Making The Most of The Time We Have

Join author, educator, and learner, Annmarie Kelly as she laughs, cries, and kvetches with the writers, musicians, entrepreneurs, and wanderers who inspire all of us to reach beyond our divisions and discover what it means to be wild, precious, and brave.

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Travel Through the Pages with Jennifer E. Smith

Travel Through the Pages with Jennifer E. Smith

Jennifer E. Smith spent years editing other people’s manuscripts before finally finding her footing to publish her own. To date, she’s now written eleven books, including THE STATISTICAL PROBABILITY OF LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT and HELLO, GOODBYE, AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN that will both be released as films soon. In this episode, Annmarie and Jennifer discuss summoning courage, paying attention to small moments of joy, and how to travel the world both in and out of the pages of a book.

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McNally Jackson – Independent booksellers with locations in Nolita, Williamsburg, Seaport, and Downtown Brooklyn. To find your next great read, drop by, or shop online at mcnallyjackson.com.

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Books by Jennifer E. Smith:

The Unsinkable Greta James: A Novel

The Creature of Habit

Field Notes on Love

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight

Windfall

The Geography of You and Me

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between

This Is What Happy Looks Like

The Comeback Season

You Are Here

The Storm Makers, illustrated by Brett Helquist

Other Books and Music mentioned in this episode:

Dancing Shoes, by Noel Streatfield

Ballet Shoes, by Noel Streatfield

The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin

The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan

The Candy House, by Jennifer Egan

Talking as Fast as I Can, by Lauren Graham

The Privileges, by Jonathan Dee



Follow Jennifer E. Smith:

Facebook: @jensmithwrites

Instagram: @jenniferesmith

Twitter: @JenESmith

jenniferesmith.com

Annmarie Kelly:
Jennifer E. Smith, welcome to Wild Precious Life.

Jennifer E. Smith:
Thank you so much for having me.

Annmarie Kelly:
So I'm so excited you're here. As a kid, I spent many, many days at the library, and one of my absolute favorite things was when I would read a book by an author and then discover that she had like seven others. So I read Dancing Shoes by Noel Streatfeild which is actually out of order because you really should read Ballet Shoes first. But I read that, and then I was delighted and gobsmacked to know that she had others at my library and I just read my way through them. And so I felt similarly delighted when I discovered your titles. I was late to the Jennifer E. Smith game. I definitely started with Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight which I feel like is your third book, but I didn't read it that long ago. I mean like right on the cusp of the pandemic. I'd say maybe 2019, so I got the epic joy of being like, "I wonder if she wrote anything else" and then there's like seven more books, there's a million books. I think I've lost track of how many. Is it 12 now?

Jennifer E. Smith:
I think it's 11. Yes. I think.

Annmarie Kelly:
Let's round up.

Jennifer E. Smith:
I lose track too. Yeah. I lose track myself.

Annmarie Kelly:
Yeah. So, I mean, I got to ride on a train with Hu and Mae, and I stayed out all night with Clare and Aidan, and searched for whoopie pies with Graham and Ellie in a small town in Maine, and I just got to do all of that. And then of course last month I went to Alaska, cruised to Alaska, with Greta and her dad. So thank you for all these trips and just the-

Jennifer E. Smith:
Oh my gosh. Thank you.

Annmarie Kelly:
... great wonder of your work.

Jennifer E. Smith:
It's so fun. I feel like most people did come to them earlier, and so it's been kind of... Usually you're getting the complaints of "Wait, I finished this one. When's the next one coming out." So it's so nice when they're all just there for somebody to discover all at once.

Annmarie Kelly:
Yeah. It was definitely kind of a Noel Streatfeild library moment.

Jennifer E. Smith:
Wow, I'm honored.

Annmarie Kelly:
Yes. Okay, but before we take too much of a deep dive into all things bookish, I want to back up, and for folks who are not familiar with you and your writing, I'm wondering if you can just answer our opening question which is Jen, will you tell us your story?

Jennifer E. Smith:
My story. I mean, I'm a Midwesterner, a fellow Midwesterner. I grew up in Chicago. I always, always, always wanted to be a writer, but I grew up in a very practical place with a very practical family. I think I never assumed it was something I would get to do as a job. To me, being a writer, saying you wanted to be a writer, felt like saying you wanted to be an astronaut or a ballerina. Like those are real jobs that people do and they exist, but they feel so out of reach in a way and far off. But I was a reader.

Jennifer E. Smith:
And so as I grew up I went to college in upstate New York, and I took a course while I was there called living writers which was just about the coolest thing I could have imagined at the time. Where every week you read a book and at the end of the week the author would come in and you get to ask them questions about the book. And I just, I had never... I think now a lot of people grow up with really easy access to authors, but at the time, I don't know if I'd even met any author. It just wasn't kind of as common.

Jennifer E. Smith:
So in the middle of that course, somebody came in who was an editor at a publishing house in New York City to talk about what it is to be an editor and what it is to work in publishing. And for some reason it had never occurred to me... I guess I thought that books just like magically appeared on the shelves in bookstores because it had never occurred to me that there was a whole business and a whole industry that made books. I thought if you wanted to be a writer, your choices were either to kind of win the lottery then get a book published or to become a journalist. Although I was on my high school newspaper, it was quickly becoming clear to me that I preferred to make stuff up than to do journalism. So, as soon as I kind of had this revelation about publishing, that was what I really wanted to do, and when I graduated from college, I applied and got rejected from a million publishing jobs in New York. And then eventually did get one working at a literary agency.

