Northbrook Public Library

Linda Vering
  • Library Employee
Northbrook Writes Participant, Hollie Smurthwaite

Finishing a novel is a triumph for any writer. For Hollie Smurthwaite, it’s doubly thrilling.

Earlier in the year, she had submitted her manuscript, The Color of Trauma to the "Soon to Be Famous Illinois Author Manuscript Contest." 

Weeks later she received a phone call informing her she was one of three finalists from the state.

“I had a Sally Field moment! ‘They really like me!’ I felt the excitement of a preteen getting to meet her idol,” she said.

Then, days before the winner was publicly announced, Hollie was shocked when, while being interviewed by contest organizers at the Fountaindale Public Library in Bolingbrook, she learned that her manuscript had won the contest.

“I jumped up and down like a kid ... but not on camera," she said, laughing. The winner of the contest was announced to the public on Tuesday, April 16.

Hollie, of Chicago, is a regular attendee of the Northbrook Writes series at the Northbrook Public Library. To enter the contest, participating libraries had to submit entries on behalf of the writers. Northbrook Public Library's Fiction and Media librarian Mike Hominick received Hollie’s manuscript on deadline and submitted it to the contest as it came down to the wire.

Hollie's manuscript was one of more than 50 entries submitted from around the state, Mike said. 

I’m really grateful to the Northbrook Public Library and Mike [Hominick] in particular,” she said. “I wouldn’t have known about this contest if it weren’t for him.”

And beyond the winner status, Hollie said the “best part of it is it’s a validation of my book.”

The Color of Trauma centers around a woman protagonist who has the ability to experience another person’s memory and take those memories away. The protagonist is enlisted by a homicide detective to help find a serial killer, said Hollie, whose research for the novel involved having a Chicago Police homicide detective review her work for accuracy.

“The larger story is about trauma and how it can shape a lives but doesn’t necessarily define a life,” she said. There are dark themes and it’s nice to purge that. I feel that really dark things need to be looked at.”

Hollie is a prolific writer and writes every day; she’s participated in the annual National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) contest since 2013, hitting the 50,000-word goal every year.

“If I’m in a groove I could write a thousand words in an hour, but the flip side to that is because I write so much a lot of it isn’t useful,” she said. “Some writers plan it versus winging it. I’m more of a winging-it kind of writer.”

The Color of Trauma is her third novel. Only days before the deadline, she faced having to trim her manuscript to meet the 100,000 word limit. Looking back, Hollie said trimming her manuscript by 9,000 words ended up being one of the best things she did for her story.

Hollie—who lives in Chicago with her husband, her five-year-old son, a dog, and two cats—appreciates the Northbrook Writes community for exposing her to great writers who also happen to be skilled writing instructors.

“It’s incredibly helpful and you can’t beat the price," she said. "The Northbrook Writes instructors that Mike is able to secure are great teachers in addition to being great writers.”

As the manuscript winner, Hollie will receive a professional edit, book cover design, and be entered into the 2020 Soon to Be Famous Illinois Author Project, which helps libraries connect local indie authors with a wider readership.   

Hollie plans to find an agent to try to get her novel published the traditional route. If that doesn’t work out, she’ll self publish The Color of Trauma.

“I’m proud of it,” she said. “I’ve poured so much of my time and creative energy into it and I want to share it with other people besides my family.