Interview with Joy L. Smith

JoyInterviewPicJoy 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. 

Content VS Creator

Can we still appreciate content made by a creator whose views and actions have inflicted harm on others? This question is by no means new, but it is still an important one. Numerous creators throughout history have been abusive, racist, or just generally unpleasant people. In the last few years, huge movements like #MeToo have outed many creators as sexual abusers over multiple creative industries. In light of 2020’s BLM protests and JK Rowling’s transphobic essay, I know many people are grappling with their feelings about art they consume. This post is not designed to convince anyone of what they should think, but as a series of thought experiments and a toolkit to help you make up your own mind. Continue reading

Why you should read diverse stories

girl-2696947_1920Society is all too quick to label criticism as just another ‘sensitive opinion’. This attitude dismisses real problems and silences people from under-represented groups. I’m discussing diversity in my blog because I want to do my bit in promoting equality and I think analysing diversity in stories is a good place to start.

Lack of diversity is not a new issue. Throughout history, there has always been an ideal human that was represented in media from medieval paintings to silent movies and sketches in newspapers. Kind of like a time-travelling Barbie and Ken. Continue reading

Dear 2020

Dear 2020 -

Where were you in March 2020? When science was shunned, again? When a well-known author’s fear of the unknown gave fuel to the fires of transphobes? When in May a man cried, “I can’t breathe”?

I’m thinking about the future and the human rights questions of the next generation. Will they be angry at us for the part our ignorance played? I don’t know. I don’t know how to write this post either, so bear with me. Continue reading

Writing Prompt #21 — The Lost Prompt!

I found this prompt recently, and I could have sworn I had already posted it. Apparently not. I did this with three other people, but I’ve been unable to track down their writing for it. I don’t even remember when we did the prompt. Last autumn maybe?

Regardless, I do remember it being a lot of fun, so here it is: the lost prompt.

Snap Shot

The rules: Stare at the picture. What does it make you think of? What story is it telling? Okay–thought of something? Good. Now set a timer to 10 minutes and start writing that story. Ready, set, go!

The image:

Writing Prompt #21 -- the lost prompt!

Here’s what I wrote. If you want to share what you’ve written, I’d love to see it! You can post it in the comments below if you like.

Happy writing!

5 Tips for Referencing in Scientific Writing

In scientific writing, referencing is the secret to success. Contrary to what it seems, a scientific paper should be easy to follow and all statements should be backed up by “proof”, whether that proof is your own data or another’s.  If it’s not yours, you reference it, and prop yourself up on great science of the past. Done well, this makes your words and science believable. Here are my tips for avoiding easy referencing mistakes and improving your writing! Continue reading

Writing Prompt #20

When I let the dog out this morning, the air had the audacity to be cold despite the sunshine. After a summer devoid of writing prompts (sorry about that), I figure it’s time to start again. Autumn may traditionally be the season of endings–bye, bye leaves–but for me it’s always felt like a beginning. I pull myself out of summer’s lazy rut and begin again. It’s a chance for reform.

What better way to reform than to start writing again?

Today’s writing game: Snap Shot Continue reading

Writing Prompt #19

It’s nearly Easter break! If you can believe it with how cold the past few days have been–apparently snowstorms are predicted for England…

April snowstorms bring May’s reform?

Whatever is going to happen, I’m looking forward to having a break and getting some more writing done!

Today’s writing game: Snap Shot

The rules: Stare at the picture. What does it make you think of? What story is it telling? Okay–thought of something? Good. Now set a timer to 10 minutes and start writing that story. Ready, set, go!

The image:

Writing Prompt #19 - Write a 10 minute piece inspired by this photo to practice your writing!

How did you find that? Here’s what I wrote–I really enjoyed the abstract interpretation that ensued! My boyfriend joined in and wrote this poetic piece.

Feel free to share your interpretation of this prompt in the comments below or anywhere you like!

Happy writing!

Why you should read bad books and watch bad films

If you want to write well, you’re told the best way to do this is to read good books and practice, practice, practice. What you’re not told to do is read the worst books ever written, but that is exactly what you should be doing.

Bad films are also good, especially if you enjoy writing screenplays or even filming and editing your own shorts. Why? Why am I telling you to waste your time on creations that should never have existed in the first place?

Because then you know exactly what NOT to do, which is arguably just as valuable as knowing what you should do. Continue reading