People of Hamilton had the opportunity to sit down with Brantford local, Molly Stroud-Smith, to discuss her life as a writer and what inspired her first novel, Dead Babies, released June 2017.
Have you always had a passion for writing?
When I was in grade three I wrote the first story I got attention for. It was about a little boy whose dinosaur wallpaper came to life, so I did this whole story and you had to draw pictures but that was the first time I got noticed. My teacher was like ‘Everybody read this story’ and I realized that it [writing] was something I was good at and enjoyed doing so, from there I just was always writing.
What made you gravitate toward writing as a career?
I would say there was that experience and getting that attention where you kind of realize, I’m better at this than other people in my class. And then I started reading Judy Blume books when I was a little bit older, I think I read everything she wrote, to be honest. I guess I fell in love with writing and stories from being a reader.
As you got older, what kind of book were you reading?
Once I got into high school, I read all the V.C. Andrews books, Flowers in the Attic all of those kinds of books. Me and my friends all read those, kind of passed those around. And then, I actually had my babies when I was very young, I was 24 when I had my third baby. That was a big break in everything but raising babies. During that time, I actually wrote children’s books if I did any writing. I didn’t get a lot of time to read, but I would sometimes read what Oprah Winfrey was recommending here and there. My reading really took a downslide at that point. I am now drawn to darker things when I’m reading, I like a story that hurts so I like to read a book where certain lines will just give me a lump in my throat and think about it for a long time. That’s kind of how I write as well.
What inspired your book Dead Babies?
I had babies when I was young and I actually really loved being a mom and really easily bonded with my babies. I studied the case of Andrea Yates. She was a woman with postpartum psychosis who drowned her five children in a bathtub. This was happening right around when I had small children. So it was kind of crazy for me to think about because I worried so much that something bad would happen to my kids like I was always afraid they were going to choke, I was afraid of everything. So, to think of a mother hurting her own kids was just something I couldn’t really wrap my brain around so I kind of wanted to see that mindset and what things go together to create a woman who is in that kind of pain. That’s basically where it [the idea for the book] came from.”
How much research did your book entail?
I did research that case quite a bit. So, I obviously used the internet, I looked at old interviews and I read a lot about her story and what created the situation she was in. I did a little bit of research too, just on postpartum depression and psychosis in general. I’m not a huge researcher, it’s my least favourite part of the writing so I do minimal research if I can.
Did you have to stop at points during the writing process due to the weight of the subject matter
I don’t think so. I was pretty good at plowing along. I guess because when I’m writing I’m in that flow and it just keeps going. But editing I do remember times where I cried during editing just because writing it like I said I’m busy, and then reading it back is a different experience so I had to take breaks. I had to stop and literally wipe my eyes and continue. It took me three years in total, and I kind of did it in stops and starts so definitely by the time I went back to edit everything there were things I didn’t remember. As I got more attached to those characters then parts of it I had written I found a little more painful to read.
Why do you think it’s important people read this book?
Because I think this is a bit of a silent epidemic. I think this is something women suffer with and are ashamed to talk about because we’re not supposed to admit that we don’t love being moms. No mother is supposed to say ‘I’m not that big on this, I’m having trouble loving my baby.’ Those are just really hard things to say, to talk about, to ask for help for. So, unfortunately, women just suffer a lot of times alone and in silence. The Andrea Yates case that I studied is far from the only case of this there’s a lot of women who hurt or kill their children because this deteriorates so far. They’re not getting the help they need, people aren’t as aware as they need to be so I think it’s a super important topic. It affects mothers, it affects children, it affects entire families so absolutely people need to be more aware. A documentary came out really close to the time my book came out, so it was like last June, and there are a couple of celebrities like Brooke Shields who have been a little bit vocal about it. So, there’s a bit of it beginning but I think generally it’s been something that’s been pushed under the rug because it is that shame feeling for mothers. You’re supposed to be totally in love with your infants, like I loved my babies but it was hard. It is hard, hard work. You’re exhausted and there are times where you cry, and there are times where you’re like ‘I miss myself’ so I can’t imagine going through that when you are mentally ill and not feeling attached to your baby and just how hard that would be.
Did you have reader in mind when you wrote this?
I hate to have an ideal reader but I would have to say women and in particular women who have been mothers. I think even if you haven’t gone through anything like this, if you’ve been a mom you relate to the story. But then I have had people read it who aren’t moms and they were still very sympathetic to my main character.
How did you come up with the title?
The title is so controversial. I don’t know. It was one of the first things I came up with, to be honest. I had written hardly any of the book and I just knew that’s what I wanted to call it. If you read the book, there is more to it than that. The main character has lost a baby and that plays into the whole story. So, there are dead babies throughout this story and I wanted it to be shocking because it’s a shocking story. While I was here [at the Ancaster Indigo] signing books, I had an old man walk by and he was like ‘What a horrible title’ and then kept walking and about five minutes later a woman was like ‘What a great title’, it makes people stop and look.
How do you feel since it’s been published?
It’s kind of surreal. It’s an interesting experience and as a writer, for me, there’s always that I want to write and I want people to read it but at the same time I don’t, I want to be private and I’m afraid of people reading it. It’s a little bit vulnerable, those are my words, that was my story and some people probably won’t like it and I just have to have a thick skin when it comes to that. Although, I have to say I haven’t had anybody say anything mean or nasty about the book so far. All of my reviews have been good, people have been positive, I haven’t had any trolls on the internet or anything. It’s been really a positive experience.
What’s next for you?
This is the question I ask myself all the time, literally every day in my journal. So, I have a lot of unfinished projects and I have things that are finished and I’m kind of thinking what do I do with these now? I have two other novels that I’ve finished, I have a ton of children’s books that I’ve written, and I have a ton of poetry that ever since this big poetry boom has happened I’ve thought maybe there’s a place in the world for my poetry as well. So, basically I don’t have a clue what I’m going to do next but I have a lot of balls in the air, a lot of options I have to focus and figure out which direction to go in next. But, I need to be writing.