Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Sense of the Infinite(ly) Old Author Photo, and Book Tour News

Hello friends! 

It seems I have agreed, against my better judgement, to appear IN PERSON at the following events in Beaverton, Portland, Seattle, Bainbridge Island, and Bellingham. Help me get through this! Show up and set off the fire alarm so I can get out of it---or better yet, let's fake a kidnapping. Please? I'd owe you one...

If you *would* like to fake-kidnap me from my own book reading, the following poster will be of no assistance in identifying me, because my author photo was taken when I was 23:



I am now a wizened old 29-year old with three books under my belt; I have to admit the process has aged me. Here is an updated photo:
Hilary T. Smith, YA author
Looking forward to meeting some of you. Bonus points if you show up wearing a PEE SISTERS headband.

Best wishes,

Hilary


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

in which A Sense of the Infinite is published, and time travel occurs


Hello friends! A SENSE OF THE INFINITE comes out today. Whereas for both my previous books, my release day to-do list was dominated by items such as "1. Freak out" and "2. Stress balls" and "3. Tweet a bunch," I am celebrating this book by scheduling a blog post in advance and then disappearing into the national forest for the day (don't let the present tense fool you! I wrote this post yesterday. In reality-land, I am nowhere near a computer).

It is pretty nice here, not-on-a-computer. I am enjoying it immensely. Maybe I will even see a snake, or save an injured hiker, or get lost and survive on roots and berries for six months. More likely, I will just tromp around for several hours, eat a bag of peanuts, and go home--but that sounds pretty good too.

Thank you to everyone who has been a friend and supporter of this novel. Here are some links if you'd like to know more about it or buy a copy:

Interview on xoJane
Interview on First Draft Podcast
A SENSE OF THE INFINITE on BookRiot
Starred Review, VOYA
Buy on IndieBound
Buy on Amazon

Oh yes, and if you'd like to chat in person, you can catch me on this book tour in August:


It's been an amazing trip, and I'm grateful. Happy reading to all.

Friday, March 13, 2015

a letter about A SENSE OF THE INFINITE, plus giveaway!

A few weeks ago, my editor at HarperCollins asked me to write a letter introducing my new novel, A Sense of the Infinite, to potential readers and reviewers. I fretted a bunch, tried not to barf, and then wrote this...

Dear Reader,

I am supposed to write this to get you interested in my new novel, A Sense of the Infinite, but every opening I’ve drafted, saying I am so excited for you to read this book, has made me feel more and more like a hypocrite. The truth is I am sitting here wishing I had written something different, anything different. A book about magical ponies who fight to save a cupcake factory from an evil prince, or about a pair of teens math whizzes who find true love. Something easy to explain. Something reasonable. Something that doesn’t make me worry about what people are going to think.

A Sense of the Infinite is not reasonable or easy to explain. The heroine, Annabeth Schultz, is a girl who gets an abortion, enacts vigilante justice on a rapist, and cheats on her art assignments; who finds friendship in unexpected places and turns to nature for companionship and strength. Because there are no car chases or explosions, it is what they are calling a “quiet” book, an appellation that is funny to me because it can be applied to just about anything, as long as it can be compared to something louder. A human howl is easily drowned out by a jet engine, but which one is more likely to set your heart pounding if you heard it in the middle of the night?

I didn’t set out to write a howl. I wanted very much to write a jet engine novel, but the howl came out instead. It is the howl of growing up in a culture that eats up wild nature and spits out places that nobody loves; that teaches young women to seek social approval at the expense of whatever in them is most precious and alive; that conspires to punish and eliminate diversity instead of cultivating it. Over the course of two years, I deleted the manuscript six times and wrote the whole thing over again. I am, quite simply, terrified that you are about to read it.

There is a scene near the end of the novel in which a dismembered finger gets thrown over the edge of a thundering waterfall. I feel a little like that right now, standing at the edge, vertigo setting in, mist soaking my face. It’s a scary thing, to throw a piece of yourself over the waterfall—a wondrous thing too. I hope, after reading A Sense of the Infinite, that you will join me here, where it is roaring and wild, and where even howls that start out anguished find themselves transformed into something fierce, hopeful, and true.

Sincerely,


Hilary T. Smith

**

Pre-order A Sense of the Infinite here.