Jennifer E. Smith:
I was still writing while I worked at an agency. I would wake up in the mornings. I would work on weekends. One of my kind of abiding memories of my early twenties is like all my friends being hungover watching a movie in the living room and me like trying to write a book in my bedroom also hungover. But I just, I loved this glimpse working at... I knew I didn't want to be a literary agent, but getting to work at a job where I got to meet authors, where I got to read manuscripts, where I got to just get a real crash course in publishing was such a gift.

Jennifer E. Smith:
I worked for a legendary literary agent named Binky Urban who represented so many of my heroes. I mean, Toni Morrison, Cormac McCarthy, E.L Doctorow, Haruki Murakami, Jennifer Egan. I mean, Donna Tartt. I could go on and on and on. It was just like a dream, and so I worked there for a few years and I was writing all the time. Then when it sort of came time to do something else because I didn't ultimately want to be an agent, I realized that before... I wanted to be an editor. That was always the goal to be an editor of a publishing house.

Jennifer E. Smith:
But I tried... I first decided I wanted to give myself a year to just write, and I decided to go to grad school in St. Andrews in Scotland and spent a year just completely writing and sitting in pubs with friends and traveling and just filling my cup in that way. It was such a wonderful year, and at the end of it, I came back to New York and I got a job at Random House in editorial.

Jennifer E. Smith:
So during that time I had written my first book which was a book called The Comeback Season, but like you, most people think The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight was my first one because it was the first one that really sold any copies. If you are one of the three people who bought a copy of The Comeback Season, I automatically love you forever. I wrote in grad school. I worked... Before I left ICM, I had actually sold The Comeback Season and it got published when I got back.

Jennifer E. Smith:
Then I just sort of picked up for about seven years. I worked my way up through the ranks as an editor. I learned so much. I think being an editor made me a better writer. Being a writer made me a better editor. It was just the best education ever, and I published, I think, six or seven of my books while I was working full time. Then eventually... I always sort of said that I had figured out the balance of being a writer and an editor, but then when the books started doing well enough that I was needing to travel and go to book festivals and go do school visits and tour, that to me is sort of a separate job from being a writer. That's being an author, and it was sort of a third job that became hard to sustain all three.

Jennifer E. Smith:
Sadly, at a certain point then I left publishing and have been writing full time ever since and love it and feel just incredibly lucky when I look back at my kid self who dreamed of being a writer and never thought it was a thing that might actually happen that I'm doing it now. I was living in New York all that time. I now live in Los Angeles, and I am just continued to feel really, really lucky. So I don't know if that was a good life story summary. It was the publishing version of it all, but I have been very lucky to get to see sort of a 360 degree view of the publishing process having worked for an agency, an editor, as an editor, and as a writer. As a writer, I've written adult book now, picture book, middle grade, young adult. I've sold a couple of scripts. So it's been really an education throughout this whole time to just get to see so many aspects of this industry which I love.

Annmarie Kelly:
That is such a beautiful story, and I'm fascinated by the idea that you got to work at an agency where some of these greats were just sort of floating in and out. Were you bringing them sandwiches or were you telling them to cut that paragraph? What was your job title?

Jennifer E. Smith:
It evolved from A to B, so at the beginning I was really kind of just doing real assistant work. I was right out of college. I was so wide eyed. I had no idea. I was just, I basically got the job by being like, "I don't know. I really love to read." It was a position where a lot of people who'd come through the position had wanted to be agents who came from backgrounds as from law school or from business school and things like that. When my boss sort of realized how much I like to read, and she started giving me things to work on and by the time I left there, I was editing for the clients.

Jennifer E. Smith:
And again, I got to do real editorial work for people like Jennifer Egan and Richard Ford and like all these amazing authors. And it just completely... It made me feel completely sure about what I wanted to do next which was to be an editor, but to get to kind of start at that level of writer was just the best opportunity ever. I will always be grateful for that job, and my boss, Binky, has become a mentor throughout my career. And I just feel really lucky.

Annmarie Kelly:
That's bananas. I can picture you on the phone with Jennifer Egan and being like this part about the goon squad is good but go ahead and cut the candy house out. I feel like that's a different book and her saying, "Okay."

Jennifer E. Smith:
I seem nice and I look nice, but I'm really tough as an editor.

Annmarie Kelly:
Wow. I'm not sure that the whole world knows the difference between agents and editors. I feel like I do, but I actually don't know that I do. I think of the editor as working with the words on the page, and I think of the agent as doing the buying and the selling of the words on the page. But I bet they're much more, I don't know, intertwined than we realize.

Jennifer E. Smith:
Yeah. They are. I mean, I didn't know when I went in either. I had gotten rejected from a million editorial assistant jobs and then found my way into an interview like literally having no idea what an agent did. And it is, I mean, they're the ones who... They are looking to fall in love with a manuscript from an unknown writer and then to shape it and edit it and do the work and then sell it. It's their job to get to know editors so they know who the right people are to submit the manuscript to. They do all the contracts and sell often like the international rights and the film rights and really they're the author's advocate throughout the whole publishing process.

Jennifer E. Smith:
And then on the editorial side, it's definitely working with the page, but it's always surprising when I tell people how... I think they picture editors like sitting in a room filled with books and a glass of whiskey as they work all day. But actually it's so much. It's the marketing, it's the publicity, it's the meetings. Like you are shepherding, as the editor, the book through the entire process, so it's the same thing. You're getting to know agents. You're looking to find something that you completely fall in love with.

