Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Andrew Smith Interview

Today is the big one. This is my very first interview with a rock star of a published author.

But it's not about me. Hopefully I'm just a vessel through which as many readers as possible can discover this incredibly talented and amazingly courageous storyteller. Even if I didn't know him a little, he would still be the best young adult author I know of.

Okay. It's true, I'm not going to front. I've only read one of Andrew's novels. The Marbury Lens. And there are many other awesome young adult authors out there. But none of them write stories like Andrew. I'm not going to give anything away, but I will say this: if you don't read this tragic, heroic, inspiring, poignant, twisted and disturbing tale of Jack, Con, Seth, Griff, Ben and Marbury you're fucking missing out. Big time.

*i know i don't often swear on my blog, and least not in a hardcore punk rock kind of way, but this story truly deserves it. never have i felt so sickened by and inextricably connected to a character and a narrative as i have to this book. read it. steal it if you have to. in fact, if you're a young man, and you don't have the means to get this book for yourself, send me an email*

Now. Before I go on any longer preaching about things that don't really matter let's get down to it. This is probably going to be the best post you've ever read on this blog. It's also probably going to be the longest. Deal with it. It's worth it.

NOTE: The text in the answers below is Andrew's. Any hyper-links or other shenanigans are put there by me. He's not here to sell us anything, except maybe a love of language, and reading.

EDIT: Don't forget to visit Andrew's blog, and become a follower. I can't believe I forgot to say that the first time.

The interview:

When did you first decide you wanted to be a writer, and how long did it take for that idea to blossom into authorship?

Believe it or not, writing was something I always wanted to do, ever since I was maybe about five years old. All my life I’ve written things. When I was younger, I wrote more poetry and short stories, but I also entertained the idea of one day becoming a playwright, so I have written plays, as well. I wrote novel-length stuff (science fiction and fantasy) when I was in high school, but I never seriously considered writing anything “real” until much later on in life.

How long have you been writing seriously?

Well, I’m not sure what “seriously” means. If it means to get paid for it, my first paid job as a teenager was actually writing (I was a stringer – the lowliest of all possible writing gigs) for a local newspaper. In those days, we got paid by the inch of copy. This encouraged me to write really long sentences, which some people have complained about in my first two novels, Ghost Medicine, and In the Path of Falling Objects.

What is your favorite thing about writing?

My favorite thing, of all possible “things” is making connections with readers – people whom I’ve never met – all over the world. That’s a real kick in the pants.

As far as the “process” part is concerned, I really like it when I’m working on something and it just totally consumes every thought in my head at every moment of the day… especially when I’m lying in bed trying to sleep. That part of the process is like a trip to Marbury, I guess: it puts me in another world, and I most often have no idea what to expect when I start navigating those new territories.

What is the most difficult part?

The difficult part of the external process is all the waiting, the not hearing from people like agents and editors, the wondering if I suck or not, the realization that, to everyone in my writing universe, the bottom line is that this is a business – while to me, the stuff I put out there is a force that can’t be constrained to markets and economics. That shit makes me crazy. Ask anyone who works with me, they’ll tell you – I am completely off the deep end.

Which brings me to the internal part that’s difficult: writing makes me go insane. Really. I don’t know how people put up with me at all.

What is your favorite genre to read?

I prefer realistic fiction. That said, anything that gets into sci-fi or fantasy has to hook me by getting into the internal psychology of the actors. That’s the only thing that will allow me to suspend my filters and get into something that can’t possibly be real. This is what I was trying to do with The Marbury Lens – make people say to themselves, this can’t possibly happen, right?

If you had to meet one of your characters in a dark alley who would you last want to meet, and why?

Mitch, from In the Path of Falling Objects, is a completely soulless and self-centered psychopath who has absolutely no capacity to experience compassion. He’s one terrible and frightening person.

And which character would you want there with you for protection?

For protection, Conner Kirk, from The Marbury Lens, or Tommy Buller, from Ghost Medicine. These guys are not necessarily fearless, but they’d fight to the death for their friends.

Do you stick to any kind of concrete writing schedule? If so how many hours a day do you write?

I begin every day with exercise, coffee, and writing. At 3:00 a.m. Seriously. When I’m writing something new (and, God help me, I haven’t NOT been writing something new since 2009, when I wrote Stick, which will be coming out this fall), I will write between 4 and 8 hours per day. But that writing time is all spread out between the hours of 3 in the morning and 5 in the afternoon, which is when I’ll usually quit for the day.

Do you prefer writing novels or short stories?

