A Note from Shawn Smucker, Author of "Light from Distant Stars"


I am sitting in a coffee shop in the city of Lancaster. It is a cold, cold winter’s day, and a sharp wind blows down Prince Street, driving people inside and making the naked maple tree branches quiver. Whenever someone opens the door to enter the café, a heavy blast of winter air comes through, and everyone shrinks further inside their coats. The sky is a low, flat gray.

The funny thing is, if you look closely enough at the wildly waving branches just outside the café windows, you’ll notice the tiniest red buds, only weeks from bursting into green. Somehow, the tree believes that spring will come, no matter today’s temperature, no matter the lines of snow sitting in the shadows. The tree does not take the current, discouraging circumstances into consideration. It recognizes that the days are getting longer, and that means that, snow or no snow, spring will be here in no time at all.

This time of year, when spring is near but winter is still present, is a practice in believing. And believing is what writing is all about.

Believing I have what it takes to tell the story well.

Believing it will find its way to readers.

Believing it will connect with someone in a meaningful way, when the season is right.

* * * * *

Belief, and especially self-belief, is a funny thing. For me, it comes and goes like the wind. One day, I’ll be writing along, confident and excited to see what will come of it. The next day, I am near to crumbling under the weight of self-doubt and uncertainty.

What does it take to be an author?

Above almost anything else, being an author takes belief. You have to be willing to keep going after a day (or a week, or a month) when the words are hard to come by. You have to be willing to believe that, somehow, this pile of 50,000 or 60,000 or 100,000 words will come together in a meaningful way.

In Ann Lamotte’s book, Bird by Bird, she writes, "This is what separates artists from ordinary people: the belief, deep in our hearts, that if we build our castles well enough, somehow the ocean won't wash them away. I think this is a wonderful kind of person to be."

It might look a little like naivete or foolish optimism. If you’re young, they’ll say you haven’t been around the block enough times. If you’re old, they’ll twirl their index finger around their temple. But there is something crucial about belief in the life of the creative person. And there is something beautiful about it. The world has become a cynical place, all too ready to tell you what can’t be done and why. It is in the face of this cynicism that we write, believing that something will come of our work, when the season is right.


Shawn Smucker is an author and co-writer who lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He followed up his award-winning novel, The Day the Angels Fell, with the sequel, The Edge of Over There. You can find out more about him at his website