2010 Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Conference: Emily Wing Smith

As part of our continuing series of 2010 Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Conference (www.foryoungreaders.com) faculty interviews with interviewer Carol Lynch Williams.

Carol Lynch Williams: Please introduce yourself in the voice of one of your characters from The Way He Lived.

EWS:  Emily Wing Smith is the author of The Way He Lived, a young adult novel that won the Utah Book Award in young adult fiction and received starred reviews in Publisher’s Weekly and School Library Journal Teen. She has been featured in journals and periodicals such as Salt Lake City Weekly and The ALAN Review.  Her next young adult book from Dutton Childrens Books, a division of Penguin, will be released early next year.  It is entitled Back When You Were Easier to Love. Once you get past her her meager accomplishments, there is little to say about Emily, as she is fairly uninteresting.

CLW: If you could change one thing about your writing life, Emily, what would it be?

EWS: I’d love to have more of a routine in my writing.  I’ve never been good at keeping to any sort of schedule, and my writing life is no different.  Some days I will write for hours at a time, but more frequent are the days I waste time figuring out how to organize my day.  I’m always trying to balance my life to include writing, the more mundane aspects of life, and all the other things that always seem to need doing.

CLW: What are your favorite three books that you read last year?

I’ve had lots of books by friends come out this year, so I’m excluding those from my list.  If pressed to mention just three, I loved the young adult novel, Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork (I was also lucky enough to get an advance copy of his new title The Last Summer of the Death Warriors, and it was terrific, too). If I Stay by Gayle Forman was another young adult book with prose I found absolutely stunning.  While the book is a couple of years old, I just recently read RED: Teenage Girls In America Write On What Fires Up Their Lives Today. The book, edited by Amy Goldwasser, is a collection of essays written by girls ages 13-18 and is in turns charming, horrifying, and genuine.

CLW: What can people expect to learn in your class at WIFYR this year?

EWS: In my class at WIFYR people can expect to learn what they’re ready to learn.  It’s not going to be the same for everyone–it never is.  Creative writing isn’t like math.  When I’ve attended this conference in years past, I’ve always learned new aspects of the craft and the business, regardless of where I’ve been on my professional journey.  I’m sure it’s differed from what my classmates learned.  But that’s what makes writing process so interesting.

CLW: What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you at a book signing?

EWS: I was at one book signing with multiple authors, and as I was looking for my seat, I found my nameplate next to one that read CHERIE BENNETT.  I recognized her name immediately because I read her books in the early 90’s, when it was common to make the author’s name appear larger than the actual title of the book.  But I couldn’t believe this author whose work had been so pivotal in my own adolescence actually lived in Utah.  It couldn’t be.  I’d know, wouldn’t I?

Hesitantly, I asked her if she’d written a book, the title of which I’d forgotten, but with a storyline I rehashed, and realized I knew remarkably well.  It was, indeed, her novel Goodbye, Best Friend.  Now that I had introduced myself so stupidly, we continued to chat, the whole night passing in a surreal blur.  It was funny not in the make-you-laugh sense, but the I-can’t-believe-this sense.

CLW: What is your best writing advise to beginners just starting novels?

EWS: My advice to new writers is FINISH YOUR BOOK. Finish your book and be willing to revise.  Lots of people have ideas for books, but the ability to actually write them, then revise, is what separates the writers from the dabblers.

Even as a child, Emily Wing Smith had overly thick eyebrows, a passion for writing, and a tendency toward attending odd schools.  So it wasn’t much of a surprise when she graduated first with a BA in English from Brigham Young University, and later with an MFA in Writing for Children from Vermont College.  It’s also no real shocker that she spends too much money on eyebrow waxing.

Emily lives with her husband in Salt Lake City, where she writes, bakes chocolate chip cookies, and occasionally substitutes at her old high school (which hasn’t gotten any less odd).  This is her first novel.

Emily Wing Smith will lead the breakout session “A Lawyer and a Writer Walk into a Bar” on Monday, June 14, 4 p.m. and “Narrative Collage” Wednesday, June 16, 3 p.m.

2010 Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Conference: Introduction, Kristyn Crow, Sara Zarr, Brandon Mull, Kevin Hawkes

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