Interview: Jennifer E. Smith
Current Mood: impressed
Current Song: Bloodshot Eyes by Wynonie Harris
In her debut novel The Comeback Season, Jennifer E. Smith combines her love of the Cubs with her love of writing. She recently spoke with me about her story, her characters, and her own teen years.
Who took you to your first baseball game?
I actually don't remember, since I'm sure I was still in diapers at the time, though my parents probably just walked me down to Wrigley Field to see the Cubs . . . and I'm guessing it was love at first sight!
So you share Ryan's love for the Cubs?
Yes! The Cubs aren't always an easy team to love, and more often than not, cheering for them is a pretty heartbreaking pastime. But there's also a certain joy to it that I think anyone who’s ever been to Wrigley Field has probably felt. Despite everything, there’s such a tangible feeling of hope there. There aren't many things in the world that can still provoke that much feeling after disappointing people for 100 straight years. I’m very proud to be a Cubs fan. And I'm hopeful this will be our year!
On more than one occasion, Ryan considers silence: the meaning of it, the causes and effects. Do you prefer noise or silence?
I'm a fairly quiet person by nature, so I'm definitely happier when it's silent. But silences are also very revealing, which is why they're so interesting to explore as a writer. A lot of the time, those wordless moments say more than any kind of dialogue ever could. It's easy to get lost in all the noise, but there's no hiding from the silences. They're a lot truer in that way.
Did the character of Nick come into your mind fully formed, or did he reveal himself (and his past) piece by piece as you wrote?
It was very much a piece-by-piece thing with Nick, which is the way it is with most of my characters. Ryan was actually the exception – she appeared fully formed, sitting on the train the way she does in that first scene. But I had no idea she'd meet Nick when she arrived at the stadium. And even once she did, it took some time to cobble together his story. He was full of surprises right up until the very last page.
If you could re-live a moment from your teen years, would you?
Honestly? Probably not. I was lucky enough to have a relatively easy time of it as a teenager, and was generally pretty happy. But in hindsight, those just aren't the best years in life, even if you might think they're okay at the time. I'm just grateful to have made it to the other side relatively unscathed, and to have had a childhood happy enough that I'm now forced to write fiction!
How long did it take to write and sell The Comeback Season?
It took me about six months to write from beginning to end, though we sold the partial manuscript about two months into the process. That makes the whole thing sound really easy, but I was just lucky with this one – it all came very naturally, which is so rare. I wrote plenty of stuff before this that will probably never see the light of day – it's just a matter of finding the right story, and I was incredibly lucky that this one seemed to find me.
Why did you select present-tense third person as your narrative device?
In high school, I once turned in a first person fictional story about a girl whose mother was an alcoholic, and my teacher gave it back to me with a note basically asking if I was okay. I think that might have been the last time I wrote in first person. People will always go looking for you in your characters, but third person makes it just a little bit harder for them to find you. As for the present tense, these pages began very spontaneously, and that's just the way it happened. I liked that it brought a certain immediacy to the events as they unfolded, a sense of urgency that I thought worked well for this particular story.
There are many metaphors which use baseball terms. Are any of those metaphors applicable to your own life?
The Cubbie mantra has always been, "Wait till next year." I know some people might find this kind of depressing, and are understandably impatient for next year to finally come, but I think there's something sweetly hopeful in it. It's comforting in a way, believing that no matter what happens now, the best is still yet to come.
What are you working on now?
Another YA novel called You Are Here, about a boy and a girl who come from different backgrounds and seem like perfect opposites, but who get thrown together on a sort of haphazard road trip, and find out they're a lot more similar than they thought. It'll be out in Summer 2009.
What are your ten all-time favorite books?
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawlings
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Possession by A.S. Byatt
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Mary and O'Neil by Justin Cronin
All the Harry Potter books (I know that's cheating, but how can you pick just one?)
Read my review of The Comeback Season.
Check out my playlist for You Are Here.