We here at The Mixed-Up Files are thrilled to shine the spotlight on our own Samantha M. Clark, who has not one, but two, middle-grade novels out this month. ARROW released this past Tuesday, June 22, and HOLLYWOOD (American Horse Tales #2) hits the shelves next Tuesday, June 29. Samantha has generously offered our readers a chance to win signed copies of both books. So, don’t forget to click the Rafflecopter link at the end of the post (U.S. entries only).
ABOUT THE BOOKS
For the first twelve years of Arrow’s life, he has grown up as the only human in a lush, magical rainforest that’s closed off from the rest of the world. He was raised by the Guardian Tree, the protector of the forest, which uses the earth’s magic to keep it hidden from those who have sought to exploit and kill it. But now the magic veil is deteriorating, the forest is dying, and Arrow may be the only one who can save it.
Arrow has never seen another human until one day, a man in a small airplane crash-lands in the forest. Then, a group of children finds their way in, escaping from their brutal, arid world where the rich live in luxurious, walled-off cities and the poor struggle for survival. The Guardian Tree urges Arrow to convince the trespassers to leave by any means necessary. Arrow is curious about these newcomers, but their arrival sets off a chain of events that leave him with a devastating choice: be accepted by his own kind or fight to save the forest that is his home.
Set in modern-day California, this American Horse Tale is the story of a young girl who, along with her family’s horse, is destined for the big screen.
Juniper dreams of making it big in the movies along with her horse, Able. In particular, Juniper is obsessed with getting Able onto her favorite television show, CASTLE MacAVOY, and will do anything, even slay dragons, to make that happen.
HOLLYWOOD is part of a series of books written by several authors highlighting the unique relationships between young girls and their horses.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dorian: Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became interested in writing for children.
Samantha: Hi Dorian! Thank you for having me on The Mixed-Up Files today. I’m very excited to be here, especially as a contributor to this wonderful website.
I’ve loved stories since as far back as I can remember. My nose was always in a book, and when I told my parents about my day, I’d tell it carefully to build up to the climax. (Although, people got bored a lot. I had a lot to learn about pacing back then. 🙂 ) Growing up, I wanted to tell stories any way I could, and went into journalism telling the stories of others. I loved making up my own stories, though, so I wrote in my spare time. I didn’t set out to write children’s books, but the more I wrote, the younger my protagonists got. Finally, I realized that’s where my heart was. To learn more about Samantha, visit her website here.
Dorian: What was your journey to becoming a published writer like?
Samantha: Long! 🙂 My first published novel is THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST, which came out in 2018 from Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster. But it wasn’t the first novel I wrote. I wrote two other novels, then started THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST in 2008. Despite getting some honors in contests and winning the Joan Lowery Nixon Award with the Houston chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, the book got a lot of rejections from agents. I wrote two more novels, and kept writing, learning and revising BEAST. Finally, I got a pass from an agent I had met at the Austin Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators conference, but she liked my work enough to recommend it to two other agents, including Rachel Orr with Prospect Agency, who loved my work and offered to represent it. My rejections weren’t over, though. After a bunch more revisions, BEAST went out to editors and was passed on by nine. Then one editor asked for a revise and resubmit, which gave me the opportunity to do another revision with some new ideas I had. That editor still ultimately passed, but when the revised version went out to new editors, BEAST got two offers within three weeks. It ended up taking ten years for that book to come out, and lots of times, I thought it would never happen. But seeing my book on bookshelves, it was all worth it.
Dorian: ARROW and HOLLYWOOD could not be more different from each other regarding setting, tone, etc. But I’m wondering if you found that you visited similar themes that resonate for you, personally, in both books.
