Emily Wing Smith drops by The Randoms this week. Her new book, The Way He Lived (Flux, 2008), just came out this month. She talks to us about her writing life, including how a series of calls ended up being the best call ever.
1) What is a typical writing day for you?
I’m a full-time writer, which for me just means I don’t have any other job. I sleep until about nine most mornings, then check my email and tidy the house before I get started writing (I’m kind of compulsive about clutter). Then, depending on the day’s schedule and my “inspiration level,” I’ll write for anywhere between an hour to all day.
I’m also in a group with three other professional writers in my area, and we meet together weekly for a “writing day” at the library. That really helps, because it’s good to get out of the house and socialize with other authors.
2) Why did you decide to write YA?
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). 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.
3) What is the biggest surprise you’ve experienced when it comes to book publishing?
I’m still pretty new to the publishing world, so I’m sure I have yet to be surprised in ways I can’t even imagine now. But one thing I’ve noticed recently is how much even “real,” well-published authors doubt themselves. I think there is this feeling among authors like, “Once I sell a book, I’ll know I’m a real author,” and then, “Once I sell two books I’ll know I’m a real author, because what if that first was just a fluke?” Then it’s, “I’ll know I’m a real author when I win this award or get on that list.” And it’s not just because we’re aspiring to greater things—it’s because we doubt that we’ll be able to write that next book, that next chapter, that next line.
4) Do you ever have any “dark days,” when you wonder why you’re a writer? What are those like, and how to you get through them?
Just ask my husband about the “dark days”! Yes, I do have them, and I have them with some regularity. I think most writers struggle with feelings of inadequacy and doubt at some point. I once told my husband, a computer programmer: “I’m afraid I won’t write this story as well as it deserves to be written.” He had no idea what I was talking about. However, another writer might have.
I get through dark days by reading something I love. I read good writing until I remember why it is I love writing. That gives me the strength to keep at it.
5) Authors talk about “the call.” Usually, it has to deal with getting an agent or getting published or getting an accolade. What was the best “call” you ever received in terms of your writing, and how did it go down?
When I tell people about my road to publication, I explain that my “call” wasn’t a really a call—it was actually a series of calls, each better than the last. The first call was from Andrew Karre, then-editor at Flux. He loved my book, which was great news, but I knew enough about the publishing business to know that didn’t automatically mean a contract. My manuscript had to go through several committees and meetings and Andrew would report back after each one—I was through yet another hurdle. Those few weeks of calls qualify as my best “call.”