Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Salt Marsh Blues in Maine

A new season is on the horizon. 

Thaw browns ground, uncovering last year’s leaves.

Sun paints the fields a tender green,

And flowers maples against cold blue.

Reflected on still water, sky becomes sea. 

A lonely marsh calls to migrating birds.

The woods whisper of warmer days, 

Leading us toward spring.

Note: I'll be taking a 2-week blog vacation. 
Next post on May 2.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith: interview and review

Henry and Sarah Laurence
How could I not love The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight? This new young adult novel has a delightfully whimsical premise: a seventeen-year-old American girl is seated next to a cute English guy on an overnight flight to London. Their chance connection reminded me of how I met my British husband at an American university.

My phone wasn’t working so I knocked on a random door to test it in a neighbor’s outlet. Henry had a cute accent and gorgeous green eyes, but best of all, he made me laugh. “Get rid of the phone and have a beer,” were his first words to me. Henry and his friends were flipping pancake in celebration of Shrove Tuesday. I was charmed.

After falling in love at first sight, Henry proposed three weeks later and again and again. He tried to trick me with double negatives: “Is it not true that you would not consent to marry me?” He proposed over champagne, with flowers and under rainbows. Two decades later, we returned to England with our children for a sabbatical at Oxford University.

Statistical felt like our personal story with a darker edge. Hadley is traveling to London with heavy baggage: her father had an affair during his sabbatical at Oxford University. She will be meeting her future stepmother for the first time at their wedding. Hadley is also afraid of enclosed places, especially airplanes, but luckily she has the best distraction. Oliver just finished his freshman year at Yale and appears to be majoring in flirting. Their story unfolds with a surprising twist that forces Hadley to look beyond her own problems.

I’d strongly recommend Statistical to readers ages 12 and up, including adults. It would make the best airplane book, and I mean that in a good way.
Oliver on airports: “I like how you’re neither here nor there. And how there’s nowhere else you’re meant to be while waiting. You’re just sort of…suspended.”
As I read Statistical, I couldn’t tell if the author, Jennifer E. Smith, was American or British; she was that good at capturing the linguistic differences and cultural nuances. Oliver sounded a lot like my husband, especially his sense of humor. I passed the book to Henry, who devoured it in one day. He guessed that the author was American since the dad sports a tux among the morning suits at an English wedding, but Henry was otherwise very impressed. She even got the flavor (or should I say flavour?) of North London. Intrigued, I tracked down the author in London, where she was working for a month.

My Interview with Jennifer E. Smith

photo of Jennifer E. Smith by Fiona Aboud

Why did you pursue your master’s in creative writing at St. Andrews in Scotland rather than at an American university? 

In some ways, I guess it was more about the place than the course – I’d been living in New York City, and I knew I wanted to go back there when I was finished, so it seemed like an ideal opportunity for a change of scenery. I also knew I wanted to return to publishing after finishing the course, and since UK programs are only one year instead of two, it seemed like a good choice. And it was. I can’t say enough good things about St. Andrews – I absolutely loved my time there!

What were some of the challenges of being an American studying abroad?

I’d studied in Ireland before, so I think I was pretty well prepared in most ways. As a writer, it’s so important to see other parts of the world and to get new perspectives, so it was very helpful to me to be somewhere like Scotland. For one thing, I might never have written Statistical Probability – which is largely set in the UK – if I hadn’t spent that year over there. It’s amazing where these types of things can lead you…

What inspired you to write Statistical?

A few years ago, I was on a flight from Chicago to Dublin, and I got to chatting with an older man who was seated beside me. It wasn’t romantic at all – just friendly – but he was from Ireland, so when we got off the plane and arrived at the line for customs, we had to part ways before we had a chance to really say goodbye. On the other side, I waited for a few minutes to see if I could find him, but I never did, and it struck me as interesting that you could sit beside someone and talk for hours without even knowing their name, and more often than not, without ever seeing them again. It seemed an interesting way to explore the idea of fate in a story like Statistical Probability.

Why did you restrict the story to 24 hours?

I’ve always really liked stories that are bookended by some sort of set timeframe. At first, I thought the book would take place over the course of a weekend, because I wasn’t sure I could fit everything into the span of just 24 hours. But by the time Hadley and Oliver stepped off the plane, their story was already pretty far along, and I realized that with the right combination of minutes, 24 hours can actually be quite a long time.

What type of editing do you do in NYC and London, and how does your day job affect your writing?

I’m actually only in London for a month, working out of our UK office, but I’m usually based in New York. I’m mainly a fiction editor, though not for YA or children’s books. And while it’s always a bit of a struggle to balance writing and editing, I’ve learned so much from doing both, and I feel very lucky to have two jobs that I love.

What is the best writing advice you received? 

That you have to write without fear. It’s not easy to silence your inner critic, but it’s useful practice for later on, when you need to learn to silence all those outer critics too! Because if you’re writing for yourself, then none of the rest of it matters….

Can you share something about your next novel? 

I actually have my first middle grade novel coming out in April, which is called The Storm Makers. And then I’m just finishing up my new YA book, another contemporary love story called This Is What Happy Looks Like, which will be out sometime in 2013.

What is the subject and setting of This is What Happy Looks Like?

A misdirected email sparks an unlikely romance between two 17-year-olds on opposite sides of the country.

Thanks, Jen! I'm looking forward to your next YA. My teenaged daughter is reading Statistical right now.

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@Barrie Summy