Two minds meet

These women might have traveled around the world, but as best-selling authors of Young Adult fiction, the greatest journeys occur inside their minds when they pen their imaginations onto paper and share the adventures to their readers.

In Cebu recently to meet their  fans in a book tour organized by National Book Store were Jennifer E. Smith, known for her highly successful teen romance novels “The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight”, “This Is What Happy Looks Like” and “The Geography of You and Me” and  half-Japanese Lissa, Price whose debut novel “Starters” is  award-winning and an international bestseller published in over 30 countries.

The Play! pool sat down with the two before their jam-packed book signing session at The Northwing of SM City Cebu and had a lively conversation about the realities surrounding their brand of fiction, how they derive inspiration for the characters of their books, and how they feel about being treated like rock stars across the seas.

Lisa Price (left) and Jennifer E. Smith at the promotional tour hosted by National Book Store in SM City Cebu. (CDN PHOTO/ EDD BUENAVIAJE)

Lisa Price (left) and Jennifer E. Smith at the promotional tour hosted by National Book Store in SM City Cebu. (CDN PHOTO/ EDD BUENAVIAJE)

How do you  feel about traveling to different countries and meeting your fans, especially here in the Philippines?
Jennifer: It’s just so exciting! I mean we both have had a fair amount of traveling on book-related events before and I think it is safe to say that nothing compares to the Philippines. It’s a whole different level of enthusiasm and passion from the fans and I have heard from other authors coming over from their trip so I think we are just both floored by the excitement.

Lisa: Last year, I was lucky enough to attend a mini world tour so I did Portugal, Italy and Istanbul in Turkey so I’m used to it, getting on a plane and seeing the fans. We’re on to 30 countries, both of us, but it is different here.

Jennifer: This is just 10 times different! I mean, here we are on billboards! And there are live morning TV interviews with events for fans and people here have been tweeting us all day every day.

We hear that young adult authors in the US have a very close relationship with each other.
Jennifer: I live in New York City and Lissa lives in Southern California and those are areas that have the highest concentration of writers. And it’s so funny because we all know of authors who have done these events. She knows all of the West Coast ones and I know of the East Coast. Speaking of New York City, there’s this author—David Levithan—who has been really great at fostering a community of writers and young adult authors. We have gatherings like drink nights, reading series and food festivals every year and it’s been really great!

Lissa: I belong to a group called The Apocalypsies. It’s composed of 160 authors that all debuted in 2012, which you remember people were talking about as the end of the world. But our slogan is: Read them like there’s no tomorrow. It is a lot of fun because there is a lot of camaraderie and there is great bonding. I think the young adult authors are very supportive of each other more than any other group of authors.

Jennifer: Yeah! I think everyone is really generous and you feel like we are all in this together. And what’s good is that when someone is doing good there’s no jealousy. It is all about the support.

 How did your writing career begin?
Lissa: I have always been interested in writing and I found recently a short story that I wrote at about age eight. So I have been writing short stories all my life. It wasn’t published. I would just write those in papers with little lines on it.

It was something about a silver bracelet and it has a fantasy twist at the end. I am also interested in visual arts but ultimately I would always come back to writing more than anything else. Being a novelist you get to be in the character’s head and say all those stuff, the things you couldn’t do. I love having that feeling! I love having a reader and putting them in that place, getting them to experience as they read my book and to finish the circle I get to meet them and that’ll make it complete.

Jennifer: I was writing ever since I was a kid and I never thought that I would be a published writer going to different countries, talking to fans about my book. Writing is something that I would really do because I really enjoy it. I think I have been writing all my life and it got serious when I was in college. I sold my first book when I was 25 or 26.

Lissa Price

Lissa Price

Lissa, how did you come up with the story idea for “Starters?”
You know this store called Costco,  a membership department store in the US that is cheap because they have no carpeting, all gray, kind of dreary looking and I went in there to get a flu shot some years ago. And the laboratory has spoiled up some of the batches by mistake so there is not enough supplies on the line. So the government set up a triage system that only the young and old can have the vaccine because they are the vulnerable members of society. So I was in this long line and I was thinking: Wait a minute, where’s the logic in that? If this was a killer disease then only people left were little kids and the old people and they would have to run the country and I thought what kind of a world would that be.

Jennifer, what about your penchant for love stories?
I think I am romantic at heart and an optimist. “The Statistical Probability” is half family story, half love story, but maybe because of the cover and the title, it may seem to be a hundred percent love story. But in my stories I try to kind of balance it, make it more realistic, like if there’s a boy, there’s a girl, there’s the school, the friends, parents and all other things. I grew up on the classic romantic comedy movies, the Nora Ephron movies like “You’ve Got Mail,” “When Harry Met Sally.”

Who were you reading when you were a young adult?
Jennifer: I was reading everything! Like most kids, I read all of the Black Stallion books as well as the classics like “Bridge to Terabithia” and “Tuck Everlasting.”

Lissa: I love Tolkien, “The Hobbit” because I love fantasy. Of course, I also love fairy tales and fables and when I got better at reading, I also read Shakespeare and today as a goal, I want to make sure that I have seen all of his plays.

