Smith's third thriller takes novel approach
"What if a small sovereign nation in Oregon declared war on a foreign nation?" Enes Smith, author
From his first memories of childhood, Enes Smith has always loved reading. But his decision to become a writer came much later.
"My earliest recollection was my parents reading," he said, recalling a farmhouse in Idaho that looked like a library. "They introduced us to the fascinating world of books at a very young age."
Smith, formerly the police chief in Madras and, until October, Warm Springs, recently published his third novel, -- 12 years after the publication of his second novel.
"Cold River Rising" -- like his first two critically-acclaimed books -- is a fast-paced thriller. Unlike the other two, his new novel features Native American characters, and a setting that shifts between Peru and the fictional Cold River Indian Reservation in Oregon.
Smith summarized the plot, which begins in the Cordillera Blanca Mountain Range in Central Peru. "While on spring break from college, Native American Tara Eagle is kidnapped in a foreign land," he said. "She and her friends struggle for survival, first against terrorists, and then against the army."
When Eagle's relatives become increasingly frustrated and angry at the slow response from the U.S. government, they persuade the Cold River Indian Nation to take drastic action.
Smith was in the midst of his first stint as police chief in Warm Springs, from 1994 to 1995, when he conceived the ideas for the book. "For the first time in my life, I was working in a sovereign nation within a state and the nation, so the writer in me started getting all kinds of ideas," he explained.
"I'm not Native American, but what if I wrote a book about someone who is suddenly exposed to this culture and got caught up in these events?" he asked. "What if a small sovereign nation in Oregon declared war on a foreign nation?"
In the book, Smith sets up a sequence of events in which the chairman of the Cold River Nation travels to Washington, D.C., on reservation business, and declares war on the nation of Peru in a speech to a Senate subcommittee.
"At first, people think it's funny, but then it begins to turn deadly when the police chief and others from the reservation are ordered to go to Peru and rescue college students, including tribal members, who are being held by terrorists," Smith said.
Drawing from over 16 years of work as a police detective in different locales in Oregon, Smith, 59, constructs realistic scenes and creates compelling dialogue to evoke the terror of a kidnapping by a violent guerrilla group.
Although Smith wrote the first draft of the book in 1998 -- three years after he left the Warm Springs police chief position -- he didn't finish the final rewrite of the novel until last March. It was published in July, but Smith is only now beginning to take steps to publicize the book.
Writing takes hold
Smith's path to his second career -- as a writer -- dates back to the late 1970s, when he was a police detective, first in Springfield, and later in Eugene.
"I was writing magazine articles -- everything from fillers to articles about living without electricity, and essays," he said. "I realized in the early '80s that I was just putting off what I really wanted to do."
From his position as a Eugene detective, Smith began doing research on the Diane Downs murder case for bestselling author Ann Rule. Rule eventually published the bestseller, "Small Sacrifices," which chronicled the events leading up to Diane Downs' 1983 shooting of her three young children in Springfield, Ore., as well as her trial and subsequent conviction for murder.
In 1983, Smith wrote a short story. "I didn't have the confidence to write a novel," he said. With encouragement from Rule, Smith began the six-year process of expanding the short story he had written into his first novel.
Rule, who published her book in 1987, offered to pay Smith for his research, but he refused, instead accepting her offer to send the book to her New York agents when it was complete.
"When I got serious, I took a year and finished it," he said. "I wrote every night." The 525-page manuscript was submitted to Rule's agents -- a husband and wife team -- in 1989, and they agreed to represent Smith.
"She told me later that she'd sent (works from ) about 75 authors to her agents over the years, and I was the first one they'd accepted," Smith said.
Smith's first suspense novel, "Fatal Flowers," was published by the Berkley Publishing Group in 1992 -- to rave reviews. Rule called it "a chillingly authentic look into the blackest depths of a psychopath's fantasies." Although it is currently out of print, it has sold nearly 100,000 copies worldwide.
Based on the success of his first novel -- and a look at the first 50 pages of his second -- Berkley bought the rights to "Dear Departed," giving Smith a decent advance. His second page-turner, written in about two months, was published to critical acclaim in 1994. However, with a less enthusiastic editor as champion for his second book, sales were slower.
By the time Smith got around to his third book, things had changed at Berkley. "My editor left Berkley for a children's publishing house and my literary agents in New York retired," he said.
New novel hits roadblock
"When I couldn't get notice from New York after 10 years -- and my first two (books) had critical acclaim -- I wasn't as discouraged as I was disgusted," he said, remarking upon the capriciousness of the publishing business.
Two other Oregon authors advised going to a small publishing company. Rick Steber, of Prineville, publishes his own works, Smith noted. "When he won the Western Spur award for `Buy the Chief a Cadillac,' he started getting calls from New York."
Author Kent Anderson, who wrote a successful novel based on his experiences in Vietnam, "Sympathy for the Devil," was turned down when he tried to sell his second novel, "Night Dogs," to his former publisher, Smith said.
So Anderson had 1,900 copies printed at a small press. "He received a good review in Publisher's Weekly, and within a week, he sold the movie rights for seven figures, and Bantam, his old publisher, called him and offered seven figures," Smith said.
Morris Publishing -- a small publishing house in Kearney, Neb. -- helped Smith publish "Cold River Rising."
"I'm working to get it in the hands of producers and some major editors," he said.
Music first interest
Smith grew up in Ontario, Ore., where he was mostly interested in music -- singing, and playing concert tuba, guitar, electric bass and drums.
After a period of playing with his band in New York, Smith attended what is now Western Oregon University in Monmouth, where he earned his bachelor's degree in social science in 1974, and his master's degree in correctional administration in 1979.
Smith has lived in Central Oregon since 1990, when he went to work for the drug task force in Bend. Beginning in 1997, Smith taught criminal justice, sociology and writing classes at Central Oregon Community College -- either full or part time.
He served as the Madras interim police chief from 2000 to 2002, and returned to the Warm Springs Police Department as chief from October of 2005 until Oct. 15, when his captain, Carmen Smith, took over.
With his four children, ranging in age from 18 up to 38, either in college, or with jobs, Smith felt it was time to return to his calling.
"I was at the point in my life where I didn't want to put off being a writer again," Smith explained.
Smith is now devoting his time to publicizing his book, which can be found on his Web site at enessmith.com, speaking at conferences, and working out the details of his next book.
He is particularly gratified that the person who was most instrumental in encouraging his interest in reading and writing lived long enough to see his success.
Before Smith's mother died two years ago, she had the opportunity to read the manuscript of "Cold River Rising." "She was very proud of me," he said. "She would recommend my books to everyone in the assisted living center where she lived for the last 10 years or so of her life."