Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Speaking with Emily Smucker, Author of Teen-Memoir "Emily"

Emily Smucker, the 19-year-old author of Emily in the "Louder Than Words" series, is a Mennonite writer who loves to drink tea, wear bright colors, and blog about her unpredictable life.

Plagued with some sort of cold or fever or bizarre ache or pain for much of her life, Emily thought the dizziness and stomachaches at the start of her senior year were just another bout of “Emily flu.” She was eventually diagnosed with the rare and incurable West Nile virus.

The Louder than Words series, edited by Deborah Reber,, is the first-ever series of teen-authored memoirs, written by teens for teens.

What led you to start writing?
I've always loved making up stories, and when I was about ten I began to try writing them down. It was very frustrating at first. I could never seem to finish a story once I started it. But the more I did it, the better I got, and the more I fell in love with it. By the time I was 15 I was carrying a notebook around with me everywhere I went. The blogging craze hit my group of peers around that time, and so I started a blog. But while they have since abandoned their blogs, I still blog regularly, and it has been a tremendous help in my writing.

How did you decide which parts of your experience to include in your memoir?
Writing my memoir was sort of like putting a puzzle together. I took all my blog and diary entries from that year and tried to fit them together. What I ended up eliminating was the stuff that didn't contribute to the big picture. Well, basically stuff that I felt was too personal or too stupid, or that mentioned some person or place that would be confusing to the reader, since I never spoke of it before or since.

How is blogging similar to/different than writing a memoir?
There are two main differences that I see. First of all, writing a memoir was like putting a puzzle together, trying to figure out how little snippets of my life fit into a big picture. When I blog, however, I just jot down whatever I feel like saying, and don't have to worry about how it ties in to another piece of work.

The second main difference is the fact that a book is much more important and long lasting than a blog post. If I post something stupid on my blog, no one is going to go back in the blog archives five years from now and laugh at me. Unless they are a stalker. With my book, though, someone could easily read it five years from now.

The bottom line is, writing a memoir is a lot more of a careful precise job than writing a blog post.

What was your favorite part of writing the book? The greatest challenge?

My favorite part of writing the book was watching little snippets of my life turn into a complete story. It made me feel like perhaps my pain had been worth something, if it could be turned into an interesting story.

The greatest challenge, no question, was editing. It didn't help that I was trying to edit it on my mom's laptop while driving from Oregon to Colorado. Needless to say, I got somewhat carsick.

Each author page has a "play list" for her book.
Why did you choose those songs for your soundtrack?
When my editor told me I should pick out a playlist of songs, I was in a bit of a quandary. I almost never listen to music. I have a few songs that I like and that I listen to over and over again, but none of them really seemed to go along with my book.

So I called my friend Bethany. She is sort of obsessed with music. She made up a HUGE list of songs she thought I might like, and after listening to every single one I finally found three that I sort of liked.

"I have a Dream," by ABBA
- This one had a pretty tune and it reminded me of all the beautiful dreams for my future I had while being sick. Dreams were sort of my lifeline.

"Fireflies," by Faith Hill
- Bethany always said this song reminded her of me. It describes the way I like to imagine and dream.

"Beauty from Pain," by Superchic[k]
- When I wrote my book, I felt like I was finally seeing something beautiful, a story, come out of my pain. That's why I chose this song.

I added "You," by Switchfoot, because I think it is probably my favorite song. It is so hauntingly beautiful and it describes how I feel about God. Ultimately, it's not about me, it's about Him.

If I could contribute to the list now, I would probably add some Owl City songs, like "Fireflies" or "Hot Air Balloon," because the sort of dreamy randomness is similar to the way I think and wrote my book. I would also add "We Could Run Away" by Needtobreathe, because it describes the way I always wished I could just run away and fix my life somewhere else.

Who are some of your favorite authors?
My favorite books to read are middle grade fiction books, so my favorite authors are usually ones that have won the Newbery award or honor at some point. This includes Jerry Spinelli, Lous Sachar, Gail Carson Levine, Shannon Hale, Sharon Creech, E. L. Konigsburg, Kate DiCamillo, Robin McKinley, Lloyd Alexander, and Avi.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing?
If you write and write and write, eventually you'll be able to finish a story. Don't be discouraged if you can't do it now. You will learn, eventually.

Advice for young writers?

I would advise young writers to start a blog. There are so many ways that blogging can be helpful to a writer. I once made a decision to post at least once a week, and this has helped me learn to be disciplined as a writer. Blogging has helped me determine what is boring and what is fascinating to readers, based on the number of hits or comments I get. People saw me as a real writer when I began blogging, and when the time came to write a memoir, 40% of it was already done and on my blog.

What's next?

Hopefully a novel with a teenage Mennonite girl as a protagonist. Different plots have gone through my head, but none have formed themselves into a novel yet. Sometimes I doubt that I am capable of writing a novel at 19. But who knows? After all, I wrote (well, mostly compiled) a memoir when I was 18!

1 comment:

  1. Good Job!!! I really enjoyed this interview. Wish I could give you a hug...Ilva
    I hate the way Google says DAVID... SIGH