HITTING SHELVES #45: The Australian by Emma Smith-Stevens

The Australian by Emma Smith-Stevens comes out today! It’s a hilarious debut novel about a smiling, suntanned, backpack-wearing Australian (you know the type) and his search for meaning. We asked the author one question.

Fiction Advocate: Emma! How are you celebrating the publication of The Australian?

Emma Smith-Stevens: On the publication date of my novel The Australian (today!), I’m doing a reading at Unnamable Books in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn at 7pm. Some really incredible writers—Rachel Khong, Aaron Thier, and Nick Flynn—will be reading as well. It’s open to the public and I invite you, too: the more the merrier! Bring friends! Evil twins! Friends with benefits! Lovers—secret or otherwise! Frienemies! Doppelgängers! Those with whom you have relationships that you would describe as “complicated!” Bring ‘em all!

I will raise a glass to the man on whom the titular Australian was based: the “real Australian.” He was a stranger I met at a coffee shop when I was 19 and with whom I spent a single afternoon—doing cocaine, listening to him rant, and talking self-help books. After that encounter he became a memory, which years later became a brief character sketch, which was subsequently forgotten, and then found and read and built upon until it was a long Microsoft Word document, which was then edited and edited and copyedited—and now it’s a novel! So, I owe that fellow—big time.

I have recently learned three things:

  1. I love rainbow sherbert.
  2. It can also be spelled “sherbet,” and in fact that is the more commonly used variant, which I think is unfortunate because it sounds gross… “Sher-bet.” Ugh. “Sherbert” sounds more like the surname of a kindhearted old person you have fond memories of from your youth—a third grade teacher or a friend’s grandmother or a local librarian or something. Much nicer.
  3. If you put a scoop of sherbert (or sherbet, if you must) atop a scoop of vanilla ice cream, you have a creamsicle-type situation and it’s delicious—especially in a sugar cone.

These, I prefer to indulge in alone. In celebration of having published my first book, I will.

Additionally, I’ll high five my two dogs, one of whom I can count on to reciprocate. I will send copies of the book along with thank you notes to a handful of people who were integral in The Australian coming to be. Some of those people literally saved my life: my parents, who supported me in every conceivable way through years of life-threatening mental illness; my psychiatrist, who correctly diagnosed me with bipolar disorder at age 17; and my therapist, who aided me years later in accepting my condition and adhering to treatment. I’ll read my book once, cover to cover—in its final, bound form—which some superstition has prevented me from doing. I will briefly think of the girl from junior high school who bullied me until I dropped out, and consider sending a signed copy of The Australian to her at the Soul Cycle where she works—“Take Your Journey! Change Your Body! Find Your Soul!”—and choose not to because I am so above that. I will begin edits on my second book, a story collection entitled Greyhounds. With all the pre-publication stuff for The Australian, I have been stuck vis-à-vis this memoir I’m writing. Now, hopefully, I’ll soar. Finally—and quite frankly—I intend to get it on with my husband.

Emma Smith-Stevens holds an MFA from the University of Florida and currently teaches fiction writing with the Bard Prison Initiative. She lives in New York.

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