I had the good fortune of meeting bestselling author Jennifer E. Smith who was in the Philippines on tour for her new Young Adult novel, WINDFALL.
“It is so much fun to be here in the Philippines. They are the best readers in the world.” Ms. Smith says, who is now on her second trip to the country. She is also the author of several young adult bestsellers including The Statistical Probability Of Love at First Sight, This is What Happy Looks Like, and The Geography of You and Me.
How does it feel to be in a country and culture that is very different from home, and yet they know you and your book?
It is a great honor to be here. The last time I was in the Philippines, it just blew me away because I didn’t expect it. The love and enthusiasm, and the excitement was thrilling. I loved it. The last time, I didn’t know what to expect, so to come back again and see the readers is great. It’s surreal.
What was the most challenging part in writing WINDFALL?
The most challenging for any book for me is plotting, because I don’t plot out my books ahead of time. So with WINDFALL, I started knowing I wanted to write a story about someone that wins the lottery and how their lives would change, but I had to figure out stuff beyond that and I would panic a little bit as I would feel my way through and try to figure things out as I went along. WINDFALL was also a longer book compared to the others I have written before. It is a bit bigger in scope and it is deeper and more emotional, there is also a bigger cast of characters, so I felt that I really stretched myself in some ways, but that’s a good thing to try. Plus in my other books, the characters usually meet for the first time, but in WINDFALL, the characters: TEDDY and ALICE were best friends since they were kids, so it’s a different dynamical right off the bat. But this book was really gratifying to write because it was harder in certain ways and I feel like I challenged myself a little.
With all the books you’ve written over the course of your long career, how do you think your writing has evolved?
I’ve been writing for a long time now and its crazy to me but my first book came out almost 10 years ago and I like to think that with each book I stretch myself a little bit more and challenge myself to make them a bit more meaningful and substantial. I think WINDFALL was definitely a departure in some ways from my other books which had themes like fate, timing, serendipity and chance, but also a little bit more emotional and heavier hooks.
I’m always trying to find a deeper level in each book, and at the same time trying to grow and evolve as a writer but I also own my voice and make the characters become more fully realized and 3 dimensional but I’m also so proud of my books from several years ago . Each book is almost like a time stamp in your life as an author. A lot of other writers look back on their books and cringe and I do as well sometimes there are things that you will always find and want to fix about them but at the same time they are real moments in time that shows your journey as a writer. So It is always fun to look back.
Since Luck was the theme of your book, WINDFALL, do you believe in Luck?
I do. I believe in luck. It was very interesting to write this book because the 3 main characters have very different world views about the role that Luck plays and I think each of them share a bit of my thoughts on it and it was interesting to kind of play around with them, and it made me question things. I’m probably closest to my character LEO who is Alice’s cousin who feels like he’s had a really fortunate life and is kind of always worried that the other shoe is going to drop at some point, and it brings up these questions, like if something good happens to you, are you waiting for the other shoe to drop? Or if something bad happens, do you automatically do something good? Or is the world entirely random? Or does everything happen for a reason? And I’ve always been a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, but then when you’re writing a story about a girl whose parents died a year apart from each other when she was a kid makes you wonder what possible reason could the universe have for that? And it really makes you question it. It was a more philosophical journey than I thought it was going to be in some way, but at the heart of it, I believe in luck, although I don’t play the lottery. I think we are all lucky in our own way. I am somebody who is an optimist and always try to look at the positive in many ways.
So if you were like your character Teddy and won $140 Million Dollars, what would you do?
Well, having done a lot of research on lottery winners it makes me happy that I haven’t. It seems like it would be such a dream some true, and it is for some people, but it can also really alter your life in a big way. As for me, I love to travel so I would definitely do more of that and maybe buy a little cottage somewhere, maybe in Scotland. I would want to make life more comfortable in certain ways , but I also love the idea that you could also use this money for good and I’m a firm believer in good deeds and random acts of kindness. The idea that you could have enough money to make other people’s dreams come true or make their lives better is a real gift. It would be so exciting to have the means to do that.
