Sometimes really cool authors come my way out of the vastness that is cyberspace. The more I learned about Jason Smith, the more excited I was to post this interview to introduce him to my readers. He’s a memoirist and essayist (and it’s no secret those are my favorite genres), not to mention some of his projects have been acquired for film rights. I think it’s safe to say Jason is going places.
Official Bio: Jason Smith is a graduate from the University of California, Davis, whose work has been published extensively in both online and print media. His eclectic style ranges from personal essays to investigative reporting, drawing on his own personal travels and experiences. Jason’s pieces have been translated into multiple languages and published in multiple countries, demonstrating his ability to connect with readers across cultural lines. Jason has multiple projects currently in production after being acquired for film rights.
Jason is currently the Creative Director of The Real Edition, an online community for people who’ve struggled with addiction, and their loved ones, to tell their stories and share their experiences. Jason lives in northern California, raising a family with his wife Megan and their two children, Isabella and Jaden
1. Please provide a brief synopsis of your book.
The Bitter Taste of Dying is essentially my journey to hell and back as a result to a pretty severe addiction to prescription drugs. It’s the essence of “wherever you go, there you are.” I mean, I couldn’t get out of my own way to save my own life in this memoir. It’s brutal in parts, self-deprecatingly funny in others. Like life, It’s a journey. Good and bad.
2. Tell us a little bit about what motivates or inspires your writing.
As a writer, ultimately there is some sort of relief that comes with the processing of trauma. It seems a little counter-intuitive, but that’s always been the cases in my experience. I really became a writer by accident. When I first got clean, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I was starting from zero at the age of 33. No job, no career, no idea how I was going to stay clean. I was staying with my father and each morning I’d wake up and drive. I had nowhere to drive to, but I drove anyway. The only thing I had to my name outside of a few pairs of clothes was a laptop, and I took that with me. Since my father didn’t have internet access, I’d usually hole up inside of a Starbucks and connect with the outside world. After a few minutes, things would get mundane because there really is very little to look at when you have no context to place anything in. I mean, I was a total wreck. So, I opened up my Word program and just started typing one day. The first thing I ever wrote was the experience of finding my uncle dying of a heroin overdose when I was 14. For whatever reason, that incident jumped to the front of the line. So I just wrote it. No writing background, no aspirations of publishing a book, nothing. Just writing because I had nothing else to do and it felt really good. I saved the story, and that ended up becoming chapter one of my book, almost word-for-word as what I wrote across various northern California Starbucks.
About a year after writing that chapter, I stumbled across Medium.com and I published the story there, just to get some feedback. And the feedback was intense and all positive. What I learned, and what role I believe writers fulfill as artists, is the ability for people to connect with and to what we’re saying. That chapter on its own, as a stand-alone story, is the story of a 14-year-old kid going along in life and getting totally sideswiped by something over which he had no control. Now, the specifics – a heroin addicted uncle showing up on your doorstep – is unique. But that feeling of having your adolescence shattered into pieces by some extraordinary circumstance – that’s something a lot of people can relate to. So I think as writers, that’s the gift we’re blessed with the ability to give, if we do it right. To create something someone can see their own story in and, hopefully, process it in a healthy way thanks to something you wrote.
3. Writing aside, what passions drive your life?
I feel like I’ve been given this incredible second chance at living, and I want to make the most out of it in the sense that I want to be able to reach whoever might be able to gather something about themselves through my story. I think, especially in addiction, we take our families and friends to hell with us, and they don’t understand it. They don’t understand why we do what we do, why we won’t just stop, why we continue to destroy our lives despite severe, painful consequences. They don’t get it, and in a way, I wrote it for them. Sure, my thinking in the book while in my addiction is told from the perspective of a drug addict, and other addicts can relate to that. But I knew they’d see their story in mine, because we always do. It’s something we’re easily able to identify with. But sometimes, the families are left trying to pick up the pieces, even after the addict gets clean. They still have questions and concerns that they may be afraid to bring up because they don’t know how delicately they need to dance around those types of questions now. So I wanted to write something for them, to get a glimpse into our thinking and why we do what we do in our addictions. And so far, of all the positive feedback I’ve received on the book, the comments, reviews, and emails from parents of addicts have meant the most.
I think being a recovering addict has given me a tremendous amount of empathy for people who might be struggling or in a tough spot. I’ve found myself taking assignments for local publications that explore some of the issues involving the homeless community, for example. As a writer, I now get to give a voice to a group who may be marginalized by society. We often speak for them, but rarely do we attempt to include them. Be it homeless, drug addicts, ptsd victims, returning vets. These are all groups we tend to speak for more than we speak with. And as a writer, I get a chance now to speak with these groups and hear what it’s really like from their perspective. I love that.
