Author Spotlight: Samantha M. Clark
June 22, 2018
Today we are excited to feature middle-grade author Samantha M. Clark and her new book, THE BOY, THE BOAT AND THE BEAST (Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster, June 26, 2018) Enter to win a copy!
|design by Laurent Linn|
cover art & interior illustrations © Justin Hernandez
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
I’ve loved books and writing since I was a kid. My family moved a lot when I was young, and by the time I was 12, I had lived in four countries and even more towns. As an only child who was very shy, the library became my constant and characters in books were my friends.
I always wanted to tell my own stories, but as I grew older and went to college, I didn’t think I could write books for kids. For some reason, I thought that if you wrote novels, you had to write for adults, which is so not true. It wasn’t until I started reading children’s books again as an adult that I remembered why I loved those stories so much—and realized why the protagonists in all my story ideas where kids. There’s an innocence to children’s stories, a sense of hope that runs through them, and for me, no matter how bad any situation gets, I always hold onto hope. So I think that’s one of the reasons I love writing stories for children. But I also don’t feel like I’m writing just for kids; I write stories I love and I think they can be enjoyed by anyone who’s young or young at heart.
Congrats on your debut MG novel, THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST! Tell us about it and what inspired you?
Thank you! It’s exciting. :)
THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST is about a boy who wakes up on a mysterious, scary beach and he doesn’t know who he is or how he got there. All he knows is he must have a home, if only he can gather enough courage to try to find it. After he sees a light shining over a giant wall of trees, he goes on a journey to regain his memories and face his fears.
I got the idea for the story when my husband and I were living in Houston. One day, I was walking our dog along 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 had gotten there. The boy was so clear in my head, and I thought about him all the way back to our house. When I got home, I had a novel forming. I told my husband, and we sat brainstorming ideas for over an hour.
But, while most of the ideas we talked about that Saturday are still in the book, 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 remember having this huge aha moment, when I realized the real story was about the boy feeling like he could never be enough, battling an inner bully that filled him with insecurities. I revised with this in mind, and that’s when the story really began to take shape.
You're a regional advisor to the Austin chapter of the SCBWI. What role has the SCBWI played in your publication journey?
SCBWI has helped me enormously, between learning at conferences, meeting people and making friends. The support and encouragement I’ve received from the SCBWI members I’ve become friends with is incredible. And volunteering for SCBWI has helped too, because I’m generally a shy person, but I’ve gained a lot more confidence in myself through the work I’ve done for the Austin SCBWI chapter.
But specifically, I can pinpoint connections between the publication of THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST and my membership with SCBWI:
- I started writing the manuscript when I was volunteering for the Houston SCBWI critique group. They helped me hone the opening pages, and SCBWI members I met in Austin helped me polish many, many revisions.
- The manuscript won the Houston SCBWI chapter’s Joan Lowry Nixon Award, which gave me a year’s mentorship with the fantastic Newbery Honor author Kathi Appelt.
- I was recommended to my agent, Rachel Orr of Prospect Agency, by agent Liza Pulitzer Voges, who had met me at the first Austin SCBWI conference I organized.
- Coincidentally, the art director we had brought in for that same conference, Laurent Linn with Simon & Schuster, is the art director for THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST. I had told him about the book at the conference, and four years later, he asked to work on it after he heard my editor talking about it in a production meeting. I couldn’t be more grateful for the work he has done to make it beautiful.
Through SCBWI, I’ve grown my craft and made friends and connections all over the world. The organization has been and continues to be my teacher, my guide, my cushion. I wouldn’t have a career without it.
What projects are you working on now?
I’m working on another middle-grade novel that has a very different story from THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST but is similar in style. I’m really excited about the book, but like BEAST, it’s scaring me as a writer because I want to do these characters justice in telling their story right and it’s a demanding story to tell. I hope I’m making them proud and plan to revise and revise and revise until I do, just like I did with BEAST.
What advice would you give your younger self? Is this the same as you'd give to aspiring authors?
Great question and I would definitely tell myself to not rush to publish and instead to focus on craft. I tell that to aspiring authors now too.
When I first started pursuing a career in novels, I did lots of research about the publishing industry and how to query. It wasn’t because I was in a hurry to get published or thought I was such a brilliant writer that my first novel was going to be snapped up in a minute. I knew I had work to do and could improve a LOT. But I also knew I had promise and thought—wrongly—that an agent could help me get my work over the line.
Most of all, though, I queried because I wanted the validation that comes when an agent or editor says yes. I wanted someone who wasn’t my husband, or friends, or critique partners to tell me that all my hard work wasn’t a complete waste of time.
But now that I am where I am (after years and years and years of rejections ;) ), I know that I wasn’t ready for an agent with my first novel. Or my second. Because when I put my focus on improving my craft over my need to get published, I came to trust myself as a storyteller.
Publishing is fraught with rejection, from agents, to editors, to negative reviews, and while in some cases rejections might be warranted, in others they’re merely subjective. Different people have different tastes. Some people can’t get enough of Harry Potter, and others couldn’t care less. Some people are going to get your work, and others won’t. It’s very important as a storyteller that you trust yourself—not that you’ll always get it right, or that you can’t always learn something new (because you’ll never stop learning), but because only you can tell YOUR story.
You’re going to get feedback from critique partners, agents and editors that will be conflicting, either with other people’s notes or your own vision for the story. This will be frustrating and can be disheartening, which is why it’s so important that writers trust themselves, so they can know that even if a plot point or character decision or setting isn’t working now, they’ll be able to figure it out as long as they keep trying.
Being an author is an amazing job, but the industry can be difficult to break into and because of that many writers give up. There are so many things that are out of your control; even as a self-publisher, you can’t control reviews and how many people will actually buy your book. So focus on what you can control: Creating the best story you can. When your craft is good, your career will come to you, and you’ll enjoy it a lot more.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
I’m a little addicted to Spider Solitaire. It took me a while to figure out how to play it, but now I play at the Master level and sometimes Grand Master level when I’m looking for a challenge. I even wrote a blog post about how playing it reminded me of figuring out a story. Now, if I can just stop using it to procrastinate when my WIP is giving me problems…
Where can people find you online?
The best place to keep up with news and giveaways from me is through my enewsletter. As well as my news, I have Book Birthday Bashes for brand new kidlit releases each month and some of them have bonus giveaways.
But you can also find me hanging out on Twitter (@samclarkwrites), Facebook, Instagram (@samanthaclarkbooks) and Pinterest (@samclarkwrites) when I’m taking a break from my WIP.
Samantha M Clark is the author of the 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 www.SamanthaMClark.com (http://www.samanthamclark.com/).
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