Soup, Statistics & Young Adult Novels

Jennifer E. Smith is the author of young adult novels, The Comeback Season and You Are Here. Her third novel, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight published in the UK in January 2012 and has been translated into twenty seven languages.

Her middle grade novel, The Storm Makers, published in the US in 2012 and her new young adult novel, This Is What Happy Looks Like will be published in 2013.  Jen is a senior editor at Random House US imprint Ballantine Books and her first book was bought when she was an assistant at literary agency, ICM.

I asked her a few probing questions and she has kindly responded (and is still speaking to me).

ST: So, Jen, you have worked at a literary agency, and now you are both an editor and author – which is the best position to be in and why?

JS: I think they’re all great in their own ways, and I’ve really enjoyed seeing the industry from a few different perspectives.  It’s given me a nice 360-degree view of the whole process, which has been incredibly valuable.  I loved learning how things are done at an agency, and I’m incredibly passionate about being an editor, especially because I’m lucky enough to work with so many wonderful authors.  But I suppose being an author is probably my favorite, just because it’s always been such a dream of mine.  I think they’re all great positions to be in, though.  The very best books are a result of teamwork – probably more so than people outside of publishing even realize – and I’m very proud of the books I’ve helped to create in all three roles.

ST: How many times have you been asked the question, ‘Do you believe in love at first sight?’?

JS: Too many to count!  I guess that’s what I get for calling my book what I did.  I’m also frequently asked what the actual statistical probability of love at first sight is – so often, in fact, that I feel like I should probably just make something up at this point.  (How does 24% sound? ST: Too low!)

ST: Is it true that as an impoverished student you lived on soup during while studying at St Andrews? If so, what kind of soup was it?

JS: It is indeed true, and the answer is vegetable soup.  Which sounds really sad, but it was actually quite good, and besides…there were crackers too!  I also wore mittens in my dorm room throughout the winter (and the summer, actually, because we’re talking about Scotland here).  It was all very Dickensian…

ST: How useful do you think your Masters in Creative Writing was?

JS: There’s always a lot of debate about these programs, but I think the degree of usefulness really depends on the person.  For me, I was looking for time and space to write…and very little else.  I’d already had a job for three years at that point, and so I liked how unencumbered I was that year; there were literally three hours a week where I needed to be somewhere, and the rest of the time, I was left to wander around and write (and eat soup).  There wasn’t a huge amount of instruction or supervision, which I really liked about the program, though it did mean you had to be fairly self-motivated.  I know some US programs are more structured, and I’m sure there’s a right place for everyone – but St. Andrews was definitely perfect for me.  I was looking for time to write, and I was looking to do it in a beautiful place.  So I don’t think I could have found anywhere better.

ST: You’ve just appeared at the Edinburgh Book Festival – what was the best and worst moment?  

JS: Yes, and I loved it!  What a cool experience.  It was such a great festival, and there are so many highlights, but my best and worst moments are probably the same.  I gave a talk in front of 175 school kids, which is a really big audience for me.  I get pretty nervous before these types of events, and with school groups, you’re never quite sure how things will go, but it ended up being a whole lot of fun.  They asked great questions about the book and the writing process, and afterwards, it was fun to get to meet a lot of them as they came up to get their books signed.  So that ended up being a real highlight too.  (That, and seeing people like Gordon Brown, Ian McEwan, and Chris Cleave in the author’s yurt — I was definitely a bit starstruck!).

If anyone knows the actual statistic for the probability of love at first sight please let us know!

You can read a round up of reviews for The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight here.

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