Interview with Bridget Smith, Best Agent

Bridget Smith of Dunham Literary is my agent, and obviously that fact alone means I find her delightful and fascinating. However, she is also incredibly cool even by less biased standards. Before becoming an agent, she evaluated short story submissions for, and worked at a secondhand bookstore, and while she was at Brown University, where she studied anthropology and archaeology, she was a radio DJ and on the varsity fencing team. Other fun facts include that she initially planned to become a marine biologist, she once performed an experiment in microgravity at NASA, and that she currently has a podcast Shipping and Handling, with Jen Udden of Barry Goldblatt Literary.

So here we go…

You’ve been an agent for 5 years now at Dunham Literary. What have been some of your favorite experiences in that time? 

Seeing the incredible covers my clients have gotten, holding a book I helped bring into the world for the first time, and best of all, meeting someone for the first time and hearing how much they loved a book by one of my clients. There’s nothing that makes it feel real like encountering a reader by chance.

What has surprised you most about the world of publishing?

I am not sure this was exactly a surprise, but it was certainly a delight when I realized that all the networking I needed to do involved talking to other people who love books about books we both loved. What better job could there be?

What books, not represented by you, would you have channeled your fencing skills and dueled over because they were so good? 

Well. Leaving out the ones I actually HAVE fought over – which is between me and the authors and the agents who beat me, a.k.a. my nemeses – and the smash hit answers (CHIME and CODE NAME VERITY and THE RAVEN BOYS), some recent titles I would have loved the chance to rep: GEORGIA PEACHES AND OTHER FORBIDDEN FRUIT by Jaye Robin Brown and KISSING IN AMERICA by Margo Rabb, both of which are thoughtful and complex depictions of the interiority of teenage girls; and THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI by Helene Wecker, which is just a stunning and original historical fantasy.

You are the casting director for Indiana Jane, a film that centers on a brilliant female archaeologist, who travels the globe, expands our knowledge of the ancient world, and does not leave behind only rubble in her path. Who do you cast as the lead, where does she go, and what answers does she seek?

I have spent a truly absurd amount of time running through options on this: Hayley Atwell, Naomie Harris, Sigourney Weaver, Lucy Liu, every one with a different vibe and different quest. But I think I will go with my first idea: Katee Sackhoff, who has not gotten a role worth her talents since Battlestar Galactica, and whom I’d love to see kick ass & crack wise across the Mediterranean, where she would both discover the source of the Atlantis myth and understand why the story matters more than the facts.

Since you once wanted to become a marine biologist, which marine animal (or what about oceans) would you most like to study? 

I was extremely into whales as a kid. An orca was basically the only thing I was ever able to draw, and I have vivid memories of getting into a fight with a boy in my class over whether blue whales or dinosaurs were bigger. (I was right.) I think if I could have continued studying animals I might have kept up my interest through college, but they withhold the interesting stuff until you’ve gotten through things like “measuring salinity” and “understanding chemistry.” But in the meantime, I can still have that feeling of looking out over the water, smelling the salt air, and seeing the world go on forever. It doesn’t make me feel small: it makes me feel infinite.

You have a podcast and you were a radio DJ in college. What do you see as being particularly special about the audio medium? 

There’s a particular kind of intimacy to audio. When I worked at the radio station, I constantly had my iPod or dock tuned in: I’d wake up to it, listen to it walking home from the gym, play it in the background while doing homework. And there’s really nothing like hearing your friend’s voice in your ear when you can just listen and not have to engage or come up with something witty to say. That’s part of what Jen and I are going for with the podcast. Conferences are a great way for writers to meet agents, but everyone’s a little on edge there: this is a way for us to share information in your home, where you feel comfortable, and in a situation where you don’t have to worry about impressing us.

Audio books—what’s your stance, and if you are a fan, what kind of books do you feel translate particularly well into audiobooks?

Despite what I said above, I am actually not a fan – I don’t process extended speech that well, so it requires a supreme effort to focus on them, which I’m led to believe is the opposite of what audiobooks are good for. I’ve struggled with the few I’ve done on road trips, so I can only imagine how many mental distractions I’d have while cooking or running or riding the subway. And it’s so much harder to get back on track! But when I’ve been tempted, it’s for full-cast recordings and celebrity memoirs narrated by their authors. I mean, if Tina Fey or Mindy Kaling wants to tell me a story, I want to listen.

Manuscript wish list: Anything that you are really hoping to see right now?

Right now, I’d love an intimate historical set in an unusual time period (any age group), an f/f YA contemporary that’s funny and warm, and adult science fiction that feels like Lois McMaster Bujold.

Shamelessly self-serving question: It once came up that you’d talked about my book with an editor at a cocktail party, and I found that image super charming and basically peak NYC publishing.  So, what kind of cocktail would you say THE WINDOW is? Also, for the under 21 crowd, what snacks do you recommend while reading it?

Is a Dark & Stormy too cliché? A little sweet, with a little bit of a bite. And of course, for a thriller, I’d have to go with popcorn – though I recommend keeping it on a flat surface so you don’t spill it everywhere when you have to flail at Jess’s terrible life choices!

Dark & Stormy sounds just about perfect! And I have to say that now I am officially pining for a film with Katee Sackhoff, Hayley Atwell, Naomie Harris, Sigourney Weaver, and Lucy Liu ALL in it, because that would be epic. Hollywood, please make this happen.

Thanks so much, Bridget! 

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