The Way She Lives

EmilyToday I’m honored to have Emily Wing Smith on my blog. Welcome to the show, Em.

I’ve mentioned her book, The Way He Lived, a million times on this blog, but it’s time Emily got a full spotlight from me because a.) her book recently made the “challenged” list in some county in Florida, and b.) last week she competed with Sara Zarr‘s Sweethearts for the Utah Book Award in the young adult category. Both true signs of greatness!

For those who don’t know, “The Utah Book Award was established to honor outstanding achievements by Utah writers and to recognize books written with a Utah theme or setting.” The awards ceremony took place last Thursday, but I sent these questions to Emily beforehand, so they sound a little old news. Sorry about that, readers.

Emily, what’s so “Utah” about your book that you’re up for this prestigious award?

Well, contrary to popular belief, although this is called the Utah Book Award, it doesn’t mean the book has to be about Utah—only that the author needs to live here. Many times the books are set in Utah—as with my book—but this isn’t always the case.

What will you do with the money if you win?

Sara and I were planning to pool the money and split it 50/50, but when I won she generously rescinded her offer. Which is her loss, really, because with my winnings I plan to go see Barry Manilow in concert. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that magic?

Let’s talk about your book first and then your writing life.

What other recognitions has your book received thus far?

I was very pleased to receive a starred review in Publishers Weekly—a big deal for me, especially because I think so highly of PW. It also received a starred review from the Teens Know Best Galley Review at School Library Journal. The upcoming edition of ALAN, a journal for secondary school English teachers, will feature an interview with me as well as a spotlight on my book. And I’ve been honored to receive a lot of glowing reviews here locally.

Your book is composed of six stories from six perspectives. Which of the six was your favorite to write and why?

No one story was my favorite. While in the process of writing this book, I told my critique group (including the lovely and talented Kim Webb Reid), “Each one of these narrators is completely different, yet they each sound exactly like me. How is that possible?” I think the reason I’m not most attached to any certain character is because a part of me is in each one of them. Some were easier to write than others, though. Likewise, I’m equally pleased with how each one turned out. Some flowed very naturally, some didn’t, but eventually they all got to the right place.

Why was your book challenged? Is it racy?

Recently, my book was challenged in Lake County, FL. I don’t know the details, as no one ever notified me about it (except my agent, who, after reading an article about the challenge, told me: “Way to go!”). Is the book “racy?” I guess that depends on your definition. There are definitely some serious topics touched on in the narrative—mental illness, gay marriage, and suicide, just to name a few. But for me, that doesn’t make a book racy—it makes it an honest look at the complicated world we live it.

Now let’s talk about your writing and publishing.

You’ve talked before about hearing voices; it’s not hard for you to write from multiple perspectives because the characters for this book popped fully formed into your head. Is that similar to the writing process for your other manuscripts? Do the characters always come first?

For me, the characters always come first. This isn’t to say they don’t change in the process of writing. Sometimes I’ll get to a scene, thinking I know the direction it will take, and then realize, “That isn’t what she would do!”

What are some of your current and future projects?

Currently, I’m working on revisions for my next book, another young adult novel called Back When You Were Easier to Love. It will be released from Dutton/Penguin in early 2011. I’ve also started another YA novel I’m quite excited about.

Every author seems to have a different path to publication, and sometimes the amount of luck that is seemingly involved can be frustrating to writers who are working hard. Of all the factors that led to your publication, what are three strokes of luck or genius that you think played the most key parts in your becoming a published author?

For me, writing is a business inherent with frustration. My personal belief is that you have to be a writer simply because you can’t be happy doing anything else. If you find another profession equally or more fulfilling, do that instead!

People often ask me how I got published, and the story is short. What they never ask me is how I didn’t get published, and that story is long. I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since I was a child, and I’ve constantly worked toward that goal. I completed my first novel in 2001. My first novel was accepted for publication in 2007. The fourth book I wrote was the first one to be published. For six years I dealt with everything involved in being an aspiring writer: the near misses at publication, the weird looks I got when people found out about my “career plans,” the helplessness I felt about finding the right match for my work.

While you need strokes of luck in this business, you also need strokes of genius, and they’re not the same thing! So I’m including two strokes of each!


  • I continued writing and submitting. This is key. It’s not what anyone wants to hear. You want to hear that your talent, or your killer story idea, or whatever it is, shines through. But this happens rarely. Most often it takes continuing in the face of rejection galore, and it takes a mad genius to keep at it. And I mean mad as in crazy, not mad as in cool.
  • I went to writing conferences and got my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College. While getting an MFA is certainly not necessary, it does help you learn the discipline you need as a writer—and helps you hone your craft. For me, it helped to spend time with other writers, talking about issues and bouncing ideas off them in ways you really can’t with non-writers. Conferences are important for the same reasons. You need to spend time with like-minded individuals so you know what you’re getting into! But mainly you need to go to prove you’re serious about writing and are treating it like a professional. Plus, you learn a lot and often can make contacts in the publishing world.


