Saturday, February 13, 2016

A Conversation with Eric Smith, author of INKED

I first met Eric Smith through a great blog post he did awhile back.  I sent him an email telling him how helpful he had been, and after a couple of back and forths, he gifted me an e-copy of his fantastic YA fantasy novel, INKED.   It's the type of fantasy novel I can easily get behind--a hero I care about, real stakes, excellent world building, and moves at just the right clip.  I finished the novel in two days, which for me is quite an accomplishment due to my busy life, but should be a indicator of just how invested I was in this world.  Below is an interview I did with Eric a few weeks back.

Me: Just in case readers have been living in a dark cave in a third world country (like Tony Stark in the first Iron Man movie, if you need a movie reference), introduce yourself.  But you only get 50 words.  Go!

Eric: Ah! Okay! Well, I'm an author, blogger, and literary agent living in Philadelphia with my amazing wife, corgi, bunny, and chinchilla. I read and write YA, and can usually be found doing one of those two things every single day. 

Me: It's very clear you live a very writer-y life: writing novels, being an agent, blogging, etc.  Is this the life you always dreamed of living?  What are the benefits and drawbacks to such a writing-fueled life?

Eric: It's true! Benefits, I'm pretty much always doing what makes me really happy, whether I'm actually fussing over books-in-progress or just reorganizing my library for the millionth time in a High-Fidelity-but-with-books inspired fury. And I have a lot of friends who pursue similar things, whether it's blogging or writing books, so there's always someone to nudge and talk to, if not in person, at least on gchat or Twitter.

Drawbacks... well, it can be a serious brain drain. If I'm editing a book all day for one of my authors, come 5pm-ish, I'm usually mentally exhausted and just want to play video games or watch Netflix. And if I wanted to write that night, that's usually a no-go. If my pals want to do happy hour, I'm generally tired or still thinking about that book. It's a tricky balance!

Me:  I really loved INKED, especially the world building and complex politics of the novel.  What was your process in developing such a world?  Is this a novel you've lived with in your imagination for a long time before writing it?  Because it seems like you've really thought this place through.

Eric: Thank you! It existed for a bit before I hit the page. My tattoo artist (I'm inked myself!) made some jokes about always being a tattoo artist, because of the incredible amount of ink he has. And that got me thinking a lot. And I've always been obsessed with games like Final Fantasy, where the government is doing really messed up with things with magic. I wanted to explore that idea for a long time, and it felt like a good, odd fit. 

There was a tiny bit of outlining, but a lot of it was just seat-of-my-pants writing. I owe it to my awesome agent, Dawn Frederick, and stellar editor, Meredith Rich, for helping me sharpen the story into what it became. Those two, they are amazing. 

Me: As an agent and lover of YA novels, I'm sure you've read your share of YA fantasy.  When you wrote INKED, did those novels influence your characters or plotting?  How did you work to ensure your novel was different from all of the fantasy novels out there, because I think it is original.

Eric:  Absolutely! Susan Dennard's Something Strange and Deadly series had a huge influence on me while I was writing the first book, and I probably bring that up every time I talk about it. As did Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, a book I was doing the marketing for at the time. 

For me, the inspiration was drawn from the voice and the tone of the books I loved, and less from the plot. I'd never dabbled with writing YA before, so I wanted to really know what I was getting into. 

Me: How has being a writer affected your work as an agent and vice versa?  If held at gunpoint and forced to choose one, which are you going with?

Eric:  Hahah, yeah, it's tricky. Finding the time to work on your own stuff while working on other books can be tough, but it's also insanely inspiring. One of my authors, Dave Connis, who has a book due out with Skyhorse in 2017, has sent me several projects since we started working together. It makes me want to get my act together and write more, every time something pops up in my inbox from one of my writers. 

It's about balancing all that time, without losing track of what's important. I wanted to be an agent to work with other authors a lil' more closely. Can't let that slip up. Held at gunpoint... heh, maybe agenting, actually. I do love writing, but there's a real thrill in making other writers' dreams come true. Don't tell MY agent that though. She'll probably see this though... er. Hi Dawn!

Me: Now for the lightning round--five out of the ordinary questions that will let readers know things about you they wouldn't find anywhere else.  Answer and explain, or just answer.  It's up to you.

You're forced to get a face tattoo, ala Mike Tyson, but it has to be a cartoon character, big and bold for everyone to see.  What character are you choosing and where is it going specifically?

Eric:  Hah! Oh dear. I have no idea. It would definitely be something from Futurama though. That I could live with. 

Me: Caenum lives in a world of magic where people have super hero-like powers.  As America's newest crime fighter, what is your super power and what is your nickname?

Eric:  I have such problems with the "what would your superhero power be" type questions, because I am convinced I would end up a villain. I'm a super nice person and love helping people but... man. I'd rob banks. It would happen. Let's just say telekinesis, for now, because you can like, do all kinds of stuff with that according to the X-Men. Maybe my name would be "Notsureif" because people would wonder if I'm a good guy or a bad guy. "He's robbing the bank! Oh, but look how nice he's being to everyone."

Me: Agent time machine time.  You can go back to any point in history and be the agent who discovers a writer and sells his/her first novel.  Who's book are you going to discover and why?

Eric:  Oh hell yes. Jules Verne. Done and done. Because he's Jules Verne and his books influenced my entire life. 

(Jules Verne just looks smarter than the rest of us, doesn't he?)
Me: What under-the-radar novel out there do you wish everyone would read?

Eric: Oooh. I feel like a lot of people slept on the Talker 25 series by Joshua McCune. Second book came out last year, first one two years ago. It's basically like that movie Reign of Fire, except set in the future, with dragons that can talk telepathically and a world that's all aflame. It's amazing. I want more people to read it.

Me: Dinner party!  You can invite one rocker, writer, actor/actress, and miscellaneous person to your party--all living, please.  Who are you inviting?

Eric:  Rocker: Jim Adkins of Jimmy Eat World. Writer: Nick Hornby. Actor: Jason Bateman. Misc: probably my best buddy Miguel so we can talk about it later and someone will have been there to believe me. 

Me: And finally, you can have the last word. Go.

Eric: <3

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