At the moment, I have a hard time keeping anything under novel length. So, I guess that means my preference at the moment is to write novels. I have been contracted to write a YA short story for an upcoming anthology, though.

Do you write poetry? Do you read it? Do you have a favorite poet?

This is kind of a tricky question. To be honest, the first three lines of most of the chapters in In the Path of Falling Objects are verse. There are going to be a lot of people who’ll say that parts of Stick are written in verse, too – but they are not. But people will use the “v” word about that novel.

And I think all my books have verse-like passages in them, and definitely verse-like sentences.

I am very picky about reading poetry. I do enjoy it very much, but it’s so easy to write (and publish) bad poetry. Sorry to say that. My favorite poet is Octavio Paz.

Do you outline, or is the plot all in your head? If you do outline how far you deviate from it?

Plots are generally all in my head. I know what is going to happen in the long run, but I usually don’t know every detail of the roadmap to that destination until the words come out on the page. Unfortunately, this method means that I will very often cut out thousands of words of the journey if I think a character has taken a detour that goes against the “big picture” of what I need him to do (ugh… this just happened to me yesterday in the novel I’m writing now). I keep scratch folders of all the stuff I cut out, though… and sometimes those passages will be used in other works.

The only kind of outline I keep is right at the end of what I’m writing. I’ll make a numbered list of what I want to happen. Usually that list will be about 15 points in length, and each point will only have 3 to 10 words about the “next thing” that’s going to happen.

How many novels have you written?

My fourth novel, Stick, will be published in fall 2011. I have three other completed novels sitting on my amazing editor’s desk, and I am working on my eighth novel right now, which I’m planning on finishing by April 22.

Do you have any that you’ve shelved or slipped into a drawer for good?

Only ones I wrote as a teenager. Goofing around stuff. Embarrassingly bad.

What is your biggest strength as a writer? Your biggest weakness?

I think my biggest strength is I make all deadlines my bitch. Everyone I work with knows that when they ask me to have something by a certain date, I always come through well in advance of the deadline. And what I give them is good, too.

My biggest weakness is that I take everything exceedingly personally. Everything hurts. Writing a book always feels like it’s going to kill me. One of these days, I think it really will.

Who is the best author you have only discovered in the last year?

Joe Lunievicz. Seriously. Joe contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in reading his forthcoming debut, Open Wounds. I totally love that book. It’s heroic, moving, and exciting. I can’t wait to see it in print.

I read somewhere that you coach a rugby team. How did you end up getting into that?

I was the first child in my family born in the USA (anchor baby). I spent a lot of years growing up with my family in Italy, where my cousin played rugby for a team in Trieste (hooray for Rugby Trieste). I fell in love with the sport. I also started coaching it when my kids were young and played it here in the states. I started playing more at that time, too. I still love the sport and believe it’s the greatest, most honorable sport ever created by human beings.

Are the All Blacks the greatest dynasty in that sport?

Eh… what can I say to that? I admire them tremendously. In terms of style, I like very much the way that Argentina plays the sport, and I just love to watch Ireland play, too.

I read somewhere else that you’re a fan of Cormac McCarthy. I’ve only read two of his novels so far, but I’ve never seen anything like his writing, and had no idea that simple prose English could be so beautiful. How do you feel about breaking “writing rules” and going off the deep end when it comes to formatting, grammar and punctuation?

You can only break the rules if you know them, otherwise, as my incredible managing editor and friend, Dave Barrett would say, “Sometimes a mistake is just a mistake.”

That said, I think there are some writers who are willing to experiment with their own interpretations of grammar and formatting. You will see this in my next novel, Stick, which was a very challenging book when it came to the copy-editing and set-up phase.

Do you believe novels can affect social change?

Hmm… no. I’m probably wrong, but I don’t believe they can. I don’t even think they should attempt to. I am definitely someone who bristles at prescriptive preachiness from any source. I think what novels do, though, is hold a mirror up to ourselves and society… and that sometimes they can make us aware of certain ugly blemishes which need our attention. However, the actual attention these blemishes are given is a real crapshoot, and the novel itself has nothing to do with it.

What it is like interacting directly with the young men and women who read your books and are your audience?

Well, as I said above, this is really one of the best parts of being a writer. I think that a lot of times, kids and readers in general feel a natural kind of reticence about sending a letter or email, or any other kind of communication, to an author. And I can’t speak for anyone other than myself, but it totally makes my day when I turn on the email and see I’ve got some message from a reader somewhere out there on the planet who made a connection to something I wrote.

It just doesn’t get better than that. And I answer every one I get, too.