Wednesday, February 18, 2015

should bloggers be novelists? INTERN looks back

I remember when all the writing and publishing bloggers I knew began to “graduate,” posting book deal announcements and slowly (or quickly) abandoning their blogs to the cobwebs as the novels gobbled up more of the available time and energy. At the time, it seemed like a natural progression: build an audience, leverage it into a book deal, emerge from the cocoon of the blog into the sunshine of a “real” writing career, leaving the blog’s dried up husk behind to look on fondly and occasionally climb back into for old times’ sake. And why not? Weren’t the book deals what we wanted? And weren’t they proof that we knew what we were talking about when we posted advice on revising scenes and developing characters? We wanted to be novelists, didn’t we? The blogs were just vehicles—lovely, meaningful, intelligent vehicles, but still vehicles—weren’t they?

I have a friend who worked at a coffee shop for years. She talked to customers all day, read their tarot cards, learned the names of their pets and children, gave them spider plant cuttings and relationship advice. She was such a good employee they gave her a raise and promoted her to manager, upon which she grew very unhappy. She had moved up in the world, but now she was isolated, and her best talents were lying fallow as she attended to the supposedly more desirable job of running the shop. The world sets up all sorts of confusing situations for us. It is especially confusing when the reward for doing something well is to be allowed to do a different something you are perhaps less suited for. If you are an excellent barista, why should it follow that you will be happy as a manager? If you love blogging, why should it follow that you will want to publish novels?

This is not me admitting that writing novels has been a terrible mistake, although I know it might sound that way. I don’t regret a single minute I spent writing WILD AWAKE and a SENSE OF THE INFINITE, strange and difficult as some of those minutes were, and I’ll certainly write more books. But I do question whether the “graduation” model is the best thing for every blogger, every time, and if the prestige we place on having a published novel is an outdated relic that will soon fade out of importance as other forms of writing become more and more valued.

As I approach the conclusion of my own two book deal (a deal that happened as a direct result of writing the INTERN blog), I have been spending a lot of time pondering my next steps as a writer and trying to figure out who I really am. There are a lot of voices in my head. “You should write literary fiction,” says the part of me that still wants to be the next Janet Frame. “You should write another YA,” says the part of me that has a nice home in YA-land and doesn’t want to move. “You should quit writing altogether,” says the part of me that is tired of trying to figure out how to write a book without ripping it apart a dozen times. Then a few days ago, I got an e-mail from an old INTERN reader and another voice whispered, “Maybe you should  blog.”

There’s no moving back into your old cocoon, and no adventure in doing the same thing forever just because it works. But if you’re happiest being the person who makes the coffee and hands out spider plant cuttings, that’s a wonderful thing, a worthy thing—and perhaps not a thing to abandon when you get a promotion.






Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Earth to YA, Part 2: songs and dances

This summer, Techie Boyfriend and I bought four acres of land for a little over three thousand dollars. Here is a picture:


The land has a nine foot swimming hole, a creek where crawfish live among the rocks, a babbling waterfall, and soft flat stones for hopping on. It has bigleaf maples, cedars, and ferns. It has deer and birds and bugs. And it was ours for less than the price of a used car.

I haven't gotten used to being a land owner yet. "I own this cedar," I think to myself, and the thought is uncanny and absurd. I walk around the land, experimenting: "I own this giant maple." "I own these boulders." "I own the ground this beetle burrows in."

If I wanted to, I could cut down the trees, rip out the ferns, squash the bugs, and sell the boulders to a landscaping company. If I wanted to, it would be within my legal rights to turn the place into this:



Or, with a few permits, into this:


I could go up there with a chainsaw this afternoon and lay waste to the place, and there would be nothing you could do about it except spit in my coffee the next time I stopped in at the local diner, or chain yourself to the last big maple and get hauled to jail. In other words, I am legally permitted to be a savage--even rewarded for it, if you consider the economic benefits I would gain from "developing" the land's resources. When it comes to these four acres of the biosphere, there is almost nothing forbidden to me, short of dumping gasoline in the creek and setting it on fire.

This, dear readers, is what they call a mindfuck.

*

A long, long time ago, all land was sacred land. There wasn't some land designated for "preservation" and some land designated for strip malls. It was all alive and rich with significance--you couldn't point to a single inch of the earth and say, "This part doesn't matter."

A thousand years ago, all art was sacred art. The Salish didn't have one type of dance they did for the gods, and another kind of dance for getting on TV. The Vikings didn't tell one kind of story to explain the origins of the universe, and another kind of story to make money. If someone sang, danced, or told a story, it was an act of communication with the divine--you couldn't point to a single moment of it and say "This part has no spiritual significance."

And I can't help but wonder what it means that we live in a world where you can buy a waterfall on craigslist, and sell your stories on the internet, and do your dances on TV. That our songs are no longer intended to make rain fall, our stories no longer function as thinly veiled maps of the underworld, and our land is a thing to be ransacked, paved over and ignored instead of a true and living friend. 

