Interview with Hilary T. Smith, WILD AWAKE author & former anonymous INTERN blogger
I was a big fan of INTERN, a blog by an anonymous publishing intern. Not only was it an intriguing glimpse into the industry, but I loved the writing style: snarky, funny, introspective.
At Molly O’Neill‘s session at SCBWI-NYC, I was excited to discover that former INTERN Hilary Smith had a debut YA coming out from Katherine Tegen Books this May. Molly kindly let me have an ARC and I started reading WILD AWAKE while waiting at LaGuardia for my flight back home. Didn’t (couldn’t) stop reading until I finished the book just as the plane was landing.
Loveditloveditlovedit. What did I love most?
Moments of emotional truth. There were so many times when I connected strongly with something Kiri thought or how she expressed her experience.
Kiri’s messed up and confused, but that’s another reason I enjoyed this book. So many times I read stories in which the characters are a little too perfect, too clever. Kiri, on the other hand, changes her mind, flipflops between joy and angst, is an emotional rollercoaster. In other words, she’s truly a teen.
I also connected with Kiri’s musical background. I took piano lessons through the ARCT level, gave recitals, used to have to practice for hours every day, sometimes vented/grieved through my music at times in my life.
So many reasons to love this book, and I’m looking forward to a reread in the future. WILD AWAKE is an exhilarating and totally absorbing gem of a story.
Plot summary of WILD AWAKE, from Powells.com:
“Seventeen-year-old Kiri Byrd has big plans for her summer without parents. She intends to devote herself to her music and win the Battle of the Bands with her bandmate and best friend, Lukas. But a phone call from a stranger claiming to have some of her dead sister’s belongings shatters Kiri’s plans. This call throws Kiri into a spiral of chaos that opens old wounds and new mysteries. Like If I Stay and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Wild Awake explores loss, love, and what it means to be alive.”
Q. Why did you start INTERN? What made you decide to go public? How did/does your publisher feel about your INTERN posts?
I started INTERN to rustle up some editing work to support my unpaid self during the internships. Of course, it quickly turned into much more than that—a fabulous adventure I could never have predicted—but on the day I registered the blogger domain, I was a 23 year old with big city rent to pay and a salary of precisely zero. The idea of finding random jobs to support my publishing internships sounded both exhausting and inefficient to me—here I was learning all this useful stuff, and surely that wasn’t worth nothing. So I started writing about what I was learning, and things snowballed from there.
Going public with my “true” identity was never in question after WILD AWAKE sold. Over the years, I’ve gotten to be friends with so many readers—it would be downright pathological to shut them out from my books for the sake of a secret identity. My publisher was (obviously) pleased that I was coming in to the deal with some sort of audience, just like any other platform. I hate that word, by the way—platform! It sounds so flimsy and shrill. If you want to have a conversation, fine; but let’s put this platform-for-the-sake-of-platform nonsense to bed.
Q. How did WILD AWAKE get published?
When I started writing WILD AWAKE, I was very active as INTERN, and INTERN had been getting feeler e-mails from various agents and publishing types for some time. So even though I did go through the whole process of querying agents and going on submission, it was with this lucky star in my pocket.
Ironically, now that I’ve published a novel, I feel quite tongue-tied when it comes to blogging. INTERN was so confident in her insights; she made everything seem so straightforward. Since writing WILD AWAKEI’ve started to question a lot of things, with the result that I now feel like a complete imposter if I try to write posts like INTERN did. 10 Reasons to Revise That Scene? More like Let Us Question Our Motivations for Writing Scenes in the First Place, While Feeling Deeply Anxious About Reality.
So while I have an intense desire to continue the conversation with my INTERN readers, I’ve almost been in hiding—I’ve been afraid to come back onto the blogosphere like some deranged cat lady, flailing my arms and talking about all the weird stuff in my head that can’t be translated into publishing advice.
“View inside the writing fort I built inside the dark, mouldy, and mournful studio apartment in which I did some of the revisions.”
Q. What was your writing process for WILD AWAKE?
I don’t remember.
No, seriously—for me, writing and revising a novel takes so long that by the time I am sitting around answering interview questions, I literally have no recollection of writing the early drafts.
One thing I can tell you is that for the 75,000 words in the final book version of WILD AWAKE, I wrote something like 300,000 words in cut scenes, rewrites, alternative beginnings and endings, plus a few redundant characters and subplots for good measure. Now when I get frustrated with myself for how slowly or messily my current manuscript is going, it helps me to remember that figure. Sometimes, you don’t get things right on the first try—and it takes a lot of passes to uncover a story in all its layers.
One of the most important things my editor did for me with WILD AWAKE was to help me gauge when something was ringing true, and when I needed to go back to the drawing board. It was extraordinarily helpful to have someone say “not quite, try again” but also “stop—that’s the one!” Over-revision can be just as much of a demon as under-revision, and a good editor can help you identify both.
“The camper van in which I wrote the early drafts of WILD AWAKE. In chronological order, I wrote WA in a shared house, a camper van, a cabin on a ranch, a forest cottage on an island, a dark and mournful studio in a trailer park, and a cabin at a permaculture farm. Needless to say, I am rootless…”
Q. What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Be a fountain, not a factory. Remember when you used to write letters to penpals, silly notes to friends, scraps of poems in the margins of your notebooks, when your hard drive was cluttered with hundreds of random Word documents with nothing more than a paragraph or even a sentence of divinely inspired madness—that delightful all-flowing time before you became A Writer With A Book Deal and decided you needed to Be More Disciplined.
Let writing exude from your pores. Don’t clamp down. Don’t say, “I am a YA writer and must act like one.” Don’t say, “I don’t have time for silly notes anymore, because I must focus on the Manuscript.”
One of the enormous and heartbreaking mistakes I’ve made this past year has been to clamp down in exactly this way. I stopped giving myself permission to burble when I got the book deal. Suddenly, everything I wrote had to be Useful. It had to serve a Purpose. It had to be Worthwhile. Barking at your creative self to be more Useful and Worthwhile is about the fastest way to make it roll over dead. You’ll steamroll over the very things good writing most requires.
Fill your hard drive with random Word documents. Scribble silly notes. Keep burbling. Don’t clamp down.
Q. What are you working on now? Any other upcoming events or other info you’d like to share?
I am writing a second YA novel, the details of which are still secret. Other than that, I am learning to burble again.
Where to find Hilary online:
Her blog: www.hilarytsmith.com
Over-revision, under-revision: a good editor can help identify both. @hilarytsmith (WILD AWAKE) http://bit.ly/15t7ZY8 (Tweet this)
For 75k wds in final WILD AWAKE, YA author @hilarytsmith cut 300k. On revision and process: http://bit.ly/15t7ZY8 (Tweet this)
Writers: Be a fountain, not a factory. Don’t clamp down. – @hilarytsmith (WILD AWAKE) http://bit.ly/15t7ZY8 (Tweet this)
For more insights from book creators, see my Inkygirl Interview Archives and Advice For Young Writers And Illustrators From Book Creators.