  • One of my best friends at Vermont College, Carrie Jones, had recently sold her first book to Flux, a then brand-new house publishing exclusively young adult titles. She read my manuscript and thought her editor would like it. I sent it to him, he did indeed like it, and it was published just over a year later.
  • After my book was accepted, I joined an online community and met Sara Zarr, Anne Bowen, and James Dashner. Not only have they all been great friends, Sara recommended me to her agent, Michael Bourret, who I then signed with. He’s great, and he negotiated my sale to Dutton within weeks.

Now let’s talk about, “Who is this Emily Wing Smith?”

You just had your 29 birthday. What are 5 things you’ll do before 30?

  • Meet M.E Kerr
  • See Barry Manilow
  • Finish writing another book
  • Sell another book
  • Gain a working knowledge of very basic technology

Who are your favorite YA authors?

M.E Kerr as well as our local YA authors.

How do you go about stalking a favorite YA author without getting arrested?

I am not the person to ask about this! Number of YA authors I’ve successfully stalked: Zero. Would I like to change this? Yes. Am I working to change it? Yes. Is it likely? No. I’ve unsuccessfully stalked quite a few YA authors, but I’ve never been arrested for it.

I know that writing is life, but what about when you’re not writing? What are two other prominent interests and hobbies in your life? (Or three? Or five?)

It’s boring, but I like to hang out with my family. My husband and I have Game Night with my sister, bro-in-law, and their one-year-old every weekend. I also love to organize! My label maker is my best friend.

One of my favorite sayings is, “Everyone loves Emily.” I like it because a.) I made it up, and b.) it’s true. But in order to be loved by everyone, you have to be known by everyone. How did you meet every writer in the world by the ripe age of 29? Do you ever feel shy around famous people or do you feel like most writers are your peeps because you’re all involved in the same thing?

Kim, does anyone except you actually use this phrase? I’m not sure that everything you say qualifies as a “saying,” but whatever. Meeting every writer in the world by age 29 is easy if you simply find out how many writers there are in the world, divide it by the number of days in your life, and then meet that many writers per day. You can do it, too. And, as a start, you already know me.

Pretend you’ve just been presented with the Utah Book Award. What is your speech as you accept the trophy/medal/money/candy bar/gift basket?

Last year nobody at the Utah Book Awards gave acceptance speeches, so I wasn’t planning one for this year. I did end up thanking the Utah Center for the Book, who presented the award, and Sara Zarr, my friend and fellow finalist who was rooting for me the whole time. Had I actually written a speech, I would have also thanked my writing group, my husband, and my family, especially my dad.

Congrats, again Emily.

Readers, if you would like to win an autographed copy of The Way He Lived, leave a comment, congratulations, or question for Emily and you’ll be entered in a drawing. Deadline is Halloween at midnight.

*Update* – I’m pushing the deadline to Nov. 1 at midnight. I forgot you are all probably making elaborate Halloween costumes this weekend instead of blog-reading. 🙂 While you’re at it, make me one too. I’ve always wanted to be Snow White.



Filed under Awards, interview

6 responses to “The Way She Lives

  1. Tessa Hauglid

    Congratulations Emily. You are inspiring. And the question I would have asked (is it worth it to get an MFA) was answered in this interview. Way to be clairvoyant.

  2. What an awesome interview! It is inspiring to read the many stories that lead to success. It seems in this day and age that you only hear about the people who happened to make it big overnight. But it really does take a lot of time and work.

    Congrats to Emily!

  3. Sara

    Emily, it’s true … everyone does know you and everyone does love you. I mean, come on, you snuck me into a “completely sold out” event because of your amazing connections.

    And my question to you would be: Are you interested in selling your previous books or just working forward?

  4. I’ve met Emily, and as an Emily myself, I have to say that I agree that everyone does love Emily.

    I would ask Emily if she would mind coming down to Utah County and speak to a group of young writers/readers that I am the leader of. That’s a weird way to word the question, but I know they’d love to hear her story of how she did and didn’t get published.

  5. meaghan

    congratulations on winning the award! (and i love your idea for usage of the prize money!)

  6. Amy

    Way to go Emily! And thanks, Kim, for posting this. It is always encouraging to hear writers tell it like it is!