And I wonder how much richer, how much more miraculous our work would be if we were audacious enough to reach past our industrial roles as producers of entertainment and act as if our stories mattered--not just on a human level, but for the benefit of all beings.

*

I think about the creek land often. It enters my thoughts the way a friend does whom you love dearly but don't see every day. I go out my front door and wonder what it used to be like here before someone decided this land was an appropriate place to cut down all the trees and build a town. Then I go back to my writing room and sit at my desk, wondering what I can possibly type on this keyboard to call the old songs and dances back again.













Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Earth to YA, Part 1: Environmental Ethics and the Young Adult Author

Lately I’ve been feeling a lot of distress about the destruction of wild places, and my own part in that. I wonder if my new book is worth the trees it’s going to be printed on. I wonder if all the writing and publishing advice I’ve posted here over the years has done nothing but validate the smash and grab mentality that dominates our culture—get the book deal, get the movie deal, ten easy steps, let’s go! I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be successful, as an author or in any career, and the more I think about it, the louder the words of David W. Orr repeat themselves in my head:

The truth is that without significant precautions, education can equip people merely to be more efficient vandals of the earth.”

            In other words, the “success” for which we educate young people and to which we ourselves aspire is associated with exponentially higher levels of environmental destruction. And that really sucks.
            If you are a “successful” real estate developer, you bulldoze far more acres of forest or wetland than an unsuccessful one.
            If you are a “successful” YA author, you might take dozens of flights, sleep in dozens of corporate hotels, cause the production of thousands or even millions of junky tote bags, action figures, DVDs, pens, bookmarks, and other “swag” which will eventually end up in a landfill.
As authors, our motivation is to make friends with Barnes and Noble, not express distress at the way our landscapes have been turned into shopping malls. We’re supposed to be flattered if our publishers fly us places or go to the expense of making promotional materials, not perturbed at the waste it represents.
We talk about our responsibility to young readers, and the important work we do in reaching out to teens who are dealing with bullying, depression, eating disorders and rape—but too often we give a free pass to the consumer culture that turns even the most sincere among us into vandals. We leave it unquestioned. Or we don’t recognize the urgency of questioning it at all.
            My goal is not to make people feel guilty, or throw cold water on anybody’s success. On the contrary, I want to point out a fabulous opportunity.
Our books have the potential to influence generations of readers, and if we give them characters who love the wild earth, who reject the system that ties success to vandalism, who question and resist the destructive culture they’ve inherited—and not only in the context of flashy dystopias, but in contemporary fiction too—our world might have a chance.
And as role models for future generations of writers, we YA authors have a responsibility to challenge the culture we will eventually hand down to them, whether that means resisting cover whitewashing, rejecting wasteful practices in the publishing industry, or writing stories that provoke teens to fight for what really matters.

            Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be using this space to conduct a survey on Young Adult literature and the earth. 
             Let's just hope it's not successful.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

I have written a new novel. Harper has made a cover for it. Here is the cover:


It feels weird to see my name on it--like coming across your name splashed across a cereal box. "Why is my name on the corn puffs?!" I want to say. "I don't even EAT corn puffs." But there it is. Name on cover that distant publisher has made. Name on cover of book that I keep forgetting is actually coming out.

There is an apartment building a few blocks away from my house that has been under construction ever since I moved to my neighborhood. I have never known it except as big crazy structure with chain link fences around it and dark windows with dark rooms behind them. It didn't occur to me until just this morning that in a couple of months, the windows will have lights on, and people will be moving into it, and you will be able to walk on the sidewalk because the fences will be gone. It scares me that people are already walking in and out of this book--making it a cover and tagline and an Amazon description, printing up ARCS, turning on the lights and running the water. Part of me wants it to be an empty apartment building forever, mine to haunt, mine to control. Mine to demolish, if I felt like it. Mine to hole up in like a gremlin and never come out. 

Lately I've been feeling more and more unnerved by industrialization--the speed of it, and the distance. I would like to write one book every two hundred years, seek revision advice from a circle of wise Book Elders I'd known since childhood, print it on paper made of dried ferns, and leave it in a hollow tree for everybody or nobody to read. Any comments or discussion with readers could take the form of leisurely handwritten correspondence. In short, I don't want to power the machine--but I do. And I will. 

This new book I've written is partly about that machine, the damage it causes, and the growth and renewal that sneaks through the cracks. You won't find that on the back cover, but it's true (at least in my mind--but I'm always giving people incoherent and overly fretful explanations of my books, when it would be easier to say "boy and girl ride bicycles, start band"). 

My laptop is out of battery, so I am ending this post. To the friends who commented last time: it warms my heart to hear from each of you. When I make my dried-fern manuscript, you will be the first to know.