This past week, I had the extraordinary privilege of doing three book events with young adult writer Emily Wing Smith. Our second young adult novels each came out within a week of each other so it seemed like a natural to have her fly out to the Bay Area and do booksignings together.
I met Emily a couple of years ago at the annual SCBWI conference in Los Angeles and fell in love with her immediately, which to be honest, probably happens to everybody who meets Emily. She’s quirky, honest, and beautiful. Spend even just a few minutes with her and you’ll notice that all these random things fall out of her mouth, except it turns out, they’re not exactly random–they’re hilarious critiques on life, herself, her Mormon faith, and the world around her.
It’s no surprise to anybody who knows me that I’m fascinated with religion and Mormonism is no exception. One of the things I love about Emily is how quickly she understands and acknowledges the difference between Mormon culture and Mormon faith. A long long time ago, I left Christianity because I was sick of Christian culture and it seemed to me that 90% of the Christians around me couldn’t distinguish between the culture and the faith. Well, Emily’s had the same experience within Mormonism–but she stuck it out and she stayed. And now she writes about it. Her first novel, The Way He Lived, takes place in Haven, Utah, a town where 96% of the population is Mormon and does things a certain way because “that’s Mormonism.” Her second novel, Back When You Were Easier to Love, is a romantic comedy. It also takes place in Haven–and this book is a more direct analysis of the difference between being Mormon culturally (right down to drinking Sprite all the time) and being Mormon because you agree with the church’s theological teachings. The main character Joy is obsessed with her boyfriend, Barry Manilow, and the fact that she hates hates hates Haven. There’s a road trip, a surprise birthday gift, Las Vegas, and one of those awful open-mic poetry readings that we’ve all suffered through. It’s a book about discovering that the person you thought you loved is not the person you thought he was nor is he the person you love (and most of us have been through that experience.)
The book is funny and awesome and I’m happy to give one copy away to one of my readers. To be entered in the contest, please write about a time in your life when you thought you were in love and found out that maybe things weren’t quite what they seemed. The contest is also taking place on my facebook page, under notes, but I’ll keep track.
I asked Emily to share a few thoughts with me and here they are.
Readers have used the word “stalkerish” to describe Joy—the same word, ironically, that has been used to describe me! Okay, so maybe not so ironically. I’ve always been the obsessive type, especially as a teen—about my writing, my friends, and yes, also guys. A guy, more specifically. People called me obsessed, but they weren’t bothered by it as much as some readers are bothered by Joy.
I think some of us don’t want to be reminded of how that kind of obsession exists, because it’s scary and somewhat pathetic to remember being that dependent on someone else for our own happiness. But for a lot of people, it’s been true at one point or another. The trick is learning to depend on yourself. It’s the same for the characters whose journey we share–whether they figure it out in one-third of a book or it takes them the whole thing.
Don’t name names, but surely you’ve known someone like Zan. (Haven’t we all). Tell us about it!
I met “Zan” in high school. Actually there were two guys who made up Zan—and one of them actually did wear his grandpa’s shoes! The other guy did make up his own language and didn’t fit in well with the rest of the student body. I thought he was cool, but most people didn’t share my opinion. He ditched town as soon as he could.
You’ve told me you moved to a town just like Haven when you were about Joy’s age. (Maybe it was Haven, I don’t know.) Was your experience anything like Joy’s? What was it like, going from California to Mormon Utah?
When I was a teenager, I moved to a city almost identical to Haven. It wasn’t far from where I’d grown up–both areas were suburbs of Salt Lake City–but it was like a different world. Mormons are divided into congregations (wards) via geographical location. Instead of asking me where I lived, kids would ask me what ward I was in—before even asking if I was Mormon. I am Mormon, but I wasn’t used to it being a given. I wasn’t used to the city’s quirks that were so natural to everyone at my new high school. It got me wondering: if these quirks were so jarring to me, who had only moved thirty miles, how jarring would they be to someone who’d moved from a different state? That’s when the character Joy Afterclein was born.
So….why young adult literature?
I’ve wanted to write young adult fiction since the time I was a young adult myself. I read YA literature in junior high and high school, studied YA literature in college, and specialized in YA literature in graduate school. I feel the same way a lot of YA authors feel: that in my heart, I will forever be seventeen years old.