A meeting of minds

TALKING to one bestselling author is already a delight in itself.

Imagine if you’re exchanging stories with two writers who generously and engagingly talk about their craft and lives that it feels like you’re longtime friends.

This happened when we sat down with Jennifer Smith—author of highly successful Young Adult novels “The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight,” “This What Happy Looks Like, “ and “Windfall,” among others—and Jasmine Warga, whose searing debut novel “My Heart and Other Black Holes” and newest work “Here We Are Now” are now both international bestsellers.

In between laughs , Jennifer and Jasmine let us in on the inspiration for their plotlines and characters, their brand of fiction and how they weave stories andtransport readers from words on paper to one’s imagination.

And though they have different backgrounds—Jennifer has been in the publishing industry for a long time, while Jasmine, who is relatively new, started as a teacher—they have something in common: their writing process. Great minds do think alike.

Jennifer, it has been three years since your first visit to the Philippines, also for a book signing by National Book Store. How has life been for you since then?

JS: It has been good.

I really had the best time when I was here and I

am so happy to be back. Jasmine here must be very tired of hearing me talk about the good times when I was here and honestly, over the last few years, I have told a number of people at home about the Philippines and the great readers we have here. It’s so exciting to be back.

And how’s your first visit here, Jasmine?

JW: This is my first time here in Asia and I really love it. Everyone is so nice and it is such a warm culture not to mention the warm weather so you can just imagine how excited I am.

Any adventures with local food?

JW: We did the dinner buffet though we’d really love to have Jollibee there at the airport because I haven’t tried it yet. I saw it on the Anthony Bourdain show and the first thing I did when I knew that I’ll be coming here to the Philippines was to tell my husband, who is a big Anthony Bourdain fan. So we watched reruns of that Philippine episode and so far that was like my gateway to the country.

JS: The pig roast and so far I was looking forward to the mangoes because I have friends who came back and almost everybody has with them a dried mango to share. Everybody just gets addicted to it when they come here so I just bought a big bag for me when I get back.

Jennifer, your newest book “Windfall” is about a young person who wins the lottery. How did you get inspiration for it?

JS: For Windfall, I have always been obsessed with these moments in time that act as hinges. Like days are totally split like today is different and after everything just changes, yesterday was another day and tomorrow everything is totally different. And there’snot a better example than winning the lottery wherein the days just fabricate your life. For a very long time I’d really wanted to write about it because the situation is just an example of a great way to explore themes of faith, timing, chance and serendipity. Though I had a hard time thinking of a lottery story that’s kind of fresh and interesting. One day as I was in line in a bodega store in New York and behind me is a guy with a big stack of lottery tickets. It was during this time when a huge jackpot was in store and that’s when it hit me of somebody who wins before they got it all figured out because it would change your life.

I wanted to tell it from the point of view of the person who accidentally set things in motion by giving the person the ticket rather than of the person perspective of the winner.

Jasmine, you used to teach science in school. What was that life like before becoming a writer?

JW: Yes. So, my father was an immigrant from Jordan to the US and so growing up it was like everybody was expecting that I’d be a doctor or become a terrible, tragic engineer. And the career choice was what kind of a doctor would I be—either a surgeon or a pediatrician. I was a Liberal Arts Major and from there I realized that I have no desire to become a doctor so I got into an alternative teaching program and in the US we have a high need for science and math teachers. It was wild because they got to qualify me, just graduated from school and slated to teach science. I love my kids! Every cliche thing about teaching is true but at the same time it was really not something that I wanted to do. Then one day I realized talking to my husband that I always said I was a writer but he never saw me write. From there, I knew I had to do something.

What’s your writing process like?

JS: Me and Jasmine were laughing talking about it because neither of us are big planners or plotters of our books and we have a similar process towards writing. I have a friend who said, I hate my process but what can I do with my process.

And I have been thinking about it all the time because that’s exactly how I feel. There’s no right way to write though I don’t recommend my way. So I start with a question or a situation, kind of a “what if” moment.

Writing is like driving a car at night and only as far as you can see is the headlights to sort of get you to your way home. You know your way home, you know where to go, but there’s just so much darkness in between and much of my process is just feeling my way through and figuring it out as I go along.

A lot of instances there’s a lot of revising later though there will always be room for surprises and as the story progresses I simply fine tune everything.

JW: I was once asked to write something about drafting and my say is to find your process, even though you hate it but once you know it’s yours, that’s yours and then hate it. Let me just say that most of my friends are horrified with my process! I am super disorganized.

Being a mother of two with no organizational skills in the house I just have one word document to save over and my friends are terrified by it. They would really freak out and once I fell out of my chair seeing one of my writer-friends who has a binder with all the multiple drafts and character descriptions and I just can’t.

I don’t. For me writing is like an adventure and my tool is like my vague idea which is my backpack with no idea of where I am going. I just go in there and oftentimes, I get
really lost.

What’s your take on “writer’s block”?

JS: Sometimes I think it is just laziness, or an excuse. I am not that kind of a writer who sits her head on the computer for four hours thinking. I’d rather go out and take a walk and do something different. On the flipside, if things are really working and I am having a great day I would cancel all my plans and just keep it up because these moments are like a gift that doesn’t always happen. The trick that I sometimes use to make my brain move forward—because sometimes it is just a matter of momentum—is I write the scene with the dialogue only and simply get myself from point A to point B. The first draft shouldn’t really be that pretty and really, I simply spit out what goes through my head. The first draft is a celebration of what can go in the page.

