Laura Lee Smith, adjunct professor of English at Flagler College, recently had her first novel, “Hearts of Palm,” accepted for publication, according to an announcement received by Historic City News today.
“In my novel, the Bravo family receives a sizeable offer of money for the purchase of their land,” said Smith. “This offer sets a lot of conflict in motion within the family, as some of the members want to sell the land and others do not. Also, simmering resentments boil to the surface, and a family secret is unveiled.”
The story, published by Grove/Atlantic, Inc., takes place in the fictional town of Utina, Florida and examines a family’s struggle with atonement and forgiveness.
Smith said that the word “atonement” was always at the surface when she was writing “Hearts of Palm.”
“Each family member has a different agenda, and they all carry their own guilt in different ways for the hurt that they’ve caused one another – some probably more than others,” she said. “It’s about trying to make right what you’ve done wrong.”
Smith said that incorporating humor into her novel was important.
“When you have a family this large and you put them in a room or a car together, it’s inevitable that they’ll start picking at one another,” she said. “I think sometimes, from an outside point of view, the dynamics of a really close family, even if it’s fueled by resentment, can be funny.”
Richard Russo, author of “Empire Falls” and winner of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, gave Smith’s novel his blessing.
“Intelligence, heart, wit … Laura Lee Smith has all the tools, and ‘Hearts of Palm’ is a very impressive first novel,” he said.
Grove/Atlantic has published some well-known authors such as Tobias Wolff, Margaret Atwood and Barry Hannah.
Darien Andreu, Ph.D., associate professor of English and chair of the English department, said that creative writing students are extremely fortunate to work with a writer whose novel is soon to be on many a reader’s favorite bookshelf.
“Many of us in the Department of English have experienced Laura Smith’s characters coming alive and walking into our hearts,” she said. “Laura’s stories are exquisite. Smith’s stories are smart, funny, beautifully narrated and deeply moving. Her people, the Bravos, somehow prevail.”
Although this is Smith’s first novel, her short story “This Trembling Earth,” appeared in “New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best, 2010.”
Smith received her master’s in English from the University of North Florida.
She teaches intro to short story and advanced fiction at Flagler College.
Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News contributed photograph by Priscilla Proctor