Today in YA: An Interview with Jennifer E. Smith
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Whether you’re in high school or want to travel back to it, Hello, Goodbye, & Everything in Between (Poppy, September 1, 2015) by young adult author Jennifer E. Smith is a very enjoyable and spot-on book. I especially enjoyed Smith’s accurate and nuanced portrayal of a young couple in love. I also appreciated the fact that the story unfolds over a 12-hour span, something that adds to the page turning quality of the work. The story drew me in immediately, taking me back to some of the questions and uncertainties I had about myself and about relationships (especially long-distance ones) during my high school and college years.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer E. Smith (photo below) via email. Here are the highlights:
EZ: When you first get an idea for a book, what is your process for actually writing it? Or does your process change from book to book?
JS: I have to admit I’m a little bit hasty about this. I tend to dive right in as soon as I have the spark of an idea, and then figure out all the details later. It would probably be smarter to outline – and would definitely save me a lot of time later – but the moment I come up with an idea, I get so excited that I can’t help jumping right in.
EZ: Do you like noise or quiet, distractions or no distractions when you write? And do you have any specific writing routine?
JS: I’ve always preferred the quiet, since I’m pretty easily distracted. Sometimes I’ll write to music, but it’s usually the score of a movie or something classical, since I can’t concentrate on my own words if I’m listening to somebody else’s.
As for a routine, I don’t really have one, and I often wonder if I should. I don’t write every single day, nor do I write for a certain amount of time or until I hit a certain word count. My basic philosophy is just to try to write whenever I can, as much as I can, and hope for the best. If there’s a day when it’s going really well, I’ll cancel my plans to keep writing. And if there’s a day when I sit down to write and it’s not working, I don’t really push it. So it always just sort of depends on the day.
EZ: What is the challenge in writing a novel that takes place over a finite period of time (e.g. 12 hours, like in Hello, Goodbye, & Everything in Between) vs writing one that spans over a longer time period?
JS: For some reason, I’ve always been really drawn to stories that have a ticking clock. But they’re definitely a challenge to write, since I don’t outline my books. So when you’re writing something that needs to take place over a very specific number of hours, and you’re just sort of winging it as you go, you can often run into a lot of trouble in the revision stage. I’ve written two books like this now (The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight took place over 24 hours), and both times, I had to go back at the end to adjust the timing. But it makes for a fun challenge!
EZ: How long did Hello, Goodbye, & Everything in Between take to write from start to finish? And why is this book so dear to you?
JS: It probably took about a year to write, plus another six months or so for edits, which is about the same as most of my books.
I’m fond of all my novels, but this one means a lot in particular. I keep joking that my last few books were all one big hello, and this is one big goodbye. It’s about the last night of college, but so much more than that too – it’s about one of those moments when life splits into a before and an after, and though it’s quite emotional as a result, it was also a real joy to write.
EZ: Do you integrate dialog into the rest of your writing or do you write it separately and then integrate it into your story?
JS: For the most part, I integrate as I write. Every once in a while, if I’m really stuck on something, I’ll forge ahead a bit with the dialogue and then come back and write around it. But that’s maybe one or two scenes per book. Most of the time, I have to write it all at once; it’s just how my brain works. I think it’s the same reason I write chronologically – because I don’t plan the story out in advance. So I find it hard to skip around, since I’m generally making a lot of decisions and discoveries as I go.
EZ: When you write, do you use Microsoft Word, Scrivener or another program or a combo of things?
JS: I’ve been using Microsoft Word my whole life, and though I’ve heard great things about Scrivener, I can’t imagine changing things up now. The only other tool I use occasionally is an app called SelfControl, which blocks certain sites online for whatever period of time you choose, which forces me to focus on my writing. I only resort to it occasionally, but I have to admit it’s pretty helpful!
EZ: What is the best thing about being an author?
JS: Getting to hear from readers. Hands down. I feel so lucky to get so many lovely messages and emails from teens who read my books, and to have met so many wonderful people at events. It means more than I can say.
EZ: What is the most stressful/challenging thing about being an author?
JS: For me, coming up with a new idea is always the hardest part. So after I finish a book, there are always a few panicky months where I’m convinced I’m never going to write anything again, which can be tough.
EZ: If you could do anything else, what would it be? Or is fiction writing for young adults exactly what you want to be doing and will continue to do for years to come?
JS: This is it! My dream job. I feel very, very lucky to be doing it, and hope to continue for as long as possible…
EZ: What is on the horizon for Jennifer E. Smith?
JS: I’m working on a new novel right now that won’t be out until sometime in 2017. But I’m very excited about this one, and I can’t wait to share more about it soon.
To learn more about Jennifer E. Smith and her books including You and Me, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, This is What Happy Looks Like and more, visit her website.
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