In case you missed it, we're pretty much snowed in here in Seattle, which means two very wonderful things: working from home and catching up on my reading list (not at the same time of course). So early this morning, as the flakes piled up, I burrowed under my covers with The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith. Both quick (it takes place over 24 hours) and romantic, I devoured the story of Hadley and Oliver, who meet in an airport waiting room and end up sitting two seats apart on a flight to London.
Recently Margaret Stohl, a co-author of Beautiful Chaos who knows a thing or two about writing a romantic novel herself, asked Jennifer a few questions about love at first sight, bad in-flight experiences, and how to best layer a believable character.
Margaret Stohl: Okay, Jen, it has to be asked: What’s your own take on the statistical probability--or even the vague possibility--of love at first sight? More to the point, has it ever happened to you? Would you know if it had? Would any of us? I wonder...
Jennifer E. Smith: I’d like to think it exists. I’m an optimist and a romantic--both key ingredients for believing in this sort of thing. But for me, time is also such an important part of any relationship--time to get to know each other, time to share stories, time to grow--so it’s hard to imagine that kind of instant connection. That said, I do know people who have experienced it firsthand, couples who have been together happily for a very long time, so it’s hard to argue with that. I guess that anecdotally--if not statistically--it seems to be possible, and since I’m in the business of telling stories rather than compiling statistics, that’s good enough for me!
Stohl: Your boy-meets-girl-meets-world happens on a flight across the Atlantic to Heathrow. My own teens are fencers, and we spend half our lives making that same flight for European tournaments. But why did you pick such an unusual setup? What’s the backstory there for you?
Smith: I suppose it could have been set on a flight headed anywhere, but there’s something about flying at night that seemed like an interesting backdrop for this type of story. Unfortunately, I have a complete inability to fall asleep on planes, so I’ve spent plenty of trips wide awake as the rest of the passengers doze off, and the cabin is always so hushed and dark and dreamlike during those hours. It seemed like the perfect setting for two people to get to know each other.
Stohl: I’ve had some of the strangest encounters of my life on planes. I’ve met people who have read my books or drawn me a map of recommended towns in Southeast Asia or recounted their entire life stories. How about you? Was there an encounter that inspired this story?
Smith: A few years ago, on a flight from Chicago to Dublin, I was seated next to a man from Ireland. He was reading a book that I loved, and we started chatting, and ended up talking for much of the flight. He was older--probably in his sixties--and there was nothing romantic about it, but it was nice to meet a kindred spirit, someone who loved books the way I do, and it made the hours pass quickly. When we arrived in Dublin, we walked off the plane together, but we ended up in separate lines for customs, since he was an Irish citizen. We didn’t exactly say good-bye; I think we both thought we’d see each other on the other side, but my line ended up being really slow, and when I finally made it through, he was gone. It was obviously a much different situation than the one in my book, but it definitely provided some of the initial inspiration for the story of Hadley and Oliver.
Stohl: What about your worst in-flight experiences? Perhaps not involving children and bodily fluids…?
Smith: Well, that narrows it down quite a bit! I’ve had a few harrowing experiences involving turbulence, one emergency landing, and a couple of awfully long flights to places like South Africa and New Zealand. But I can’t really complain too much. My worst experiences usually have to do with the fact that I can’t sleep on planes, and while there’s nothing quite like being wide awake for nine straight hours in a middle seat on a red-eye flight, I’ve actually been pretty lucky in the grand scheme of things.