When Ryan Walsh cuts class to visit Wrigley Field on the fifth anniversary of her father's death, she meets Nick, the new kid from her school, who seems to love the Cubs nearly as much as she does. But Nick carries with him a secret that makes Ryan wonder if anyone can ever really escape their past, or believe in the promise of those reassuring words: "Wait till next year." Is it too much for Ryan to hope that this year, this season, might be her comeback season?
Join us in congratulating Jennifer E. Smith on the publication of her warm and poignant debut novel.
Melissa W.: Tell us about your newest book.
Jennifer: It’s a love story about two kids who meet at a Cubs game, and the way they teach each other to hope, even when the odds are against them.
Melissa W.: Do you remember writing the first words? Are they still the same?
Jennifer: Yes, actually the whole first chapter is almost exactly the same. I’d been watching the Cubs lose for what seemed like the millionth time, and when I turned off the game, the movie Fever Pitch happened to be on another channel. I have nothing against the Red Sox, but I remember thinking that the Cubs have just as many curses and an even longer losing streak, and that their fans have done their fair share of suffering too. I went straight to my computer without knowing what I was going to write, but almost as soon as I sat down, the character of Ryan just kind of appeared in my head, sitting there on the train on her way to Wrigley Field, the way she does at the opening of the book. It only took me about an hour to write the first chapter, and it’s hardly changed at all. It was one of those really rare and lucky moments, when something comes so naturally that it almost seems like you’ve been carrying the story around forever, without even knowing it.
Melissa W.: It's a great feeling when that happens. What kind of research did you have to do for this story?
Jennifer: I’ve been to a lot of Cubs games over the years. It was a very tedious research process!
Melissa W.: What was your inspiration for this story?
Jennifer: It’s a story about hope, but it’s also about loss. A lot of people can’t bear to read sad stories, but I’ve always been really drawn to them, because they move you in a way that makes them really meaningful. My favorite books growing up were always the ones with a lot of heart, books like Where the Red Fern Grows and Bridge to Terabithia – the kinds of stories where you really feel like you’ve really been through something by the time you reach the end. Those are the ones that have stayed with me through the years, and I think there’s something to be said for that. So I guess I took inspiration from a lot of different places, but mostly I just wanted to write the kind of book I’d like to read.
Melissa W.: What is the hardest part of writing for you?
Jennifer: Finding the time to do it. I work in publishing too, so I spend a lot of time focusing on other people’s books. It’s something I love to do, but both writing and editing take a lot of creative energy, so it’s sometimes hard to balance the two. Overall, I think it’s a good thing – I think I’ve become a better writer because of the time I’ve spent editing books, and a better editor for being a writer. But it would be helpful if there were more hours in a day to do both!
Melissa W.: If you can work on that more hours thing, I know plenty of writers who would be grateful! What are you working on now?
Jennifer: Another YA novel called You Are Here, about a boy and a girl who come from different backgrounds and seem like opposites, but who get thrown together on a sort of haphazard road trip, and find out they’re more similar than they thought. It’ll be out from Simon & Schuster in Summer 2009.
Melissa W.: Sounds fantastic! I love a road trip story. What’s on your nightstand right now?
Jennifer: War and Peace (partly as decoration, partly as wishful thinking), Love in the Time of Cholera, Alice in Wonderland, and a somewhat chewed up copy of Beagles for Dummies (I have a three month old puppy who likes to eat books almost as much as I like to read them).
Melissa W.: Congratulations on your first novel, Jennifer and good luck with that puppy!
~~~Cafe Note~~ As a regular part of our interviews, featured authors will pop back in for one week after their interview is posted to answer any other questions blog readers may leave for them. So if you have any questions or comments for Jennifer, send them now! She'd love to hear from you!