"I don't talk about my feelings that often. Writing helps get 'em out."
Twitter is cool sometimes, when it’s not causing existential angst or uprooting the foundations of our nation’s democracy.
Like there’s the encouragement that comes each morning from Shea Serrano or Lin-Manuel Miranda. There are jokes and memes that, like a Riddikulus spell on a Boggart, take the power away from bad things by making them (somewhat) laughable. There’s all the free writing advice I could ever want and some that I don’t. Then there are the one-sided friendships I strike up with people in my head.
For the last couple of years, young adult author/literary agent Eric Smith has been one of those people. Via Twitter, he’s given me book recommendations, publishing insight, helpful query advice, and even shared some pics of his adorable corgi to brighten an otherwise blah day. In short, he’s helped me without ever knowing it.
Recently, I’ve been fortunate to exchange a few emails with Eric as he talked about pop punk bands, his favorite tour memory, the process of bringing the Welcome Home anthology together, and the lessons he learned while writing his new YA novel, The Girl and the Grove.
Our conversation follows:
Dane wrote on March 6th at 8:10pm:
*cues up Saves the Day's Through Being Cool to get this thing started*
Your Twitter timeline serves as evidence for your love of the YA community, pop punk, and, sometimes, where the two meet (for example, I just ordered The Beauty That Remains by Ashley Woodfolk based off your Twitter review a few days ago).
What did the pop punk & emo music scene mean to you growing up? Did your 'scene kid' days influence you to become a young adult author?
Eric replied on March 6th at 9:41pm:
I mean, this kinda sums it up.
That's me. I'm the brown guy stealing the diamond with the band.
I like to think it did. I got big into band photography, toured a bunch, and when I started getting published in Alternative Press, AMP, etc... that's what gave me a bigger push to pursue publishing. :-)
Dane replied on March 7th at 4:45pm:
Wow! I remember Silverstein from a Victory Records summer sampler CD I got from Warped Tour in 2003 (or maybe 2004, possibly both).
I had a subscription to AP for several years too so there’s a good chance I’ve read some of your stuff (or seen your photos) long before I ever knew of you as a young adult author. That’s so cool.
Do you have a favorite memory from your touring days? And then, who are some of your favorite bands/artists to listen to as you write? Do you make a playlist or just cue up iTunes/Spotify with an album?
Eric replied on March 8th at (dang!) 5:11am:
Hm, favorite memory.
I remember this one little tour, with an indie band called Foster who I just adored something terribly. They played this one show in... I want to say Maryland, that was in this big barn-looking thing. And I was just so excited because two of the other bands on the bill were these groups Lux Courageous and a little band called Valencia, who would go on to blow up in a big way the following year.
I was a bit obsessed with these bands, so it was a huge thrill to be there with them.
After the show we stayed at a fan's house, as bands tend to do on these kind of tours when they're still little and scrappy. We were in a basement. There was this moment when we were all gathered over this computer, watching Homestar Runner videos and eating Taco Bell, and it's probably just one of the most wholesome, sweet memories I have from that era. I mean, it's not every day you're hanging with some of your favorite groups like that.
Afterwards when we fell asleep, I woke up screaming, because the fan's family had a ferret, and it apparently had free run of the house. And that included making its way into my sleeping bag.
There are far too many favorites to name, but the Drive-Thru era holds a big place in my heart. New Found Glory, The Starting Line, Something Corporate, and the like. Lately I've been listening to a heavy mix of Lucky Boys Confusion (the new album Stormchasers is amazing) and the latest New Found Glory album (Make Me Sick).
I just shout random bands at my Echo Dot. No playlists, sorry!
Dane replied on March 9th at 10:13am:
I imagine that touring back then prepared you well for travelling for book events as an adult, though there are probably less ferrets now, fortunately.
Early in my freshman year at college I got a massive black eye at a Lucky Boys Confusion show. Though I was never much of a mosher type guy, I think I was just standing too close to the pit and got caught in the ruckus. For the next week or two, my professors gave me cautious looks like I might be trouble since I was always so quiet. Anyways, I forgot about Lucky Boys Confusion until you mentioned them. They used to play at Eastern Illinois University all the time. I’ll have to check their new album out.