In this day and age, the hand-written, on paper, letters are rare… but I have gotten some of those, too, and I have kept every single one of them. There really is nothing like getting a pencil-scrawled note from a kid I’ve never seen in my life, who lives a life that I’ve never had the slightest peek into, but who’s taken the time to reach out and make a connection with some guy who wrote some words that ended up in his hands and head.

And now we have a few questions from my readers:

Raquel Byrnes asked: Why did you choose the era you did for In the Path of Falling Objects? Why the Vietnam War for the brother’s setting?

Okay. A couple things about that book. First of all, and sadly enough, I’ve known a couple kids who’ve gone over to Iraq and Afghanistan for us – for the love of our country – and have sacrificed themselves. I was very small during the Vietnam War, but my eldest brother served in the Army there, and it made a lasting (and horrible) impression on me. I had horrible terrors at night, thinking I’d never see him again. So I wanted to write something about that experience, and something about brothers (there were only boys in my family) for the kids who have family members serving in the military. But I didn’t want to make the book about Afghanistan or Iraq because I don’t think we’ve all absorbed our lessons from that experience yet.

Also, the letters in the novel written between Matthew and Jonah were based very closely on the letters my own brother wrote home from Vietnam. I still have all those letters, by the way.

Marsha Sigman asked: (paraphrasing here) How long after deciding to pursue writing professionally did you manage to become published?

Well… it was a first-out-of-the-gate thing. But it’s a long story, too. I have a dear friend I went to high school with, Kelly Milner Halls, who is quite a successful author of nonfiction for young readers. Anyway, I think it was around 2004 or so, and Kelly was bugging me, saying, “Why haven’t you ever tried to publish a novel? You’re such a talented writer…” and blah, blah, blah…

So I told her, fine, that I actually was working on a novel (and I was… it was called Ghost Medicine), and that when I finished it, I’d try to get an agent and see what happens. So, I think around 2006 I started looking for an agent, and I was signed by the most incredible Laura Rennert of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. She sold the manuscript at auction, and it was published in 2008.

Keep in mind, though, that I always had plans to be a writer. I studied writing, and actually worked in what I thought I wanted to do at the time – journalism. I didn’t like the profession, though. There was something about being assigned to write obituaries or do traffic reports on the radio that I found to be very dissatisfying. So I quit those jobs and wandered around the world and through all kinds of equally unfulfilling and dissatisfying occupations. But I never stopped writing, either.

And if it wasn’t for Kelly, I’d still be writing, but only for myself and my hard drive.

I honestly never once thought about getting published or being a “professional” until Kelly dared me into it.

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) asked: What is a typical day like for you as it pertains to writing?

Like I said, I start writing every day at around 3 a.m. After I write some “stuff,” I’ll go out for a run. Then, throughout the day, I’ll keep coming back to my computer from time to time and crank out more “stuff” until about 5 p.m. Sometimes, my sitting stretches into very long periods, and other times I’ll need to get out and move around.

I like to get about 1,000 to 1,500 “keeper” words per day. For me, “keeper” words have usually been written and re-written on the average of ten times. Maybe more.

Without giving too much away ... Emily White asked: What kind of world did the blue lens in The Marbury Lens lead to?

Okay… the blue lenses are mentioned just a couple times at the end of The Marbury Lens. Seth leaves them for Jack and the boys at the end, because they are going to need them in order to not get trapped in Marbury. Unfortunately, the blue lenses fuck things up really bad.

Oops. I don’t think I was supposed to say that.


Matthew MacNish said...

I would have thanked Andrew in the post, but it didn't feel right tossing any of my words back in there after he had just stabbed us in the vein with awesome.

So I 'll do it here.

Thank you so much for giving this interview Andrew and for sharing with us so many details of your life. I look forward to continuing to enjoy your writing.

I'll try to get Andrew to stop by once or twice today, if he has time, so feel free to ask him something in the comments.

Steve MC said...

Cool interview - especially how much he rewrites and how a good run can help.

And anything both poignant and twisted is good by me.

Jonathon Arntson said...


And don't feel bad for only having read one of Andrew's books, Matt. He's one of my favorite authors and I haven't even read one of his books.

But between his blog and interviews around the blog it's been pure admiration in the making. So yeah...poser.

Andrew, thanks for the well-thought out answers. I appreciate reading your words everyday. They inspire me, but even more important - they motivate me.

Josin L. McQuein said...

ARG! (Yes, I just growled.)

The Marbury Lens is one of the books I want to read, but the library doesn't have it! :-(

I love the bits I've read about it. The story reminds me of one of my most favorite short stories that I read when I was in school. Hopefully, the library will get a copy soon.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Andrew, thanks for a great interview. Your hours of work show your total commitment to writing. Getting up at 3:00 am is impressive.

