Jennifer E. Smith Opens Up About Her First Picture Book, YA Movie Adaptations & What It’s Like to Finally Write For Grownups

She’s got ten novels under her belt and a knack for crafting teen love stories that can thaw even the coldest of hearts. Of course, we’re talking about Jennifer E. Smith, the bestselling young adult novelist who made us all swoon with titles like Field Notes on Love and The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. Fans will be thrilled to know that Smith’s next book is hitting shelves in just a matter of days—only this time, the author is venturing into children’s literature.

Allow us to introduce The Creature of Habit, Smith’s first-ever picture book with award-winning illustrator, Leo Espinosa. Set to hit shelves on November 9, it tells the story of a predictable creature whose world is turned upside down when a free-spirited visitor challenges him to try something new. PureWow had the pleasure of chatting with Smith about the upcoming book, including her writing process, her inspiration and the story’s timely message about dealing with change. Plus, the author teases quite a few exciting new projects, including her first adult novel.

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the creature of habit
Leo Espinosa

PureWow: We have to say, we are huge fans of your work. You really have a gift for creating romantic stories.

Jennifer Smith: That’s so kind of you, thank you!

PureWow: Of course! And we’re so excited to chat more about your YA romance novels, but first, we have to ask about your upcoming picture book, The Creature of Habit. Could you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired you to write it?

Smith: Yes, I’m really excited about this. It’s just adorable, and I feel like I can say that because I didn’t do the illustrations, which are, to me, the best part of the whole thing. I feel like I won the lottery being paired with Leo Espinosa, who’s just a genius.

The book started because I am a creature of habit, and I have a little nephew whom I love and adore, and he is definitely a creature of habit too. He’s a really routine-oriented kid. There was one time where he was switching classes at daycare and he was not having an easy transition and he usually loved going. I was talking to my sister about it and I said, ‘The poor kid, it’s not his fault, he comes from a long line of creatures of habit.’ And I just started thinking about that phrase and how, no matter how old you are, change is hard. For a lot of people, uncertainty is a really stressful thing, so I wanted to write a book that, at the same time, is meant to celebrate creatures of habit, because it's okay to be that. You're not going to change your stripes. But also, I wanted to show that all uncertainty doesn't have to be a negative thing. Sometimes, stepping off the path a little bit and trying something new can be really wonderful. And then you can go right back to, you know, eating your pineapples and bananas.

PureWow: What a powerful message. It can be so tricky to change from your usual pattern.

Smith: Yeah, for sure. And also, these last two years, when you think about it, everybody has had to deal with change as things get a little bit this way and then change again, and they go back the other direction. I think it's just something that, again, no matter what age you are, you have to grapple with.

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PureWow: That actually ties nicely into our next question. Did recent events inspire parts of your story? We follow a creature whose world is turned upside down because of change, so it feels rather timely.

Smith: I know. It's just a kind of quirk of timing. I think it's one of those things where it was relevant anyway, but now, everybody has had to deal with this, and even if you like trying new things all the time, this period of time is testing everyone's limits on that front. And picture books take a really long time, so I started it...I can't even remember exactly when right now, but the process is so long because the illustrations take a while, so it was all before [the pandemic]. But it's just interesting to read it in a new light now, given where we are in the world.

PureWow: You mentioned that working on this book took a while, but what was the writing process like? You’ve opened up in the past about going with the flow and not planning things out for your novels. Was that the case here?

Smith: Yes, I would say it was the same process but almost for different reasons. With a novel, I usually get some sort of spark of an idea and then I'm writing to kind of explore it and figure it out. With this, it was the same, but I just had a lot to learn on the picture book front. I think there's a common misconception that, because they're short, they're easy. But in fact, you don't realize until you start writing how much every word counts, and every line counts. It's almost like a poem in that way, where there's incredible impact and efficiency with each page and each line and each word. I didn't totally know where this one was going either. I knew there was a big creature of habit on an island and I knew a little guy was going to sail up and kind of knock his whole world off balance. It definitely evolved as I wrote it.

So I guess yeah, in some ways, it was similar. But I think the learning curve, in terms of learning about the setting, the story and the characters, was steeper because it was such a short book.

PureWow: Wow. We definitely assumed that picture books are easier to put together.

Smith: Yeah, it is really tricky. But also really fun and rewarding. And then to see the story paired with illustrations is just about the coolest publishing experience I’ve had, and I’ve been publishing books for a long time. I mean, it’s a whole new level of exciting when you see it come to life with illustrations.

