About Amber Smith
Amber Smith grew up in Buffalo, NY and now lives in Charlotte, NC with her two dogs. After graduating from art school with a BFA in Painting, she earned her MA in Art History. When she's not writing, she is working as a curator and freelance art consultant. She has also written on the topics of art history and modern and contemporary art. The Way I Used to Be is her first novel.
1) Can you tell our readers a bit about yourself?
I’m originally from Buffalo, New York (which tends to be known mainly for its intense snow, but also has the best food anywhere!). Even though I’m a writer, my background is actually in the visual arts. I’m an avid reader and lover of books, art, animals (especially my two rescue dogs), strong coffee, dark chocolate, and all things spicy. Also, I’m a vegetarian...and a Libra.
2) You’ve written a gripping emotional rollercoaster for teenagers about a very serious topic, why have you chosen to write this kind of story?
I’ve wanted to write about sexual violence for a long time—it’s an issue that holds a lot of personal meaning for me, but is also a lived reality for so many young people. I wanted to show how deep and lasting the wounds of violence can be, and to give a voice to an experience that is all too often silenced or misunderstood.
3) What happened to Eden is something that happens to a lot of girls worldwide. Is there also a message you want to give them through your book?
I think one of the big messages I’d like this book to give to readers who have gone through similar experiences is that they’re not alone, their voices are important, and their stories are worthy of being heard.
4) You’re a creative person. How do you divide your time between painting, writing fiction and writing about art history?
My real focus right now is writing fiction, but I find that it really helps me to have a few different types of projects in the works at once. That way, if I’m stuck on one thing I have something else to work on that’s unrelated; and ironically, it’s usually then that I find my solutions for those original challenges. When I take break to work on something else for a while, I can go back to writing with a clear head and a fresh perspective.
5) What do you like the most about YA?
YA is such an amazing genre (both for reading and for writing) because it’s a place where boundaries are continually being pushed, and also where important, even controversial, issues can be explored and discussed with an openness and honesty that I think we often find lacking in other areas of life.
6) Which 3 YA books do we absolutely have to read?
Oh, my list of must-reads is SO long, but here goes... The Diary of Young Girl (Anne Frank), Go Ask Alice (Beatrice Sparks), and Speak (Laurie Halse Anderson)
7) What’s the best thing about becoming a published author?
The absolute best thing about being a published author is hearing from readers. It’s hard to even put into words how meaningful it is when a reader reaches out to let me know that something I’ve written has helped them in some way, or has expressed something that they’ve also felt or experienced in their own lives.
8) Could you describe your writing process (where, when, how, etc.)?
I’m most productive early in the day (with a cup of coffee next to me, of course) and also late at night. I generally do all my writing at home. I have a special writing room/studio space in my house, where I make sure not to do anything but creative work. Even if I just have to write an email, or if I’m on social media, I take my laptop and I do all that stuff in a different room in my house—that really helps me to not get distracted when I’m working.
9) What inspires you to be creative?
I feel like I find inspiration all around me, but what really drives me is the idea of telling stories that are difficult or challenging, writing voices that might not otherwise be heard.
10) What are your plans for the future?
I’m finishing up work on a new contemporary YA novel that is slated for release in 2017.
Review by Suze
Eden is a happy fourteen-year-old girl. She's a bit nerdy and wears big glasses. She doesn't have many friends at school, but the ones she has are wonderful. She loves to read books and play music. She's comfortable with herself the way she is. That changes when her brother's best friend rapes her. Nobody knows Eden's secret. She can't talk about it and slowly she starts to fall apart. Everything she used to be and used to know is different now. There's a new Eden, a person who tries to live with the past, but who can't get over what happened to her.
The Way I Used to Be is an intense story about the effects of rape on a young girl's life. The story made me cry repeatedly. Amber Smith tells it in such a moving way. There's a lot of chaos in Eden's life. Everything she knows has changed and when she tries to cope things spiral out of control. I kept wishing I could step into the story to help her. She's confused, she's hurting and she has nowhere to go and nobody to talk to. I could feel her loneliness so well that it kept overwhelming me. I'm impressed by how much this book made me feel.
The Way I Used to Be is a story I won't easily forget. It's one of those stories you have to read even though you wish the topic wouldn't even exist. I think Amber Smith tells the story in a raw and honest way, but she remains sensitive and compassionate. I loved that balance. There's a strong message in the story and I think it's great that there are books like this. The way Eden tries to keep herself together is brave, but also absolutely awful. It's a story that tells people how horrible it is and how serious the consequences are when someone's being raped.
Eden is so young when her brother's best friend enters her room. The story focuses on all of her high school years. Amber Smith describes several years of Eden's life. I think that's a daring decision, which fortunately works very well. The reader witnesses Eden's struggle with what happened and the fact that her childhood is over in just a few minutes. The Way I Used to Be is a difficult story, but one nobody should stay away from. Amber Smith is a talented author and this book is both terrible and brilliant at the same time. It's a definite must-read.
One very lucky reader of With Love for Books will receive a copy of The Way I Used to Be via The Bookdepository or Wordery. This giveaway is international.
One very lucky USA/Canada winner will receive an audio-book of The Way I Used to Be.