How Brad Smith's series of odd jobs prepared him for a career as a novelist

The author discusses what it took to write his latest work of historical fiction, The Return of Kid Cooper.
Brad Smith's historical novel examines what it takes to piece together a life after leaving prison. (Lorraine Sommerfeld/Skyhorse)

Brad Smith has written 11 novels and almost that many jobs — including farmer, roofer, bartender and mechanic. He's also a history buff and the period he brings to life in his novel The Return of Kid Cooper is turn-of-the-century Montana. The novel follows Nate Cooper, who has spent the past 30 years in jail, after he is released into a changed world he doesn't understand.

Keeping up with change

"There's this quantum leap of technology in the period of 1890s to 1910. You could compare it to the Industrial Revolution or even to today, with the advances in computers and communication. In the 1880s, they were still living in sod huts and by 1910, when Nate gets out of prison, there are telephones, automobiles and electric lights. It was a huge leap at that time. This guy went away and later gets out, and is totally out of place and time."

A career worthy of fiction

"It took me a while to start a writing career. I did a bunch of research for 20 years, but I didn't realize I was doing research I just thought I was doing jobs here and there. I worked all over the place — on a railroad in Ontario, I got a job in Texas and drove a truck in British Columbia. I was restless and moved around. In my late 20s, I finally sat down and decided I would write a book. I wrote a few pages and went, 'This is really hard!' And that was the end of it for a few years. I finally wrote a novel that remains unpublished. But I got some encouraging words from people who turned it down and the book I wrote after that did get published."

Brad Smith's comments have been edited and condensed.