I first interviewed Jason Smith after reading his work on Medium.com. There was just something about his writing that made me go, "hmm, this guy's work is going to blow up." Okay, so maybe that's giving me too much credit. I just really liked his piece, "Putting Pen to Paper Does Not Make You a Writer: It Makes You a Primate." But I was right. His work is blowing up:
- He's coming out with a new book July 6.
- He became the creative director for The Real Edition.
- Bob Levy and Paul Wesley (you may recognize the names from shows like The Vampire Diaries and Gossip Girl) bought one of his stories and the life rights to develop it into a television series.
Clearly lots of great things happened since our interview, so it only made sense to follow up and email Jason a few more questions. I always learn something new when I talk to him--feel free to comment if you'd like to personally ask Jason a question.
Jason's book is available for preorder now:
Your book is entertaining-- a mix of crazy stories and travel-- while also managing to get at the real root of your struggle with drugs. What was that writing process like for you? It couldn't have been easy.
Jason: Actually, relatively speaking, the writing process was really easy. Reliving some of those stories made me appreciate not being in that space anymore, which was a really, really dark place at times. I mean, writing about being in jail in Tijuana was easy. I was in a comfortable office, sitting at a computer, with an iced coffee. The water from which DIDN’T come from a mop bucket. So the actual writing of the book was really easy compared to living the things out that are described in the book.
As for the process of writing, I didn’t actually write the book in order. I wanted to mess with the traditional memoir format, where a person takes one theme and tells their life story while weaving the theme throughout. Instead of telling a long, linear story about my life, I chose specific days or specific events which I felt really captured that period of my life, and tried to bring those to life by telling the story. For example, in the chapter “How To Say I’m Fucked in French,” by telling a story about my life collapsing in a single week, I felt that served as a microcosm to how my entire life during that 3-4 year period had collapsed, without having to tell a longer, drawn-out story of a 4 year period. I feel like that would have watered down the story.
The difficult part was figuring out how to tie together stories when there were time gaps. Using my conversation with Bryon to serve almost as a narrator, it ended up working out. I also think some of those stories are deep and heavy. Painful. Using my conversation with Bryon to pull away momentarily almost allows the reader to get a breath of fresh air before going back in. I was really happy with how it worked out, and it all happened by accident. I’ve really dumb-lucked my way through much of this publishing process.
What does it feel like to have your work out there? Has a burden lifted? What is your hope for the future of your book?
J: I’m still learning how to process the feeling. It’s really a strange sensation, to be honest. To take something so deeply personal, parts of you that for a long time you wanted to hide, and expose them. It feels really vulnerable, but in a good way. There’s something to be said for exposing the darkest parts of yourself - or at least your past self - because I’ve learned that people really respect someone owning up and being accountable for the shit they’ve done wrong, and changing their life around. They’re much more receptive to that than somebody continuing to deny something everyone knows is true. People can be forgiving, as long as you’re honest and accountable for your actions. Just own it, which I think this book does, state what you learned and how you learned it, which I think this book does, and move on with your life, which I feel like I’ve done.
As for the future of the book - I honestly have no idea. Maybe it sells, maybe it doesn’t. I hope the book opens doors for future books, but I don’t really know. So far, the reception pre-release has been really positive and I’ve gotten some great reviews from people like Jerry Stahl and Jonathan Alter, so that gives me hope. But I am trying my best not to attach any expectations to any of it. That way, anything positive that comes along is a pleasant surprise.
You're now the creative director for The Real Edition. What is The Real Edition, and how are you using your experience to help others?
J: I fell into writing by accident. What I discovered was once I started writing, I didn’t want to stop. The first personal narrative story I ever wrote was the first chapter of the book, where I find my uncle dying of a heroin overdose. My own family had never even heard the story of what happened that day until they read it. There are things in that story - me laughing after giving him mouth to mouth, my not calling 911 - that I’d never told anyone. I’d just kept them buried deep down inside somewhere. But something happened when I wrote about the experience. There was this tremendous cathartic release, this pain, confusion, guilt, shame, that lay dormant for such a long time, finally being released. Once I discovered how therapeutic writing about the experience was, I didn’t want to stop. I wanted to explore other experiences, and get those out as well.
Something else happened after I not only wrote about that story, but published it for others to read. I started getting emails from people who told me that the story helped them in some way. I found that incredible. To get emails from parents whose children had died from drugs, telling me their own story. It sparked something in them to talk to me. I found this beautiful and fascinating.
The Real Edition is a website that facilitates this process in a seamless, simple way. People get to write their own stories of their own experiences, telling what they went through. In that process they not only get that cathartic release that I found accidentally, but their story gets published and gets read by someone who may need to read that story so they can begin their own healing process.
For so long addiction has been a hush-hush, keep-it-in-the-dark thing. The Real Edition pulls the covers back and says, “Look - this shit’s happening in society. Let’s talk about it. Let’s fix it. And let’s heal.”
What are you working on (writing wise) now? What are your future goals?
J: Right now, I’ve been swamped with The Real Edition and its launch. It’s actually been a nice break from the heavy writing I did in finishing the book, because right now I’m reading a lot of other writers in this genre and beginning to cultivate a group of writers, lead them, discuss possible story ideas, possible changes to existing stories, possible explorations of different themes in their submissions. It’s much more of an editorial role, which I’m sure will help me once I dive into my next book.
I think for my next book, I may go away from the drug genre and explore other things. I’m seriously contemplating taking Sex on Wednesdays and turning it into a book, a second memoir, revolving more around travel, youth, growing up abroad, a stranger in Italy. There were so many other stories that took place beyond what I was able to include in that short story. But we’ll see. Things may change!
You have quite the following! What is your advice for writers who are struggling to reach an audience?
J: Do I have quite the following? Do you know something I don’t?! My advice for writers - don’t settle. Don’t settle for writing things you don’t believe in, or aren’t passionate about. Find what you’re good at and what you are passionate about - and write it. From deep down, write it, explore it, be honest, even when it hurts. Write the best shit you possibly can, and then put it out there. See who comes calling for it. Be willing to expose the ugliest parts of yourself or someone else, but don’t forget to explore the beauty in all of it.
What's dogeared and sitting by your bed?
J: OG Dad by Jerry Stahl. “Weird thing happen when you don’t die young.” As a dad, and someone who didn’t die young, it fits.
How can your fans follow you?
You can buy hard copies and signed copies of Jason's new book on his website, or order the ebook on Amazon. (I read it, which is why I think he deserves my shameless plug...so good!)