English alum Jennifer Smart describes path to publishing her debut novel

After a 20-year career in management, Smart is now a full-time author 

By Leslie L.J. Reilly

Jennifer Smart and book cover She Named Me WolfJennifer Polselli Smart found her true passion while studying at SDSU. She enrolled in a few English courses as a freshman and discovered a love of books and a passion for writing. Originally planning to major in marine biology, she changed her major — and her career trajectory. Smart graduated with a degree in English literature, and the rest is history.

For the past five years, Smart (pen name Tenkara Smart), has focused solely on writing. Her dream of being a published author came alive this summer with the release of her first YA novel, She Named Me Wolf, part of a book series titled The Many Lives of Wolf. In it, Smart pulls on her belief that we are all spiritual beings living a physical experience, learning all we can to reach new levels of awareness.

After graduating from SDSU and spending 20+ years in San Diego, Smart moved to Qatar before moving to Melbourne, Australia with her husband. 

Here, she shares more details about her path to becoming a published author. 

How did your bachelor’s in English literature with a creative writing minor prepare you to become a published author? 

When I started the degree program, writing and reading comprehension didn’t come easily to me, and I was self-conscious about my verbal and written communications.  I found a love for books and writing and decided to change my major. I committed to my studies and read like crazy, turning in papers and also writing poetry and prose, doing my best to achieve high marks in all my classes. Under the guidance, teaching, and support of the many great professors I had in the program, my reading and writing improved, as did my verbal communication skills, all of which led to a dramatic improvement in my self-confidence. 

Tell me what impacted you greatly at SDSU? 

Though there were many good professors, there are two who made a great impact: Glover Davis and Fran Adler. As a student of both amazing teachers, I began to see the world differently. Through the teachings of Professor Davis, I realized the power of words and the many ‘worlds’ that could be created by a writer, especially through poetry. He was able to help me see and feel beyond the actual words and how written language could touch my soul.  Professor Adler exposed me to books and stories about people who found their strength and became empowered, especially women. In Professor Adler’s class, I grew in my self-confidence, feeling comfortable and empowered to share my views of the world through writing. 

How did your book idea come to fruition and when did you begin writing your manuscript?

I began writing She Named Me Wolf just over two years ago and this is my first novel in my series titled The Many Lives of Wolf. I collaborate closely with my husband on all the books as the stories are intricately linked with our spiritual beliefs.

She Named Me Wolf, the first book in the series, though fictionalized, is loosely based on stories of my husband’s life growing up in a small town in Australia in the 1970s. Over the years, as my husband shared stories with me, including his adventures as a young boy, his vivid imagination, and his martial arts training, I knew my first book in the series would be based on a character living in difficult family circumstances who could inspire others to overcome the odds and pull on their own inner strength to survive and thrive.

What has surprised you about your career and the publishing world? 

I knew there were thousands of outstanding authors/writers in the world today, and this became even more evident when my book entered the marketplace and I became a competitor. Now I can say with absolute confidence that anyone aspiring to sell their books needs to invest the time and effort into professional editing, a great cover designer, and a marketing plan that helps others discover your work, whether you work with an agent, a publisher, or self-publish.

What was most exciting about the launch of your first book?

I’m most excited when I get a review. Since the launch, the reviews describe the book as ‘magical’ and ‘inspirational,’ and readers comment that my handling of the delicate subject of child abuse is done very well, with the novel focusing on Wolf’s ability to find light in the darkness. Because I had hoped to inspire readers, when I hear that readers were indeed inspired, I find this to be the biggest compliment I could ever receive. When someone says they were moved by the story and how Wolf navigated his difficult situation, I am beyond happy.

What's next? 

I am working on the second book. The second book is a different writing experience for me. It’s based on the character Junsaku who is a samurai warrior in feudal Japan, so I have to use my own memory, recalling my travels to Japan, and I also research historical facts to make the book as authentic as possible. 

Do you have any advice for the student interested in an English degree at SDSU? 

Learn all you can, even if you question certain subjects and think they’ll never apply to real-world experiences. After graduating, you may end up in a career you never expected, and you’ll find that everything you learned from your classes at SDSU will be useful in some way.  My writing skills became critically important in my career path at Road Runner Sports in San Diego where I worked for twenty years.  

At Road Runner Sports, I started as a sales representative in the call center, also volunteering my free time to help the marketing department on the second floor, editing copy with the aspiration to move to a position in marketing. Instead of promoting into marketing, however, I was promoted into management because of my ability to write and communicate effectively. Over the years, I continued to promote until ultimately I became vice president of operations, running various departments with almost one-thousand employees nationwide.  

In retrospect, I never thought that my education would lead me to that role. Without my excellent education at SDSU, including writing and communications, I don’t think I would have been as successful as I was in my career.