I've heard great things about The Marbury Lens. Can't wait to read it.

DEZMOND said...

eight novels! What a productive writer!

Bish Denham said...

Interesting stuff here. Being ignorance, Andrew is new to me. I'll have to go find his books. Thanks Matt!

Shari said...

I have just been wow'd. I don't even know what else to say.

vic caswell said...

wow! now IN THE PATH OF FALLING OBJECTS sounds really good!!!

Unknown said...

Amazing interview--thanks Matthew and Andrew. I'm amazed by the 3am wake-up time and would have to be in bed by noon to accomplish it. :)

LTM said...

*snort* "the longest post," "the best post," and "deal with it" all following the F-bomb and yet I read on, on the busiest day of my life...
-a fellow "stringer"! ;p
-connections with readers is the best thing in the WORLD about writing... he also nailed the worst.
-I love thinking of characters as real people.
-omg, 3 a.m.

Rockin good interview. ;p I've heard nothing but good things about TML--looking forward to reading it soon. Thanks, Matt & Andrew~ :o) <3

Lady Reader said...


I think I actually learned something new about Andrew today.

Nice job, Matthew!

Summer Frey said...

Yes, the 3am thing impressed me the most too. Sometimes I'm just about going to bed then, let alone waking up! And running! Geesh.

Great interview!

Emily White said...

Great interview, Matt and Andrew. And thanks for answering my question! My curiosity has been thoroughly piqued.

Jacqueline Howett said...

Very nice interview. I shall put Andrew on my book list. Thanks.

Copyboy said...

Wow! Really raw and honest. I love hearing how talented folks got their start (ala newspaper). I also respected his honesty about how he feels novels aren't responsible for social change.

Bryan Russell said...

Great interview. And I now think someone should dare me into being a New York Times best-seller.

Paul Joseph said...

Andrew is a rockstar. He is a master at his craft and one of the most admirable authors in the YA genre. Thanks, Matt, for putting this together and giving us the inside scoop on Andrew's career. And thank you Andrew for being so cool and taking the time to share your journey with the rest of us. You're awesome!

Iron Guy Carl said...

Great interview! Thanks for letting me know about it.

Carolyn Abiad said...

Thanks for the awesome interview, Matt. I love finding other expat/TCK writers! If Andrew stops in, this is for him:

Thank you for such thought provoking must-reads! Marbury made me cringe the entire way through, but it goes up there with my first love, Lord of the Flies. One question: I found myself wondering exactly how past lives relate to your version of M Theory? Hopefully, you can answer this without a spoiler.

Jared Larson said...

Thank you, Andrew. Inspiring. This really helps.

Andrew Smith said...

Holy shit, Matthew... I thought I'd pop over to check in and there are all these people here. Thank you all for the comments.

Now, for Carolyn's question: I found myself wondering exactly how past lives relate to your version of M Theory?

Okay... no spoilers here, but the way I "built" Jack's universe had all these woven things going through it... kind of like if you could imagine driving in a car on a freeway and looking into another car that was driving on the same freeway. Jack -- via the lenses -- had an opportunity to "pop over" into another car, but whenever he came back to his car, some little thing would be different, because you can never really go back to exactly the same spot.

As far as the other lives are concerned, like Seth, who is inextricably part of Jack, it's just my own thinking about the connectedness of consciousness and other forms of connection that we have evolved to filter out. In my big picture, Jack and Seth (quite obviously, to me) are really the same person, but only at different parts of the freeway.

If that makes sense.

Great readers here, Matthew.


Zoe C. Courtman said...

Hey, Matthew! Definitely has been a long time since I've been in the blogosphere - thanks for checking in with me there!! I loved loved loved this interview! Especially, "Writing a book always feels like it’s going to kill me." And here I was thinking I was the only one! Great stuff, man :D

Tere Kirkland said...

Wow, great interview! I just started this book yesterday, and it's pretty engaging so far.

I'll have to check out Andrew Smith's blog, thanks for the link!

Lisa_Gibson said...

Terrific interview! Very insightful. Ouch on 3 a.m. start time. It would never work for me, but more power to ya'. :)
Lisa ~ YA Literature Lover

Nate Wilson said...

A fantastic interview, Matthew and Andrew, on both sides of the equation. Although many of Andrew's thoughts on writing mirror my own, his writing schedule certainly does not:

Writing till 3am? I'm down with that.
Writing starting at 3am? Downright ghastly.

