Author interview with Daniel Smith
An award-winning, nationally published journalist, Daniel P. Smith teamed with Chicago-based Lake Claremont Press to pen On the Job: Behind the Stars of the Chicago Police Department, his first book and one inspired by his roots in a Chicago Police family. A noted speaker, Smith has appeared on WGN-TV, Chicago Public Radio, and WGN Radio as well as the History Channel’s “Our Generation” series, where he discussed the 1968 Democratic National Convention and Chicago Police response. He is presently working with photographer and fellow Chicagoan Brian Palm to share the stories and images of Chicago’s fading buildings. Smith’s journalistic work has appeared in numerous publications, including the Chicago Sun-Times, Southtown Star, USA Cycling, ELITE, and Windy City Sports. He also serves on the Chicago Writer Association’s board of directors. A 2003 graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he was also an accomplished track and field athlete, Smith lives in the Chicago area with his wife Tina and dog Dublin.
On the Job: Behind the Stars of the Chicago Police Department is a collection of magazine-length feature profiles of individual Chicago police officers, 19 individuals in all. Against the backdrop of the Chicago Police Department’s history, culture, and organization and far from the imaginative portrayals sprouting from American televisions, On the Job seeks to examine how officers balance the work-life juxtaposition.
2. How did you get started as a writer?
I came from a blue-collar area of Chicago, a neighborhood filled with cops, firemen, electricians, and other laborers, so the thought of becoming a writer never occurred to me. The only people I knew growing up who worked for the Chicago Tribune or the Chicago Sun-Times delivered or sold the newspapers, my grandfather included. Growing up, I never knew writing was a realistic option.
At the University of Illinois at Chicago, I began writing sports for the college newspaper. I then became the sports editor and, later, an editorial columnist. That work gave me a practical grounding in the craft and inspired me to do more. I began do freelance work for one of Chicago’s daily newspapers and a few magazines. And so my career as a writer began.
3. What does a typical day look like for you?
Constant work: on the phone conducting interviews; crafting query letters; writing to meet magazine or newspaper deadlines; and researching new ideas and story assignments.
4. Describe your desk/workspace.
Organized chaos. I try to be organized and diligent, but it’s just not me. At my right side, I have what I call my 3-2-1 binder. Each week, I have the goal of making 3 contacts to advance/market On the Job, sending out 2 query letters, and researching 1 address for an upcoming book on demolished Chicago buildings. Above my desk, I have a stash of reference books. At my left side, I have my invoice trays. If it sounds organized, that’s a lie.
5. Favorite books (especially for writers)
Strunk and White’s Elements of Style is my technical Bible. Mike Royko’s One More Time is my study of newspaper writing with flair and purpose but not self-importance. The Writers Market is my window to professional opportunities. And Robert Fulghum’s All I Ever Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten is my example of finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.
6. Tell us 3 interesting/crazy things about you
1. I’m a former collegiate athlete; the persistence and discipline I learned there has been central to my success as a writer. 2. I’ve only sent out one book proposal in my life and that proposal was for On the Job. I was 23-years-old when I signed that contract. 3. I’m a Seinfeld junkie.
7. Favorite quote
An Army motto says, “Do what has to be done.”
8. Best and worst part of being a writer
I enjoy the daily challenge of crafting engaging stories that can entertain, inform, or enlighten. The worst part: writing my quarterly checks to the IRS and the other “business” nonsense that comes with being a full-time freelance writer.
9. Advice for other writers.
First, control what you can control. You cannot control if an editor will enjoy your idea and pick it up, but you can control crafting an engaging query letter filled with research, detail, and know how. Be a professional and do your part well—that’s the surest way to reach your writing goals.
Second, find a mentor, someone who can help you develop your craft, provide professional direction, and offer sincere feedback.
But above all, remember that writers write.
10. Tell us a story about your writing experience.
As college graduation neared, I asked my journalism mentor, former Chicago Tribune reporter Robert A. Davis, to write a letter of recommendation for the high school teaching positions I was chasing. He did and the letter’s opening line read: “I resentfully write this letter on behalf of Daniel Smith. He’s a writer, not a teacher.” Though I did teach for one year and Mr. Davis passed before seeing me commit to the writing life, I’ve never forgotten his faith in me.
Short pitch on where to buy your book, your Web site, blog, etc.
On the Job: Behind the Stars of the Chicago Police Department is available at Amazon.com and the Lake Claremont Press website (http://www.lakeclaremont.com/index.php). Signed copies are available at my blog, www.onthejob-smith.blogspot.com.