As I mentioned in an earlier email, I really enjoyed Welcome Home. It’s such a strong collection that it’s hard to even pick a favorite story (though Adi Alsaid’s contribution is definitely up there).
What was the process like to bring that collection together? What did it mean to you?
Eric replied on 3/16/18 at 7:10pm:
Thanks so much for the kind works about Welcome Home!
It was a hard process. I really wanted to find authors who had some kind of close tie to adoption. A solid amount of them do, but that was the most difficult part of putting it together. I had to send out lost of awkward emails to writers to learn very personal things about them, or in some cases, friends of theirs if they had recommendations. It's not something that's exactly on everyone's Twitter profile or Wikipedia pages, you know?
In the end it meant a whole lot, since I grew up not knowing many adoptees, and by the time the anthology was done, I had a bunch of author friends who were adopted that I could talk to about stuff I kept inside for decades. Best feeling. And then I think about the kid like me, some teenager who picks it up, that hopefully sees themselves in these stories. Can't beat that.
Dane wrote on 3/20/18 at 7:48pm:
Just about three years ago, Stacy, my wife, learned that her dad wasn’t her biological father, but rather her bio-father was an anonymous donor from a fertility clinic. Of course, her dad would forever be her dad, but it was still the shock of her lifetime.
I know it’s not the same, but Stacy really connected with some of the stories in Welcome Home. As have some of the youth I’ve worked with who are in the foster-care system. Stories like those found in Welcome Home absolutely help people feel seen and less alone. Thank you (and all the fantastic contributors) again for that.
On May 8th, your new YA novel, The Girl and the Grove will be released. Every book comes with its own challenges. What are some that you encountered while writing The Girl and the Grove?
Eric replied on 3/20/18 at 8:42pm:
Oh wow, that's an intense story to get dropped on you so late in life. Send her my hugs.
With The Girl and the Grove, I think the biggest challenges were trying to dig deep and pull from my own experiences and emotions? Honestly, I'm not a big fan of writing seriously. I enjoy fluff, really. But my wife enjoys pushing me, and whenever I write a personal essay, people seem to respond well to it. So, like I said in the acknowledgements, I "wrote the tree book."
It's hard, trying to tap into those feelings. It's stuff I don't talk about. Abandonment issues, questions that I can't get answers to and the like. But they're questions I grew up with, and questions adopted teens sometimes struggle with. It's my way of trying to give them, and past me, a story to relate to. And maybe when my son grows up, he can maybe read the book (if he doesn't think I'm too dorky for being a writer), and understand me in a way I'm not able to express.
I don't talk about my feelings that often. Writing helps get 'em out. :-)
Dane replied on 3/25/18 at 7:36pm:
As the release date for The Girl and the Grove gets closer how do you feel? Anxious? Excited? I’ve always wondered what those weeks must be like leading up to a book’s release.
And then, as we close this out, do you have any further book or music recommendations? I always appreciate your recs on HEY YA and Twitter. I’ve read a lot of great books thanks to you that I would’ve otherwise missed.
Eric wrote on 3/26/18 at 7:54am:
I'm a mix of excited and relieved. I started working on this book back when my wife and I still lived in Philadelphia, and that was two states ago. It'll be nice to finally see it out there. That, and getting to tell a magical adoption story just makes me so happy.
Let's see, current and recent reads I've loved... well Dread Nation by Justina Ireland comes out in April. It's a YA alternate history about teens of color who fight zombies in the post-Civil War era America. Easily my favorite book of the year, and I hope it just takes off. I also really adored A Conspiracy of Stars by Olivia A. Cole. I've been talking about it a lot, because I think it's some of the most spectacular world building I've ever seen in a YA sci-fi novel.
Music, lately I've been listening to the acoustic album by State Champs. Quality stuff, there. :-)
*takes deep breath*—Eric Smith is the author of The Geek’s Guide to Dating, the young adult duology Inked and Branded, and the aforementioned young adult novel The Girl and the Grove coming from Flux Books on May 8th, 2018 (pre-order it to get some free signed stuff). Eric is also the co-host, along with Kelly Jensen, of the HEY YA podcast. AND—AND he’s a literary agent with P.S. Literary, querying authors should check out his MSWL. You can follow Eric on Twitter for all things YA, plus pictures of his corgi and the occasional woodland creature.