Writing YA With Jennifer E. Smith

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About Jennifer E. Smith

My name is Jennifer E. Smith, and I’m the author of eleven books – most of them have been YA, but my new one, The Unsinkable Greta James is for adults.

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For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you write?  What can readers expect from [newest release/spotlighted release]?

In the past, I’ve written mostly YA books, but The Unsinkable Greta James is my first novel for adults, so it feels like a debut in many ways. It’s about a successful indie musician named Greta James, who is dealing with the emotional aftermath of her mother’s sudden death, and finds herself on a weeklong Alaskan cruise with her dad – who’s never been supportive of her life choices – on what was supposed to be her parent’s 40th anniversary trip. 

If you know me from my YA books, you’ll be happy to learn there’s also a romance between Greta and a charmingly nerdy professor she meets on the ship too. So it’s really three love stories in one: first and foremost, Greta and her passion for her music. Second, Greta and her complicated relationship with her dad. And finally, Greta and Ben and their unlikely romance.  Hopefully something for everyone!

What kind of research went into writing this book?  What is your favorite research story? What cool facts and findings didn’t make it into the book, but you loved discovering?

The research for this book was so much fun because the main character is a rock star, so I watched hours and hours of sets from other badass female guitarists. But the biggest piece of research was the cruise to Alaska. I’d been on one with my family in high school and thought I could write this from memory. But about sixty pages into the first draft, I realized I’d need to go back there myself. So I took a cruise a few years ago, and in addition to experiencing many of the same adventures that Greta goes on in the book – whale watching and wilderness safaris and hikes to glaciers – I also loved sitting on a deck chair under a scratchy woolen blanket on the deck of the ship, writing this novel as the glaciers slipped by in front of me. I swear I didn’t write this book just as an excuse to go back to Alaska, but it was definitely a wonderful perk!

What piece of advice would you want to share with other writers?

I always love to share this advice from a former writing professor of mine – the late Frederick Busch – which is a quote I kept taped to my computer for years and years as I tried and failed and tried again with various novels, and I still think there’s no better advice. He said, “Focus on your work. Love and serve your characters. Talent should be taken for granted until the world proves that you have none, or an insufficient quantity. It is energy that will see you through – to get your work done, to survive rejection. Never use ‘submit’ as a verb for sending work to magazine or book publishers; say ‘offer,’ and never, ever submit. Keep your knees unbent. Be brave.”

What else can we expect from you in the near future?

I’m already working on my next novel, which will also be for adults. But I had my first picture book, The Creature of Habit, come out recently, and I also just finished a sequel for that. There are also two movies based on my YA books – The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight and Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between – coming out some time in the next year. So lots of exciting things ahead!

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