Jennifer E. Smith:
I think there's also a real feeling among writers sometimes that editors are gatekeepers and they're always rejecting everything, but the truth is, at least for me when I was an editor, I was just always looking to fall in love. When you do, it's like the best feeling in the world when you find a book or a new voice or a manuscript that you think is fantastic. Then your job is to fight for it all the way through. To fight for your vision, for how to make it better, but also to preserve the author's vision for what they want it to be. Then to kind of steer it all the way through the publishing house and all the different from jacket copy to cover art to marketing and publicity and then all the way out until it's a hard rectangular object on a shelf in a bookstore.

Annmarie Kelly:
Do you remember any books you fell in love with from that time?

Jennifer E. Smith:
Oh yeah. I mean, I did The Language of Flowers which was a really big hit. I edited Lauren Graham, the actress's book, who now is a good friend and my writing partner on some things.

Annmarie Kelly:
Lorelai. Like Lorelei Gilmore.

Jennifer E. Smith:
Yeah, yeah.

Annmarie Kelly:
Oh my God. Tell her I said hey. No, don't tell her that. Tell her I said... Oh God, Luke, Lorelai, Coffee. Shit, I've seen all of those. Don't tell her anything until I get my act together. Language of Flowers I read though. That was beautiful. You edited that?

Jennifer E. Smith:
I edited that book. That was a big acquisition for me. I got to do a book called The Privileges by Jonathan Dee which was a Pulitzer finalist. I mean, it was just, it was such a... I just, I loved that chapter of my life. I still miss it often.

Annmarie Kelly:
Well, I think this helps me understand some of your premises in your books because I just, I fall for these scenarios that you put these characters into. And again for folks who aren't familiar, in The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, Hadley misses a plane and then meets Oliver on the next flight. And you are thinking about, is it even future? Like, could you even envision a future with someone you've met in a chance meeting briefly on an airplane? Like that's, it's impossible. It's improbable, but there's a story there.

Annmarie Kelly:
I mean, in Windfall a girl... Oh Teddy is the boy.

Jennifer E. Smith:
Alice.

Annmarie Kelly:
Alice. Alice buys Teddy a lottery ticket and it wins. The best possible thing happens, and then all of these other things happen that happen when you win the lottery.

Annmarie Kelly:
I mean, in Hello, Goodbye. Oh, I love this one. Clare and Aidan. We've all been in that exact situation. Maybe not the last 12 hours, but I had forgotten what that felt like to have a high school boyfriend in many ways like the first great love of my life. And you're leaving and you have to decide, I mean, they were so deliberate in that this is a book about deciding whether to stay together or not. Where do your ideas come from? Do they fall from the sky? Is it like a lightning bolt? Itch you need to scratch? Where does it come from?

Jennifer E. Smith:
I think they're usually kind of a what if question. They usually start with like... I don't start with characters as much as I start with a scenario or a setup, so it's just kind of wondering like what if you missed your plane by four minutes but you were meant to meet the person. It's often like taking two people who wouldn't otherwise have met and putting them in the same place at the same time, and I often say if there's a common thread in all of them, it's that I really am interested in moments in time that act as hinges. Like days where there's a clear split between a before and an after, so yesterday your life was one way tomorrow it will be completely different. I just think I'm fascinated by fate and chance and timing and serendipity and like every minute of your life. Like if you do one thing instead of the other, it could be different, and so I like those moments.

Jennifer E. Smith:
I also, I do think I try to take premises. My joke is that I try to take what has the potential to be an incredibly cheesy premise and then write it in the least cheesy way possible because I do think there's something about the kind of big hooky, aspirational wish fulfillment feel to some of these. Meeting a movie star, meeting the person you love on a plane, winning the lottery, but to write them in a way that feels really real. That's sort of the... If there's a common thread to it, I think it's that.

Annmarie Kelly:
That makes me think about Ellie and Graham.

Jennifer E. Smith:
Yes.

Annmarie Kelly:
Ellie and Graham from the, that's not the logo but This is What Happy Looks Like. So she meets this movie star, but then the cool thing about it and what he loves is that she doesn't give two shits that he's a movie star. In fact, that's the least interesting part about him to her. You always hear that when you become wealthier, more powerful, or famous that you don't know if your jokes are funny because no one's going to tell you anymore.

Jennifer E. Smith:
Sure.

Annmarie Kelly:
Everyone's like, "Oh, that's so funny" because they want to kind of kiss up to you or you're the CEO or you're famous people. I hadn't thought about that.

Jennifer E. Smith:
I think that's sort of the perfect example of leaning against the kind of cheesiness factor of the kind of obvious way to do that is with a girl who's like, "Oh my God, I feel so lucky. I met a movie star. He likes me." But actually if you kind of go against type and... To me it becomes a more interesting story, and I think that's often what I'm trying to do.

Annmarie Kelly:
That's so interesting. I once heard Ann Patchett, the writer, I'm paraphrasing here, but she said something like, "I'm always writing the same novel." And in her books, people start out in one family and then they kind of wake up or they end up in another and they spend the time trying to figure out what happened to me. What's happening in this family? And what should I do about it? I feel like your plot lines are completely different, but you've got something similar at work where you are considering luck or chance or serendipity and how that could upend someone's life both for the better and for the worse. Is that a fair assessment?

Jennifer E. Smith:
It is interesting, I think. Yeah, and I think a lot of writers, whether it's conscious or subconscious, do that. Kind of come back again and again to the same themes and you can write entirely different books where the heart of it is kind of asking the same questions over and over again which is always interesting.

