Willa’s Interview with Jennifer E. Smith

-This post comes from Willa of BookPeople’s Teen Press Corps

“I’ve been writing since I was a kid,” Smith said when asked about where she got started. “It’s always been something I want to do, but I never thought it would be something I would be doing professionally. I think I thought of it as being like an astronaut or a ballerina—like they’re real jobs and you can do them, but the odds of you being able to do them is small.”

Early on, her influences were books that had a “sad and sweet feel but are really full of heart.” Where the Red Fern Grows, Bridge to Terabithia, Tuck Everlasting, were some of the standouts. Now, she says she reads a wide range of books that effect her writing. “I try to always be reading a big fat literary fiction book, a really fun memoir, and then a YA book.” She really believes in reading a wide range of books, not just a ton of books.

A lot of her books focus are inspired by the “what if?” question. “What if you met somebody on a plane? What if an email went astray? And what happens from there.” The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight is the exploration of meeting someone on a plane, and This is What Happy Looks Like begins with an email going astray. Each novel’s plot is driven by something unique, but all focus on relationships and coming-of-age.

“I’m kind obsessed with themes like fate and timing and chance and serendipity, and that run through all the books, but I think time is one I use a lot to make them different.” In her newest title is Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between, time is a key part of the storyline. Told in the twelve hours before the two main characters head off to college, the book explores what a relationship looks like once college starts.

Since many of her books are constricted by time, Smith takes advantage of flashbacks to develop her character’s personalities. “When you’re really in the moment with a character and you’re present, it almost doesn’t matter that you’re tracing your lives out over multiple years, because you’re seeing a profound moment in their lives and seeing how they react in these situations, and seeing what they do at every fork in the road. You just feel like you get to know them, and then because of the short time frame you feel like you’re with them.”

While her past books have been about “hello”, her new book, Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between, Smith says is her first book about goodbye. “I think the biggest challenge was figuring out how to capture the feeling of a two year relationship in a twelve hour snapshot, but I really enjoyed the challenge, and because it was a different kind of book from my last few, it was really fun and really refreshing to write.”