4. It’s hard to pick just one, but what do you consider your favorite novel and why?
I think it’s technically a novella but The Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway. I mean, what more could you want in a story? Sure, the story centers around Santiago’s battle with the marlin, but it’s so much more than that. Santiago has been beaten by life, washed up, mocked by the younger fisherman. And here’s his chance – and after nearing delirium, he wins. Only to have sharks and birds take the marlin apart on his way in. There’s a brutal honesty in the writing that transcends the literal story. It’s painful to watch life do this to Santiago, and we recognize that because we know how painful life can be. But to see it happen to Santiago, for me, forces me to reflect on my own fights, my own battles, and how much of that fighting has left me drained and what that will mean for me later on. Mortality. I guess it hits home because it forces us to look at our own mortality, and what that will look like to those on the outside. Santiago’s story is much deeper than the people measuring the marlin carcass upon his arrival will ever understand. So much more happened on that journey, things they’ll never know or hear about. Things Santiago will keep to himself. I get that. I totally get that.
5. What is the name of your blog and what can readers expect to find there?
Right now you can find me at Medium or my author website. My writings can be found on both of those, though the website is probably easiest. Also, I am the creative director for therealedition.com which is a community that connects people affected by addiction. You can find some of my stuff there as well.
6. What does your drafting and/or editing process entail?
I’m a binge writer. A week where I’m writing consists, usually, of a full day of writing, just pumping out 6000 words or so, and then being mentally exhausted for about three days. During those three days, I’m constantly questioning myself and worrying that whatever urge took over that led me to the binge writing might one day not come back. Honest to god, these are my thoughts! What if I can’t write anymore? What if I’m done? What if that part of my brain just refuses in the future? Then, sure enough, I get the urge to write again, and then just begin punching keys. I’d say 80% of my book was written in only about 6-8 weeks. That book is 100% the product of binge writing.
When writing periodical pieces, I’m a little more planned out. I wrote a piece called Kingpins recently, and that was about 5 weeks of research followed by two weeks of writing. That was much more controlled and calculated, so really – my drafting process for writing first person narrative is far different from my research pieces.
As for editing, I always bring in an outside set of eyes. I tend to write really long and need help finding out what to cut. I utilized a community on Medium called “Writers Cooperative” where the editing process is crowd-sourced and you get a set of 10-15 eyes all looking at what you wrote and leaving feedback. Some are great at catching punctuation and spelling, others like to wonder if you’ve thoroughly explored a certain theme. It has worked really well for me so far.
Last, my wife. The first thing I ever had published was a 3-part series I wrote for a local paper called Heroin in the Foothills and that came about when I pitched the idea to the editor of the paper – with zero journalism experience, mind you – and they said ok. So every day I’d come home with a new section, and I was really doubting myself. She told me, “I think this is really, really good. I think you’re on to something here.” And I believed her despite not believing in myself. Well, that kickstarted the whole published writer thing, and it would have never happened without her believing in me, so to this day, I still bring her home things to edit.
7. Are you traditionally published or self-published?
My book is published with Thought Catalog Books out of Brooklyn, and Mink, my editor, has been fantastic to work with. She really walked me through a lot of things that I was totally ignorant about. I really chose that path because they approached me about putting something together after reading my stuff on Medium, so I didn’t know anything else. I just figured that’s how books got published. Publishers find stuff online and reach out. I had no idea how complex the process can really be.
I did my own cover after not being too thrilled with the cover created by the publisher. I found a graphic designer in Bosnia named Miladinka Milic, who worked with me over the course of a few weeks to get it just right. I am absolutely thrilled with the job she did. For promotion, I hired Christa Wojciechowski, who did a tremendous job connecting me to podcasts, writers, book readings, book signings, all of it. Really, without her, I don’t think the book would’ve gained so much traction early on.
8. Can you offer one or two helpful tips for fellow writers when it comes to marketing and publicity?
I sent out a lot of free copies, people who Christa found, who had a voice in the particular genre I was going for, who already had a following that I didn’t. Once we got the book into their hands, and they liked it, then they spread by word of mouth. I’m still battling to make this happen, to be honest. It’s all about getting the right person to read it and give it a little love. It’s a process.
Another thing is, books, I’m learning, aren’t like movies or albums. The opening weekend is not all that important. In fact, books often times take years to catch on. That’s just the nature of the industry, so it’s ok if your book doesn’t sell a ton of copies in the first month. It’s more about laying the foundation for a successful long-term future, than a flurry of sales in the initial 30 days.
The last thing that I’d suggest is writing for free. Write for free, show them what you have. What you’re capable of. Find yourself as a writer, grow, develop, with a community that will be there for you and give you feedback.
9. What future projects can we look forward to?
One of my essays Confessions of a Drug Addicted High School Teacher was recently purchased for film rights, so I’ve been working with the producer and the person they’ve brought in to develop a pitch, which has been a blast. So that’s been a lot of fun. Eventually, I’m going to have to hunker down and formulate book #2. I’m working with an agent at ICM and she’s helped me begin to formulate that, so that’s exciting. So as for the future – I have no idea, if I’m being 100% honest. I have no control over it. But if you would’ve told me, three years ago, where I’d be today, it would’ve sounded absolutely insane. So next year? Who knows. But that’s the exciting part.
10. Is there anything else you want your potential readers to know?
I don’t only write about drugs! One of my favorite pieces is called Sex on Wednesdays, which is another story that’s caught interest for film adaptation. I really enjoy straying from what you might expect I’d write, and just writing about life sometimes.