Annmarie Kelly:
But again, I can't stress this enough. They're very different books. They don't feel like the same books. I mean, in your most recent book, The Unsinkable Greta James, great title by the way, Greta is an indie musician. She's still reeling from the loss of her mother, and she ends up on an Alaskan cruise with her father. Someone she doesn't get along with real well, and this vacation was to have been mom and dad's wedding anniversary celebration. The cruise to Alaska they'd always dreamed about, and instead Greta ends up on this boat, ship, boat with her dad and it becomes this exercise in reckoning and grief and forgiveness.

Jennifer E. Smith:
But see again, that's where the idea of taking either two people who haven't met and don't know they need each other yet, or taking, which also happens in Greta James where she meets a kind of charmingly nerdy professor who's also on board the ship.

Annmarie Kelly:
Shout out to Ben. Love him.

Jennifer E. Smith:
Shout out to Ben Wilder. But with her dad it's, or it's taking two people who don't get along and kind of putting them... I mean, people... The joke with my books is that the other common theme is that I write a lot about travel, and I've written sort of an alarming number of books that take place on a mode of transportation. I have one on a plane, one on a train, a road trip one, a ship one. My agent always jokes that my next book's going to be a love story set on a scooter, but-

Annmarie Kelly:
Motorcycle, segue. Yeah. Golf cart. You haven't done golf cart yet or donkey.

Jennifer E. Smith:
A golf cart up my sleeve. Donkey cart would be really good. I'll take that under consideration. But to me, part of why I... First of all, I just personally love travel. It's been a really big part of my life, and so I find it interesting. I've never been as interested in writing, when it comes to YA books, like the books that take place in school with the different hierarchies. I really enjoy taking people out of their comfort zone and putting them in a place that's really different.

Jennifer E. Smith:
With Greta, to put her on a ship in Alaska, that's so far from the music venues where she usually plays and where she's quite literally and figuratively at sea was really interesting to me. But part of it is also I like the kind of finite number of days or hours and also a finite amount of space where you have these people kind of bumping up against each other and seeing what happens. They're obviously not trapped on the boat, but also when you're like when you don't get along with your dad and you're literally like in the buffet line with him on a cruise ship in the middle of nowhere in Alaska, it kind of can feel that way.

Annmarie Kelly:
It ups the stakes of the book, and I also, as a reader, I get a sense of the pacing really. I know that we've got 12 hours or we've got five days or we've got the span of a plane ride from New York to the UK. So as a reader, I also have a sense of the urgency of you guys got to come on, quit fighting. We're running out of time.

Jennifer E. Smith:
It kind of puts brackets around the story, and I think it heightens everything. So I don't always do that, but I've done quite a lot of them with the short timeframe. I really enjoy writing them.

Annmarie Kelly:
Well, you're actually giving me a flashback now to my husband and I were friends in college. We kind of ran with the same crew and he asked me out and I'm like, "No, no, no. We're just friends." His theory was we got to get out of here. We got to get away from college, and I promise you if we can just get away from all that, there's a there there. There's something, and I'm like, whatever.

Annmarie Kelly:
Then I borrowed my roommate's sweater without asking and then spilled a very non-alcoholic, very healthy for you drink, I'm sure, on it. And then like an idiot returned it as though she wasn't going to know. And she's like, "God damn it Annmarie." I'm like, "I don't know who could've done that." Like, I think I lied. Anyway, bottom line is to pay her back she's like, "You got to help me get home to Kansas. My parents can't come and get me. I need a ride." I'm like, "I don't have a car. I live in Ohio. We go to school in North Carolina. Kansas ain't on the way." And she's like, "Ken said he'd do it." I'm like, "Great. Go with him." She's like, "If you come."

Jennifer E. Smith:
Oh really?

Annmarie Kelly:
And that was part of like his diabolical scheme to get us out of there. And so we drove from North Carolina to Kansas through a for real tornado warning. The sirens going off. There was a Waffle House, and I just remember somewhere in there he's asleep in the back and he reaches forward and he puts his hand on my shoulder and he is like, "It's going to be okay." And like an idiot I believed him. I'm pretty sure he was asleep, but we dropped her off in Kansas. We took showers in a truck stop. We went camping next to a no camping sign. All of these things happened. We got out of there.

Jennifer E. Smith:
You're literally living, yeah, you're living a YA night.

Annmarie Kelly:
Right, right. That's why I love your books, but I had forgotten all about that story.

Jennifer E. Smith:
I love that story.

Annmarie Kelly:
The finite period of time when you pull people out of this place and just the rules are different and you just kind of boil them down to their essence.

Jennifer E. Smith:
And there's something about when you think back on the experiences where you did something out of your regular life and regular routine, that's usually the things that are more memorable because otherwise days kind of blend together. The start of Statistical Probability, the epigraph is one of my favorite quotes from Charles Dickens. It's from a book called Our Mutual Friend, and it says, "And O there are days in this life, worth life and worth death." And I just always think about that. How there's so many days that we don't really remember in a very specific way, and then there are just these certain days and I'm always interested in those days in my books.

Annmarie Kelly:
That's such a great way to put it. I had forgotten about that epigraph. Wow. I bet you had some of those in Scotland. Some of those days you went-

Jennifer E. Smith:
Oh, for sure.

Annmarie Kelly:
Can you remember a day like that?

Jennifer E. Smith:
That's just it. Oh, I mean, yes. there were so... I mean, that was like a year that feels like one of those days. It was... Because it was. I lived in New York city for three years before I went to grad school, and then I came back and lived there for another, I think, 11 or 12. So that year is a year that really stands out for me. But so many... When I think back on my memories so many... And I've been so fortunate to go travel. Like I said, has just been a really big part of my life, and I've been a lot of places and it's often the travel experiences that are the most memorable to me. It's another reason why I kind of reach for that in my books a lot.

