As part of a new in-depth author interviews series, author Amber Smith takes us behind the scenes of her debut The Way I Used to Be.  She shares with us her thoughts, inspirations, and insights about her book, tough subjects, life in general, and her writing process.


TBM:  What inspired you to write The Way I Used to Be?

AS:  I had wanted to write about abuse and sexual violence for a long time. When I began writing this book, it was a way of simply trying to work through my own thoughts and emotions surrounding this topic, to take my feelings of frustration, confusion, anger, and fear and turn them into something constructive.

TBM:  Why did you decide to tackle the topic of sexual assault in your novel?

AS:  Sexual violence is a lived reality for so many young people, yet there’s still so much silence surrounding this issue. From the perspective of my main character, Eden, I saw a chance to really explore what that silence means and feels like—and ultimately, what it might take to break that silence.

TBM:  How long did it take you to write the novel?

AS:  It probably took me about two years to compose a manuscript that was solid enough to begin sharing with my first readers. But the book also went through many revisions along the way.

TBM: What scene was really hard for you to write and why, and is that the one of which you are most proud? Or is there another scene you particularly love?

AS: The scene I’m thinking of is one that takes place toward the end of the book—it was challenging to write, I think, because it’s a moment of real vulnerability and honesty for Eden, but that’s also why it’s probably one of my favorites. So without getting too spoiler-y, all I will say is that it involves Eden, a former love, an intense conversation, and a monumental moment of truth…all of which happens at an IHOP (while she’s ditching school).

TBM:  What message do you want to give your readers?

AS: I think the overarching message I’d like to see readers come away with has to do with self-worth: the importance of finding your voice and speaking your truth, standing up to abuse in all its forms.

TBM: Do you identify yourself with Eden? How?

AS:That’s an interesting question—yes and no. I do identify with Eden in a number of ways, but that’s not to say that the story itself is autobiographical at all. I think my identification has to do with her emotional journey more than anything else.

TBM:  Do you write characters based on people you know or have met?

AS: Not really, but I do end up taking bits and pieces here and there from people I’ve known, myself included. My characters end up being an amalgam of parts, both real and imagined, but always more fictional than not.

TBM:Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?

AS: I wish I was better at outlining and plotting—it would probably make things a lot simpler in the long run! When I’m writing first drafts I tend to just let things unfold naturally, but then later I always have to go back in, revise, figure out what’s not working, and build in more structure.

TBM:  What do you think makes a good story?

AS: For me, honesty is the one element that will always make me feel connected to a story, regardless of genre, style, or subject matter.

TBM:  What’s your writing ritual like? Do you listen to music? Work at home or at a coffee shop or the library, etc?

AS: Well, coffee is always a must. And I usually do listen to music while I’m writing—I like to create enormous playlists for each project I’m working on to help get me in the right mindset. I also have a separate studio/writing room in my house where I do all of my writing—it’s my creative sanctuary.

TBM:  Which actress would you like to see portraying Eden on the big screen? Have you dreamcasted your book?

AS: I love Kaitlyn Dever in everything; I think she’d make an excellent Eden! She has such a great range, and I think that would be important, as Eden’s personality go through so many changes throughout the book.

TBM: What are you working on now?

AS: I’m working on another contemporary YA right now that I’m really excited about. It’s slated for publication in the summer of 2017. This book deals with domestic violence, telling the story of three siblings as they cope with the death of their abusive father at the hands of their mother.

TBM:  What books are on your top five list?

AS: I have too many favorites to narrow down a true top five, but here are some that always end up somewhere near the top!

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Identical by Ellen Hopkins

All the Rage by Courtney Summers

TBM:  What’s on your to be read pile?

AS: There are SO many books on my TBR shelf! But I’ll just stick to a few (by some of my fellow debut authors) that I’m really looking forward to: The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter, The Girl Who Fell by Shannon M. Parker, Underwater by Marisa Reichardt, and The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner.

TBM: Do you have any suggestions to help others become better writers? If so, what are they?

AS: Other than the usual—read and write as much as possible—I don’t have much practical advice, I’m afraid. Except listen to your inner voice, and just write the stories you feel in your heart.

TBM: What would you advise anyone who finds themselves in Eden’s situation?

AS: First, I would assure them that whatever has happened is not their fault, they haven’t done anything wrong, and they are not alone. It’s so important to find help, physically, mentally, and emotionally, both in the short term and long term. That might involve asking a trusted friend, family member, teacher, doctor, or the authorities for support and assistance. And if none of these are an option, there are lots of other resources available—there are always people who are willing to listen and help. As a starting point I’d advise going to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website at or calling their hotline at 1-800-HOPE.

In Puerto Rico, since 2013, approximately 2,000 sexual assaults have been reported yearly.  Less than half of these assaults are reported in hospitals, by medical professionals.

In the US, every 107 seconds, a person is sexually assaulted. Of these, 44% of victims are under age 18, 80% are under age 30. Each year there are about 293,00 victims of sexual assault; 68% of sexual assaults are never reported to the police.  Approximately 4 out of 5 assaults are comitted by someone known to the victim, 47% of these being friends or acquaintances; and nearly 98% of abusers never spend a day in jail.

There is help available.  If you find yourself in a situation of sexual abuse, please seek help, do not suffer in silence.

Puerto Rico Rape Crisis Center: 787-756-0910

Línea Nacional de Ayuda para las Víctimas de Asalto o Agresión Sexual
(National Sexual Assault Hotline)

1 (800) 656-HOPE: 1 (800) 6564673

Centro de Ayuda a Víctimas de Violación (CAVV)

Emergencia Metro: (787) 765-2285
L-V 8am-5pm (787) 474-2028
24/7   1-800-981-5721.

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