Wondering ‘What If?’: A Q&A With Jennifer E. Smith, Author of The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight
If you've ever sat on an airplane and hoped someone cute and interesting would happen to take the seat next to you, then you are meant to read this story. In her latest young adult novel, The Statistical Probability of Love At First Sight, Jennifer E. Smith captures one whirlwind day in the life of seventeen-year-old Hadley as she embarks on a fortuitous romance amid family drama. Here, Smith reveals her own feelings about chance, fate, and writing love stories.
Everyday eBook: What appeals to you about the themes of serendipity and fate? What do you think they add to a love story?
Jennifer E. Smith: I'm a big believer in the idea that everything happens for a reason, and I thought it would be interesting to test the limits of that in a story where so much is dependent on timing and chance. In the book, Hadley misses her flight by only four minutes, but if even a few things had happened differently that morning, she might have made it, and then, of course, she wouldn't have been sitting next to Oliver. This seemed as good a place as any to start a love story. So much of life is shaped by those types of situations: the sheer luck of being in the right place at the right time, the breathlessness you feel when you think about how easily you could have been elsewhere. So the whole book sort of hinges on that eternally fascinating question: "What if?"
EE: Why did you decide to frame this novel within a twenty-four-hour period?
JS: As a reader, I love stories that have brackets around them, whether they take place over the course of a summer or a weekend or a single day. There's something about having a ticking clock that really heightens the tension. And I thought it would be an interesting challenge as a writer. When I first got the idea for the book, I'd planned to set it over the whole wedding weekend, because I wasn't sure I'd be able to make so much happen convincingly in one day. But by the time Hadley and Oliver stepped off the plane, they'd already come so far, and I realized just how long an hour could be.
EE: In one pivotal scene, Hadley goes on a search to find Oliver. Why did you choose a "girl chasing boy" moment rather than playing it "by the rules," where the boy would traditionally be the one to go after the girl?
JS: Her search comes on the heels of a pretty big reveal, which lends some stark perspective to her time spent with Oliver, and so it seemed natural that she would be the one to seek him out. It's sort of a mini journey for her, winding through the streets of London and figuring out some things along the way. And since the book is told from a close third-person perspective that sticks with Hadley, it was easy to decide that she should be the one to do that. But it's true that she doesn't always follow the conventional wisdom of stories like these, which is why I really enjoyed writing her character. She's not a simpering, googly eyed girl who flutters her eyelashes and declares her undying love for Oliver the moment they meet. She has other things on her mind, and even though the book only takes place over twenty-four hours, there's a gradual feel to their relationship that hopefully makes it more believable.
EE: There's a sentiment in your book that if you believe in something enough, you can will it to happen. Do you think this is true in life as well as in fiction?
JS: I can't honestly say that I believe it in a literal way, but I do very much believe in the power of positive thinking, and I love the idea that sending good thoughts out into the world might help sway things in one direction or another. I'm an optimist and a romantic, a firm believer in fate, and I'm hopeful down to my very toes. So I'd like to think that others might feel that way, too, after reading the book.
For more by and about Jennifer, visit her website.