September 20, 2014

What JENNIFER E. SMITH'S Happy looks like

The Statistical Probability of Love atFirst Sight review, The Geography of You and Me, This is What Happy Looks Like… unusual book titles that have caught the attention of readers worldwide.  And behind these books is a very positive, unassuming and humble author I was lucky enough to meet a few days ago at the Writer’s Bar in Raffles Hotel upon the invitation of my friends from The National Book Store.

Here is Jennifer E. Smith

Lyn:  Jennifer, welcome to the Philippines.  How are you?
Jennifer:  Thank you.  I am so excited to be here.  It's so funny to me that we've been here for a few days now and we haven’t met them (fans) yet.  It's incredible the outpouring of enthusiasm and passion... Before this trip was planned a year or two ago, I was saying to somebody "what is in the water over there? It's like a country of huge readers".  It's amazing.

L:  Have your author friends told you about their experiences here?
J:  Absolutely.  Jenny Han and Gayle Forman and Stephanie Perkins.  It was really fun to get to talk to them before I came over here about what their experience was like, and everybody says it's one of the highlights of their whole writing career.  It's like coming over here has become such a thing.  Every other author who hasn't come over is like "how do I get on that trip?"  Because everyone wants to meet all these really enthusiastic people, It's amazing.

L:  They are very enthusiastic, they would line up for hours
J:  It's incredible.  There's been plenty of other book festivals that have been nicely attended and had a lot of excited people but this just seems like on a whole different level and I'm really excited to see what it's like.

L:  I have read all three books but for those who haven’t yet, what are they about? Let's start with THE STATISTICAL PROBABILITY OF LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT.
J:  STAT for short to save ourselves hours (laughs)

L:  Yeah why is it long?  Why did you choose that title?
J:  Well it's a line towards the end of the book.  We were really stuck for a title for a long time with this and we sort of said "maybe we could use that line". And we went back and forth over on whether it might be too long or unwieldy or whether people will remember it and I'm really glad that though it's definitely long and people do mess it up sometimes, I've also heard from readers who picked it up because of that, so I think there's something to that.  And now I feel like I've set up this long titled thing and some have followed that pattern. 

STATISTICAL PROBABILITY is about two teens who meet on a trip from New York to London.  Hadley is on her way to her father's wedding to a woman she has never met before, misses the flight for 4 minutes and because of that ends up sitting next to a boy named Oliver who comes into her life at just the right moment.  They talk the whole night on the flight and when they get to London they get separated at Customs and have to find each other again.

THIS IS WHAT HAPPY LOOKS LIKE starts when an email goes astray and connects two teens who live on the opposite side of the US.  They start this email correspondence.  It turns out that he's a teen movie star and gets his movie moved to her small town in Maine and it goes form there.

GEOGRAPHY OF YOU AND ME is the newest and starts when Lucy and Owen get stuck in an elevator together during a massive city wide blackout in New York and they get out of the elevator and spend sort of a magical night in NYC walking and talking and soon after that get pulled apart by family circumstances and it's about seeing how long a brief connection and a night like that can turn into a long distance relationship.

L:  Which of these books did you like writing the most?
J:  I think STAT.  I don't know if it was the short time frame, but there is something about that book, it just poured out of me which does not always happen.  I don't like to glamorize the writing process because most of the time it's like gritting my teeth and muscling my way through but for some reason with that one, it was just.... I think it was more I was writing it for myself.  I had actually written two novels before that were published and I'm proud of but that didn't sell very well.  When I got the idea for that (during a break), I wasn't under contract anywhere, I didn't know who would buy it.  I knew it was a story I was writing for myself.  I wrote it fast and I loved it.

L:  How fast was fast?
J:  I wrote it in probably 4 months, the first draft of it, and did lots revisions, again not to glamorize the process.  But there was just something about it, it kind of felt like a gift

L:  Are Hadley and Oliver patterned after anyone?
J:  I'm not above stealing great lines or jokes or funny quirks of friends but as I write, they become their own three dimensional characters

L:  They become real people
J:  Yeah, they become voices in my head

L:  Based on the title, do you believe in love at first sight?
J:  It has never happened to me but I am a romantic and an optimist and I've heard stories of it happening to other people.  The thing is the title is a little bit tongue in cheek as you know since you've read the book, it's not so much love at first sight with them as it is a connection and then it develops in a relatively short time frame.  But I do believe in it and I'm a hopeful person

