our talent pool of local authors is starting to see another
resurgence in works, more of those people are getting national
exposure and have their works featured to wider audiences. Especially
with the older teen and young adult areas for the grit as well as the
reminiscent. Such is the case with Emily Wing Smith, who's book The
Way He Lived earned her a spotlight in the market and put her
name in the mix of popular young-adult readers. I got a chance to
briefly chat with her before she had to dash over the weekend,
talking briefly about her career as well as her book. ---
Emily Wing Smith
Gavin: Hey Emily! First off, tell us a bit about yourself.
Emily: I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and I always wanted to write the kind of books that I was reading, or were being read to me.
Gavin: When did you begin to take an interest in writing, and what were some of your favorite titles growing up and to today?
Emily: At age five I wanted to write and illustrate picture books, at age eight I wanted to write chapter books, at age eleven I wanted to write the next Babysitters Club. I guess when I started reading young adult fiction, I stopped wanting to read or write anything else! In fact, while I still read some books for adults, I prefer YA. In fact, I am extremely fortunate to live near some amazing YA authors like Sara Zarr, Ann Cannon, Ann Dee Ellis, and lots of others. I have other local friends whose books have debuted this year or will next year, like Sydney Salter and Bree Despain. It’s amazing to see the community of YA authors in the Wasatch Front growing so rapidly, with such a high caliber of work. I love reading their books! As for what I read as a teen, I liked basically anything YA that was thought-provoking and based in the real world (I still don’t read much sci-fi/fantasy). I loved books by M.E Kerr, and still do.
Gavin: What made you decide to go to BYU for your Bachelors? And what was their program like?
Emily: I started seriously writing young adult fiction in college. As an English major at BYU I took a class on writing the young adult novel and knew that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I submitted and got rejected. I got married. I graduated from college. I bought my first house. I submitted more. I got rejected more.
Gavin: After that you went out and got your MFA from Vermont College. Why switch schools for a different degree, and how did Vermont compare to BYU?
Emily: I applied to the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College. I learned tons, had great advisers, and made terrific friends. I graduated from Vermont College with a novel finished that I felt good about. It wasn't one of the manuscripts submitted and rejected previously.
Gavin: How did the idea come about for the book The Way He Lived?
Emily: As a teenager, I moved to a community where a boy my age had recently died on a camping trip. Occasionally, I would meet people who had known and loved him, and I was amazed by their diversity—bad boys, good girls, and everyone in-between. It’s interesting to get to know someone only through what others say about him—especially when you know you won’t get the chance to meet him yourself. That’s how I came up with the idea for The Way He Lived-- I wanted to re-create that experience.
Gavin: What was the writing process like from start to finish, and what difficulties did you run into along the way?
Emily: People often ask me why I chose to write the book with multiple narrators and points of view. I didn’t really choose to write it that way—this story came to me as a collage of voices, each voice telling me how he or she was dealing with Joel’s death. So having six different narrators wasn’t as much of a challenge as each one needing to be told in a specific style. It’s actually a pretty inefficient way to write a book, and I wouldn’t recommend it, but for me it was the only way.
Gavin: When you finally had a draft how was it for you finding a publisher? And how did you finally come across Flux?
Emily: Carrie Jones, one of my VC BFFs, read the new manuscript and liked it. Her own YA, Tips On Having a Gay (ex) Boyfriend, had debuted from Flux earlier that year. Flux, an imprint of Llewellyn Publications devoted exclusively to YA fiction, had just opened its doors, and Carrie recommended I submit to her editor, Andrew Karre. I did, he liked it, and the rest is history. The Way He Lived was published a year later.
Gavin: What did it feel like for you to finally see it come out and read the reviews for it?
Emily: When the book debuted, one of its first reviews was a star from Publishers Weekly! I was so honored. Of course, nothing is more gratifying than getting local recognition for my work. I love knowing that people here “get it” and appreciate what I’m doing.