Clete Barrett Smith is a new author on the YA and Children's market. I recently read an arc of his second book, his first novel Aliens on Vacation The Intergalactic Bed And Breakfast Book 1, and loved it. I had to find out more about the man behind the book, so here is 20 questions with Clete.
1. If you had not become a writer what do you think you would be doing for a living?
I taught high school English and Speech for a dozen years and loved it. So I'd probably still be doing that.
2. When did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you nurture that dream?
When I was in second grade a family friend gave me a box set of The Chronicles of Narnia. I started the first one on Sunday evening, and the next day I faked a major illness so that I could stay home from school and read all week. I finished the series by the next weekend, and I knew that I wanted to try to make someone else feel the same way by writing a book of my own. I nurtured that dream by reading everything I could get my hands on and playing lots of imagination games. Whenever I was finished with a good book I would go hiking in the forest and dream up the continued adventures of my favorite characters. I rarely wrote any of those stories down, but I still think it was good training to become a storyteller.
3. Who were some of your biggest supporters and contributors to your early success?
My parents read me thousands of picture books and I think my love of stories started there. We didn't have very much money, but they always let me buy at least two books when the Scholastic book order forms were passed out at school. I also had a lot of great teachers. My friend and I reviewed cheesy horror/slasher movies for the high school newspaper, and instead of using a "star" based rating system, we used "bloody chainsaw" icons. Not every journalism teacher would have allowed that (thanks, Mr. Clark!). I loved seeing my writing become public, and having my friends laugh at what we had written. As an adult, my wife has never stopped believing in my dream to become a published author and has made many sacrifices to allow me to keep at it. Also, my first true writing mentor-the amazing author Rita Williams-Garcia-absolutely transformed my approach to my first book, Aliens on Vacation, during the first semester in my MFA in writing for kids program.
4. What advice do you wish an artist had passed on to you early in your career, which you only learned through experience?
Don't be afraid to use the Delete button.
5. What authors influenced your writing style and format?
When I was a kid I loved the subversive feeling of reading a Roald Dahl book. Most of the adult characters were so horrible, and some of the humor so outrageous, that it felt like maybe your parents wouldn't exactly approve if they knew everything that was in the book. I would like to emulate the way that Dahl never, ever "talked down" to his young readers.
6. What does your writing process look like? Takes us through the steps from idea to publishing?
My ideas usually start as "What if . . . ?" scenarios. For Aliens on Vacation, it was, "What if aliens were secretly visiting Earth? Not to take over or steal our resources or invade our bodies, but just . . . to hang out?" Before I write I usually go on long walks and play with the premise in my mind. What might happen? What would be some funny or interesting situations? What might the characters be like? I start with a rough outline for the first half of the book and then start writing. I usually try many potential opening chapters, playing with the premise and getting to know the characters. When I have a solid foundation, then I try to figure out how the book might end. Then, instead of the book spiraling out of control during the "muddled middle," the actions start funneling toward a logical, and hopefully satisfying, conclusion.
7. Do you use a playlist when writing? Are certain books written while predominantly listing to the same music?
I've tried, but I just can't listen to music at all while I work.
8. I once heard Madeleine L'Engle state that her characters were real to her and almost an extended part of her family, she said once that at the dinner table she sat up and stated "Meg just finished her PhD." Are your characters real to you, do you ever get glimpses of what they are up to now, or once you finish a book is that it? I know you only have one book about to be published but just wondering.
When I'm writing a story, I try to do things the characters might do, or see certain situations through their eyes, in an effort to get closer to them. In Aliens on Vacation, there is a young girl who is really into astronomy. So I read several Carl Sagan books while I was writing, and I would try to take notes as that character, to get in touch with the excitement she would feel at learning all of these incredible facts about the universe. So when I read good non-fiction science books, I still think of her.
9. If you could only recommend 10 books to a reader looking to be a well rounded and whole person what books would you suggest?
10. Do you have a play for how many books will be in the Intergalactic Bed And Breakfast series?
I signed a two-book deal and I have finished writing the sequel (Alien on a Rampage will be released in the summer of 2012). Beyond that, I have outlined rough plots and character ideas for three more books. But, of course, a lot of that will depend on how well the first couple of books are received.
11. What books are currently in progress for you? Writing, researching, planning or even just ideas that you would like to work on? Any in process outside of the IBB series?
I am working on a new middle grade adventure also set primarily in the Pacific Northwest, where I live. I wrote a couple of novels in grad school that I really like and I will likely take a stab at rewriting sometime soon. One is a realistic YA novel which would be very different from the Intergalactic B&B series.
12. What were some of your favorite authors in your teen years who helped shape you?
I loved Stephen King in high school and read everything he had ever written. For humorous genre fiction, I loved Douglas Adams' Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy books and Robert Asprin's Mythadventure series. Those books taught me that sci-fi / fantasy stories could be funny, and that writers could play around with the conventions while still being true to the genre.
13. What are some of your favorite books and authors now?
For books for young readers I really enjoy Nancy Farmer, Pete Hautman, M.T. Anderson, Rick Riordan, John Flanagan, John Green . . . there's just so much good stuff out there right now. For adult books I like David James Duncan, Pat Conroy, Elmore Leonard, George R.R. Martin and Mary Roach, to name just a few.
14. What 10 books do you think should be essential reading for all people who aspire to write children's fiction?
15. One of your books is available in electronic formats but with that comes bootleg distribution. What are your impressions of ebooks and the distribution of them through torrents and other illegal means?
I have no problem with ebooks if they bring more people to reading. However, I'm a little nervous about the prospect of piracy on a large scale.
16. Some authors monitor torrent sites and have their publishers contact them to remove their content. Do you do so are have someone do so for you?
That hasn't really come up yet. However, I belong to an online group of writers called The Elevensies made up of writers who have debuts middle grade or young adult books coming out in 2011. If one member finds another Elevensie book for sale illegally, then they will post the offending website so authors can get in touch with publishers.
17. I once had a university professor state that the true goal of a university education should be to teach one to learn how to think. What would you state should be the goal of higher education and why?
18. Completely off topic but what TV shows or movies do you enjoy?
I like a lot of the HBO series, like The Wire, Deadwood, Sopranos, etc. I'm kind of a comedy nerd, so I subscribe to a bunch of comedy-themed podcasts such as Comedy Death-Ray or Sklarbro Country.
19. If you were stuck on a desert island and could only have 10 books to read again and again, what books would you want with you?
20. What advice would you give to young aspiring authors and artists?
Do it primarily because you enjoy the creative process and not because you are chasing some preconceived notion of success.
Thanks Clete for taking the time to answer some questions, And I look forward to the next book in The Intergalactic Bed And Breakfast series and hopefully many many more good reads down the road.
Book by Clete Barrett Smith:
Intergalactic Bed and Breakfast:
Aliens on Vacation
Alien on a Rampage
Author Profile and Interview with Clete Barrett Smith.