Students inspire teacher’s novel

Local author shines light on extreme poverty

by Alison Woo

Though novels are, by definition, works of fiction, novelists often say the best stories are inspired from life. For Brett Smuckler, a first-time author with Huntersville ties, the students she met while earning her undergraduate degree in elementary education taught her so much more about life, she felt compelled to write about it.

“I was working towards my degree and part of my training was to do an internship and work with children who live in extreme poverty,” she said. “By the time they were in the second grade, 90 percent had one parent in jail or had seen hard drugs. It made me fully appreciate the environment that we are fortunate to live in. Anyone could have ended up in someone else’s life.”

On the surface, Smuckler’s novel “Under the Same Sky” offers a contemporary “romance story between a boy and a girl who grew up together and shared unconditional love and unrequited love for one another.” But when one of the main characters, who grew up in affluence, chooses to go to Haiti to work with those in great need, she is exposed to a much darker side of life.

Remembering those in need

Smuckler chose to send her character to Haiti even before last January’s devastating earthquake. Smuckler remembers her grandmother, who passed through Haiti as a European immigrant to the U.S. in 1920, raving about the island’s beauty.

“I really hope readers take away some of the key themes of the book, including the importance of political activism and compassion and how important it is to want to make a difference in the world,” she said.  “The devastation that happened there was terrible and there needs to be continued awareness. Even now, there aren’t stable homes and with another storm or hurricane, they could easily lose all of that. Even the recent cholera outbreak shows if people are not educated they won’t know which water is safe to drink.” It’s become a cause so close to Smuckler’s heart that she’s donating half the proceeds from the book to Haiti relief.

Becoming a writer

Smuckler says she wasn’t much of a reader and had never written anything before she penned “Sky.” Her passion for writing was fueled by the story and the desire to be heard. She also found a great deal of inspiration in songs. “I like to write with music because I feel music influences my emotions,” she said. “I would listen to sad music or fast-paced music to get me in the mood.”

The author squeezed writing sessions in between stints working as a substitute teacher, but says she wrote mostly at night, despite being a self-proclaimed morning person.
“Somehow nighttime brought out emotions so I needed to write this book.”

“Sky” came out as an e-book last April but last month was published in paperback. Smuckler has been bitten by the writing bug and is now working on a second novel.

She says writing offers her something she doesn’t always get in the classroom. “The thing I like best about teaching is that it’s a place you can interact with children,” she said. “But I still have thoughts, feelings and ideas I want to share, and I found it’s easiest if I write them down. What I love most about writing is that it’s a place you can go to get things out of your mind and dream.”

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