A Conversation with Leanne W. Smith

Today, the INSPY Awards warmly welcomes author, Leanne W. Smith. Her novel, Leaving Independence (Waterfall Press) is on the 2017 shortlist in the Debut Fiction category. Please join us in welcoming Leanne.

Today, we read about the inspiration for Leaving Independence (Louis L’Amour is involved), learn about her road to publication, and hear about her most recent TV binges – plus more!

Abigail Baldwyn might not be a widow after all.…

Ever since she received word that her husband, Robert, was killed in the Civil War, Abigail has struggled to keep her Tennessee home and family together. Then a letter arrives claiming that Robert isn’t dead, yet he has no plans to return. Desperate for answers, Abigail travels to Independence, Missouri, where she joins a westbound wagon train to find him.

Leading a company along the Oregon Trail isn’t part of Hoke Mathews’s plans. But then the former cavalry scout gets a glimpse of Abigail—so elegant compared to the rest of their hardscrabble wagon community, yet spirited and resilient. Through every peril they encounter—snakebites, Indian raids, fevers, dangerous grudges—his bond with Abigail grows.

Abigail knew this journey would test her courage. Now it’s testing her marriage vows and her heart, daring her to claim a future on her own terms in a land rich with promise. – Goodreads

Interview Questions

INSPYs: What inspired your debut novel, Leaving Independence? I have felt called to write from a young age, but like the fearful servant who buried his one talent, I kept trying to ignore it. Writing is a hard calling and I wanted to by-pass the difficulty. But story ideas kept bubbling to the surface. A few, like the story of Abigail Baldwyn, withstood the tests of time and my own cowardice.

It’s impossible to say when I first had the idea for this story. Over twenty-five years ago I saw a woman walking down the boardwalk of a western town. What inspired it? I don’t know…she just showed up and wouldn’t leave me alone. At some point you have to admit that a story is given to you as a gift, you’re the only one who can tell it in your unique way, and if you don’t get your brave on and put it out there, the world will never get to feel the blessing of your characters.

Leanne says of her novel, “About a year after I committed to seeing this story through to publication my youngest daughter and I flew to Kansas City, rented a car, and drove to Independence where we stayed at a bed and breakfast that became the inspiration for Mrs. Helton’s boarding house in the book. We arrived after dark and I was feeling apprehensive the next morning at the financial and time commitment I was making to this endeavor when Shelby and I drove out to our first historical sight for research and inspiration. We walked up a hill to read the first historical marker we saw and it said…Leaving Independence. This had been my working title for over a year. Felt like a real God-moment.”

As a teen, I read a lot of Louis L’Amour and know his influence shaped parts of this story, like Hoke’s character. In L’Amour’s book, Westward the Tide, the main character is Mathieu Bardoul, a French spelling. So I spelled Hoke’s last name of Mathews with one “t” as my personal tribute to L’Amour.

What are some of the things you found most interesting or challenging about the publishing process?

The most difficult thing for me is the fear of rejection…the fear of judgment. Once I got past the hurdles of signing with an agent, then a publisher, the process was a joy. I prayed a lot that God would control the parts I couldn’t…which were legion…and He did.

Doors started opening for LI at the same moment my personal life held some challenges. I signed with Jessica Kirkland, my agent, within months of my father being diagnosed with dementia. Then I signed with Waterfall, my publisher, during a period of his rapid health decline. I learned in October 2015 that the release date for LI was June 21, 2016. This would have been my parents’ fifty-third wedding anniversary, but my father passed away April 21, two months before my book’s debut.

This experience, along with our daughters leaving home in the same time-period, made me ultra-aware of how little I actually control in life, much less in setting a book upon the waters. I was forced…blessed, really…to leave the details in God’s hands, and everyone He sent me proved to be more wonderful than I could have imagined. He saw to it that I had the perfect editor and a beautiful cover, and He continues to send me kind reviews and affirmation.


What are you watching? I probably watch more TED Talks and video clips for the classes I teach than anything else. My husband and I have never watched a lot of television but a few months ago someone told me about a Netflix series called Longmire. They said Walt (the sheriff) reminded them of Hoke, so I had no choice but to check it out. It’s the first show we’ve watched since Downton Abbey ended. We rent movies on quiet weekends. Last two we saw were Hidden Figures and Hacksaw Ridge. Enjoyed both.

What are you reading or what’s on your nightstand? I made a commitment to read through the Bible this year, so it tops the list. I’ve actually been reading a lot of screenplays on my computer. Have been fascinated with screenwriting for years and recently audited a class. One of the best I’ve read is Hell or High Water.

Non-fiction books I’ve read recently include Story by Robert McKee, Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, The Road Back to You by Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile, and Presence by Amy Cuddy. Next on the list are Simon Sinek’s Leaders Eat Last, Timothy Keller’s Every Good Endeavor, and Flying Flak Alley by my friend Alan Griggs.

Fiction I’ve read recently includes Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, and Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys. Am currently reading My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout and Mark Twain’s Roughin’ It. Next on the list are Anne Patchett’s Commonwealth and The Devil’s Bible by my friend Dana Chamblee Carpenter.

Face off Questions:
  1. Print or Ebook? Prefer to hold real books in my hands, but e-books pack lighter when flying.
  2. Chocolate or Vanilla? (Ice Cream) Vanilla, with dark chocolate fudge sauce.
  3. PC or Mac? Mac. All the way.
  4. Coffee or Tea? Coffee in the morning; tea in the afternoon.


Leaving Independence is Leanne Wood Smith’s first historical novel. In addition to writing, she teaches for a university in Nashville, Tennessee, where she lives with her husband, two daughters, and a son-in-law. Leanne believes that when something calls to you, you should journey toward it. Visit her website at www.leannewsmith.com for inspiration in pursuing personal and career-related dreams.

Thanks so much for joining us on the INSPYs.com blog today, Leanne. It was a pleasure to host you and spotlight Leaving Independence.

  • Staci

    It’s a pleasure to read debut novels. Leaving Independence is on my TBR.