In Jennifer E. Smith’s 2012 book, “The Statistical Probability of Love At First Sight,” teenager Hadley Sullivan misses her flight and is stuck at JFK airport when she meets the cute and squeal-inducing Oliver. They end up sitting next to each other on a plane to London and fall in love.
The author says people who’ve read the book identified so much with Hadley that they expected to meet their own Oliver. “I just laugh because I get a lot of messages and tweets from people who are like, ‘I’m really mad at you because I didn’t get to meet Oliver at the airport.’ The book did not come with a guarantee. I think I’ve set up everybody for disappointment,” says Jennifer.
She’s here to sign books for National Book Store; she was in Cebu yesterday, and will be at SM Aura and the Manila International Book Fair. She came with fellow author Lissa Price.
“The Statistical…” is so popular that a film version is currently under production, with Academy Award winner Dustin Lance Black (“Milk,” “J. Edgar”) writing and directing.
Inquirer Super chats with Jennifer about love at first sight, balancing life as a writer and editor, and mistaken identities.
How did National Book Store get you to come here?
They asked me on Twitter. There was a week when National Book Store kept tweeting about my books so I followed them, and a minute later they sent me a message asking me if I was free and then they got in touch with my publisher. I had heard such amazing things about this thing that they do. It’s my first time in Asia, and I’m excited to see Cebu, too. I’m also going to Japan after this. I figured that it took such a long flight to get here … that it might be fun to go elsewhere, too. But I’m so excited to be in the Philippines, I’ve been wanting to come for a long time.
What’s the new book about?
It’s gonna be called “Hello, Goodbye and Everything In Between.” It’s about a couple who’ve have been together for two years, and the night before they leave for college—they’re going to school on opposite ends of the United States—they haven’t decided whether they should break up. One of them is very hopeful and another’s very pragmatic. It takes place in the span of 12 hours, and they revisit all the places that were important to them as they make a decision.
How do you tap into these timely situations?
I think a lot of it is just remembering what it was like; the books start from real experiences, things that happen to me, but I put a spin on them and add a cute boy.
What was the inspiration for “The Statistical Probability of Love At First Sight?”
I travel a lot but I, too, have not met an Oliver character at the airport. But the idea for that book came because a similar thing happened to me. I was at the airport once from Chicago to Dublin and—this is not a romantic story at all—I was sitting next to an older Irish gentleman; he was very nice and we spent the whole night talking about the book I was reading which he had read and, by the time we landed, we were like buddies.
But when we got to Customs, we were split up and never had the chance to say goodbye to each other. I remember thinking how crazy it is that you could spend seven hours talking to somebody and never even know their last name, probably never going to see them again. It just seemed like an interesting place to start a love story.
That is the dream, isn’t it? You go on a flight and you sit next to someone cute.
But it never happens. Everyone’s disappointed with me because they end up sitting next to a screaming child. I’ve definitely set up lofty expectations.
The movie is in production, and Dustin Lance Black is writing and directing. How did that happen?
I’m a huge fan of his, so it was so exciting when I heard he was interested. He’s written a wonderful script and he’s planning to direct it. I got to spend time with him… It’s a hard journey from book to film, nothing’s totally certain, but I’m so grateful to the people involved, it’s really a passion project. The film rights were optioned by two independent producers and one of them had worked with Dustin on “Milk,” which is the movie he won an Oscar for (Best Original Screenplay). One of the producers had lunch with him and gave him the book, and he was like, “Why are you giving me this YA love story?” And she said, “Go home and read this. If you can put it down, you never have to call me again.” And he went home and read it and loved it. I can’t say enough good things about him.
Have you ever seen “The Statistical…” at an airport?
I’ve seen it at an airport which is especially apropos. I feel extra excited when I see it there. I feel that that is where it should live.
One of your books, “This Is What Happy Looks Like,” was inspired by mistaken identities through e-mail, which happens to you a lot.
My name is so common in the States. What happens more often is someone gets my e-mails— people often miss the “e” in the middle. I started thinking that there’s some other Jennifer Smith who’s been getting my e-mails for like decades and I wondered what would happen if that person answered. It happens to me at work, too. I work as an editor and my e-mail’s “JESmith,” and “JSmith” gets a lot of my stuff. When you’re a J Smith it’s an ongoing problem.
So I started thinking, wouldn’t it be interesting if the person actually wrote back, and then I got into the Hollywood star thing because I thought, who would benefit the most from having that kind of relationship where the other person doesn’t know who they are, and I thought, movie star!
Of course it’s a movie star in a book. Which Hollywood heartthrob would you accidentally want to e-mail?
I really like nerdy, funny guys; my favorite person is John Krasinski. I love him. He’s probably my No. 1.
What’s it like to be an editor and a writer?
It’s a balancing act. It can be tough in terms of management, +l, but I’ve learned so much. I think I’m a better writer for being an editor, and I’m a better editor for being a writer. I work with authors I’m really passionate about, and it’s a real joy to bring their work out into the world. I don’t think of it as a day job, I think of it as a career. A lot of people don’t even find one thing they’re passionate about doing and I’m lucky enough to have found two. As long as I can continue to juggle both, I would love to keep doing that.
What’s a day like for you?
No day is the same. Sometimes I write with friends. There are a lot of YA authors in New York, and sometimes we’ll write together. It’s nice because it’s like having colleagues in a job where you don’t have colleagues.
Which authors do you write with?
Sarah Mlynowski. We write at her apartment. Robin Wasserman, E. Lockhart, Maureen Johnson and others. At any given day there’s only two or three of us, but it’s a rotating cast of characters.
Do you believe in love at first sight?
I do. I’m a hopeful romantic, an optimist down to my toes. I have never experienced love at first sight, but I’ve heard enough stories from friends and others who have experienced it, so I would like to believe it’s possible.
Catch Jennifer E. Smith today, Sept. 20, 2 p.m. at SM Aura Premier; and tomorrow, Sept. 21, 2 p.m. at the National Book Store booth, Manila International Book Fair, SMX Convention Center.
Her books are available at National Book Store. Shop online and buy eBooks at www.nationalbookstore.com, and earn reward points for online purchases. Follow National Book Store on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @nbsalert.