The American author of best-selling young adult novels has woven her tales of coming of age, young love and self-discovery around fate or destiny and chance encounters. Strangers cross paths and fall in love often because of a glitch—from missed flights and mistaken identities to elevator mishaps.
But it is in her latest book where Jennifer explores the more sober side of fate and illustrates how it can alter not only people’s relationships but their entire lives as well.
In “Windfall,” Alice and Teddy have been friends most of their lives. The two encounter Lady Luck when Alice, who’s secretly in love with Teddy, buys him a lottery ticket. Teddy ends up winning a fortune, and Alice realizes that what most people say about money is true: It changes everything.
Jennifer, along with author Jasmine Warga, was in the Philippines for book signings organized by National Book Store. It was the second time for Jennifer to be here, having visited our shores for a book tour in 2014.
Super talked to Jennifer about her journey as an author and how fate played a pivotal part in her own life.
What made you say yes again to National Book Store?
I have never met readers like the readers from the Philippines. I had such an amazing trip last time.
What was your most memorable experience?
To have people who are so enthusiastic and love your books so much and who come up and tell you that. Just the excitement and the love.
Were you surprised Filipinos are huge readers?
I’ve talked about it so much in the [United States], about how the Philippines’ readers are in a whole different league. They are just the best readers. I don’t know what it is about the way people grow up with books here. I wish we could bring some of that back in the US… it’s incredible.
What was your inspiration behind “Windfall”?
I’m always kind of obsessed with moments in time that act as hinges—days when there’s a clear split between before and after. Themes that have to do with change, fate and serendipity…
I don’t know if there’s anything that captures that so perfectly as winning the lottery. [When] I was in a bodega—like a little convenience store in New York—standing in line was a really young guy who was buying a lottery ticket, and the whole setup came to me.
I wanted to tell the story of somebody young who wins. The idea of winning something like that and your whole life changing before you’ve even figured out who you are is interesting to me. I wanted the person who bought the ticket to be in love with him, to—unfortunately—set this whole thing in motion that actually carries him farther away from her.
Do you believe in luck?
I definitely believe in luck. I believe things happen for a reason. This brings up questions like, if something bad happens to you, are you automatically due something good? Or if something good happens to you, are you just waiting for the other shoe to drop?
Have you ever bought a lottery ticket?
Before the book, I’ve only ever gotten one. When the jackpot was really high, my family and I bought it when we were on vacation together. I’m definitely not a big lottery player.
Right after I sold the book, I played the numbers (that Alice picked in “Windfall”), thinking it will be great publicity if I win—but I did not. (Laughs)
Chance, fate or destiny has played a significant part in your novels. Has it also played a significant part in your life?
I was there in the earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, a few years ago. There were all these moments. We were going to go take a tour of a cathedral, and then at the last minute, we decided to get lunch instead. That cathedral collapsed.
We were going to eat lunch inside a restaurant, and then we saw there were cute lamps, so we decided to eat outside. Then there was all this damage to the restaurant. That’s obviously an extreme example.
Literally, if you’ve gone one way, things could’ve been very different. There’s a reason I keep coming back to these themes. Even when I set out to write a book that has nothing to do with those, I end up circling back to them almost without meaning to because I just find them interesting.
I read that Lauren Graham’s film production company is going to adapt “Windfall” into a movie. What can you tell me about it?
Lauren is one of my favorite people in the world. I’ve worked with her as her editor in her books. I’m a huge fan of her writing and I think we have similar sensibilities. I trust her instincts. There’s nobody else in the world I would rather have write the script for this book.
Speaking of film adaptations, do you have any updates regarding “The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight” movie?
Hailee Steinfeld is no longer attached, but they’re in a new phase of the project now. They’re currently casting it with an eye toward production next year. Hopefully we’ll have exciting news to share soon.
How do you plot out your stories?
I usually start with a situation. It’s always a “what if this happens?” What if you miss your flight by four minutes and end up sitting next to a person you’re meant to meet? Then I just feel my way through it. The weirdest part of my process is I don’t really know my characters that well when I start, but as soon as I get an idea, I jump right in. What happens is over the course of the book—every fork in the road, every decision they make, everything they do, everything they encounter—I get to know them a little bit better.
There are often times when I don’t know something’s going to happen until I’ve literally written it. I sometimes joke that I think through my fingertips.
If you could give one piece of advice to your past self, what would it be?
Just to keep working. I always say, “Don’t be afraid of failure,” and I mean that wholeheartedly. I had two books that were rejected before my first one was published and two books that didn’t sell much before “The Statistical Probability.”
When I look back, I think of [how] I poured my heart and soul into the first book that didn’t get published. Afterward, the first thing I did was open up a new blank document, sit down and write 400 more pages.
You’re so resilient!
It seems like a crazy thing to do. I’m so grateful that my younger self did that. It’s because I loved it. I love to write. I was crushed, for sure, but I also sat down and started again.
Can you tell me anything about your future book?
I can’t talk about it much yet, but it takes place on a cross-country train ride across America, from New York to San Francisco. That’s all I’ll say for now. It’s a love story. I’m excited about it.
Jennifer E. Smith’s books are available at National Book Store.