L:  I've noticed in your books that the romance slowly builds up.  You just feel it getting bigger, deeper, which I think makes it truer.  Is this a conscious effort on your part not to make it an "oh I'm so in love" a second after meeting?
J:  Absolutely, I almost have to play against the title and what people call Insta love and I try very hard not to have it be that way because I think that if you're gonna be in a random situation and you meet a random person like that, the odds that it's going to be an everlasting love is lot lower than having someone cross your path who is interesting to you or seems to have come into your life at just the right moment.  I'm sort of interested in the idea of fate and serendipity and timing and chance really

L:  Your books do have romance but it also has a lot of family elements particularly parental issues like Hadley's dad essentially abandoning them, Oliver's cheating dad having, Lucy's absentee parents, Owen's mom’s death, Graham's absent parents and Ellie's non existent dad. Issues that your readers can relate to.
J:  I hope so.  That's a very conscious thing. I'm so thrilled when people talk about them as love stories because at the heart of the book it is a love story.  But there is no time in a 16 year old's life or anyone's life where it's only about the romance. In my head they are three dimensional characters with full lives and that means parents and siblings and school and college.  When I was writing
STAT, honestly the primary story was actually the family story but the balance shifted a little because of the way it has been marketed, the love story has become more prominent but I really enjoy exploring the family side too

L:  And I like that in the end there's always a solution, or if not, then they are on their way to one
J:  Yes which is sort of the key to my endings, they are on their way to something and it's not tied up with a bow situation

L:  Yes, it's not an ending with a kiss
J:  I always joke that my endings are dot dot dot instead of like a period or an exclamation point, they're a little bit open ended

L:  That's why some fans are wondering if there will be a next book
J:  Yeah I like torturing the fans (laughs).  I like endings that are still open to the readers' interpretation.  I feel like it's sort of a litmus test, if your glass is half empty or half full in a way, whether you think in your head that the characters are going to be fine or not in spite of the various challenges at the end of these books.  

L:  The characters are pretty chaste that even tweens can read them and moms don't have to be afraid when their daughters read your books
J:  The book that I'm finishing up now, they're a little bit older but I'm not a writer who’s just gonna write anything too intense or too crazy. In these cases, these are characters meeting between a relatively short time frame and that's as unrealistic as Insta love that goes from 0 to 60 within 24 hours, at least that's not the kind of teen I was.  I think it's sort of organic to the story that that's the way it happened and the nice side effect that it has made is I've had a lot of teachers and librarians thank me for that and moms with kids as young as 10 or 11 have come to the books that way

L:  Because a lot of kids nowadays believe in Insta love, instant everything, instant gratification
J:  Yeah.  You gotta earn it a little bit

L:  Touching on GEOGRAPHY, have you ever received a postcard that said WISH YOU WERE HERE
J:  I definitely have.  My family was really big on postcards for some reason and I don't even remember how I decided to use that as a part of this book

L:  It's a huge part
J:  It's a huge part and it's been fun to hear.... Someone recently asked me why don't include in my books more about texting and I'm like “Oh my god, I'm the person including postcards, how old am I?” But I think there's something sort of charming and nostalgic about it and it certainly is for them.  We used to go on family vacations and I remember just picking out all the postcards we'd send to our friends.  It's so much fun

L:  Of the quotes in your books, which one do you believe the most?
J:  The quote that is by far the most popular and has been quoted back to me the most often is one that I almost cut from
STAT.  It's the 'in the end it's not the changes that will break your heart, it's that tug of familiarity'.  I remember reading that line and thinking it’s too cheesy, maybe I should cut it but I didn't and it's constantly quoted.  When I wrote it, it was very specific to the book and the story

L:  Fans would love to see happy endings and though they are implied in your books, for the sake of those who want to have a concrete ending from the storyteller herself, can u tell us what happens to them
J:  You know I can't really.  For me the books really end with the last page.  I get a lot of sequel request for all of them.  I don't think I would revisit
STAT only because I really love where I left them.  HAPPY I've been toying with doing, maybe not a whole other sequel but maybe a story continued a little bit, I get a lot of request on that one.  But I am a generally optimistic person and I wish all my characters the best so take from that what you will.

