20 May 2013

The slightly blurry (and beautifully mossy) world of WILD AWAKE author & former INTERN, Hilary Smith

Author and avid woodswoman, Hilary T. Smith
Four years ago, a publishing industry intern (who went by the clever moniker, "INTERN"), started a blog to share what she learned behind the scenes at the offices of Big Fancy Publishing House and the smaller Venerable McPulitzer. To those of us trying to understand that puzzling world and how to break into it, INTERN's posts were like manna from the gods. (Really funny manna, that is, from the kind of god you want for your best friend.) 

When I discovered that my new anonymous best friend also offered manuscript critiques, I asked my husband to get me one for Christmas. He obliged, and I handed my first YA novel to this mysterious young woman who appeared only as a blur of shaggy hair in her blogger photo. Somehow, I knew to trust her. And it was the best instinct I ever had. Her critique was the "aha!" moment I desperately needed—a turning point in my growth as a writer that ultimately led to my success in finding an agent and publisher. 

In November 2011, INTERN's YA debut sold to Harper Collins' Katherine Tegen Books, and real actual hilary (Hilary T. Smith) was unmasked. She continues to blog about her experiences as a writer and nomad. Her novel WILD AWAKE will be released into the wild on May 28, with much anticipation from her fans, friends and one very grateful pen pal.

Hilary kindly agreed to answer a few questions here on my humble blog: 

Q. What is the kernel of an idea that led to WILD AWAKE?


I had a conversation with a friend about halfway through the writing
 process that sums it up nicely. The conversation boiled down to this:
 Most if not all creative people undergo at least one major alienation 
experience in their formative years that permanently thrusts them off
 a mainstream path. Whether it's mental illness, psychedelic drugs, 
meditation, a wilderness encounter, or a traumatic event like the
 death of a friend, it causes you to see reality in a sharply different
 light and feel "apart" from society in some profound way. Another term
 for "alienation experience" might be "underworld journey." 

What I set out to do with WILD AWAKE was to show how one such 
underworld journey could take place—how a teen headed in a more or less mainstream direction could have her entire reality shaken in a 
terrible, but ultimately beautiful, way.

Q: What was your favorite part of the novel writing process? What was your least favorite?

A: My favorite part of the writing process is definitely line editing. I 
love poring over each sentence, tinkering with words—how the tiniest 
change can illuminate a sentence or revive a wilted paragraph.

The hardest part was despairing over the ending. There was a horrible 
month-long period where I started to wonder if I was even capable of
 finishing the book—I felt so ashamed, and so afraid. It wasn't that I
 couldn't write an ending—I wrote dozens—but there was something 
eluding me. Luckily, I have an editor with a knack for exuding supreme
 calm. Her quiet certainty that the right ending would bubble up in its 
own time was proved correct a few months later, when for no apparent
 reason, it did.

Q. Of the places you visited on your travels, which would make the 
best setting for a novel?

A: In Morocco, my boyfriend and I stumbled on a tiny village one day when
 we were were hiking around. It's not on the map and cannot be Googled, 
and the only outsiders who normally go there are surfers who keep its 
location a closely guarded secret. In recent years, a few of the 
village families have started renting rooms to surfers on an
 unofficial, bare-mattress-on-the-floor basis. We ended up staying with 
one of these families for a month. It reminded me very much of a
 Virkram Seth novel—"change comes to the village.” Here is this place 
where most families are still raising chickens and goats and getting 
their water from a communal well, but now some people are putting
 plastic chairs outside their houses to create "restaurants" or
 painting the word "Hotel" on their front wall. The village is very 
traditional, but now these "hotels" are harboring young Westerners who 
like to drink beer, smoke hash, engage in premarital romances, and do 
other un-Islamic things. Travelers also consume water and electricity,
 and create garbage—none of which the village was equipped to deal
 with. You could practically see the lines of tension forming—money and 
jobs on one hand, and the breakdown of the cultural and environmental 
ecosystem on the other. It's great novel material—conflict, drama,
 emotional impact, romance, tough questions...

Q. Favorite books of the year?

A: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain — I had never actually read Huck Finn—I know, I know—but I picked it up 
in Portugal because it was one of the only English-language books I
 could find, and fell in love.

The Way of Zen by Alan Watts — 

I tend to be high-strung and nervous. Alan Watts has a way of
 convincing me that everything is actually okay. *deep breath*

I and Thou by Martin Buber

 — Martin Buber is Techie Boyfriend's favorite philosopher. I and Thou is
 a surprisingly readable book about...well...existence?

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell 

— Favorite YA read of the year! I howled with tears for hours after 
finishing it, which literally never happens.

Q: How will you spend book release day?

A: I don't even know which part of the country I'll be in on May 28th,
 but my fantasy book launch for WILD AWAKE would involve a midnight
 bike ride around Vancouver, followed by yam fries with miso gravy at 
the Naam, and perhaps a bonfire and skinny dipping at Wreck Beach.

Thank you, Hilary. I hope you get your WILD AWAKE dream date!

* * * * * * * * * 


In Wild Awake, Hilary T. Smith’s exhilarating and heart-wrenching YA debut novel, 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. Perhaps then, in the excitement of victory, he will finally realize she’s the girl of his dreams.

But a phone call from a stranger shatters Kiri’s plans. He says he has her sister Suki’s stuff—her sister Suki, who died five years ago. 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 WallflowerWild Awake explores loss, love, and what it means to be alive.

Book Description

Things you earnestly believe will happen while your parents are away:

1. You will remember to water the azaleas.
2. You will take detailed, accurate messages.
3. You will call your older brother, Denny, if even the slightest thing goes wrong.
4. You and your best friend/bandmate, Lukas, will win Battle of the Bands.
5. Amid the thrill of victory, Lukas will finally realize you are the girl of his dreams.

Things that actually happen:

1. A stranger calls who says he knew your sister.
2. He says he has her stuff.
3. What stuff? Her stuff.
4. You tell him your parents won't be able to—
5. Sukey died five years ago; can't he—
6. You pick up a pen.
7. You scribble down the address.
8. You get on your bike and go.
9. Things . . . get a little crazy after that.*

*Also, you fall in love, but not with Lukas.

Both exhilarating and wrenching, Hilary T. Smith's debut novel captures the messy glory of being alive, as seventeen-year-old Kiri Byrd discovers love, loss, chaos, and murder woven into a summer of music, madness, piercing heartbreak, and intoxicating joy.