In 2021, Homer author Brian George Smith published his first novel, “Ida Mae Joy: Gold Dust Dreams.” In 2022, he published his memoir, “Golden Boy: The Rock ‘n’ Roll Diary of My Life” and this spring “Pearl: In Search of Ida Mae Joy”, a sequel to the first book. In 2024, he will publish the third and final book of the Ida Mae Joy series, “MacGregor’s Gold.”
Inspired by his real life great grandmother, Ida Mae Joy moved from upstate New York to Skagway in 1898 with her husband William Henry Joy, borrowed money and started the local mercantile. With no family photographs or letters archived and little known about these family members, Smith wrote the story based on how he imagined their lives to be.
“I let the characters percolate in my head for a few months, plotted an outline and then tossed it aside and let the story write itself, ” he said. “That’s my process — I outline and research, work the characters up and live with them for a few months and then when it comes time to sit down and actually write, I take a deep breath, close my eyes and just listen, let the characters tell me their story and let the story unfold.”
In “Ida Mae Joy,” the young bride and her husband arrive in Skagway, cross paths with “Soapy” Smith and other local characters and have many adventures, with Ida Mae writing letters to her sister, Pearl, all the while. In “Pearl: In Search of Ida Mae Joy,” Smith explores more of who Pearl was while “MacGregor’s Gold” will wrap up the story of Ida Mae and Pearl.
In “Golden Boy,” Smith shares his personal journey and considers this memoir to be his best writing in all his books.
“I’m proud of every page because it’s real and it’s my life,” he said. “I made bad mistakes, but glorious things happened too. I had wonderful adventures, took care of my parents, learned to love animals, as well as myself over time. I’ve been tearing apart pieces of me and putting them on the page — the bitter truth of a life that didn’t go as planned. I was a drunk for 20 years, 28 years sober now, and I was always supposed to be the Golden Boy to my parents and in my own head because I had talent on the guitar and with film. It’s a colorful and interesting story of an Alaska kid who goes to the Seattle and San Francisco Bay areas to try to make it in rock-and-roll and then to Los Angeles to try to make it in the movie business. I didn’t make it in either and it took 20 years, but I finally got some sense and came home. That is the journey I’m hoping comes through.”
Prior to writing books, Smith spent 40 years writing screenplays and making movies. Raised in Anchorage, he moved to Homer in 2007 and under the name “bgs media” has through the years created and produced videos for Free Spirit Wear Jerseys, Haven House, Homer Nutcracker Productions, Homer Real Estate, Home Run Oil, Homer Theatre, Hospice of Homer, Independent Living Center, Jeannie and Tom Irons, Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge, Pier One Theatre, Salmon Fest, South Peninsula Hospital, The Boatyard Café, The Loved & Lost Memorial Bench, and others. He also shot his own features, including “Puffin Bay” and “The Care & Feeding of Jack.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, this work went away, an eclectic and mostly steady income until it wasn’t, and he had to readjust and realign.
“Shifting from my video production work to writing was a move of sheer desperation because there was nothing else I could do, and thank goodness because I think that writing is what kept me sane,” he said.
A creative outlet and source of income in addition to his pet sitting and ghost writing businesses, Smith has spent the past three years writing for three hours nearly every morning, writing from the comfort of his home accompanied by the numerous cats he cares for, all rescues that are his Roundhouse Cat Sanctuary family.
He shared that learning to write has brought with it joys and frustrations.
“The writing and the formatting has been really fun, but dealing with the printer has been a frustrating learning curve for me,” he said. “I know that books are not just about the work, that the work has to be good and the packaging has to be good too.”
Smith shared that he is proud of his first book, although there are a few things he would change.
“I’m an old guy and it was a challenge to write in the voice of a young woman from 125 years ago,” he said. “It works in some places and I think falls short in others, but I’m still happy with it and it gets good reviews and people just love her character.”
While writing “Pearl” and “MacGregor” in the third person, Smith found his voice.
“This is a simpler way to write and the voice doesn’t get in the way of the story,” he said. “I’m learning and becoming a better writer every day, and my goal is that my voice is more subtle and an almost invisible narrative.”
He is also learning to market his books and spend more time with his characters.
“Writing is easy; it’s the formatting, cover art, layout, marketing and distribution that’s a lot,” he said. “My only goal right now is to keep writing and let my characters sit a little longer in my head. The longer I let them sit, the stronger and more real they are.”
When his “Ida Mae” trilogy is done, Smith plans to return to Skagway to research his family’s story and eventually write a biography on his great-grandparents.
“I think the real story is probably even more fascinating than the one I’ve imagined,” he said.
Find Smith’s books at the Homer Bookstore, River City Books in Soldotna, Spirit Mountain Artworks in Chitina and by direct sales from him via Brian Smith on Facebook and email, firstname.lastname@example.org. They are also available at the Homer Public Library.