Nevertheless, you've got me convinced. The Marbury Lens was in my "maybe" pile; it's just been upgraded.

Angela Ackerman said...

Great interview, and Matt, great questions to ask! I am looking forward to reading this book.

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

Old Kitty said...

Andrew Smith has given me hope with publishing my bad poetry! LOL!!!!

But seriously!! What a guy! thanks for an indepth interview Mr Rush! Take care

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the interview! It's good to know that even published authors worry that their work sucks.

Jen said...

Fabulous interview! Andrew sounds like an amazing author and his perspective has really captured me. I'm off to check out his blog.

Thanks, Andrew and Matthew :D


Melissa Gill said...

Awesome interview. I put this on my list at the library after you talked about it a couple of months back. I just checked and I'm close to the front of the line. Yeah!

I haven't checked his blog yet, is he a Kiwi? Love that NZ accent. I'll have to check his blog.

Rachel Searles said...

Fantastic interview! I really enjoyed reading his responses. Keeper words revised ten times...yow.

Side note, I tried to look up Joe Lunievicz. Do you think he is aware that someone hacked the holy hell out of his website? Because he now appears to be pimping out viagra...

Tabitha said...

Hi, Andrew! Great interview!

I've got Marbury Lens on my nightstand and will be getting to it soon. My fingers are itching to pick it up, but we've got a zillion things going on right now and it deserves my full attention. Plus, I want to make sure I can savor it, so I will pick it up as soon as things calm down (which should be soon).

Matthew, you *need* to read In The Path Of Falling Objects. Like, now. It's awesome.

Hannah said...

Wow! What an incredibly, insightful, interesting interview.

(I did NOT mean to have that many I's. Sorry)

I get up at 5am and if I wasn't such a night person, I would probably go to bed earlier and be able to get up earlier. Though 3am is daunting.

I'm a late afternoon writer.

Great interview, Matt!!

And thank you to Andrew for sharing a little of your brain with the rest of us!

Matthew MacNish said...

All I can find for Joe is this:


He may begin to build an online platform after his book comes out. Otherwise Andrew may know more.

Laura M. Campbell said...

Great interview. Once again, I really enjoy getting to know an author through their everyday life. Another novel to add to my wish list.

Marsha Sigman said...

This was AMAZING! One of the best interviews I have read in a long time (and not just because my question was asked.lol)

Great job, Matthew! Definitely makes me want to read everything Andrew Smith has written.

M Pax said...

Great interview. Will put this title on my TBR list. All success to Andrew.

Glad I'm not alone in wondering if my writing sucks.

Sarah Ahiers said...

OMG, 3 AM?! That's way too early. Ugh.
I have Marbury lens in my TBR pile, since i got it for my birthday

Andrew Smith said...

Well, Matthew, I am really impressed and flattered by all these comments.

Thank you all, again.


Anonymous said...

Fantastic interview! I learned so much, and it's great to read about another writer's experience and process. Thank you, Andrew for your wonderful novels, and thanks Matthew for bringing this experience right to our computer screens!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laura Pauling said...

How did I miss this? I absolutely LOVED this book. My heart was racing so fast I had trouble falling asleep at night. But it wasn't just that - the writing and imagery was incredible! And I love twisted dark stories too.

Shannon Messenger said...

Pretty sure you guys (Matt and Andrew) know what huge fans I am of both of you.

Excellent interview. (Both questions and answers). Andrew has the kind of talent that makes me wonder what the Hell I'm doing being represented by the same agent--and I'm guessing it has something to do with pity. :) His work is dark, powerful and it seriously crawls into my head and refuses to leave. Which is what I love about it.

Thank you both for taking the time to share. And Andrew--I'll see you next weekend at the SCIBA event. Be. Afraid.

(Also--just for you Andrew, I kept my comment exclamation mark free. Even though it killed me a little)

Exchange account said...

It was a treat reading your blog!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Wow. Awesome, awesome, and more awesome. Loved this. Andrew Smith is amazing.

And Matthew, LOVE the hair!! :-)

Raquel Byrnes said...

Love your interview style...and your last comment got me chuckling.

Just Wendy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Just Wendy said...

Wonderful interview.

Thank you for sharing a little of yourself, Andrew. It is fascinating to get under the skin of an author such as yourself.

I hugely admire the fact you answer each and every person who emails you. Refreshing, to say the least. I wish you well with your forth novel, Stick.

Matthew - Thank you for this.

Lucky Press, LLC said...

Great interview, Matthew. Thank you for all the work and effort you put into making your blog so helpful and interesting to readers.