What inspired you to write your character Alice the way she is?
I know people who have faced some of the worst things that could happen in life, who have every right to be bitter and closed off as a result, but who instead opened themselves up and are incredibly generous philanthropically as a way of coping and I’ve really admired them for it. I wanted to write about somebody who had won the worst lottery possible, and because of that has had a seismic change in her life that a lottery win for someone close to her wouldn’t be something seen as some amazing stroke of luck, but instead a kind of thing to be weary of. And Volunteering is really important to me, so I wanted to take somebody who had these extreme extents and see what happens when her best friend who is a typical 18 year old boy, does what a typical 18 year old boy would do with $140 million dollars.
How long did it take to write WINDFALL?
WINDFALL was 90,000 words, so it took about nine months to write the first draft, and another six months for the editing, but that’s about how long my books tend to take although my other books are around 60 to 70 thousand. So it does feel quite more substantial. And the story in most of my books are usually in a shorter timeframe, but the story of WINDFALL took place in a course of five months and there’s a bigger cast of characters. There is also more detail and the story is deeper. My other stories would normally focus on the love aspect, but in WINDFALL, it also focused on family, and the lives of the other characters in the book, which were very important characters for the storyline, so they took up some bandwidth as well. It is always really important to me to have family stories or other stories along with the romance. It is one of the romance stories that I have enjoyed writing the most. I have never written about best friends falling in love and its really different compared to two strangers that are getting to know each other, because they have this whole history and its different in dynamic with all the jokes and banter between them that was incredibly fun to write. And it’s also different because you risk losing the friendship with your friend if things don’t work out, so in a way, Alice took a gamble with her feelings and tried her luck.
What would you say is a typical day for you, a bestselling author?
I don’t really have a typical day. I usually write 2 to 3 days a week at home and 2 to 3 days a week with friends. I’m really lucky to be living in New York City where a lot of other authors I’m close to are. And we get together and work, which is nice because it can be a really solitary job, and this makes it like having colleagues in a job where there are other people around, so it’s been a real joy to have found that community. But as for a typical day, I wish I was more methodical about my work. I know certain people that write a certain amount of words everyday or certain amount of hours everyday, and I try sometimes to do that but I’m also not somebody who will sit in the computer all day if it’s not working and bang my head against the wall. If the words are not coming, I’ll go out and take a walk or do something different. But on the flipside, if I’m having a day where everything is clicking, I’ll cancel my plans and just keep going. And so because of that it becomes a little haphazard schedule, but it all gets done eventually.
Have you ever written in other genres?
I wrote a middle-grade book called the STORM MAKERS. It was a fantasy story and was a bit of an experiment and I wanted to try something really different and really new, and I enjoyed it. But I think I am more inclined towards realistic fiction, and that’s what I grew up reading and I definitely love the occasional fantasy and dystopian thriller or mystery, but in my heart I realize I like realistic fiction.
Now that you’re a bestselling author, what else is in line in terms of your ambition and goals?
I love writing YA and I hope to continue to do so as long as people are reading it, but I’d also like to write an adult book at some point, I think it would be really fun to try. There are always more stories to tell and I feel really lucky to have wonderful readers and to have the career I have had so far, and it’s always hard to look too far down the road because it always depends on what the next idea is, you kind of follow the idea and keep challenging myself.
Any words of wisdom that you believe in?
Before WINDFALL, I would say that everything happens for a reason, but it definitely shifted my certainty in that. But I also believe in being kind. Probably my prevailing philosophy especially now, with the world being such a mess, everybody should be a little more kind and generous to everyone around them, and the world would be a better place.
Jennifer E. Smith’s books are available in National Book Store branches, online via www.nationalbookstore.com, and via their delivery hotline, 8888-627.