Annmarie Kelly:
Where's some place you've been that you love that just influenced your life in a serendipitous way?

Jennifer E. Smith:
I took, South Africa was a trip that was one of my favorites and also Kenya. I think going on safari in Africa is just incredible. I was lucky enough to go on book tour twice to the Philippines, and I went to Japan and Vietnam and Thailand while I was over there. Australia, New Zealand. I was in a major earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand with my sister when we were there, so that has certainly been a memorable experience. Argentina. Iceland. Obviously I love the UK and Europe and have taken just a lot of them. Just, it's been... I just, yeah, those are, it's some of my favorite experiences.

Annmarie Kelly:
Sure. I mean, I travel through books long before I sat in an airplane for the first time. I read Noel Streatfeild and then studied abroad in the UK, and part of it is because that seed was planted. If you can't go like many of us during the pandemic haven't been able to.

Jennifer E. Smith:
To do it through books. I mean, this is what I've heard so much for Greta James. How many people have told me it's made them want to go to Alaska. It feels like just passing along these experiences in a way that's meaningful.

Annmarie Kelly:
I think there's an Emily Dickinson quote. Something like there's no frigate like a book which I'm pretty sure in high school I didn't know what the word frigate means. But thinking about Greta James on her boat, that, yeah. Also, the way reading a book doesn't feel like an act of bravery for me, reading a book is like it's just like a warm cup of tea and blanket and like comfy. If anything, it's me refusing to tiptoe out into the world, but I also think books can make us brave. If I trust you enough as a writer, and I do, even if I am cruise averse, I might be like, well, I think I might make an exception for that Alaska one. That sounds good. That the book can become a gateway, a frigate if you will, a permission slip to you can do this thing too.

Jennifer E. Smith:
And I think that's kind of the magic of it. Is like two different people could read that book and one person could book a trip to Alaska and one person could kind of close the book and be in their cozy armchair with their cup of tea and feel like, okay, that is really cool to experience that through this book. And that's fine. So I think it's been an important part of my writing and it's just always a fun thing to hear from readers about.

Annmarie Kelly:
Just put it out there.

Jennifer E. Smith:
I love it.

Annmarie Kelly:
The epigraph. You mentioned epigraphs. The epigraph to The Unsinkable Greta James set such an interesting tone. It says, "We set out to be wrecked." I hung on that and-

Jennifer E. Smith:
It's such a good one.

Annmarie Kelly:
What did you mean by that? What were you thinking?

Jennifer E. Smith:
Well, first of all, it's a J.M. Barrie quote, who wrote Peter Pan, and it's from a very obscure book he did for his... Sorry, not for his children. For, I think, for the Llewelyn children who you might have read about, and it's like a book of photographs of these kids and it's kind of a sort of like a pirate story. But it's this very obscure book that Gretchen Rubin, who is a friend of mine, she wrote The Happiness Project.

Annmarie Kelly:
I know. You know everybody.

Jennifer E. Smith:
She's wonderful.

Annmarie Kelly:
I want to be your friend.

Jennifer E. Smith:
You are. She's wonderful, and she became very obsessed with the book and the quote and when she told it to me years ago, it stuck with me too. It's just a quote that there's something both kind of brave and ominous about it. "We set out to be wrecked." It's just, I was about midway through this book when it popped into my head again, and I just thought, Greta is going on this trip with her dad who she's never gotten along with and she's grieving her mother and it was supposed to be their 40th anniversary trip and she really doesn't want to be there. It felt right for what she's embarking on, but I'm glad it resonated with you too. There's something about it that's just, it's a little bit haunting, but it's also kind of like stalwart to me and beautiful in a way. I thought it fit really well.

Annmarie Kelly:
Yeah, no, I read the book through, and then I went back to that. I feel like when I was younger I set out to be wrecked like in relationships, in love. Just like opening my heart, saying all the things, feeling all the things, and then getting trounced or accidentally trouncing someone else. And then you learn to... You scar a little bit and you learn to hold back or guard your heart.

Jennifer E. Smith:
Feel less horrible.

Annmarie Kelly:
Yeah, but then in doing so then you don't let yourself open to hurt but you also don't let yourself open to the magic that's so much of what you write about. And I feel like Greta, well, I mean, she brings some of that to her music. At the beginning of the book, we learn that she played this song, an homage to her mother, and it didn't go well. We learn this early on. That it just, she brought so much grief to it. She stopped the performance. It just now the record company is losing faith in her, that she's losing faith in her, and she's trying to guard herself. I feel like the way she plays music is she sets out to be wrecked, and then she starts kind of guarding and going into herself. I feel like this is a book about summoning the courage to go on after or in spite of our worst days.

Jennifer E. Smith:
Yep, and let yourself be vulnerable and leave yourself open to the possibility that you're going to be wrecked but it's still worth doing it. So yes, I agree. And I think, yeah, the way of looking at it through her music is especially apt. Yeah.

Annmarie Kelly:
Yeah. I was just picturing her playing her song. Like setting out to be wrecked. My dad passed away towards the very beginning of the pandemic. He was sick for a time.

Jennifer E. Smith:
Sorry.

Annmarie Kelly:
Thank you. And he was my person, my most loyal fan, my fiercest supporter. I've never played in a rock band, but if I had, he would absolutely have come to my concerts even though that was not his typical scene. You know, he loved me fiercely. Greta's mom reminded me so much of my dad. I don't know what your parents [crosstalk 00:31:48]

Jennifer E. Smith:
It's your greatest cheerleader. My parents are still living and they're great, and I always sort of, in the context of this book, joke that they're sort of like both Greta's parents. They're my greatest cheerleaders. They will go to a bookstore and move all my books up to the front table. They read all the reviews. They are really, really proud, and at the same time, they're really, really practical. I think similar to Greta's dad, they worry a lot, and certainly when I set out to be wrecked with writing. When I embarked on this career path, they... I come from a town, a place, as most people probably do, where most people have nine to five jobs with a 401k and benefits and-

Annmarie Kelly:
Health care.

