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Five Questions With…Andrew Smith (100 Sideways Miles)

by April Hall
 | Jul 17, 2015

Andrew SmithWith nine published works in six years, there’s no doubt Andrew Smith is prolific. What may be hard to believe is that he almost gave up writing for good. But Smith was encouraged to keep writing and has seen success in the form of accolades in the publishing world and attention from Hollywood. He stays grounded in journalism, where he found an authentic voice, and teaching, regularly talking to teachers and librarians about the role of young adult literature in the world.

How did your journalism background inform your fiction writing?

I think my background in journalism helped me quite a bit—not just in learning the nuts and bolts of clear expression, but in a more fundamentally important way: When I started off as a stringer reporter for my local newspaper, I was paid by the inch of copy that I produced. This encouraged me to write excessively long sentences and paragraphs—elements that I think are characteristics of my prose in fiction. Also, probably the most influential course I ever took as a graduate student was a class in writing narrative nonfiction. The professor was incredible, and it was probably the most enjoyable writing course I've ever taken.

I noticed your pinned Twitter post about the Printz Award for Grasshopper Jungle and now a movie adaptation. Was it how the book came to be (you’ve said it poured out of you in just a couple of months) or the way it was received that convinced you to keep writing?

Neither. I think what convinced me to keep writing were my friendship with my agent, Michael Bourret; the encouragement and support I received from my very dear friend, A.S. King; and the tremendous opportunity I had in working with my editor, Julie Strauss-Gabel. What could possibly be more inspiring than that?
 
Will there be another installment of The Marbury Lens?

marbury lensI really, really want to write a third (and final) piece to The Marbury Lens. I've known for years what it will be about, and I'd always intended to do it. So I'll have to say yes to the question, but I can't say specifically when I'll get around to letting it out onto the pages.
 
What did adding the short story “King of Marbury,” bring to the series?

There have always been two major interpretations about Jack's experiences in Marbury. About half my readers see Marbury as a posttraumatic experience along the lines of hallucination or mental illness; while the other half sees Marbury as someplace real. I like both interpretations, but I wanted to offer some kind of backstory about where Marbury came from, and how it bridges to Jack and Conner's here-and-now. So, when Tor asked me to write the story (which is told entirely from Conner's point of view), I thought it would be fun. And I also got to give readers an idea of where the super-bad kid Quinn Cahill came from.
 
Why should YA lit stay weird?

I'm going to admit that as much as people use words like "weird," "geek," and "nerd," that I don't like those terms because they seem too name-cally to me, and I was called those things when I was a kid in school, and they never made me feel good about myself. I understand that the intent behind those words has kind of evolved over time, but I still don't like them—ESPECIALLY when we're talking about others, particularly kids. Now that I've gotten that out of the way, when I explained to my team at Penguin the reservations I had about the word "weird," they explained that they intended it to mean extremely imaginative literary experimentalism—which is something that's wayyy too long to print on a button or a tote bag. So I said, OK, let's go ahead and keep it weird, in that case.

Smith will sit on a panel Saturday, July 18 at the ILA 2015 Conference in St. Louis entitled “Diversity in YA Literature: Where Have We Been, Where Are We Now, and Where Do We Go From Here?” Visit the ILA 2015 Conference website for more information or to register.

April Hall is editor of Literacy Daily. A journalist for about 20 years, she has specialized in education, writing and editing for newspapers, websites, and magazines.

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