Joy L. Smith is an up and coming YA novelist. She writes characters as diverse as they are powerful and inspiring–Joy is one incredible human bean. You can find her on twitter @JoyJoyWrites.
What characters and themes do you like to write about and what inspires them?
I think the main thing about the characters I write is that they’re Black girls. They’re city girls like me. They have that one thing that really keeps them going. I love to write about family and friendship and love because it’s important to me that Black girls know that there isn’t one clear story to tell about those three things. It’s all a bit complicated. And I love simple things but also complicated things too. For me I like to give my characters a skill that I was obsessed with as a kid or still wish I had. So you’ll see my characters love their theater references, ballet, acting and BMX biking among other things that make me happy, but inspire them.
What is the coolest fact about you?
There’s nothing cool about me. But I’ve had the same hairstyle for 17 years so maybe that’s something? And because people still get surprised by this when they see my sister and I together still at 27, I’m an identical twin.
Do you think it’s harder or easier to publish books with characters who are under-represented in current media?
So much harder honestly. It feels like because a character is marginalized in a way that their story needs to fit this specific mold in order to be published and accepted. And when your story and character doesn’t fit that mold or doesn’t hit the right people at the right time it is a hard road to get published.
Do you prefer to draw from personal experiences or do you do a lot of research when writing?
I say I do both. My most finished manuscript is about a ballerina that becomes paralyzed. I’ve never been a ballerina before and have always had use of my legs, so there was a lot of research involved. But I also drew from some familial circumstances when it came to my character’s relationship with her father.
What do you hope people will feel or think when reading your work?
I want people to see Black girls as fully realized people. That our stories are more than Black pain. That we fall in love. That we can do things really well. That we have hopes and dreams and families even if complicated. I try to make my characters honest (even if they’re opposed) and I hope people read my books and look to be honest with themselves too. To find something or someone that keeps them happy, alive and inspired. If you read my stories and feel like you sat next to one of my characters on the train that would be the biggest hope. That my characters feel alive to readers.
What are some books and authors that inspire you?
I’m such a big fan girl of Brandy Colbert. I jumped in head first with her debut Pointe about a Black ballerina dealing with the arrival of her best friend who was kidnapped when they were kids. She does stories so perfectly. All her books have such a simple beginning, middle and end, but there’s always so much to unpack and in a good way. I feel like my writing matches hers more than anyone. Plus she’s so nice! Also really love Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X. I mean she’s a true wordsmith. Her language and visuals are off the charts, and her stories have so much heart and her characters are city girls. She’s also really nice! For adult fiction, Celeste Ng is goals. She crafts unbelievable stories and with whole ensembles. I can’t even begin to praise that enough. And Lawrence Hill wrote Somebody Knows My Name also known as the Book of Negroes. I don’t do Historical fiction much, but man this story is a page turner and so full of history and character that made me go through all the ranges of emotions. And if I ever write adult fiction I want to be like Kiley Reid when I grow up. Such a Fun Age was such a relatable story and felt like an extension of what my characters will grow to be if I made them grow up.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to include more diversity in their writing?
Hmmm good question. I’d say don’t be afraid to get help from someone more diverse. Ask yourself why you want to write more diversely? What’s the best way to go about it? Get many many reads on your story. Be truthful and honest and that’s all I can say.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned on your journey to publication?
Just because you’re good doesn’t mean your story will be bought. I’ve had so many passes that praised my work which makes it more devastating and easier for the rejection at the same time. Also I know publishing takes a while but wow does it move very slowly.
Any plans/hopes/dreams for 2021?
Finish another manuscript. Sell a novel. For Broadway to open back up!
Where/when can we read any of your work?
I have a very dusty blog joysmithwriter. When I do post on it I like to talk about the books I’ve been reading. And without saying too much (blood oaths and all that jazz) in 2022 hopefully there’ll be something more official and book shaped to read of mine.
Bio: Joy L. Smith is a 2s and Early Preschool assistant teacher at a cute play based progressive school between the island of Manhattan and Queens. She’s a Brooklyn and Queens native and loves to write stories with the city as the backdrop. When not at work or hunched over a manuscript, before Covid-19 you could find her at a Broadway show amongst the tourists and theater stans.