Jennifer E. Smith:
Yeah, exactly. So it's a risky thing to do and they're a little bit risk averse. So it's both. But yes, I of course was able to draw on them in terms of the cheerleader thing. But I think with Greta, she's lost that person in her life and the person who's left they almost just don't have a language for each other anymore. They've lost their translator, and it's just watching them kind of try to find their way back to each other. Her mom was somebody who always showed up. Her dad is not. It's just about that journey to try to understand each other in the wake of like both having lost the most important person in their lives.

Annmarie Kelly:
So how did you imagine yourself so perfectly into, I mean, all the things in this book. Maybe you're a secret rockstar. I don't know. How did you imagine yourself into the music?

Jennifer E. Smith:
That's very generous.

Annmarie Kelly:
Into the grief? Did you go to Alaska? How did you imagine yourself? What did you draw upon... I'm going to ask this question actually as a question. Jesus. All right. What did you draw upon that was true and real and you've even experienced, and what did you have to imagine yourself into to write this?

Jennifer E. Smith:
Yeah, well, definitely not a rockstar. Don't even know how-

Annmarie Kelly:
You're a rockstar to me.

Jennifer E. Smith:
... to play the guitar. Thank you. I think I might be tone deaf. The music thing was mostly that I was really interested in exploring what it is to live a creative life. This kind of life where like on the one hand you have to be really full of determination and self-confidence and really believe you can be one of the few who makes it, and on the other hand you're walking a tight rope with no safety net and the bottom could fall out at any moment as it does for Greta. And so it came from a personal place in that as different as I am from the indie rockstar, I think doing something creative, doing something in the arts, there's a lot that's similar there. So that was like kind of the spark of the book for me.

Jennifer E. Smith:
As I was writing it, as I was getting towards the end of a first draft, a mentor of mine, Susan Campbell, who was a great editor and she was an old boss. She was a friend. She was a mentor. She was the person who most encouraged me to try writing for adults, and she passed away unfortunately and-

Annmarie Kelly:
Oh, I'm sorry.

Jennifer E. Smith:
.... and I drew a lot on those feelings as I was working on it. That's really where that came from. Then with the cruise, I had done an Alaskan cruise with my family when I was in high school, and it always loomed large in that it was just such a unique, singular experience and Alaska is so unlike anywhere else. And when I thought of... I knew I wanted to put them on a ship together. I liked the idea of just how kind of otherworldly and a little bit forlorn and quiet Alaska was and just kind of take these two out of their elements.

Jennifer E. Smith:
But I started to write the book drawing on memories of the cruise we took when I was 17 and quickly realized that I was going to actually... If I really wanted to write it well and capture it, I was going to have to go and do it again, so I did a little writing retreat on an Alaskan cruise and it was... I tried, I did most of the kind of excursions and day trips that Greta and her dad take I did. I also tried really hard to... I went to trivia night on the ship and I went to watch, I did not participate, but I watched people learn to do the macarena. And I watched-

Annmarie Kelly:
You were a joiner.

Jennifer E. Smith:
Yes. I was trying to like really soak up every cruise like experience so that I could see how it worked. I sat with random people at dinners and just really tried to get the whole experience. I will say whether you're a cruise person or not, which I don't know that I am, but it's a really good way to see Alaska because there's so many places in Alaska that are only accessible by ship or by plane. It's a gorgeous place, and I've never been anywhere like it and it's magical in so many ways. I feel so many people have commented on the descriptions of Alaska when they read the book, and I feel really happy that I went and did that so that I could capture it in a real way.

Annmarie Kelly:
It's fascinating to hear you talk about all of these adventures that have happened because of books, or in order to create books, because I've also heard you talk about... I'm thinking of your children's book that you recently came out with, The Creature of Habit. I've also heard you talk about yourself as a creature of habit, and I don't think of creatures of habits of going to Kenya and South Africa and Alaska. Has being a writer, how do I say this, has being a writer been a way to nurture your creature of habitness or a way to transcend it?

Jennifer E. Smith:
That's a really good question. You're right. I mean, I am like a very routine oriented, don't like change kind of person. Yet, yes, I've done a lot of these things. It's funny. It's been, I'm trying to think of a time where I have taken a trip specifically because I want to write a book at a certain place. It usually is the opposite. It's usually like I've done something in my life and whether it's three years later or 10 years later or two decades later, it floats back up to the surface in a way in the form of a story or the start of a story. It's rare for me to say, "I'm going to write a book, and I want to set it in Patagonia. So I'm going to go take this trip down there." It would more be like I went on a trip to Argentina 15 years ago with friends and now I have the spark of an idea that a book should happen there.

Jennifer E. Smith:
But yeah. Yes, the picture book. I wrote a book for little kids, which has been so much fun, called The Creature of Habit about a little creature who... It's about a creature who lives on the Island of Habit and does the same thing every day at the same time, and then another little creature sails up and kind of knocks his whole world off balance. And I think for me, it's less about routine and more about kind of a fear of change and a fear of uncertainty which I was trying to kind of get at in that book. I think writing has certainly been a balm for that. You tell yourself stories to get yourself through different moments and experiences, and I guess just on a practical level, I'm definitely more routine oriented when I'm at home than when I'm on the road. But yeah, I think it's probably all contributed to the way that I write and on the flip side, the way I write is influenced by the way I live my life. It's just all kind of the same.

