative. My writing mentor, Erin McGraw, finally dragged me – kicking and screaming– to a single narrator’s point of view, thank goodness. I chose Kenneth to tell this tale because he sincerely believes he’s doing something good even when it’s clear that goodness doesn’t matter if you’re wrong.

Recommend a book for us which was published within the last decade.

Everything by Jesmyn Ward – but especially, Salvage the Bones and, of course, Sing, Unburied Sing. That’s two, I know, but ask any southerner a question and see if you get a short answer.

If you could have a drink with any living author, who would it be? Why?

Louise Erdrich. Many writers I read made me want to be a writer; Erdrich’s Love Medicine was the first book I read that showed me this kind of writing was possible. Erdrich was the first writer I encountered who could construct a world that was like the one I wanted to write about- a world inhabited, haunted, and informed by a veritable chorus of ancestors – and I was bowled over by her intertwining narratives, her command of voice, those sentences that leap and dance across the page.

What are you working on now? What’s next?

I’m in year three of a five year project- my first novel, Appalachia. It’s loosely based on my own family’s complex history in southwestern Virginia.  The novel follows four families from 1787 to 2009, and is framed by contemporary character Emily Cortelyou’s struggle to protect the land from fracking.  It’s been a joy to write a novel that explores the extraordinary lives of ordinary people, particularly the women: women who farmed, hunted, bootlegged, and fought for the land at the center of the novel’s conflict. Appalachia offers a direct rebuke to prevailing myths about the region, and it’s a story that includes people of color, LGBTQ people, and mixed-race families like my own as the norm rather than the exception.

Our thanks to Jamie Lyn Smith for taking the time to answer a few questions and share her work. Read Smith’s story, “Search, Rescue, Recovery,” here:


Jamie Lyn Smith is a native of Knox County, Ohio. An alumnus of Kenyon College and Fordham University, she is the recipient of a University Fellowship from The Ohio State University, where she completed her MFA in Creative Writing. Her work has appeared in The Kenyon Review, The Pinch, American Literary Review, The Low Valley Review, The Boiler, The Watershed Review and Barely South. She has work forthcoming in Bayou Magazine and the Mississippi Review. Jamie Lyn teaches Creative Writing at Bluffton University, where she edits Bridge: The Bluffton University Literary Journal. She is working on two new projects – Ever After, a collection of short stories, and her first novel, Appalachia.