Picks and Pans Review: Talking With...

updated 09/12/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/12/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

>April Smith


YOU WOULDN'T THINK APRIL SMITH would scare easily—not after 17 years of writing and producing in the Hollywood trenches. But the former producer of Cagney & Lacey says that when she was writing North of Montana, "I literally had to hold on to the arms of my office chair. I felt demons coming after me. Suddenly, I was totally alone."

Although the novel's title suggests the plains of the old West, it actually refers to the hip Santa Monica neighborhood where Smith, 44, lives with her husband, Douglas Brayfield, 46, a lyricist, and their two children, Ben, 9, and Emma, 3. "It's a myth that you can be a mom and write at home," says Smith, who works out of an office a mile from her house, in a "small, funky" downtown medical building. "It's in the heart of urban America," she says, "but just a block from the ocean. The growth, the decay—it's all right there."

Born in The Bronx, N.Y., Smith began her professional career writing fiction after receiving a master's in creative writing from Stanford University in 1972. Getting into television came almost as a detour. "I didn't plan any of this," she says. "I came to L.A. 17 years ago for a two-week vacation. I was visiting a friend, the novelist Dan Wakefield. The day I was expected, a producer at a meeting asked Dan if he knew any writers who could take on a TV pilot. He said, 'Actually there is one arriving at the airport in 15 minutes.' " Two days later, April had been hired to write her first screenplay.

"I haven't been out of work for one day since," says Smith, who marvels at the abrupt shift her life took. "After that, I met my husband and ended up staying here. I still can't believe it."

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