Local artist spotlight: Derek J. Smith

In the frenzy of university, and the seemingly unsurmountable stress of finding a job post-graduation, most people forget that nearly everyone in the workforce today has shared those same concerns at one time or another. More importantly, many individuals not only made it through those stressors and hardships, but became ‘success stories’ as well. Derek J. Smith is one such story, a Brock University alumnus that hit the ground running post-graduation and has already successfully published a novel.

Smith graduated from Brock University in 2009 with a degree in English and Professional Writing. He then went on to pursue his long time dream of becoming an author, which was finally realized this time last year when he published The Distomos.

The Distomos is a science fiction novel set in a distant future in which the galaxy is run entirely by the ‘Church’, after all of the world’s religions diluted into one conglomerate. Smith’s influence for the novel was the Niagara region itself which, as Smith notes, is an extremely “churchy area”.

“[In Niagara] you can’t drive down a road without seeing six or seven churches,” said Smith. “I went to Catholic schools until university, so many of my friends are very religious and religion has been, indirectly, a big part of my life because I’m surrounded by it all the time. The idea for the book was to make a science fiction world where religion was the backbone of society.”

The novel follows the story of two ex-Templars, the Church’s police force in the galaxy, one of which is a believer in the Church and the other who is not. The novel follows these two as they try to navigate a conflict between a group of atheist ex-slaves who are rebelling against the Church and the Church itself.

“I wanted to portray both the Church and the atheists as the good guys, because neither are inherently good or evil, they just have a different view point. It creates a sort of unique dynamic,” said Smith.
Writing has been Smith’s hobby from an early age, as he started out writing Star Wars fan-fiction even before he knew what fan-fiction was or had a computer that could use Windows. Now, later on in his career, Smith tries to emulate that ‘simpler time’ by using a computer without Internet access as his primary writing tool, to keep him distraction free.


Twice throughout his high school education, Smith had creative writing assignments. His creative muscles must already have been strong since his teachers believed the quality of the work was suspicious, and wrongly thought the works must’ve been written by someone else.

“I think part of it was because I was a lazy student usually, but from there I had the thought in the back of my mind that maybe I can write. Maybe I have a knack for this,” said Smith.

Smith later entered Brock’s English Language and Literature program with the hope of becoming a journalist. Smith’s plans changed slightly as a result of the quickly worsening job market for journalists, when he decided to write creatively for a living. Writing would allow him to toy with the many ideas in his head that he wanted to explore in the physical world. With that in mind he decided to set his sights on publishing novels and the Brock community helped to nurture that dream.

“One of the things I happened to learn at Brock was that there is a group of dedicated English students and professors who are willing to help each other out,” said Smith.

Smith stated that prior to switching into the professional writing program he was ready to quit his education at Brock. This was because an ordinary English degree was not what Smith wanted out of his education and until later in his schooling he had been misinformed on the programs available to him. In the words of Smith, “if it’s not plastered on the walls [of Brock] you never hear of it”. If not for his fortunate switch to the program, The Distomos may have never became a reality.

Self-publishing is a very daunting undertaking, but one through which Smith has found success. Self-published authors bare, as a result, the burden of marketing, which is not in the wheelhouse of most authors. Much to Smith’s surprise and contentment, The Distromos has sold well, but Smith wearily recommends the route of self-publishing a novel.

“It’s not for everyone,” said Smith, “It’s a lot of hard work and you need to have the money to pay for it as well as sustain yourself. That being said I have learned a lot about publishing a book that you wouldn’t believe, like some of the rules to the industry that you would never think about otherwise. Not to mention the fact that now my name is out there as a published author.”

Smith further explained that, had he gone to a traditional publisher with The Distomos, he would have likely ended up waiting six months to a year before hearing if they were interested in his work. Now that he is a published author, and technically a publisher as well, he is more likely to get the attention of traditional publishers the next time around, specifically when he plans to publish the sequel to The Distomos in the next year or so.

Whether you’re waiting for the sequel, hoping to congratulate him on his success, or wanting to ask him about publishing, you can often find Derek attending local poetry readings on occasion and you can find him online at uncannyderek.com. The Distomos is available for order from Amazon.ca, BarnesandNoble.com and Lulu.com. Ebooks are also available from both iTunes and Lulu.

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