Samantha: Great question! And you’re right that the books are very different. ARROW is closer to THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST in style, tone, nature setting, and magic. It was the book I started writing after BEAST, so I think it’s a good follow-up. HOLLYWOOD, however, is part of a new series from Penguin Workshop that I auditioned for. I did come up with the story and characters myself, based on their guideline of “a girl and a horse,” but the story is contemporary, set in a TV studio, and has no magical elements whatsoever. But you are also absolutely right that both books have similar themes. Acceptance, confidence, and self-esteem are themes that seem to pop up in all my stories (I wonder why… 😉 ), and these books are no exceptions. In ARROW, the main character is a 12-year-old boy with a limb difference who lacks the confidence to think he can fix the rainforest’s failing magic. When the forest is infiltrated by humans from outside, Arrow wants to be accepted by the humans, the first of his kind that he’s ever seen. In HOLLYWOOD, Juniper is an 11-year-old girl who accidentally (sorta) stumbles into her dream job of being a stunt rider with her horse on their favorite TV show, but once she’s there, she doesn’t have the confidence in herself to think she can be as good as the other riders. She will do anything she can to prove herself, so she can feel accepted by them.
Dorian: Both your debut book, THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST (which won the 2019 SCBWI Texas/Oklahoma Crystal Kite Award) deal with boys who are mostly alone in strange places. What is it about such stories that attract you as an author?
Samantha: Another great question, Dorian! And it’s funny because I was wondering the same thing recently. 🙂 I don’t tend to plan things like this into stories when I’m working on them. It’s only later, looking at the stories when they’re finished, that I can see where they overlap. In a sense, both the Boy and Arrow are like I was when I was a kid. I’m an only child and we moved around a lot, not just to different towns, but also to different countries. By the time I was 12, I had lived in four countries and was always the new kid. I often felt alone and in a strange place, just like my characters. I was also always most comfortable in nature, among trees and near the ocean, so writing these settings has been a lot of fun.
Dorian: I read that THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST began with the idea of a boy waking up on a beach with no memory that came to you while you were walking your dog. What was the seed that your new book, ARROW, grew from?
Samantha: Yes! I get lots of ideas when I’m walking our dogs or doing any kind of activity when my mind can wander. The first spark of ARROW actually came to me while I was vacuuming. A boy with one hand who lived in a tree popped into my head. I had no idea who he was or what he wanted, but I was intrigued. I started pulling from my own experiences and passions. I went into the Amazon when I was 10 and felt that Arrow’s tree should be in a rainforest. I saw a TED Talk by renowned ecologist Suzanne Simard about how mother trees communicate and protect their forests, and I knew that Arrow’s tree was the Guardian Tree of his forest. The more research I did, the more the story grew, and the more hooked I was as its writer.
Dorian: Love that story! Maybe I should start vacuuming more. 🙂 Other than being entertained, what do you want readers to come away with from your novels?
Samantha: I hope my books encourage readers to dream and hope for amazing possibilities, the way the books I read as a kid did for me. More specifically, I hope that readers of THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST see that their fears don’t have to control them; that readers of HOLLYWOOD believe they can make their dreams come true; and that readers of ARROW gain a better appreciation for our natural world, as well as the understanding that we all live best when we live together as a true, sharing ecosystem.
TIPS FOR WRITERS
Dorian: What tips do you have for aspiring writers?
Samantha: Ooh, I could take hours to answer this question! 🙂 I write tips articles on my blog (samanthamclark.com/blog/) every month that go into specific topics, so here I’ll just share my two favorite tips:
- Consume stories. Read books, watch movies, play story-based videogames, listen to audiobooks . . . The more you consume stories, the more you absorb about story structure, character development, and setting. The best of these is books (and I include in this, comics and graphic novels), because we have a more personal connection when we add our own imaginations. Consume as many stories as you can as often as you can, and you will grow as a writer.
- Don’t compare your first draft, or even first few revisions, to books you bought at a bookstore. I used to read published books and think my work was nowhere near as good. And I was right! It wasn’t. But I hadn’t gone through all the revisions that the author had to get their book to that level. Know that every book you read has been written, re-written, revised, polished many, many times, and when you do all that work, your book will be that good too.
Dorian: Thanks so much, Samantha, for joining us today, and thanks for donating the books!
Click on the Rafflecopter and follow the directions before Saturday at 11:59 PM for a chance to win copies of Samantha’s two new books. Winner will be announced on Sunday.