What if amongst your inbox onslaught of Living Social Deals and Aunt Bertha's vacation photos, you received a strange email asking you to walk a pet pig named Wilbur? Would you write back? Small-town girl Ellie O'Neill does, striking up a long-distance friendship with a fellow 17-year-old she only later discovers is a movie star. Pretty much the perfect email accident, huh?
It's all the set up for Jennifer E. Smith's latest YA romance "This Is What Happy Looks Like," out today.
We were charmed by the thoroughly modern tale of boy meets girl, and hopped on the phone to talk with Jennifer about researching Hollywood, a potential Wilbur spin-off and which celebrity she'd like to receive an email from.
Hollywood Crush: What was the inspiration for "This Is What Happy Looks Like"?
Jennifer E. Smith: Because I have a very, very, very common name, often times people send emails to me and they drop a letter, or for whatever reason, my emails tend to go astray a lot, so I started thinking about who this other Jennifer Smith is who has been getting a lot of my emails for the last 10 years. What if she actually wrote to someone who sent one of those emails? What that might be like if it sort of sparked a connection between two people. It sort of seemed like an interesting way to start a love story, and I kind of backed into the whole movie-star aspect of this because I was just sort of thinking along the lines of who would benefit from that kind of relationship the most—that kind of anonymity in an email friendship or relationship can be kind of freeing. For someone in the spotlight, it would be hugely so.
The email that sparks the relationship here is about Graham's pet pig. Why a pig?
It's funny—when I started writing, I was trying to think of how that first scene would be, how this connection would start. And it was just going to be that he had a dog and needed a dog walker, and literally, as I was writing that line, all of a sudden without almost even thinking about it, it became a pig. I was kind of thinking, what would a 17-year-old kid, who's living on his own—and he's a big movie star with this money and this big house—I feel like he would have a slightly more unusual pet. And who doesn't love a pig? And I'm a big fan of "Charlotte's Web," as you can tell from the book, so it was kind of fun to get to weave in little bits of that too.
The biggest complaint I've gotten so far is that there's not enough Wilbur. I didn't know he was going to be such a hit. I feel like I have to write a Wilbur spin-off at some point.
It's funny you say that because I wrote in my notes, "Pig spin-off?"
It's just so funny to me. I enjoyed the idea of him, but he was never going to be a big part of it. Every blogger so far has been, "I loved this book, but I wanted more of the pig." I'm toying with the idea of doing a little Wilbur story right now.
Much of "Happy" is set in the world of movies (something we know a little bit about). Did you have to do research before you began writing?
I did. I think living in New York City, you see a lot of sets sort of everywhere. They filmed part of the finale of "30 Rock" in the park across the street from my apartment, and I watched it from the window. You're constantly sort of stumbling across these sets. But I had a friend who was working on that show "Person of Interest," and there was a day they were filming out in Greenpoint [Brooklyn] in a park, and I went and spent the day out there. It was interesting to kind of get a feel for the pacing of it, which was surprisingly slow. I was able to get a call sheet and get a better feel for how everything works.
Not to give too much away, but the ending is rather open for interpretation. Was that how you envisioned it originally, or was it more an evolution as you began writing?
It was kind of an evolution. I think that it's realistic fiction, even if it is sort of a fantasy situation. But once you get the initial premise kicked off, it hopefully follows a very realistic course... I really like the idea of something open-ended—I really like leaving readers to sort of decide what they like to happen from there.
If you were to receive a random email from a celebrity, from whom would you want it to be?
That's a really hard question. I feel like the first person that pops in my head is Seth Meyers from "Saturday Night Live." I feel like he would have really good email banter. He would probably share my aversion to emoticons.
And you're working on your next book. What can you tell us about it?
It's called "The Geography of Us," and it's another teen love story. It starts with two teens who get stuck in the elevator during a blackout in New York City. They meet in this elevator during a blackout, and their families both go their separate ways, and it's about them finding their way back to each other.
What are you reading right now?
I'm reading "Eleanor & Park" [by Rainbow Rowell] right now. It's the sweetest, most wonderful—I'm loving it so much. It's another YA love story. It just came out recently, and I'm absolutely loving it... It feels very, very real. Sometimes unsettlingly so.
"This Is What Happy Looks Like" is out now!
Will you be picking up a copy of Jennifer E. Smith's latest? Tell us in the comments and on Twitter!