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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Hofstra chapter.

Welcome back! For my Author Spotlight series, I had the joy of interviewing debut author Joy L. Smith whose novel, “Turning,” came out last month. Living in Queens as a childcare professional, Smith is a graduate of SUNY New Paltz where she holds a bachelor’s in human development and differences with a specialization in communication disorders. While “Turning” is her debut novel, she’s been writing since a teenager and is mentored by Ibi Zoboi, Radha Blank and Emma Straub through the Girls Write program.

What was your inspiration for “Turning?”

My inspiration for Turning is me being obsessed with things I cannot do. Ballet is one of them. I absolutely adore ballet, and I just had a thought of a Black ballerina at a barre, and then I thought what would happen if she couldn’t dance anymore. The more I wrote I was just inspired by obsessions and drive in people with high ambitions, especially Black women in spaces that aren’t necessarily considered for us.

When you write, do you start with a certain scene or character? What’s your writing process like?

When I write I typically start at the beginning with the main character. I like to throw the reader right into whatever the character is dealing with. I’m a pantser so I consider myself a freestyler. I have a tone I follow and at least three of the five W’s. My process is me also following my character and slowly building up their world.

What were some difficulties you faced as a debut author?

The most difficult thing about debuting for me is for sure social media and promoting. I definitely have small crises if I’m doing the whole boost myself and spreading my book around. For me, I think it’s hard to also not [to] compare yourself to other authors, especially other debuts. The shift of relinquishing trust from not just myself but my editorial team to the public, the readers. There’s also so much advice!

What part of the book drew you outside your comfort zone?

What drew me most outside my comfort zone was definitely recognizing [the] small details of living with a disability. Not being a wheelchair user I was not privy to small details like going through doors etc, but having sensitivity readers was so important. There are things I can’t just say it’s fiction. So while research at times was me stepping outside my realm of comfortability I think getting the most authentic representation that I could was worth it.

How did your experience in human development and differences help write this novel? Did you always know you wanted to add these aspects into “Turning?”

In all my writings, I like to write about things that interest me. I had career plans of being a Speech Language Pathologist, but found myself enjoying education and broader learning of disabilities and disorders, so I created my own degree. I enjoyed studying speech disorders so when I decided that Kyle had a TBI, I gave him a TBI- related fluency disorder. I myself had an IEP for speech articulation due to conductive hearing loss, so for years I was surrounded by others with a variety of developmental needs and it’s followed me into my writings.

Do you have any experience with ballet? How did it help you with this novel?

I have no true physical experience with ballet other than learning the positions and small leaps. I’m a mere spectator, which is how I like it. But I could watch ballet related movies and documentaries all day. I took dance lessons as a kid for a short time, and I had an African dance teacher tell my mother that ballet was the foundation of all dance. And that has always stuck with me. You can always tell when someone has a strong ballet background even if they aren’t dancing classical ballet. While ballet was never my favorite class to dabble in, I love watching it. The best thing ever was Ovation channel having “The Battle of The Nutcrackers” during the Christmas season. And thanks to Youtube, I could watch classes and so many productions to build up Genie’s world.

If you had to choose a Starbucks drink to describe Genie, what would it be and why?

Genie is absolutely an Iced Caramel Frappuccino. She’s got the energy of the coffee, but blended up with so many emotions and ideas. The whip cream would be the soft sweet parts of her, and the caramel drizzle is her extra behavior, but so necessary in completing her.

What is some advice you’d give to people who want to publish their works but don’t know the next step? Any for aspiring authors?

My advice would be to link up with other authors. Ask them about their agents. Do your research. The key is finding the right champion for your work, but also having a village of people in various stages of the publishing journey.

If you could describe your book as an aesthetic, what would it be and why?

“Turning” ‘s aesthetic is not one I can easily categorize. Is there a sad baddie aesthetic?

Which of the characters was your favorite to write and whom do you relate to the most?

Is it too obvious to say Genie? Genie was so much fun to write. She’s so many things, but I’ve had people tell me that her voice is like mine, which I can see. We process things through dry humor and deflections, so I can definitely relate to her. A close second is Genie’s bestie Hannah, she’s such a good friend and emotional in a different way than Genie. I think a lot of teens could relate to her as well.

Were there any novels that inspired or helped you write “Turning”? Any that changed the way you write?

I write exclusively YA contemporary, so I read a lot of it, and Brandy Colbert’s catalog of YA novels are a masterclass of writing for teens. When I was in the early stages of writing “Turning,” I read her debut “Pointe,” about a Black ballerina and it just made me want to continue Genie’s story.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors who don’t know the next step?

My advice to aspiring authors who don’t know what the next step is, is to take a breath. Things will happen when they happen, but surround yourself with trustworthy and supportive writing buddies. Research, research, research and get your writing out there.

Did any books help inspire “Turning?” Any recommendations or new releases you’re excited about?

I’ve mentioned “Pointe” by Brandy Colbert. Our books couldn’t be different, but the similarities are quite eye opening. Both Theo from “Pointe” and Genie are high achieving Black ballerinas, who are in ways consumed by trauma both recently and in their past. Theo is coping with an eating disorder, and Genie is coping with her accident. “Pointe” is raw and deals with so much intersectionality, and that is true for “Turning.” I’m so excited for “Love Radio” by Ebony LaDelle and “Zyla and Kai” by Kristina Forest! “Love Radio” is a debut and being a debut, I just want to support so many and it sounds absolutely amazing. I’ve grown to be quite a fan of Kristina Forest and her works. She has such a light summer style of writing that makes me nostalgic for Sarah Dessen books.

What can readers look forward to in this novel?

Readers can look forward to a rollercoaster ride of emotions. I do hope they relish in the dark humor, and take in the awesomeness that is ballet. And just to warn readers so they can protect themselves there is a lot of trauma, physical and emotional. There’s alcoholism and abortion. But there’s also love in all forms. I want readers to look forward to recognizing their own self worth and self care, and finding their passions and allowing themselves the opportunity to be open to things they haven’t planned.

“Turning” is already out in the world and is available to purchase. You can also show your support for women in business by purchasing it from independent bookstores like Kew & Willow. Special shoutout to Nicole Valdez who was able to act as a mediator between Smith and me for this interview. Thank you to Joy L. Smith for answering my questions, and I can’t wait to read “Turning” and see what you accomplish in the future.

Sabrina Blandon is an American Literature major at NYU's CAS. Her Author Spotlight series features reputable writers such as Xiran Jay Zhao and James Murray, as she hopes to add onto the list.