How was the journey in writing your books?
Lissa: My process was more of a combination, but first I get the gem of an idea and think of it for a long, long time. And then I start getting this large boards and use Post-It notes and I write a beginning, a middle and the ending and then perk up the high points in between. So I structure it that way. Sometimes I start filling it in, and meanwhile I get another board and fill it with actors just to get a sense of who that character might be. And I get through so much work before I ever get to the first page. But once I do get to start writing then I would leave it open so that I may not know where that scene is going to end or what’s going to happen and as it goes on I will be willing to change almost anything, if the characters say that’s where we need to go. I try to balance the structure and the organic. The other thing too is that it takes a lot of our time promoting and the publicity and social media.

Jennifer: Mine is so different. I am just so disorganized. I am the exact opposite! When I have an idea I hastily sit down and start writing it and see where it goes. I am a different kind of school of writing. For me, writing is like driving in the middle of the night where you can only see as far as the headlights, but somehow it’s enough for you to get home. So that basically describes my process. It’s kind of scary because at times you feel like you’re feeling your way through and you sometimes end up on wrong turns and you turn back. It’s a lot of guess work… every time it’s like taking a big leap. It’s a
little scary whenever I start again, though one time, I tried outlining it, but I just couldn’t finish it because I kind of feel like I am boxed in.

Do you detach yourself from your social schedule when you are writing?
Jennifer: You know what, I don’t. It’s such a big special part of our lives and if I did that I would feel like I am a hermit.

Certainly there are times when I have such an amazing writing days that I chose to stay, but on the flip side, there are also days when I sit down and writing does not seem to be working and I just go out and meet friends. I just try to make it more well rounded despite of me being a writer.

Lissa: In a lot of our social stuff becomes a writing thing. In one of our group that I know, every Monday we meet at a coffee house and everybody brings in their laptops and the rule is you say hi to everybody and then you write and then talk to everybody, and take your lunch and then talk to everybody and then some people stay to write and continue to write.

Jennifer: I write with some authors once a week and we set a timer, 15 minutes on and 15 minutes off. So we write for 15 minutes and talk for 15 minutes. We just started doing it and I thought 15 minutes is such a short time but you know it’s really productive.

Lissa: I’m gonna see if we could do that!

Jennifer: Yeah! I mean some people may think it’s crazy when they hear it but it’s really productive.

Who reads your work before it is published?
Lissa: I have a critique group-three guys and me and they’re brilliant! One of them is a public attorney, the other one is an ex-journalist and the last one used to be a rock musician. I also have beta readers. My writers group I get to see them once a week, the beta readers I just send them a draft.

Jennifer: Before I got published, my sister used to write a lot for me also when I went to grad school. I have this friend who lives in Scotland and she has been my reader on a lot of things. Now, most especially I am always close to my deadlines that I just turn them over to my publisher. My agent is also good at it. So if I get to have my act together, I would turn over two drafts and have it read.

How do you deal with writer’s block?
Jennifer: I feel that in a lot of times I get it, or sometimes close to procrastination it’s basically close to being lazy. For me, there are two ways to deal with it: one is to take long walks with my dog in Central Park. Or sometimes on a practical level when I am stuck on a manuscript I just write a scene and a dialogue and wait for it to gather momentum. So there’s a way to streamline it so it’s kind of like helpful to me.

Lissa: I have a joke that if you have a check waiting for you, you will never get a writer’s block! Or I go swimming.

Jennifer E. Smith

Jennifer E. Smith

How do you deal with distractions?
Jennifer: I’m horrible. I’m bad dealing with distractions, I get easily distracted. Sometimes when I am getting close to a deadline or I am really very late, I have this program on my computer called Self Control, and what it does is that if you type any kind of websites it won’t go through. I am bad. I rarely sit down for three hours. I prefer to have a whole day ahead of me set aside to write.

Lissa: That’s how I usually work and lately I am trying. I love the distraction, actually! I have the TV on with the basketball game that I don’t watch. My back is to it and I just sort of hear it and after awhile you’re not listening to it anymore. But I think what it does is it makes the writing less important, less crucial, because such sort of like tightens you up.

How does it feel to read your earlier books now? And what’s your take on a lot of YA books being made into films?
Jennifer: I recently went back to my second book and that was a 2009 book, and though you hope that you have grown as a writer, it is just disconcerting. I had to reread “Statistical Probability” because there’s a movie in development and the director was asking me a lot  of things. We are hoping to shoot it next year. The process is a crazy one, a hard road from the book to a movie but I hope that with a good team we will make it.

Lissa: We were very close to this movie deal last year and as it is in Hollywood, it fell apart. So right now, the rights are still available. There are a lot of TV people who want it but my agent doesn’t want to do TV because it is difficult to do TV to movie. He wants it to be movie to TV. Hopefully it will happen, it’s just a matter of whose team will be behind it.

So which actors would you like to portray the characters of your book?
Jennifer: I can’t think of anybody else. I feel like I am old because I can’t think of any actors or actress so I am bad with the casting game.

Lissa: The only thing that I really care about—I would love Hailee Steinfeld (to play lead character, Callie of “Starters). I love, love, love her!

The reading culture among teens has thrived here in the Philippines because of the popularity of young adult literature. What’s your message to your Filipino fans?
Jennifer: I can’t keep up with you all. You guys are amazing! I want the US teens to learn from you. A great big thank you!

Lissa: This is just overwhelming. You have impressed us. Continue to read.

TAGS: author, Jennifer E. Smith, Lissa Price, writer, Young Adult
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