After a summer hiatus (due mainly to laziness) I’m back with my author interview series. And while I didn’t literally go to the beach this summer, I did have the pleasure of experiencing an armchair shipwreck adventure unlike any other in this stunning middle grade debut by Samantha M. Clark. I caught up with Samantha to learn more:
Me: Can you sum up THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST for the uninitiated?
Samantha: Absolutely! Here’s the pitch from my publisher, Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster:
“The Graveyard Book meets Hatchet in this eerie novel about a boy who is stranded on a mysterious beach, from debut author Samantha M. Clark. A boy washes up on a mysterious, seemingly uninhabited beach. Who is he? How did he get there? The boy can’t remember. When he sees a light shining over the foreboding wall of trees that surrounds the shore, he decides to follow it, in the hopes that it will lead him to answers. The boy’s journey is a struggle for survival and a search for the truth—a terrifying truth that once uncovered, will force him to face his greatest fear of all if he is to go home.”
I’ll add that the book is a contemporary fantasy middle-grade novel about fear, insecurity and making your own courage while facing the monsters without and within.
Me: What sparked the creation of your book?
Samantha: This book started as a very small what-if and grew from there. The idea for THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST came to me when we were living in Houston. I was walking our dog on the shore of Clear Lake and began to wonder what would happen if a boy woke up alone on a beach and had no memory of who he was or how he got there. The Boy was so clear in my head, and I thought about him all the way back to our house. I told my husband what I was thinking, and we sat brainstorming ideas for over an hour. Then I got to work.
But the real story—why the Boy was there and what his true journey was—wasn’t clear to me until I wrote the final scene of the first draft. I had this huge ah ha moment, when I thought, “That’s what this book is about.” That story came through in multiple revisions.
Me: What can you share about your creative process?
Samantha: I love discovering how different writers approach their stories, and over the years I’ve tried lots of the tips and tricks I’ve heard about. Some have worked for me, some haven’t, and some have evolved into my current process, but I’m sure they will evolve even more.
One thing that has always been true is that I can’t start writing until I have three things:
- The situation that is precipitating the story, like a boy waking up on a beach with no memory of who he is or how he got there.
- The ending. The ending might change, but I need to have a destination in mind. Like, with THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST, I knew roughly what the ending was going to be, but not exactly, so there were surprises.
- The voice. This might change too, but I find that I can’t get into a story until the voice is talking to me. For example, the manuscript I wrote after my first draft of THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST was one I had been thinking about for years, but it wasn’t until then that the voice came to me and I was able to write it.
Once I have those three things, I plot out a very rough, bare bones outline and start writing, but that outline will usually change a lot as I discover more about the story and characters. After the first draft is down, it’s revision, revision, revision as many times as needed until I feel like the story is where it needs to be.
Me: What’s the most surprising thing about your publishing journey?
Samantha: To be honest, that I’ve come this far and now have a book published by Simon & Schuster!! As a kid, I thought authors of books were magical people in some mysterious land. We didn’t have author visits at my schools, and I never dreamed that Judy Blume and Enid Blyton were real people, much less that I could be like them…or try to be. 😉 Even when I got older and realized that being a novelist was a thing that people achieved, I never dreamed it would be something I could do. But I hoped, and hope is the most miraculous thing. Hope kept me working, kept me learning, kept me submitting. Hope helped me write in the middle of the night, revise over and over and over. And hope allowed me to never give up, even if I didn’t think a book of mine would ever be in a bookstore or a library. But now it is, in countries all over the world, and that’s surprising, but also amazingly wonderful.
And hope is keeping me writing more stories, learning more about craft, and creating new characters and worlds. Hopefully readers around the world will be reading those one day too.
Me: What do you do when you’re not writing?
Samantha: We have two dogs and I love taking them on long walks when I can. Too often my schedule is so busy that the walks are shorter, but we do get out in the sun. I also love to cook, and I make everything from scratch. And I love gardening and growing things, although I haven’t had as much time for that lately as I would like. In the future…
Me: Any advice to kids who like to write? And to adults who want to write for kids?
Samantha: The best advice I can give any writer of any age is to read. Read everything. Read the genres you love the most, and read books in genres you think you won’t like. Read books with covers that draw you in and covers that don’t appeal to you. Read stories about characters who are like you and stories about characters who are completely different. Reading will help you become a better writer. You’ll get a feel for story, voice, pacing, etc. Just like artists study the work of other artists, writers do the same by reading.
But also, and this important, know that it’s okay if you don’t finish a book. If you’re really struggling to get through a story, it’s okay to put it down. Everyone won’t like every story. Some people love the Harry Potter books, and others don’t. That’s okay. But you won’t know until you try, and a book just might surprise you. Either way, you’ll learn from books you love, like and dislike. So read… a LOT.
Me: As an illustrator who works on my own covers, I’m always interested in learning an author’s involvement in and reaction to their own cover?
Samantha: I didn’t have much involvement in the artwork for THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST, but I LOVE the cover, and I’m so very grateful for the work of art director Laurent Linn (http://www.laurentlinn.com/index/Welcome_to_LaurentLinn.com.html) and illustrator Justin Hernandez (http://www.shannonassociates.com/justinhernandez). Both of them had a lot of passion for this book, and I think it fully shows in the final product, from the cover to the interior chapter frames to the soft-feel jacket and spot gloss. The chapter frames have little icons that change throughout the book, which I love. Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better art director in Laurent Linn. Justin Hernandez was the only artist Laurent sent me, but as soon as I saw his work, I was in awe of his illustrations. I couldn’t be happier with what they came up with for the book.
Me: What’s next for you?
Samantha: I’m working on another middle-grade that’s lyrical in voice, has an unusual point of view and has fantastical elements in a realistic setting, like THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST. Nature is also a big part of the story, but the rest is different. I’m thoroughly enjoying getting to know the characters and world.
And in breaks, I’m getting ready to talk to kids about THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST and writing during author visits. As I said, I didn’t have those as a child and never thought publishing could be in my future. Now, as an author, I want every child to know that if they have a story they want to tell, publishing is definitely in their future, but also that whatever they want to do, they can accomplish it.
Me: Thanks so much, Samantha! Wishing your amazing book much success!
Samantha M Clark is the author of middle-grade novel THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST (2018, Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster). She has always loved stories about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. After all, if four ordinary brothers and sisters can find a magical world at the back of a wardrobe, why can’t she? While she looks for her real-life Narnia, she writes about other ordinary children and teens who’ve stumbled into a wardrobe of their own. In a past life, Samantha was a photojournalist and managing editor for newspapers and magazines. She lives with her husband and two kooky dogs in Austin, Texas. Samantha is the Regional Advisor for the Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, and explores wardrobes every chance she gets. Sign up for news and giveaways at http://www.samanthamclark.com/enewsletter/ .