Laura Lee Smith
In Heart of Palm, Smith's debut novel, the reader is introduced to the Bravos, an Old Florida family struggling to keep up with the changing times in Utina, a fictional town based on the real-life community of Palm Valley near Smith's home in St. Augustine. "I would like to think that this story with these characters could have emerged wherever they lived, but by the same token, this area is so unique and has such tension. We have the oldest city, and yet we still have some of the fastest growing counties in the U.S. in the area,'' she said. "There are holdouts over here, older families who were not prepared and not necessarily welcoming to the new wave of development in the last few years.'' Smith, whose short fiction has appeared in New Stories From the South, Florida Review and Natural Bridge, will be a featured author at the Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading on Oct. 26 at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.
What's on your nightstand?
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. It's starting off beautifully. Walter's descriptions have already pulled me in. I also have John Dufresne's new one, No Regrets, Coyote. I've always been a fan of his work. (Dufresne will also appear at the Festival of Reading.)
This is a different genre for Dufresne. How did he do?
It's fantastic, very sharp, very wry. You feel like you're part of this rowdy, crowded bunch of people, and everyone he treats with his very fine, literary, arty brush, but then he pulls back and never forgets about plot. I'd call it a literary thriller.
Piper Castillo, Times staff writer