You can connect with Jason and his social media sites via his author website.
Is there anything else you would like to know about Jason Smith?
Permission must be granted by Jason Smith to use the author images in this post.
Compelling interview, one of your best Jeri! Wonderful that you approach this topic from what seems to be a different angle Jason, as addiction is so often seen through the same lens. And I laughed out loud when reading you are a binge writer! I tend to do the same! And then look in the mirror and mutter, “Is that you got?” It a terribly fearful feeling! Laugh. I’ll check out the book for sure. I’ve had some personal family experience but unfortunately, my brother didn’t make it in spite of my best efforts. Wishing you every good thing in this life. You’ve earned it.
Great interview Jeri! That is brave that you are willing to put your addiction and recovery out there to help others. It takes courage and vulnerability. That is exciting that some of your work has been bought for film rights. Good luck on all your upcoming endeavours. ! 🙂
What a good interview! Such an intense subject , and yet I was amazed how open Jason was about his experience. Fantastic that he has the gumption to share this and I hope it will help others to overcome addiction. Really liked the book cover too:-)
This is a truly inspiring interview. And this comment has given me pause for thought: “As a writer, I now get to give a voice to a group who may be marginalized by society. We often speak for them, but rarely do we attempt to include them.”
I also think that’s one of the best book titles I’ve seen in a long time. Finally, congrats on selling a short piece for film, and I look forward to reading some of your work, Jason.
Thanks for a great post, Jeri!
Interesting interview, from the view of addiction from someone who knows it first hand. His book seems very interesting, thanks for sharing this with us.
Congratulations to Jason! I’m also a binge writer.
Talk about an interesting interview, Jeri and Jason! Jason, I love your voice in the answers–so real and approachable. WIll definitely put the book on my TBR list. Congratulations on your success–I hope you enjoy the ride 🙂
Wow, what a compelling story! It just shows what a huge need there is out there for people with addiction stories to connect to each other. Can’t wait to see what comes next for Jason!
So there’s hope for all those who are sitting in Starbucks without much going on. I don’t think you really know much about what you want to do before you’re 30 or so anyway. It’s just that you don’t want to screw up too bad before you figure it out. Appreciate Jason’s story.
What a fantastic interview Jeri and Jason. I also love the cover of this book. 🙂
Fascinating interview. I love Jason’s voice and compassionate perspective. I think creating something someone can see their own story in is the goal of every writer. The books I have most connected with as a reader are ones that did just that, even when the story itself seem far removed from my personal experience. I enjoy hearing about other writers’ processes and I’m delighted to hear that binge writing works for Jason. I will be checking out his book.
Very interesting interview… I much enjoyed the excerpts related to Smith´s writing process and also the blurb of his book, which seems tough and deep-felt… Thanks so much for sharing, dear Jeri… Sending best wishes. Aquileana ?☀️
Jason your next book should be called Homeless in the Foothills!
This was a heartwarming, candid interview. Not that all interviews aren’t honest, but you can tell when someone writes non-fiction. There’s an authenticity that seems to drip off the authors pen … or keyboard. I’m not a non-fiction writer, but this is a classy line. “To create something someone can see their own story in…” I wish Jason the best with his writing. And thanks, Jeri, for introducing him to us.
Great questions and spot on interview.
It is amazing that Jason is able to use his personal experiences to engage and impact on his audience. Drug addiction is grim but Jason came through the other side – not without challenges I am sure.
Great interview Jeri and a story I can personally relate to since most of my life I’ve been surrounded by people with addiction issues. I was particularly fascinated by Jason’s opinion on writing for free considering there is a bit of a fire storm underway in various social media writing groups about this particular subject as it relates to the “opportunity” to publish in Huffington Post for the exposure. Most of those participating are adamantly against writing for free under any circumstance but I can’t help but think there are more who feel differently and just don’t want to get caught up in the uproar. Anyway, thanks for the great read and inspiration!
***I believe writers fulfill as artists, is the ability for people to connect with and to what we’re saying. ***
I’m off to read his other stuff.
Thanks Jeri. FABULOUS. xx
I think that not enough attention is given to the dangers of prescription drugs. I’ve known people who regularly pop prescription pills, and they don’t think much of it since it is “medicine”, not a street drug. I knew someone who was relatively young (40s) and healthy and she died in her sleep. While I never heard the exact cause of death, I got the feeling from the little I heard that her self-medicating with prescription drugs was likely a factor. Books like this give the issue a much-needed voice..
I LOVE this guy! As I read his story, I felt I was seated next to him in Starbucks; easy eloquence. I’m definitely going to read more of his work. I’m off to check out Medium right now..
Wow guys, you’re far too kind. Thank you so much for the kind words, and so happy you enjoyed the interview. And thank you Jeri for the opportunity to interview with you. It was a blast!
You’re welcome Jason. Your determination and willingness to put yourself out there via nonfiction is highly admirable. Best wishes in finding more and more readers for your memoir.
Wonderful interview, Jeri. It definitely makes me want to read his book. I’m sure he will appreciate that people will want to do that. I love memoirs and that you choose to interview their authors.