Thursday, June 13, 2024

Lyssa Mia Smith (via the author’s Instagram)

Lyssa Mia Smith is a romance writer, a clinical psychologist, and a huge fan of the YA genre. After numerous attempts at novels she struck gold with “Revelle,” a rich fantasy set in Prohibition-era New York. A mix of love, magic and history, Smith’s book was sold to HarperCollins at auction in a six-figure, two-book deal. Smith brings “Revelle” to a reading Wednesday at Porter Square Books. We talked to her March 1 over Zoom; the conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

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What inspired you to begin writing “Revelle”?

I’ve always loved young-adult fiction. I love to read it, and I’ve been writing it for years. At the time, I was writing something contemporary that I was hoping would be more appealing to agents than some of my other quirky ideas. But when I went to “Moulin Rouge!” on Broadway in New York, it changed everything. As I was sitting in the theater, before the show even began, there were bright lights, lush velvet curtains, people dancing and everything was glittering. I looked around and thought, “This should be a fantasy novel, this setting.” Within the train ride home, the ideas really started spinning, and a few days later, I plotted out the whole thing, abandoned the other project and just went for it.

What was the best piece of advice you received?

Write for yourself. The more you try to write to market, as I was failing to do, the less you enjoy it. And if you’re not enjoying such a time-consuming, rarely lucrative hobby, then you’re doing it wrong. The goal is to write something that you’d enjoy. Ideally that passion will come through.

Does your family read your work?

My husband is allowed to read the drafts that have been through other revisions first – I don’t show him my really rough work, and he knows he’s not allowed to comment on it. He’s only allowed to give praise, because he gets stuck on things, and he’s very proud. When I let him read my first drafts, he’ll say, “No changes, this is perfect.” And every time I change something, he’s like, “No, I liked it better before.” So now he’s not allowed to read early work. My kids are too young to read the novels, but they do have opinions on cover designs and such.

You’ve mentioned that the publishing process was difficult for you. What got you through those early disappointments?

My writing community. I was in a mentorship program called Pitch Wars which has since shut down, but launched a number of author’s careers. During that process, I made a tremendous amount of writing friends who were going through the ups and downs with me. A number of them hit their success before me, and some are still fighting for it now. The program bettered my craft, and I formed a community with people who really and truly understood writing. I would have quit a long time ago without that.

How did you celebrate publishing your first book?

I had a 1920s-themed afterparty for my book launch in New York City. Someone else had told me that books are like weddings, they’re not babies or rites of passage. You make this through blood, sweat and tears and you should celebrate accordingly. So I threw myself a huge party, and it was really nice.

How do you keep readers engaged in your story?

Particularly in young-adult fiction or any genre where the audience is primarily female, young, or nonbinary, that effort is often minimized. The field of literature tends to look down on the craft, and make it seem like it’s easy. “You can get teen girls sucked into anything,” the narrative goes. Yet I find it really hard and challenging and interesting to figure out how to make these stories as compelling as possible. My favorite thing to do with each draft is to try to get the point of view deeper, so the reader sinks more and more into the main character’s experience, juggling that balance of leaving just enough mystery, just enough strings that aren’t yet tied together, so the reader needs to turn the page.

Did you always know that you would want to write as an adult?

I always loved to read, and I won a New York State writing contest in third grade for short stories. I honestly thought I’d peaked then, because novels, though I loved them, seemed too hard and long. It wasn’t until I finished graduate school – and finally didn’t have homework for the first time in close to 30 years – that I got the itch to write. I was reading a dozen books a week and I started to wonder, “What if I tried this myself, just for fun?” At first it was a hobby, and then I discovered that I absolutely loved it, and I could not stop.

What authors inspired you?

Laini Taylor is one of my all-time favorites because she writes beautiful words and twisty plots that are really engaging. There’s never a clear good-versus-evil conflict in her stories, which is really tough to do. I similarly love Sabaa Tahir, the author of the “Ember in the Ashes” series, who also has really twisty plots with pretty prose. She has made me cry while reading more than any human ought to make someone cry.

And what do you love about “Revelle”?

It’s entertaining, and it keeps the reader on the edge of their seat. I have yet to have someone tell me that it’s predictable, or that they saw the twist coming. I’m proud of the twists – they’re fairly well executed, though I’m sure someone will prove me wrong. This has been a dream come true. The more I focus on my own craft, the more I enjoy it, the better the words are, and everybody wins.

  • Lyssa Mia Smith reads from “Revelle” at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Porter Square Books, 25 White St., Porter Square. She’ll be in conversation with follow YA author Sarah Underwood. Information is here.