Today we’re pleased to be chatting with Clete Barrett Smith (of the 2010 Sweet Dreams and Flying Machines), and has he got a special delivery for us! His new middle grade novel, Magic Delivery, is out today from Disney-Hyperion.
The magic details:
Nick is a natural born businessman. His schoolmates think he's a heartless hustler, but secretly he's just trying to earn money to help his mother, who works two jobs. Eager to be part of the popular circle, Nick wheedles an invitation to Hayley's upcoming Halloween party by agreeing to get her the answers to a test. His goofy friend Burger wants to be part of the deal too, and he nearly blows it for Nick, but desperate Hayley finally caves. Nick and Burger are riding home high on their success--even on their old, beat-up bikes--when they see a delivery van careen off the side of the road. The boys could have sworn that the driver was a bear . . . but that couldn't be right. Or could it? Turns out the van is carrying a load of costumes. With the driver nowhere in sight, Nick's first thought is about how much money he could get by selling the merchandise. Burger just wants to try them out, for fun. In the gorilla costume he chooses, Burger is very convincing. Is that just Burger fooling around, as usual, or is there something strange about these outfits?
Once again Clete Barrett Smith makes a wild premise believable and funny in a story perfectly pitched to middle graders.
Welcome, Clete! So, tell us . . .
What was the spark that ignited this book?
I wanted to write a book about magic Halloween costumes, but my first three drafts were terrible. The kids were finding the costumes in a stereotypically spooky, run-down, mysterious (and very cliched) Halloween shop. Then I was looking through my idea file, and some years ago I had written "Two kids are messing around on bikes and cause a truck to crash in the woods. They investigate but can't find the driver. What do they find in the back of the truck . . . ?" And then I wrote the story that became Magic Delivery. It was much better and more fun to write this time. The main characters (and I) had stumbled upon a secret delivery service that sends magical items all over the globe.
What nugget of craft advice has been especially helpful to you?
In my first semester, Rita Williams-Garcia helped me find the Delete button on my keyboard. Before that, I was terrified to throw away anything that I had written because I felt like I had worked so hard on it. In my first ever packet, Rita started by saying how much she liked one of the early scenes in my book (I was thrilled--Rita Williams-Freaking-Garcia liked one of my scenes!) and she went on to say that it made her smile (I made Rita smile!!!) and then she said it actually made her laugh out loud (!!!!!!). At the end of the paragraph she wrote: "The scene is not moving the story forward. Cut the whole thing out." After I picked my jaw off the floor I realized it was the right decision for the story.
Tell us about how you sold this book. What was it like when you found out? Do you have an agent? Were there a lot of revisions along the way?
I had fully written two books in my aliens series before the first one even came out. At that time, my agent advised not to start on the third one unless/until my publisher ordered another one (because no one else would want to buy it, of course, if my publisher passed). So I was just tinkering around with this story about magic Halloween costumes in the meantime. I was having lunch with my editor at BEA and she asked what I was working on. She liked the idea so I sent her the first 100 pages or so and then she was nice enough to send along a contract. But then the publisher wanted a third book in the alien series first, so I set this partial manuscript aside and wrote aliens book #3, and then came back to finish Magic Delivery a year later. So it was a very strange process for me (and it was the first book that I had not written at VCFA). And there were lots of revisions because I just couldn't get the idea right. I wrote three drafts with completely different settings and characters before I finally figured out the right angle for this one.
Tell us about your writing community. Are you in a critique group? Does your son or mom read your early drafts? Is Twitter your bastion of support?
My writing community and critique partners consist almost solely of wonderful writers I met while at VCFA. This is where I (finally) found my people! I could not do any of this without them. Although I do have one former high school student of mine who went on to get a degree in screenwriting and now writes for a Comedy Central show. She's brilliant and talented (and closer in age to my intended audience) and so we read each other's first drafts and offer feedback.
How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?
Attending VCFA was one of the best experiences of my entire life, writing or otherwise. (If they would let me, I would just keep attending indefinitely. I really should have blown my graduation residency so that I would be forced to return . . . ) Before VCFA I had never received professional editing/criticism or been part of a writing community (or even critique group). At the risk of sounding maudlin, it completely changed my life.
What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?
Try everything your advisors suggest. Even if you don't agree with it at first (hey, you can always delete it). They're usually right.
Thanks so much for stopping by, Clete! And WELCOME, Magic Delivery! (Now, if you’ll excuse us, we have to go cut some scenes from our WIPs . . .)