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PureWow: Absolutely, the visuals are beautiful. What was it like to work with an illustrator for the first time? Did you guys meet and discuss how you wanted it to look?

Smith: No, we didn’t. I didn’t know any of this before I started writing my picture book, but my wonderful editor worked with me and suggested a list of illustrators that she was really excited about, and I went through and looked at all their portfolios. And our first choice was Leo Espinosa. She said to me, ‘You know, you almost never hear right away. Illustrators are really busy—especially an Illustrator like Leo.’ And then he said yes the next day, and he sent along a little drawing of creatures that he had worked on right away because he was inspired by the text.

PureWow: Yes, such great execution. And we imagine this story will resonate with kids and adults alike. We're curious—was there a children’s book that had a big impact on you growing up?

Smith: Oh, that's a really good question. Picture book wise, I grew up on some of the classics like Make Way for Ducklings and Blueberries for Sal and The Snowy Day.

I think it probably wasn't until I started reading chapter books—not that they were impacting my life, but rather, they were inspiring me to want to write. Books like Where the Red Fern Grows and Bridge to Terabithia, those kinds of books really sparked something in me.

PureWow: Such great choices! Especially The Snowy Day.

Smith: Oh my gosh, that book is so beautiful!

PureWow: We’d love to shift gears and chat a bit about your first adult novel, The Unsinkable Greta James. Could you tell us a bit more about it?

Smith: Yes! It’s my first book for adults and it’s actually my tenth novel overall. I could not be more excited about this book or more proud of it. It’s about an Indie musician whose mom was always her greatest cheerleader, and then after her mom dies unexpectedly, Greta has this very public breakdown on stage that goes viral and her career is in shambles.

Not long after that, she agrees to go with her dad, who she’s never gotten along with and never approved of her pursuing music, she goes with him on this week-long cruise that was meant to be her parents’ 40th anniversary trip. There’s also a love story of course, with a charming professor who’s on board the ship, but it’s mostly about Greta and her dad and her passion for her career and her journey to find her voice again.

PureWow: Did you take inspiration from your own experiences?

Smith: I really wanted to explore what it was to have the career you’re passionate about and a life that has taken a different path than a lot of people’s. I come from a deeply practical family and pursuing writing was not necessarily an obvious thing to do in my parents’ eyes. There were a lot of worries about that, even though they’re ultimately my biggest fans now.

I’m literally not a rock star and I don’t even play the guitar, but I wanted to take something slightly more interesting visually than writing.

PureWow: How did writing this adult novel compare with writing for teens?

Smith: This one is a bit more personal, and I think some of it’s not even the situation, but some of it’s just writing about somebody closer to my own age. It’s been years of writing teens, which I absolutely love, but there’s also a certain amount of nostalgia to that because you’re reaching back, whereas with this it felt a bit more immediate and relevant in a way.

PureWow: We’re so excited to read it! But until then we will gladly keep reading all of your YA. Speaking of which, can we talk a bit about Statistical Probability? We hear there’s a movie coming.

Smith: Yes, it was actually filmed last winter so I’m going to the set for some reshoots, for some additional photography. There’s not much I can say yet, but that cast has been announced and I’m so excited about them. I’ve seen a cut of the movie and it is unbelievably good. I would say Statistical Probability is pretty true to the book and the things that were added really elevated it. The screenwriter, Katie Lovejoy, is amazing, the producers are incredible and the director, Vanessa Caswill, is amazing. Also, I could not have asked for a better cast.

PureWow: Do you have any other exciting new projects in the works?

Well, I just finished the first draft of the script for Field Notes on Love, which I'm writing with my friend Lauren Graham. So we're really excited about that, we hope to see that one move along. And I've also been in development on This Is What Happy Looks Like, which I’m writing the script for as well.

PureWow: Wow, you have so many exciting irons in the fire! What’s one piece of advice you would give to aspiring novelists?

I think that we need new and young voices in YA. I hope everyone out there who dreams of doing this is picking up a pen, and I would say just keep at it. I mean, I wrote two books that didn’t get published before my first one did. And then my first two books didn’t really sell many copies. It wasn’t until Statistical Probability, which was my third book, that really broke out a bit.

So I would say the main things to do if you want to be a writer are to read a lot and write a lot. It’s kind of as simple as that. But then I would also say there's no such thing as failure when you're writing, because every single thing you write is a building block to the next thing. You learn something from each experience and from each thing you write, so just keep going.

nakeisha campbell bio

Associate Editor, News and Entertainment

Nakeisha has been interviewing celebrities and covering all things entertainment for over 8 years, but she has also written on a wide range of topics, like career...