The unexpected way Alexis Smith got her first novel published can bring a smile to anyone’s face. Smith wrote it while earning a Master of Fine Arts at Goddard College, but was getting nowhere with agents and other routes, accumulating a pile of rejection letters along the way. So it didn’t seem all that big of a deal when her boss at Powell’s bookstore asked to read a copy of her manuscript. Smith forgot about the whole thing, but her boss had passed the copy to Lee Montgomery, who was the editorial director at Tin House Books. Montgomery fell in love with what Smith had written and wanted to publish it.
So in 2012, Smith’s debut novel, “Glaciers,” was printed by Tin House Books under its New Voice series. “Glaciers” follows a day in the life of Isabel, a 20-something Portlander, as she wanders from the basement of a library where she works to vintage clothing shops and to an evening party. The story is graced by reflections on her childhood in Alaska, her parents’ divorce, her crush on a colleague, and shopping in thrift stores. Critics and readers alike have praised Smith’s writing for its simple, yet lyrical style and emotional depth.
The success of “Glaciers,” which is in its second printing, allowed Smith to quit her job at Powell’s.
“It’s been a fantastic experience,” says Smith. “I had no idea that the novel would do so well. The publisher sold the foreign rights to Italy and Spain, and the book has been published in the UK. I was astonished when I got the mail that said it was a finalist for the Oregon Book Awards. “
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt plans to publish Smith’s second novel, “Marrow Island,” in 2016. She intends to finish writing it in June. According to Smith it’s a mystery, but not what hardcore who-done-it readers would expect. Written in a first person narration, it follows a 30-something woman as she interacts with people who live on an island that is loosely based on an island north of the San Juan Islands. The plot is totally made up.
“I’m very grateful for the fellowship from the Oregon Arts Commission,” remarks Smith. “The financial support is fantastic, of course, but it’s the vote of confidence from my community that means the most to me."