Annmarie Kelly:
You wrote this book called The Creature of Habit which is among other things about a bigger monster who eats pineapples every day for breakfast and then waves to the fish and just does the same things. I actually am a creature of habit myself, so I recognize myself in this. Then there's this little monster who comes, he's like, "How about oranges? How about a coconut? We could swim with the fish instead of," so it just disrupts this monster's world in a way. At first, it sort of doesn't sit right, and then you're like, oh, actually look at this world. So I think I might picture you getting the writing done as the bigger monster. You just, you got to eat your pineapple, you got to talk to the fish, and you got to write. But then I think that maybe every time I'm picturing an idea kind of crashing on the waves of the shore of Jen E Smith, I might picture these books just sort of floating in as the little monster and saying how about this?

Jennifer E. Smith:
Yeah, because you can't... I like the bigger creature. I don't love change. I don't love uncertainty. I do like routine, but writing, you kind of have to give yourself over and lose control a little bit. Of course there is a lot about writing that is disciplined and routine oriented, and it is ultimately at the end of the day about like sitting in a chair and writing words on a page which sometimes I am better at than others. But I think when you're... I'm not somebody who has... I have writer friends who have like dozens of ideas that are just queued up and they're excited to write and it feels like every five minutes they're like, "Oh, I just had the best idea for another thing."

Jennifer E. Smith:
And I'm like, what? Who are you? I finish something, and then I go into like a blind panic for a few months that I'm never going to have another idea. Then something does, so far anyway, eventually come along, but I think that's what I mean. There is a lot of it that you can control and put in order, and then there's a lot of it that you are kind of hoping for something to drop out of the sky. Sometimes it's just a matter of like... I mean, often these ideas start as a version of something that happened to me in real life.

Jennifer E. Smith:
So an example is like in This Is What Happy Looks Like, the movie star and the girl in Maine are connected because, I mean it's an older book now so it would now happen over text, but it happened over email in the book. But he sends an email that goes to the wrong person, and they kind of get connected that way. I have a very common name. That happens all the time that emails go astray, so I was sort of thinking of that when the spark for that idea came in.

Jennifer E. Smith:
Like Statistical Probability, that idea came because I was flying months from Chicago to Dublin, and I sat next to, it's not a love story, I sat next to like an older Irish gentleman who was reading a book that I had recently finished and we started chatting and we chatted for ages. Then the next morning, like in the book, we had to go into separate lines of customs because he was in the line for Irish citizens and I was not. At the end, we didn't quite say goodbye, and I thought maybe I'd see him on the other side of customs but then my line took longer. I just thought how interesting that you can spend hours talking to somebody and maybe never see them again and never even know their last name.

Jennifer E. Smith:
So I think you do kind of wait for these ideas that are often sparked by experiences. So you do have to be out there living and you do have to be kind of waiting for the right spark of something to come along. But then once it does, and I say this partly to scold myself right now because I need to get into a better writing routine at the moment, but once it does, your job is really to just sit down and write it and easier said than done of course. It is a matter of just not getting in your own way and not worrying too much about it being perfect but just getting the words on the page. At least at the beginning of the process which is a very big creature kind of sentiment.

Annmarie Kelly:
That's excellent. Okay, so a children's book and an adult book. I read that you've also been working on screenplays because I know... I mean, there's a lot of changes going on for you, creature of habit. How's that all been?

Jennifer E. Smith:
It's been so much fun actually. I, for a long time, would write one YA book and then take a little break and then write the next YA book and kind of rinse and repeat. I have loved doing that, and I feel really fortunate to have gotten to do so. But I had a moment a few years ago where I just, I felt like for a decade I'd been doing a similar kind of thing and I wanted to shake things up. And so I decided to try writing my first picture book, started my first adult novel, and decided I wanted to try to write a screenplay. Really decided I wanted to try to learn how to write a screenplay because took some time to figure that one out. But it's just been fun to do different things and try new things and just have everything be mixed up a little bit more than it had been. I'm really, I'm having a really good time right now with everything.

Annmarie Kelly:
And which ones are being made into movies. I feel like I used to know, but I don't.

Jennifer E. Smith:
It's Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between will actually be out July 6th on Netflix.

Annmarie Kelly:
Viewing party.

Jennifer E. Smith:
Yeah, and I love it. It's so good, and it stars Jordan Fisher and this actress Talia Ryder who they're both amazing, and it is just wonderful. I feel so lucky and proud of it. Then Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight has also been made. That will also be on Netflix, but we don't know when. That is also just a gorgeous, gorgeous movie. That one I've waited a very long time for. It was started filming almost 10 years exactly to the week since it first got optioned by different producers, but it was a long journey from the page to the screen for that one. I feel like we ended up just with the exact version I could have ever hoped for, and it's just perfect. I love it so much.

Annmarie Kelly:
Oh, that's triumphant. I'm so excited for both of those. Yay.

Jennifer E. Smith:
Thank you. I didn't write either of those scripts though. They were both written by wonderful writers. But I did write a script for This Is What Happy Looks Like, and I co-wrote a script, I'm co-writing a script, for Field Notes on Love with Lauren Graham. So those are just still in development.

