[Note From Frolic: Our resident YA expert Aurora Dominguez got the opportunity to interview author Amber Smith and ask her five(ish) questions. Amber’s novel ‘Something Like Gravity‘ is out June 18th!]
Aurora: What was your inspiration behind your most recent novel?
Amber: Something Like Gravity was inspired by so many different things. It is a love story, but it did not start out that way! The two main characters, Chris and Maia, were originally the protagonists of two separate books—Chris’s story was largely about him coming out as transgender, and Maia’s was primarily one about loss and grief. I was initially inspired to write these two separate books because of my own experiences. For Maia, it was a place to explore loss and grief that I had experienced in my life. And with Chris, I first started writing his story because I wanted a place to work out my anger and sadness surrounding a lot of the discrimination and transphobia I was seeing ramping up a few years ago (and which continues to this day).
But at a certain point, both of these stories felt like they were missing something. For a long time, I couldn’t figure out what it was. Then, I had an epiphany: The thing that was missing from their stories was each other. So I got back to work on what would become Something Like Gravity and I found that the focus of this new book naturally shifted away from the struggles of coming out and grieving, but instead centered on this relationship, and how, in the midst of all the awkwardness and sweetness and scariness of first love, this love was also challenging what each character thought they knew about life, and the world, and most of all themselves.
What character do you most relate to and why?
Something Like Gravity is the first time I’ve written a novel in two different points of view, and I relate to each character, but in different ways. There is so much of myself in this book, and I find my life experience echoed in both Chris and Maia. One very real aspect for me is the love story. Learning to love, not only another person, but oneself, is one of the most valuable lessons I have learned, and that’s something I wanted to share. Maia was the grief connection—I have lost loved ones over the years, including most recently my father, and in writing Maia I was able to explore the way that grief, like love, can change a person. Specifically, with Chris, I connect with his struggle of facing trauma, discrimination, and some very hard life realities. As a queer person myself, I empathize with his challenges in facing the uncertainty of where his future is leading and his journey to find out what becomes of his life after the process of coming out. But what I most see in Chris that comes from my heart is that in spite of all these difficult things he’s going through, there is still this hope alive inside him, and that is the same hope that fueled me through some of my hardest times.
Why do you feel young adult books are so popular and have such a voice right now?
YA is a place where boundaries are being pushed, and where very timely, often contentious, issues that affect young people today are being taken on with insight and honesty and sensitivity. But YA books are also read so widely by adults, and I think that’s because YA didn’t really exist when many of us were growing up and coming of age. I think adults who read YA connect not only to the timely issues and diverse voices, but also with the more timeless struggles that are represented in YA books, like finding your voice and figuring out who you are and what you believe in. These are experiences that everyone goes through at many different times during their lives, not just as young adults, and I think that offers people from many walks of life a lot of connection and validation.
Please describe the content of your latest book and what can readers expect from the read.
Something Like Gravity is about falling in love for the first time and finding yourself in the process. It’s told from the alternating points of view of the two main characters, Chris and Maia. Chris has recently come out as transgender, and Maia is grieving the loss of her older sister. Their worlds are so different, yet they’re both grappling with the changing landscapes of their lives and trying to figure out who they are going to become. Their story is about how finding the right person at the right time can be the thing that saves us.
What to expect: All the feels. Seriously. There are parts of this book that deal with some very heavy stuff, like trauma and death, but there’s also sweetness and romance and cute, witty banter, awkwardness and scariness and soul-baring moments of vulnerability between these two characters. Also, there is art and science geekery galore! Oh, and a dog named Roxie.
What’s next for you in the book world?
I have a few things in the works that I’m really excited for (but nothing I’m allowed to talk too much about yet—sorry!) One thing I think I can say is that I’ve been experimenting with some different formats, like writing in verse and letters, which has been both super challenging and lots of fun.
What’s your favorite writing method that you follow for inspiration?
I don’t even know what my writing method is anymore! My writing process has been so different for every book. My first book, The Way I Used to Be, I totally just pantsed it (pantsing is writer-speak for writing by the seat of one’s pants), but then I had to do tons of rewrites and revisions to mold it into the shape of a story that had a beginning, middle and end. My second book, The Last to Let Go I did some of that, but about halfway through (when I felt the story running away in too many directions) I sat down and did some outlining and plotting. With Something Like Gravity, I thought about these characters and their stories for a very long time before I started writing. And for SLG, I did a lot of outlining, which I think really helped to keep track of the two narrators, since each of their voices and storylines are very different. I find that getting away from my computer is actually a big part of my process; in fact, I usually get most of my ideas when I’m doing other things, like hiking or walking my dogs, or sometimes I overhear something in a coffeeshop or the grocery store line and it sparks something for me.