Street Talk

Jennifer E. Smith

Jennifer E. Smith is the author of The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, The Storm Makers, You Are Here, and The Comeback Season. She earned a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and currently works as an editor in New York City. Her work has been translated into 29 languages.

Jennifer's newest book, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight has just been named one of Barnes and Noble's "Best Books of 2012."

"The Light Within": Author and editor Jennifer E. Smith talks with Braddock Avenue Books about the work of the novel.


Braddock Avenue Books: In Statistical Probability, four chapters are devoted to Hadley and Oliver’s plane ride to London.  You would think that there would only be so much possibility for action in a situation like that, with the characters—and the setting—confined to such a small place!  Did that section pose any particular challenges for you as a writer?

Jennifer E. Smith: Absolutely.  When I set out to write the book, I knew I wanted to structure it this way, but you get a kind of secondhand claustrophobia when you’re actually writing those scenes.  There are only so many gestures your characters can make in such a small space, only so much scenery to describe.  It’s definitely a little confining, but it also forces you to focus, in a way.  It was a unique writing challenge, and I’m happy with the way it turned out…but I was also pretty happy when they landed at Heathrow!

BAB: You completed your MFA at the University of St. Andrew’s in Scotland.  What sort of influence did your time in the UK have on your presentation of London, or the British character, Oliver, in Statistical Probability?

JES: It had quite a bit of influence; I don’t know if I would have ever written this book if it hadn’t been for my time over there.  I had a couple of friends studying in London at the same time, and I visited them often, just wandering around the city, which became a huge inspiration for the later parts of Statistical Probability.  Over the past few months, I’ve had a lot of readers email to ask whether I’m from the US or the UK, because they genuinely couldn’t tell while reading, and that’s a huge compliment.  With the dialogue, in particular, you want it to feel authentic, so I was especially conscious of this with Oliver.  I did have a Scottish friend read an early draft, and she caught me out on a few things (saying “yard” instead of “garden” and “store” instead of “shop”), but my time over there definitely helped with that and everything else.

BAB: Your novel is going to be made into a movie soon.  In doing so, it will join a string of other movies based on young adult novels—such as The Hunger Games and the Twilight series—that have adult audiences as well.  What do you think it is about young adult stories that capture the imagination of such a wide range of people?

JES: Well, I hope so anyway!  There’s a great screenwriter attached, and he’s already at work on the script, but you never know with these things.  Still, it would be incredibly exciting if it were to happen.  Obviously this story is very different from most of the vampire or dystopian novels that have really caught fire in the last few years, but I think that whether the book is paranormal or contemporary, there’s always something really relatable about the teen years, and in a way, it doesn’t matter if the bad guy is a werewolf or a stepmom, a dragon or a mean girl—everyone remembers that time of their lives in a really visceral way, so there will always be audiences for these types of movies.

BAB: One of my favorite things about your novels is the austere beauty of the prose, such as in these lines from Statistical Probability: “She felt a tiny seed of resentment take root inside of her.  It was like the pit of a peach, something small and hard and mean, a bitterness she was certain would never dissolve.”  Do you find that this kind of metaphorical language comes naturally, a sort of bubbling up of the unconscious mind.  Or do you find yourself whittling away, workman-like, to discover language that seems evocative but also inevitable?  I’m thinking here of Justin Cronin’s essay, “Down the Deep Well of Gravity” where he suggests that the symbolic or metaphorical center of a fiction is rarely known to the writer ahead of time.

JES: That’s very nice of you to say, and I think Justin does this better than pretty much any writer I know.  I’m definitely with him on this one – I think if you were to plan these things out, they’d lose some essential element, something that makes them feel organic and inevitable to the story and the characters.  Most of my metaphors do just sort of happen along the way—“a bubbling up of the unconscious mind” is a great way to put it—but then once they’ve surfaced, I’m much more aware of them as I move forward through the book, and I start to make a more conscious effort to link back to them.  So I guess you could say that laying the groundwork can sometimes be the easy part—writing lines you didn’t plan, calling up images unintentionally—but then figuring out what to do with them from there is a bit trickier, taking that foundation and building up support beams that will help carry the rest of the book.

BAB: Your first middle grade novel, The Storm Makers, was published a few months ago.  What made you want to explore writing for a younger audience after writing so many young adult novels?

JES: I was having lunch with some friends one day, and they were asking if I’d ever try writing something that wasn’t geared toward teen girls.  For some reason, I was really adamant that I wouldn’t.  I told them that the three things I’d never do would be to A) write for boys, B) write middle grade, and C) write fantasy.  But within moments of leaving the restaurant, I was already coming up with the idea for The Storm Makers.  It was like I’d set out a challenge for myself, and there was nothing left to do but give it a shot.  And I’m really glad I did.

BAB: Statistical Probability’s epigraph is taken from Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend, and that book lingers in the subconscious of both Hadley and the reader throughout your novel, a reminder of what’s really important to the character.  Is there a book that you find yourself thinking about over and over again—either something that you read a long time ago, or a recent find that’s sticking with you?    

JES: Dickens is a big favorite of mine, and those are all quotes that I’ve always loved.  But I can’t honestly say that I go around thinking of Dickens all that much in my every day life.  Being both an editor and a writer, I read a lot—sometimes several books a week—so it’s no easy feat for a book to stick with me that closely.  But recently, I read a brilliant middle grade novel called Wonder by RJ Palacio, and beyond the fact that it was big-hearted and sweet and wonderfully memorable, the lessons it taught about choosing kindness have really stayed with me on a day-to-day basis lately, which is a great testament to the novel.