JW: My husband—who is a math and science person— told me that it is actually a scientific fact that the reason why lots of people have the best idea—it’s on their eureka moments when they are either in the shower or when they’re driving—is because your brain is actually focusing on something else and you’re not thinking about what you’re supposed to be thinking about. When I feel stuck, I go walk my dog or I need to be engaged in a way where my brain is slowly trying to work this out and not put too much pressure on it. I am also a fan of books on how to become a better writer. Even on a basic level, writing is the only art where you can literally duplicate a genius, I mean you can’t go paint a Van Gogh. As long as you can type, you can recreate a masterful piece or a poem.

Ultimate favorite books or authors?

JW: My favorite novel of all time is “The Blind Assassin” by Margaret Atwood. I just think that everything is there in that book, it was just so inventive from the way it plays with genre. There are writers who are language writers and I love them. And I am definitely the type of reader who can read about paint drying if it’s done in a beautiful way. There are amazing storytellers and for me Margaret Atwood is a cultural treasure, and I can’t forget she has a line where she describes taffeta as murderous crunch or something, she is just so inventive with language.

She’s a poet and her books are so masterful plot wise and it’s hard for me to think of any writer who has an A plus game on both arenas.

JS: I, for a very long time, have been working in the adult side of publishing and it is all about literary fiction. I love Jennifer Egan and Donna Tart and so happy with the recent Nobel-prize recognition of Kazuo Ishiguro—he is just incredible—as well as David Mitchell. On the classics, “The Great Gatsby” is my favorite of all time, also I am a huge Charles Dickens nerd. For children’s books, I love “Bridge to Terabithia” and “Tuck Everlasting.”
JW: You know I have a theory and for me “Tuck Everlasting” is the woke happier version of “Twilight.” Think about it, she is like I could live forever with you but I kind of actually want to have my own life and not be trapped in this. You know what I mean.

JS: I never thought of that. Though I think the coolest thing about YA is that I get to be intertwined with this wonderful community which I am happy to be part of. So I always have with me adult genre books and the typical YA. It’s important for me to read widely because you learn so many things and perspectives from different age groups. Also I am a huge Harry Potter fan.

Jasmine, music and physics figure a lot in both of your books. Why is that so? And what kind of a music lover are you?

JW: My music taste is more random. How should I say this like I hate Physics as well as I don’t get classical music because to me the lyrics should be the number one thing. I have always been a lover of music in a most pure way though I have a zero-talent, or desire, or ability to do it. So I just have to love it in a raw true way. Like some of the negative things that I can think about of being a professional writer is sometimes it is hard for me to turn off or self-edit. Like when I read a book it is easy for me but when I turn on an album it’s a miracle for me to understand how they do it. Music to me is closest to magic and it is a huge part of me.

Jennifer, “The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight” is going to be made into a film. Any updates on that and the other novels as well?

JS: In development are “Hello and Goodbye” and “Everything in Between” and “The Geography of You and Me.” And most recently, “Windfall.” Actress

Lauren Graham is going to write the script for that. I am lucky enough to have worked with her books as her editor, as well as she is one of my favorite people in the world. And I am an obvious fan of her writing so I honestly can’t think of other people to write a script for this one. I can’t wait on how she does with it.

Your books are about contemporary romance. Ever thought of writing a different genre?

JS: Sometime ago I dipped my toe into fantasy and so it was an experiment for me because it was sort of a result of a lunch with a friend. We talked about how my books are geared for girls and how they’re realistic and I was sort of challenged so I tried. It was fun to scratch a different itch.

JW: I could never write a fantasy book and I don’t read a lot of fantasy. My husband is a huge sci-fi fanatic so I think I saw most of it for quite a while like seeing them in those costumes it must be uncomfortable. I might do something like a historical fiction, like most of my books touches on family history and family legacy. When I was a little girl I havealways loved “Gone with the Wind” wherein it was just sweeping. Also when I was 14
, I sort of dabbled in poetry like the likes of Sylvia Plath. Reading The New Yorker I always go ahead reading poetry first before the short stories. I love to someday write a novel in verse.

Both of you have books with lovely covers. Do you have a hand in picking which artwork or design makes
it to the cover?

JS: Some publishers are more collaborative than others. I am lucky with mine because they’ve shown me what I have in mind in the final cover and I loved it. Having worked in publishing it’s also the hardest part because sometimes the author doesn’t exactly know what they want and for publishing it is an anessential tool. I am just so lucky because so far in all of my books I have genuinely loved the design of my covers.

JW: I am also lucky, especially with “Here We Are Now.” It is my favorite cover ever and it seems that it’s the type of book that you can see in a cover of Urban Outfitters. It’s entirely my aesthetic and I have zero-credit for it. I never would have thought it would come out like this. They don’t want to make it obvious that it’s about music and they didn’t at all.

How often do you engage with your readers online?

JW: I have two small people at home so I really don’t have that much time to sit down. So I occasionally respond to social media when I have those few extra moments but I am beyond amazed that people read my books, I read to them and I am touched by them.

JS: I grew up in a time when authors seem to be far away and I think that if you read a book and want to say something about it, and for the
author to interact, the idea would just blow my mind. I know what books meant to me when I was that age and the idea that my books would mean like that to somebody else is a privilege. So when someone would take his time to write about my books I would always write back. I try to always
respond. It just means a lot.

TAGS: already, best seliing, delight, imagination, inspiration, itself, ONE, Process, talking
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