Annmarie Kelly:
Oh my gosh. Mentioning This Is What Happy Looks Like, one of my favorite things about that book is it's that sentence right there. This is what happy looks like. I feel like I've learned from that book in particular, and really from your writing in general, to put voice to the small, beautiful things in my world that make me happy. I mean, early on in the book, I'm not giving anything away in here, I think it's from Ellie, Ellie lists what makes her happy. Like sun rises over the harbor, ice cream on a hot day, the sound of the waves down the street, the way my dog curls up next to me on the couch, evening strolls, great movies, thunderstorms, a good cheeseburger, Fridays, Saturdays, Wednesdays even, sticking your toes in the water, pajama pants, flip flops, swimming, poetry, the absence of smiley faces in an email which is a whole conversation.

Jennifer E. Smith:
The whole thing in the book.

Annmarie Kelly:
I love, I love your habit of noticing happiness all around us, and I find myself doing more of that. Like I love that feeling when you lay down to go to sleep. Just like when you first get in your bed, you're just like, yes. Knowing you can sleep in tomorrow which is rare, but when you can, it's just like different sleep. I love the crunch of a pretzel. I love it that moment when a hot beverage is no longer hot but it's not going to burn the roof of your mouth but it's not warm. It's like that perfect sweet spot in between, and every once in a while, you're sharing it with like someone you love or you're laughing with an old friend or laughing with a new friend. Thank you for reminding us to find happiness because you're just so good at it.

Jennifer E. Smith:
Yeah. Oh, well thank... I mean that's so kind. I feel the same. I just, it's always looking for those little things, and I think if there's anything the last couple years taught is like you don't have to go to Alaska or somewhere far flung for that. There's so many little moments at home. Just being curled up with a good book, or when the sun comes out and you can go it outside, and all of these kind of little things that add up into the big things

Annmarie Kelly:
That's delightful. Okay. We always end with a few icebreakers. These are just quick little questions. I could talk to you all day, but you get to pick one. Okay, so dogs or cats?

Jennifer E. Smith:
Dogs. I would be remiss if I didn't mention my dog who is curled up at my feet right now.

Annmarie Kelly:
What's your dog's name?

Jennifer E. Smith:
His adopted name was Tater Tot, so it's Tate. But Tater Tot suits him really well.

Annmarie Kelly:
I love it. I just want to bite his face.

Jennifer E. Smith:
He looks like a tater tot too. He's like a roly poly old beetle.

Annmarie Kelly:
Oh, sweet angel. Oh, coffee or tea?

Jennifer E. Smith:
Tea.

Annmarie Kelly:
Mountains or beach?

Jennifer E. Smith:
Mountains.

Annmarie Kelly:
Early bird or night owl?

Jennifer E. Smith:
Early bird.

Annmarie Kelly:
Breakfast Club or Pretty in Pink?

Jennifer E. Smith:
Ooh. Breakfast Club.

Annmarie Kelly:
I read that you're from Chicago, like the outskirts.

Jennifer E. Smith:
Yeah.

Annmarie Kelly:
So did John Hughes movies-

Jennifer E. Smith:
Yes.

Annmarie Kelly:
... creep into your-

Jennifer E. Smith:
I grew up in the town where he... He lived in my town, and filmed those movies kind of in all the suburbs around my town. And it's, yes, so those were a big thing growing up.

Annmarie Kelly:
Oh my gosh. That's most excellent. Loud or quiet?

Jennifer E. Smith:
Quiet.

Annmarie Kelly:
Are you a risk taker or the person who always knows where the bandaids are?

Jennifer E. Smith:
Definitely where the bandaids are.

Annmarie Kelly:
If you could time travel, would you go back in time or forward in time?

Jennifer E. Smith:
That's a good one. I think back in time.

Annmarie Kelly:
Why?

Jennifer E. Smith:
Just feel like history is so interesting. It just doesn't... If we're talking about living back in time, maybe not, but just visit I think it would be very interesting to go see some of the things we read about and learn about and have studied.

Annmarie Kelly:
Very true. What's something quirky that folks don't know about you? Likes, loves, pet peeves.

Jennifer E. Smith:
I can juggle.

Annmarie Kelly:
More than two balls because I've been told that the two balls I can do doesn't count as juggling which I think is bullshit by the way.

Jennifer E. Smith:
I can just do the standard three, but it's something I do sometimes actually when I'm like working through a writing problem or just trying to distract myself and like reset my brain a little bit, and I just walk around juggle.

Annmarie Kelly:
I love knowing that. That's excellent. What do you love about where you live?

Jennifer E. Smith:
Well, I'm newish to LA. I've only lived here about a year and a half, and oh my God, like everything they say about the weather is true. It's really, it's so kind of alarmingly perfect every day and it's a real mood boost, and I get to write outside so much more often than I did before so that's really nice. I'm also in the hills so my view looks out over mountains, and it's just all the nature is kind of new and different and exciting to me.

Annmarie Kelly:
I used to live in LA. I could walk to the sewage treatment plant and the airport but also the ocean, so I know what you're saying about it.

Jennifer E. Smith:
It's pretty great. That really sums it right up.

Annmarie Kelly:
Oh, and last one, if we were to take a picture of you really happy in doing something that you love, what would we see you doing?

Jennifer E. Smith:
I think writing or being with my friends or writing with my friends or being with my family, my nephews, travel. There's so many things. I often have a really big smile on my face. It's not a rarity.

Annmarie Kelly:
Oh my gosh. That's excellent. Well, like I said, I could talk to you all day. Folks, our guest has been the wonderful Jennifer E. Smith. We will link to all her books on the show notes. You cannot go wrong with a single one of them. We're wishing you joy and happiness on the next phase of your journey, Jen, and thanks for stopping by. We're grateful.

Jennifer E. Smith:
Thank you so much for having me. It was such a great conversation.

Annmarie Kelly:
Thank you.

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