L:  Would you ever consider writing a duet
J:  Maybe.  It's certainly popular.  The problem is I don't really plot my books ahead of time so I think if I did it would probably happen in an accidental way where I write a book and missed the character and felt like there could be more to their story in a way that I haven't necessarily felt with these.  But I don't even plot one book so the idea of plotting a series where you need to think ahead of time, that's not my strong suit as a writer, I kind of wing it, but never say never

L:  Alright, let / have a quick Q&A
J:  Yes

Would you rather go on an airplane or a boat?

Postcard or email

Anonymous note or accidental email
Accidental email

Love at first sight or friends to lovers
Friends to lovers

Cute and nerdy or handsome and hot
Cute and nerdy, come on

Cupcake or chocolate

Paperback or ebook

Travel or stay home

Gym or couch
Couch if I'm being honest

Better driver or better passenger
Passenger.  I live in New York city and I don't drive that often

Stand alone books or series
Stand alone

Hunger Games or Divergent
Hunger Games

Favorite book
The Great Gatsby

Favorite author:
Charles Dickens

Favorite book you wrote
I'd say STATISTICAL PROBABILITY, but that's like making me choose a favorite kid

Favorite song
That's a really good question...

Or favorite singer
Bob Dylan

Favorite movie
Before Sunset and Before Sunrise.  You can tell (from my books) that they've influenced me heavily

Favorite actor
Tom Hanks

Favorite actress
Meryl Streep.  How old am I by the way (laughs)

Dream job

Dream destination
So many...... Philippines!

L:  Thank you so much!
J:  Slightly pandering (laughs)

Dream event or experience to happen or attend
Premier of a movie of my book

Best fan experience
I've had so many lovely ones but one of those that stayed with me the most is a 17 year old boy, which is weird because I have mostly girl readers, who once emailed me this really amazing story about how his father was getting remarried to a woman he had never met and he wasn't gonna go to the wedding and they haven't spoken in years.  He read my book and reconsidered the wedding.  He went and now he has a relationship with his father. So yeah it's things like that that make me realize the reach that a book can have and it's so humbling to know that your words affected someone's life in that way

L:  You've mentioned your dream of attending a premier of your own movie so speaking of, if these get turned into movies, which actors would you like to play the characters?
J:  Being that I already told you my favorite actors are Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, that would give you an idea of how few young actors and actresses I actually know.  I'm either really old or really out of touch or both.  But
STAT is actually in development right now

L:  Congratulations
J:  Thank you yeah, it's an uncertain road...

L:  Have they chosen the actors?
J:  Ah, I can't say.... (Laughs)

L:  Maybe off the record? (Laughs).  Okay top ten books you would recommend.
J:  I'll give you a list of books that I've recently read so THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green, the HARRY POTTER series, ELEANOR AND PARK by Rainbow Rowell, WONDER by RJ Palacio, I'm obsessed with that right now. TWO BOYS KISSING by David Levithan, THE GOLDFINCH by Donna Tartt, TELL THE WOLVES I’M HOME by Carol Rifka Brunt which is an adult book but it has a lot of YA crossovers and I'm totally biased coz I'm her editor but you will love it, it's just the most amazing book.  LIFE AFTER LIFE by Kate Atkinson, THE INTERESTINGS by Meg Wolitzer.  And hmmmm.....

L:  Maybe something you've loved as a kid
J:  WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS by Wilson Rawls.  Have you read that?  It's really sad but it's really good

L:  I like asking authors books they like because those are the books I try to look for after the interview and so far Rainbow Rowell is always mentioned
J:  Yeah all her books are great

L:  Lastly, what does happy look like to you?
J:  It's actually the description of what happy looks like to Ellie.  In that sense Ellie is me.  You know sunrises, ice cream, thunderstorm... all those things...and that is more or less what happy looks like to me.

Jennifer E. Smith along with fellow author Lissa Price are here upon the invitation of The National Book Store.
Line up for their scheduled book signing events at the following:

September 20. Saturday.  2pm at the Level 1 Atrium SM Aura Premier
September 21.  Sunday.  2 to 4pm (200 slots only) at the Manila International book Fair, SMX Convention Center.

Registration starts at 10am for both events
Only books bought at the
National Book Store, Powerbooks and NBS will be signed.

Follow National Book Store on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @nbsalert

You may visit Jennifer E. Smith's site at: and follow her on Twitter @JenESmith

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